Back-in parking is worth a try for Downtown

Salisbury will be getting 12 angled, back-in parking spaces on North Division street.

Two weeks ago I was in the Canton section of Baltimore to see the Quebe Sisters, a Texas Swing band that I became enamored with during their performances at 2018’s National Folk Festival here.

The Quebes were playing that evening at the old Patterson Park Theater. I had read a lot about Canton’s neighborhood renaissance, and its cool-vibe dining and entertainment options that are making it a new go-to locale.

Being a true neighborhood, Canton doesn’t have any real parking options – experiencing a dose of good luck and finding a parking spot is a desire shared by the folks who live in Canton. I was dreading the inevitable frustration of finding a space to park my beat-up Eastern Shore pickup truck. 

My anxiety was unnecessary: The Canton neighborhood is now configured for back-in-angle parking on nearly every street. City officials have been able to nearly double the parking space inventory just by reconfiguring street parking in an innovative way.

“I wonder if this could work in Salisbury,” I wondered to myself. “Nah, no one would ever go for it,” I decided.

Imagine my shock two days later, then, when Salisbury Independent reporter Liz Holland filed a story for that week’s paper revealing news that was a secret to me: Salisbury would be getting 12 angled, back-in parking spaces as part of the renovations to Main and Division streets.

What?! Based on what I saw in Baltimore, that’s a GREAT idea, I thought.

Then reality returned to my brain. People are going to rebel – people hate change, I concluded sadly.

If I hadn’t had the Canton parking experience just 50 hours prior, I would have thought it was a dumb idea.

Holland’s story included an apt quote from Rick Baldwin, an engineer for the city. “It’s going to be a culture shock for some people,” he told her.

So, after going from never even having heard of angled/back-in parking to a True Believer in the course of a weekend, I had to research the pros and cons of this idea.

Intended to improve the safety of on-street parking, angled/back-in parking allows:

  • Drivers, when leaving the space, to have an unobstructed view of traffic, and they can enter the traffic stream directly.
  • A reduction in traffic delays and risk of collisions with pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles.
  • A lessening of the difficulty that drivers have when backing into moving traffic.
  • Eye contact and communication between exiting drivers and other road users.
  • The driver and passengers can enter and exit the vehicle toward the sidewalk, instead of walking toward traffic.
  • Increased safety for bicycle riders who may be passing by.
  • Room for more parking spaces.
  • Reduced bumping of car bumpers in front and behind.

The downsides:

  • Back-in angle parking is awkward for some drivers, especially if vehicle has poor rear-looking visibility.
  • Inexperienced drivers might take a wider clearance from an adjacent vehicle, resulting in less efficient use of available space.
  • Possible damage if the vehicle hits street poles.
  • An increased reliance on side mirrors and reversing cameras, though blind spots can remain.
  • Exhaust emissions may annoy pedestrians.

Looking at where the curbs are being placed – during the construction phase, at least – my first thought was that a portion of North Division Street would be converted to one-way. Fortunately, that’s not the case. According to the plan, even with the large bump-out on the northeast corner of the intersection in front of the Courthouse, there is still enough room for two 11-foot-wide traffic lanes. There is also space for emergency vehicles and tractor-trailers to negotiate turns there (a tractor-trailer turning left there last year actually ran up on the Courthouse lawn and damaged street signs).

As is well-documented during my 40 years of editorializing about Salisbury, I’m pretty much wrong all of the time. I think the new back-in spaces are going to be a great success and a benefit to Downtown Salisbury.

I’m actually so confident that if it doesn’t work and everyone hates it, and the decision is made to return to parallel parking, I’ll even buy the can of paint needed to repaint the lines.

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