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Back-in angle parking: what is it, and when and where is it most effective?

Back-in angle parking provides motorists with better vision of bicyclists, pedestrians, cars and trucks as they exit a parking space and enter moving traffic. Back-in angle parking also eliminates the risk that is present in parallel parking situations, of a motorist may open the car door into the path of a bicyclist. Back-in angle parking also removes the difficulty that drivers, particularly older drivers, have when backing into moving traffic.

The concept has many benefits over other parking types. Some of these benefits include increased parking capacity (10 to 12 feet of lateral curb per vehicle, versus 22 feet per vehicle for parallel parking), clear sight lines when pulling out, better maneuverability on snowy days, ease of loading and unloading cargo and helping children in and out of car seats, and protection for children because the open car door now directs young children back to a point of safety rather than out into the street.

Installation and conversion to back-in angle parking requires careful site planning to ensure that the car stops before encroaching into the pedestrian space. Engines should not idle as tailpipe emissions are now directed to the sidewalk, which is particularly undesirable near a sidewalk café or other sensitive location. (See U.S. EPA listing of state and local communities with anti-idling laws at
http://www.epa.gov/smartway/partnership/logistics.htm). The change should be publicized prior to implementation, as people are more likely to accept a program that they understand. A learning curve should be expected, thus parking a city vehicle in one of the spaces each morning can help drivers understand the action.

Many communities install curb extensions to shorten pedestrian crossing distance as part of a back-in angle parking project. Typical dimensions are: 60-degree angle stalls about 10 feet wide (which works out to 11 feet of curb length), and 20 feet deep (measured perpendicular to the curb). As a general rule, back-in angle parking should be installed on side streets first. It should also be considered on non-arterial streets where speeding is a problem and increased parking is a need. Over time and with community acceptance, there may be reasons to expand the concept to major streets. Bonuses of back-in angle parking include potential calming of traffic speeds, especially around schools and in downtowns or other commercial areas. Its use on downhill grades should be studied carefully and it may have limited usefulness on single lane, one-way streets.

A small sampling of cities that have installed back-in angle parking includes: Seattle (city-wide), Tacoma, Olympia, and Vancouver in Washington; Portland and Salem in Oregon; Tucson, Arizona; Austin, Texas; Salt Lake City; Indianapolis; Washington, D.C.; Pottstown, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Montreal, Canada. Tucson tracked data for bicycle/car crashes before and after installing back-in angle parking, and found an average of three to four crashes per month with front-in angle parking compared to zero reported bicycle/car crashes for the first four years following implementation of back-in angle parking.