Fort Collins wants to see whether drivers can change their parking habits for the sake of safety.
City officials are conducting an experiment along a single block of parking spaces on Howes Street near City Hall. Drivers are required to back in to designated angled parking spots rather than pulling in forward.
While diagonal on-street parking is common downtown, including on blocks of busy College Avenue, back-in angled parking was introduced to the city in September.
The 20-space parking area on the west side of Howes Street between Maple Street and Laporte Avenue was restriped after the street was repaved as part of a maintenance project.
The idea is to improve safety for bicyclists as well as motorists heading south on Howes Street. When parked drivers prepare to pull out a designated back-in space, they have a forward-looking view of what’s coming down the street.
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Back-in parking is used in cities across the country, said Eric Keselburg, manager of Fort Collins Parking Services. It’s been talked about in Fort Collins, including in the city’s 2014 Bicycle Master Plan, but this is the first time it has been implemented.
Howes Street is a primary corridor for the city’s low-stress bicycle network. The parking area is not time-limited like many downtown areas, and it is next to Washington Park.
There’s a parkway between the curb and sidewalk, so there is no danger of a bumper impeding the sidewalk. The spots are filled most days, Keselburg said. During the workweek, city employees often use the spaces.
Reaction to the parking has been predictably mixed. Some folks like it because of the improved visibility for exiting a spot, and others don’t like it because they are not comfortable backing into a parking spot.
Four tickets have been issued for not backing in to the designated spots, Keselburg said.
Back-in parking is not difficult, but is an acquired skill. Signs posted along the pilot area display how to execute the maneuver.
Back in the days when I worked as a seasonal employee for the U.S. Forest Service, we were taught to back in to parking whenever possible. We were told to practice backing in so it would become second nature.
The reason: Most accidents in parking lots happen when a vehicle is backing out of a space. It’s much safer to pull forward out of a parking space because a driver can better see if a vehicle is coming.
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It makes sense. How many times have you seen cars collide in parking lots because two were backing out at the same time and the drivers didn’t see each other?
How often has a driver looking over their shoulder while backing out of a parking spot been hit by a car coming from the opposite direction? It happens all the time.
I still back in to parking spots when I can. My daughters make fun of me and speculate on why I’m so interested in making a quick getaway, but I know what I’m doing.
The city’s pilot program is scheduled to last one year. After the year is over, officials will evaluate the back-in strategy and decide whether to employ it elsewhere in Fort Collins.
Back-in parking wouldn’t appropriate in all locations, Keselburg said. For example, you wouldn’t want it on streets next to sidewalk dining areas.
“You don’t want to be breathing exhaust while you’re eating a hamburger,” he said.
But it has potential. If the pilot program works out, it might mean safer traveling for bike riders and motorists alike.
Kevin Duggan is a senior columnist and reporter.
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