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The ins and outs of back-in angled parking

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Back-in angled parking has popped up one block at a time in Sacramento over the past few years, causing cyclists to breathe a sigh of relief – and making some residents fume.

In the Midtown and downtown areas, the city is challenged with providing enough parking spaces for residents and their visitors and providing safe bicycle routes and lanes for the bicyclists that often share neighborhood streets with cars.

One solution to this challenge is back-in angled parking, according to Ed Cox, Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator for the city of Sacramento.

The backlash from a recent attempt to install back-in angled parking as part of a traffic-calming plan in Alkali Flat caused a long thread of emails to City Councilman Rob Fong’s office from angry neighbors insisting the parking be dropped from the proposal.

“Angled parking has always been in various parts of the city,” Cox said. “In Midtown (it) started in the 1990’s as population grew and the need for parking spaces increased.”

The growing number of sport utility vehicles spurred a trend toward back-in angled parking, according to information from the city’s Department of Transportation. When using conventional angled parking, drivers increasingly find themselves beside an SUV, leaving them with more difficult sight lines.

There is evidence of back-in angled parking in Sacramento as early as 1911, but it was one of many parking configurations of the day, Cox said, and was overtaken in the downtown area by parallel parking.

Real Estate Agents Association and their automobiles parked diagonally on 9th Street prior to their tour of Sacramento in 1911
Back-in angled parking was most recently introduced to the downtown/Midtown area in 2007 as part of a traffic-calming plan on 28th Street between R and U street in the Newton Booth neighborhood.

Residents wanted more parking there, Cox said, but cyclists didn’t want to lose the bike lane on that stretch of road. It was decided to take out the bike lane but install back-in angled parking – which the cyclists preferred to nose-in angled parking.

According to a city report, the advantages of back-in angled parking include easy maneuverability. The back-in angled parking signs state “it’s as easy as 1-2-3.”

“It may seem that (parking this way) is convoluted,” Cox said, “but if you compare back-in angled parking to parallel parking, it’s all the same moves: you pull past the space, put the car in reverse and you back in.”

Some people oppose back-in angled parking because they feel it leads to more frequent accidents by forcing drivers to park their cars in the middle of a busy street.

“The difficulty of backing into the space will certainly cause more collisions with other cars parked,” F Street resident Roy Swanson said in a Feb. 20 email to the city. “I have witnessed accidents caused by people backing in to the the spaces on 11th street between F and G (streets).”

But the city says better visibility for drivers is actually an advantage of this type of parking, making parking safer.

“Drivers can see what’s coming – even bicycles – before they get going, just like merging into traffic,” Cox said.

Back-in angled parking has the advantage of giving the driver a good field of vision, both out in front and to the side, Cox said – and cyclists can more easily see drivers, too, potentially even making eye-contact so each is aware of the other.

Bicyclists’ point of view

Cox said there isn’t a lot of recorded collision history with angled parking, but riding near cars trying to park is pretty unnerving for cyclists nonetheless.

Dean Alleger, a local cycling coach and bicycle mechanic said Monday that he is not in favor of or opposed to back-in angled parking.

“My theory of surviving on a bicycle is taking whatever is thrown at me and adapting to it,” he said.

Allegar said he does see a benefit to back-in parking: better visibility for drivers.

“When cars back in, I think the drivers have a better chance of looking over their shoulder and seeing what’s coming down the lane,” Allegar said.

But the responsibility for making the roads safe for everyone doesn’t just fall to drivers, Allegar said.

“I blame cyclists as much as I blame cars for the problems on the road,” he added. “My stance is, we all need to a better job of getting along.”

Another advantage to back-in angled parking, according to the city report, is loading and unloading a car trunk at curbside rather than in the street.

Cox said that, in the late ‘90s when angled parking started going in to Midtown, there wasn’t a lot of willingness to have it – the real support came from bicyclists.

Back-in angled parking is only considered for streets that have an existing bike lane or which is marked as a “bike route” where the cars and bikes share the roadway, Cox said.

Other factors to determine if a particular block is a good candidate for angled parking include the number of driveways on the block, how busy the street is and the width of the street.

“We also ask if (the angled parking) actually gives more spaces,” Cox said. “There has to be a benefit to putting it in.”

The city measures how busy a street is by doing a count over a period of time to come up with the “average daily travel” – average number of cars that travel that segment in 24 hours.

Cox said the city has a threshold of 3,000 or 4,000 average daily travel (ADT) before angled parking is no longer an option.

The installation of back-in angled parking is always prompted by request of residents, Cox said, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be part of a traffic-calming plan.

“It does have a traffic-calming effect,” Cox said, “but it’s not necessarily one of those things that must be in (a) traffic-calming plan. A requested can be just for the parking.”

Residents on the 11th Street block of F Street in Alkali Flat who are facing the possibility of back-in angled parking on their block are opposed, they say, because it won’t provide any additional parking benefit and may harm the large, older trees planted curbside.

“Are they going to take out our trees to make room for car bumpers?” asked F Street resident Gera Swanson in an interview Feb. 9.

Cox said curbs and trees have to be considered on a case-by-case basis when angled parking is being installed – regardless if it’s nose-in or back-in parking.

“It may be an argument against angled parking in general, because there is an equal danger of affecting a tree either way,” Cox said. “But still, the city would rather not install the angled parking than take out the trees.”

Some areas where back-in angled parking can be found in Sacramento include 28th Street between R and U streets, on F Street between 12th and 13th streets, and C Street between 12th and 13th streets.

“Some cyclists would prefer not to have any parking in front of them,” Cox said, “but given a choice, the back-in is much better for cyclists. That’s the cyclist’s perspective.”

Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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