Traffic Q&A: Back-in parking safer, says city official

rob.carson@thenewstribune.comDecember 16, 2013 

Question:In the reconfiguring of Pacific Avenue and adjacent downtown streets, some of the design decisions seem to escape logic.

I can’t understand the reasoning that forces drivers to back into parking spaces.

It delays traffic, frequently in both directions. It also would seem to discourage drivers behind the parking car from allowing the driver into the parking space.

Wouldn’t straight-in parking encourage better traffic flow if drivers yielded to someone backing up, thus freeing a parking space?

Also, the planting areas at intersections prevent drivers stuck in backups from making right turns.

I’m not a traffic engineer, but please convince me that someone in the city’s planning department knew what they were doing. — Robert T. Nelson, Tacoma

Answer: Josh Diekmann, traffic engineer for the city of Tacoma, says back-in parking, while unfamiliar to some drivers, has advantages in terms of safety.

“The installation of back-in angle parking in place of head-in angle parking is becoming more common in cities across the country,” Diekmann said. “Our research showed that back-in angle parking provides improved safety compared to head-in angle parking, primarily because drivers leaving parking spaces are facing the road and have improved visibility.

“Back-in parking also improves safety for people loading and unloading their vehicles,” he said, “because the trunk can be accessed from the sidewalk.”

As for the intersection curb extensions, Diekmann said they provide opportunities for planting but also improve safety for pedestrians by shortening their crossing distance.

The extensions do prevent some drivers from passing on the right of other vehicles which are stopped for traffic or red lights, Diekmann said, but even so they were favored by the public in planning sessions.

“Both the planters and the use of back-in parking on the Pacific Avenue project were evaluated by project stakeholders and the public in numerous open house meetings,” he said.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693

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