Back-in parking causing headaches, confusion in reconstructed downtown
Even though it was introduced to increase pedestrian and driver safety, some downtown residents aren't easily adapting to back-in parking
Reid Evans has never backed into a parking spot. Neither has Kabira Atunde. Casey Singleton just started when she moved to Arlington from Boston.
Yet despite their inexperience, all of these 101 Center residents will have to get used to back-in parking very soon.
As the March 19 start date quickly approaches, the city is preparing to roll out its Arlington Rebuild project, a two-year construction initiative to revitalize Downtown Arlington.
Part of the Rebuild project is to install back-in angle parking spaces from Cooper to Collins Street. Public Works and Transportation Assistant Director Keith Brooks said the reason why is for safety purposes.
“We know it’s a new concept,” he said. "But it’s something we feel is safer. People say: ‘Why are you doing this?' We’re doing it for safety.”
During the conceptual layout, Brooks and the Rebuild team enlisted a traffic consultant to conduct a safety analysis not just for pedestrians, but for the drivers as well. The consultant concluded that back-in angle parking was the safest option for the Rebuild design.
“If you pull into some of the restaurants right now, it’s fine pulling straight in,” Brooks said. “But when you back out, you’re backing out into a road where people are going 30, 35, 40 miles an hour, you’re back blindly into that road.
“The idea is if you’re going to have somebody driving pulling into the road, at least you’re already in the road. You can stop, put your blinker on, back into the parking space.”
The consultant’s findings are backed up by other previous studies.
SafeStart, a Canadian-based advocacy group, published an article explaining why backing into a parking space was generally safer, while the American Automobile Association also discouraged against pull-forward parking in 2015.
A 2014 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated that about 292 people are killed and 18,000 are injured each year from drivers backing out of their parking spaces, usually in driveways or parking lots.
101 Center is one of the more notable apartment complexes on E. Abram Street to have back-angle parking. Singleton said it’s frustrating to her, and it’s more difficult to back into a parking spot than it is to pull forward.
“When people are coming in this way and I’m trying to back in, people are constantly honking at me,” Singleton said. “People don’t understand that, especially if you can’t really drive well. I think I can, but trying to get into these spots, I figured out I am not a good driver. A lot of people still just pull forward into these spots because it’s difficult to back in.”
Evans concurs with this observation, saying that he personally hasn’t even tried backing in to park himself.
“I don’t really like it,” he said. “I think it’s unnecessary. If you go to the other side of the building, like three people just pulled in anyway. It doesn’t really accomplish anything.”
Brooks asserts that the idea is to make pulling out more convenient and safer for the driver, not complicate the parking process. But Singleton debates this aspect, saying that your rear view is blocked pulling forward anyway.
“Pulling out is supposed to seem easier, but the way the angle is when you pull out, you can’t really see the on-coming traffic,” Singleton said. “When you’re pulling out, you have to keep looking, because the door portion, or somebody in the passenger seat, makes it very hard to see. It might seem safer, but it really isn’t.”
Singleton suggested that the project focus on front-forward parking instead.
“It’s simpler because that’s what people are used to doing,” Singleton said. “The back-in parking, you have to be aware of pulling in and pulling out, whereas pulling forward you’re not worried about pulling in. There’s more caution when you’re pulling out.”
Alternatively, Evans thinks the city should resort to parallel parking, since that’s already taught in state driving courses anyway.
“I feel like parallel parking is fine,” Evans said. “If you do it right, check your mirror, you should be able to do it and pull out.”
Brooks said while there will be some parallel parking available, the back-angle parking will be the bigger emphasis for the project.
Another safety aspect he pointed out benefits children. With pull-forward parking, parents have to be concerned with children walking out into the street where there’s oncoming traffic. That concern is erased with back-angle parking.
“When you open the door in the back-angle parking situation, the kids cannot go into the street,” Brooks said. “They’re forced to go back to the sidewalk.”
Brooks knows that there will be a transition for back-angle parking, but given the potential safety benefits, he said that it’s worth the inconvenience that comes with it.
“Obviously, there’s growing pains with that,” Brooks said. “That’s something you’re going to have to get used to. But we did feel that was actually safer than what we have today.”