Facing parking problems backward

Baltimore tests making drivers back into angle spaces

November 22, 2006|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,Sun reporter

Sheila Matthews thought the parking gods were smiling upon her yesterday when she rolled her Honda into a nice spot near her doctor's office.

In retrospect, they could have been smirking.

Matthews quickly learned that her great spot came with strings attached: She had to pull in backward.

Beginning this week in parts of Hampden, drivers who pull head-on into certain angle spots will get tickets, a first for Baltimore. Despite freshly painted lines and warning signs hanging from every other pole, the new concept isn't quite sinking in for many.

"Oh?" Matthews said, flustered. "And I normally try to obey all signs because I don't want to give the city any more money."

So she dutifully backed out, took a wide three-point turn, then oh-so-tentatively tried to re-enter the spot tailpipe first. After two and then three mess-ups, she rolled down the window to ask, "Am I in the spot? Am I over too far? This is just awkward."

With parking scarce near Hampden's 36th Street shopping area, some residents begged the city for angle parking, which officials say can add 10 percent to 30 percent more spaces per block than parallel parking.

More parking spots - people get that. It's the reverse thing they're having a hard time with.

"I don't know what the logic of it is," said Stuart Steit of Cincinnati, who backed his family's van into one of the spots anyway.

After learning that backing [Please see parking, 9A]

in is supposed to be safer - because people who back out of spots supposedly have a tendency to run into things - Streit still wasn't sold.

"OK," he said, dubiously. "I guess."

Peter Little, executive director of Baltimore's Parking Authority, also needed time to warm to the idea, particularly after what he calls "a bad experience" with reverse angle parking in Washington's Adams Morgan neighborhood. Someone stole his spot as he was preparing to back into it.

"I wasn't so sure of it," Little said. "That left a bad taste in my mouth."

But if the experiment goes over well in Hampden, where it is being tried on Chestnut Street between 34th and 36th streets, Little is prepared to expand it throughout the city, any place where the streets are wide enough.

"It will take some getting used to, no doubt about that," he said. "But it's much better than backing out into the unknown."

Not everyone obeys

In Hampden yesterday, for every few drivers who backed into their spots the way they were supposed to, a few others - apparently spitting in the face of the great unknown - pulled in front-first.

To complicate matters, head-in seems like the natural way to park for those turning onto Chestnut from The Avenue, with the spots all temptingly tilted that direction.

To get into the spots the way the city wants - driving just past them and then pulling in backward - motorists would have to be driving north on Chestnut.

Or else, as Hampden resident George L. Peters Jr. puts it, they would have to perform Baltimore's special maneuver, "The Notorious U-turn." As in right there in the middle of the street.

"Not that I'd encourage anyone to do that," he said, "but if you were to do it with care, I don't think it would be that huge of an issue."

Peters is possibly the city's biggest advocate of reverse angle parking. He petitioned for it, designed - on his own time - a cute graphic to show people how to do it and fervently preaches its gospel any chance he gets.

He figures that if he can convert enough drivers, the concept can't lose.

"It really is super simple," he said. "You just have to convince people of that so they don't get scared off."

Peters didn't get to David Liberman fast enough.

"I couldn't even begin to know how to back into one of those spaces," the Mount Washington resident said, grimacing at the row of parking places. "And I think I'm a person of normal intelligence."

Stephanie Schnatz, a Woodlawn antiques collector, had no objection to the idea of reversing to park. She just couldn't put her station wagon between the white lines.

She stepped out of her car and said, "That's a pain in the butt. Absolutely absurd. What are they trying to do, squeeze in one more car?"

Richard Lambert, an antiques buyer from New York City who was checking out lamps in Schnatz's trunk, tried to calm her down, but Schnatz was having none of it.

"This is never going to work for me," she concluded.

"You'll get used to it," Lambert said, soothingly.

"Never," Schnatz repeated.

After taking one look at Schnatz's parking job, Ted Bauer, who lives near Hampden, offered a somewhat Darwinian take on the situation. The people who can park will survive this, he said, and the rest will end up in mall parking garages where they belong or with the threatened $27 tickets.

He thought the mandatory reverse was a good idea, even if it meant some nicked paint jobs as people get the hang of it.

"You're going to trade bumper dings for door dings," he said. "What is life but a series of compromises?"

Though Hampden's Merchant Association supports the new parking rules, Malcolm Stoll, who owns Kiss 'n Make-up on The Avenue, pulled into a spot front-first and wished for Hampden's experiment to end quickly.

`Cut your losses'

"Cut your losses and give people a bit more credit," he said. "I personally don't see the problem driving straight in."

The idea of ticketing for violations ticked him off further. "It's certainly not going to attract people to come back here and shop."

As he vacated his illegal parking spot in reverse, he sarcastically called out the window, "OK, I'm going to try to reverse out. Alert me if there are any problems."

There being none, he dramatically wiped his brow, then drove away.

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

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