The Case Against Pull-in Angle Parking

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"Pull-in angle parking" on 97th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.

The drive to create additional (free) parking for the benefit of New York City’s auto-owning minority takes many shapes and forms. Today, I’d like to take aim at a particular form of curbside parking: "pull-in angle parking." I’ve seen this type of parking in a few areas of the city, but I’ll contain my assessment to the street I live on — W. 97th Street between Central Park West and Columbus.

Rather than the typical, curbside parallel parking, on my street cars park bumper-to-curb at a 45 degree angle to the sidewalk. On my extra-wide street, this has increased the total supply of parking spots by 30 to 40 percent.

In some sense, it seems to be a decent trade-off — less space for through-traffic and more space for local residents and visitors to store their motor vehicles. West 97th Street could be a dangerous four-lane speedway if all of the available road space were used to move traffic. The angle parking is a way of putting this block on a road-diet, though, installing bike lanes, a dedicated bus lane, a planted median or wider sidewalks would have the same result.

From a cyclist’s perspective, this stretch of 97th Street feels really dangerous because drivers have little visibility of the road as they back their vehicles out of their parking spaces. Twice biking down my street I have had to swerve out into traffic to avoid a motorist blindly backing out of his parking space. A couple of weeks ago, I had the experience of parking a friend’s car in one of these spots and I couldn’t comfortably pull-out without someone helping to let me know when the coast was clear.

After checking out CrashStat 2.0, the middle of this block does not have any more pedestrian or cyclist injuries than the average middle block. But CrashStat doesn’t look at auto vs. auto crashes, which seems to be the more likely danger at this location because of the lack of visibility.

If angle parking is what we we really, truly want on this block (rather than bike lanes, bus lanes, wider sidewalks or a greener streetscape), there’s a safer, better way to design this kind of parking. It’s called "back-in / head-out angle parking." You can download a Nelson Nygaard report on it right here.

From the report, we find that:

This type of parking provides a safer environment for bicyclists using the roadways. The
driver is able to see the cyclist easily when exiting the stall. Several cities where back-in
angle parking has been implemented have seen a reduction in number of accidents
compared to the number of accidents at regular parallel parking schemes. Matt Zoll at
Tucson-Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee says that after implementing the back-in/head-out angle parking scheme in Tucson they "went from an average of 3-4 bike/car accidents per month to no reported accidents for 4 years following implementation."

And furthermore, they cite the Salt Lake City Q&A about Back-in parking

As SLCTrans (2004) states, "one of the most common causes of accidents is people backing out of standard angled parking without being able to see on-coming traffic. Reverse angled parking removes this difficulty." It also improves safety for cyclists, and for loading/and unloading the trunk of the car. Similarly, the Urban Transportation Monitor’s recent article on back-in angle parking reported reduced accidents and benefits for bicyclists in several communities. In all, back-in/head-out angle parking is a good choice when compared to conventional head-in angle/back-out parking and parallel parking.

Head-out angle parking is clearly the safer choice. For West 97th between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, I hope that the next road repaving will include a redesign. And while we’re at it, a bike lane on 97th street from Central Park West to Riverside would be grand too!

  • Glenn, I think you meant “head-out angle parking” in the first sentence of the last paragraph. If it is preferable to maintain angle parking on this block, then I would think that the switch to “head out” angle parking would only require signage rather than a road redesign. The problem, of course, is people who can’t drive well backwards (this includes obese people who can’t turn much in the drivers’ seat) will ignore the directive to back-in.

    If I’m not mistaken, the folks who live in Park West Village on this block already have lots of of-street parking, the angle parking is a supplement. All this parking for people with a subway stop on the corner and another three blocks away on Broadway, along with two crosstown bus routes and north and south routes on CPW and Columbus, does seem a bit excessive.

    A bus lane would be nice, but I think too many subway riders would find it an inconvenience for the 96th St. crosstown to be moved to 97th.

    As for the idea of a bike lane on 97th, I see some arguments against it. It would be a bit redundant with the new river-to-river 90th Street lane (although the City seems to be putting in crosstown bike lanes every half mile or so sought of Midtown!). A 97th Street lane might be a bit dangerous because the on the East Side that street that leads into the transverse. The block of 97th from Madison to 5th is and will likely remain highly dangerous for bicyclists, bike lane or no. I would change my mind, however, if DoT decided to install protected bike/ped lanes in the place of the sidewalks on the transverses.

    There is already a very wide sidewalk on this block, which is used for a small farmers’ market. Perhaps the best use to which the excess space on this road could be put would be an expansion of the farmers’ market or introducing more community- and pedestrian-oriented non-traditional uses.

  • I love it that 2 illegally parked vehicles (the black car and the white delivery van) show up on your google pic!

    It seems there will always be more cars than parking spots – kinda like the drivers are constantly playing musical chairs…

  • ddartley

    You’ll often find this kind of parking space on streets near police precincts.

    Even better, there are at least two precincts I know of where the lines are 50% on the street, and extend 50%–about five feet–onto the sidewalk, so cars park half on the sidewalk and half on the street. (Interestingly, all the cars have this funny piece of paper on their dashboards.)

    I am pretty sure that that’s well illegal, but since it’s a favor for cops, and since the painting is done by another city agency, no one in any position of authority thinks about that.

  • Stephen

    For us non-NYC readers, this is a great Streetsblog post! While congestion pricing, for example, is not an issue in most cities and towns, the problems associated with head-in parking are – and it’s great to see that some places have found a better way. One risk that might come with this type of parking is drivers blocking and backing up in the bike lane as they try to park, though this is probably better than drivers blindly backing out into the street.

    I hail from Newport, RI – if you are familiar with the area at all, back-out/head-in angle parking would work perfectly on Lower Broadway, along with a bike lane for the significant number of bike riders in the neighborhood.

  • Stephen

    Correction: In the last paragraph, I meant to say back-in/head-out. Oops.

  • The head out parking is always the safest, it was a requirement for at least one of the biggest local public utilities for all of their vehicles
    (new york tel) many years ago, when they did focus on safety and driver safety instruction. bicyclesonly they would have to re-stripe the parking area as the angle is wrong for head out vs head in parking. in many municipalities you will get a ticket for parking head out , even though it is the proven safer method. i remember getting into a threat of a ticket with a parking officer for parking head out in a small village. Since it was company policy and company truck told them to go ahead. i have heard of private car drivers fighting tickets in court over the head in requirement in perpendicular striped spots.
    it is impossible to back up many trucks and see behind you, something for bicyclist and peds to remember, do not put yourself in that danger zone. on the other hand IMO it is negligent of the driver if they have a able bodied passenger who is not assisting in the backing up. Back in the new york tel days, many trucks were considered two person trucks, due to the passenger backing requirement .
    i believe the head in parking is the reason the Hampton’s town has banned bicycles travelling on its main street.

  • Jonathan

    galvo, you are spot on in your comments about the danger zone behind trucks.

    I never park head-in, even in parking lots. It kind of chafes, though, when I pass a spot, put on my reverse lights and prepare to turn, and all of a sudden someone heads into that very same spot.

  • Steve

    My street in Washington, DC does head-out angle parking with no pavement markings–only signage, and it works pretty darn well. Of course parking enforcement in DC is handled by non-cops who are…shall we say…zealous in their pursuit of violators.

  • Josh

    Given the hazard posed by drivers backing out and unable to see what’s behind them all that well, why wouldn’t you bike down the left side of this block? That seems to make more sense, though I can’t really tell from that picture what’s on the other side of the street – is it more head-in/back-out parking?

  • Andy B from Jersey

    I skimmed this fast at work but I think everyone missed another big plus about angled parking whether it’s head-in or head-out. Look at the bicyclist’s-eye view from the Nelson Nygaard report and you will notice that there is NO POSSIBILITY of the cyclist GETTING “DOORED!”

    Also notice all the space available to the right of the bike lane so cyclists can ride on the right side of the lane or maybe even a social two-abreast. Unfortunately NYC drivers will see this space as a passing lane.

    Head-out parking is the way to go if your gonna’ do angled on-street parking and the Nelson Nygaard report points out all these benefits very clearly.

    Finally BicyclesOnly said:
    “The problem, of course, is people who can’t drive well backwards (this includes obese people who can’t turn much in the drivers’ seat) will ignore the directive to back-in.”

    Well what makes you think that these people could safely back there cars OUT of a “head-in” spot? Plus as someone noted earlier, all the stripes would face “down-traffic” for head-out parking instead of “up-traffic” for the standard head-in parking. This line angle change of 90 degrees would make it VERY difficult to park a car in the wrong dirrection.

  • Stephen

    One other concern with back-in angled parking that someone pointed out to me, which I didn’t see mentioned in the report (though please correct me if it is there): On a two-way street, cars coming the other direction might head-in to a spot on the opposite side of the street, making it exceptionally dangerous when they back out to leave the parking spot.

    There are two ways to stop this from happening: (1) install a median or (2) ticketing of anyone parked “head-in.” Medians are not always plausible and enforcement can sometimes be spotty; are there other ways to stop this behavior through design?

  • Hilary

    On a street that is overwide, angled parking reduces speeding. If you don’t want to increase the number of parking spaces, make some nice neckdowns (or whatever they’re called) at the corners, and even in the middle. With all the attention now on reducing congestion, I worry that we will inadvertently increase the speed of traffic. Less pollution but more terror and noise.

  • Jonathan

    Stephen, the Utah link mentions crossing the median to head in and suggests instead making a u-turn first. But why would your motorist friend consider such a maneuver? She’d have to back out, crossing the entire width of the near side traffic lane, in order to get going in either direction. It would take forever on a busy street, waiting for traffic to clear in both directions.

  • Stephen

    Jonathan: If someone has been searching for a parking space for a long time and sees (from their perspective) a head-in spot on the other side of the street, they will take it. They may not consider the risks they will face when leaving the space later – at that moment, they are just glad to find a place to park.

    U-Turns are often not possible or legal on busy commercial “Main Streets” where angled parking is common, and the driver may think that by the time they go around the block, the spot will be taken. So they go for it. (This behavior would be especially common here in Newport, where many drivers are tourists who are both unaware of local laws and desperate for a parking spot.)

    Anyone who is parked head-in at one of these spots must’ve pulled in from the opposite side of the road, so they are ripe for ticketing. But besides ticketing and a median, are there any other design mechanisms that can prevent this behavior?

  • I live in Salt Lake City on a block that features head-out angled parking. You drive down the street, pass the stall you’ve choose (first benefit: no worry on having to pull into a stall before even seeing it), and then back into your stall.

    The stall is painted such that when you’re ready to pull-out, you merge directly into the flow of traffic (second benefit: safety). This means that folks wishing to park head-in will face two issues: having to do a wide turn to overcome an angle counter to the flow of traffic and a stiff fine from the parking police, who patrol these areas well and enforce the head-out parking.

    On our streets, the head-out parking also incorporates a bike lane.

    As for the niche case of obese drivers: I fall into that category and find it difficult to turn in my seat… but I have no problem back into my stall. It’s just a matter a mastering the technique.

    The only problem with angle parking that we experience — whether it’s head-in or head-out — is that during snow storms, the lines are often obscured. This translates into folks reverting to parallel parking, or, worse, faking it and all hell breaks loose.

  • vnm

    You’ll find these on streets that were widened during the “auto-topia” days of planning in the 1950s and ’60s. Often where you see a tower-in-the-park superblock (like at W. 97th St. and millions of other places) you will see these. The streets were widened but there wasn’t enough traffic to justify additional lanes, so they just added increased parking.

    The streets should be narrowed and returned to their former width. Give the space back to the “park” part of the tower-in-the-park idea.

  • This is a one way street now and all the parking on the other side of the street is the same head-in parking.

    I like the idea of a bus lane, but there’s really no problem with the current bus route on 96th.

    There is TONS of surface parking within the superblocks in this area from the Park West Village and public housing – that’s another post for another day…

  • asw

    One argument against angle parking of any sort: Pedestrians (in New York, at least) will cross the street at any point, not just at the intersection. As a woman, whenever I try to access the curb adjacent to a row of cars parked at an angle, I feel less safe. This could be over-paranoia, but I’m just not comfortable walking between parked cars, or especially parked vans where the height of the van overshadows the pedestrian. Parallel parking does not produce the same effect.

  • Matt H

    I ride these blocks all the time, and I’ve gotta say I vastly prefer angle-parking of either variety over parallel parking.

    As #10 recognized, with this kind of parking there are no door-zone concerns! You can ride within a foot of the parked cars safely.

    Having the angle-parking be head-out would be a bonus. Head-in isn’t so, so bad, though: although drivers backing out into traffic again may not see you, you can deduce their intentions, leastaways, by looking for white reverse lights.

  • Jonathan

    Glenn, you don’t have to leave Manhattan to find head-out angle parking. West 131st Street between Frederick Douglass Blvd and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd also has it.

    Interestingly, the google maps street view shows it angled head-out, but the satellite picture shows it angled head-in. They must have changed over recently, because I went by there today and was surprised to see it head-out.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I just noticed that there’s back-in angle parking on Newtown Road near the Woodside Houses:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&time=&date=&ttype=&q=11377&ie=UTF8&ll=40.754424,-73.911409&spn=0.001359,0.002511&t=k&z=19&om=0

  • As a long time researcher (and photographer) and implementor of back-in diagonal (back-in oblique) parking…I have to add some suggestions on where and when it is best to use it:
    – best to use this try of parking on lower speed arterials (<35 mph) and where bike traffic is still moderate (< 100 / hour) or car parking turn over is light (90 minute or longer parking limit) – these can be more flexible as traffic speeds drop
    – try to avoid placing back-in angled parking on the driver's side (left side in the US) of a one-way street, as this layout reduces the ability of the driver to see oncoming traffic (and bicyclists) when pulling out;
    – medians or enforcement are key to keeping drivers from the other side of the street flipping into a stall nose in;
    – one does not have to back into these stalls if there is room…many drivers can legally swoop into unused stalls and then back up
    – make sure your sidewalks are wide enough for any expected vehicle overhang (6 foot sidewalks without a planter zone are too narrow)
    – always try to initially implement this type of parking near standard parking (just to minimize backlash from those who fight it; you will be amazed at the number of drivers – especially the elderly who complain they cannot back into a space [due to mobility limitations] but will back blindly out into traffic.
    – you need 300% more community discussion to implement this type of parking than any other type of parking – even if you are adding capacity!; and
    – best think of this type of parking as an early win win: basically a 'Road Diet Plus' (adding parking AND bike lanes) and thus using it as a long term plan on converting excess roadway capacity into pedestrian space.

    PS. This type of parking may also work well with a bike track behind the parking, though I have not yet seen this layout implemented in the world.

    Todd Boulanger
    Senior Associate
    Alta Planning & Design
    Abu Dhabi, UAE

    toddboulanger@altaplanning.com
    Skype: overseas.boulanger

  • christopherhillman

    I’m surprised that the comparisons jump from Angled back-in head out and Parallel parking!..that’s cheating..compare angled back-in head-out and angled head-in back out only if you want to make a fair argument.We HAD regular angled parking in a spot in Philadelphia and they Switched it..BUT I’ve noticed what I would’ve expected and told anyone..A: YES people drive the big arc around to park nose in often and B: I know “I” personally have to back in twice each time..there goes the safety issue
    (and good point in the other post..it’s on the left side so you still don’t have any intended great view on the way out,)
    but THANKS for now creating the Common SAME problem that was ONLY delegated to parallel parking before..now having to BACK UP often almost INTO a car that was driving right behind you which had to suddenly STOP  because SUDDENLY you’re stopping and backing up for some strange reason.when you’re backing out of a space you can Wait for no-cars..driving IN to a space you can’t tell the cars behind you to “STOP driving for a moment so there will be a gap big enogh for me to back my car in over there”..  … well you can try …you can stop the car, hop out yell..hop back in..  ..back in twice (if you’re me : ) lol

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