Council considers new back-in parking locations

Test on 100 South may expand to Moonflower Market, elsewhere

back-in parking
Cars parked on 100 South face traffic rather than away from it, giving a better view of oncoming bicycles, pedestrians and vehicles as cars leave their spots. Photo by Carter Pape

Would you rather: A) pull into diagonal parking and back out into oncoming traffic, as is the norm for much of Moab, or B) back into diagonal parking and pull out with a full view of oncoming traffic, a newer traffic pattern now being used in many cities across the country?

That question faces Moabites as their city council, members of whom were on the fence about a decision Dec. 10, consider a report from City Engineer Chuck Williams that outlines five possible new spots for back-in parking around the city, replacing the existing back-out parking, and points to both local and national data that suggests the practice is safer.

Although the traffic pattern would be largely new to the area, studies suggest that it reduces vehicle collisions and makes roads safer for bikers and pedestrians. According to a 2005 report, after the city of Tucson installed back-in parking on two blocks that lead to a bikeway, the area went from an average of three to four bike-car accidents per month to no reported accidents in the four years following implementation.

A similar story goes for the city of Wilmington, Delaware, which has used back-in parking since roughly the 1950s and has a city-wide ordinance that all angled parking be back-in parking. Seattle; Washington, D.C.; and Indianapolis have all used back-in parking since at least the early 1990s, as well.

A primary advantage of back-in parking cited by cities that have installed it is the clear sight line it affords drivers when they pull out of the spot, which makes it easier for drivers to see bicyclists and pedestrians around them both as they park and as they leave.

Local experience with back-in parking

Williams’s recommendation comes months after the city restriped parking on 100 South, prompting nearby businesses to reach out to the city and city engineering staff about the parking, showing staff video of drivers struggling to back into the spots. City staff followed up by taking their own videos and looking for crash data in the area. They also did counts of bicycles and pedestrians, all compiled into a short report presented to the city council Dec. 10.

“In consideration of the data, staff recommends continuing the back-in angle parking program,” said Williams in the report.

With the handful of spots only having been installed in May, a dearth of information exists to say for certain whether the parking is safer for Moab in particular. No collisions have taken place in the vicinity as a result of the back-in parking, according to Williams, since the city installed the new parking, but too little time has passed to know for sure if the parking causes more accidents.

If the experiences in other cities are any indication, though, back-in parking may prove to be a significantly safer traffic pattern for pedestrians and bicyclists in Moab.

Where might back-in parking go?

Council members discussing the matter Dec. 10 hypothesized that the struggles with back-in parking on 100 South were possibly inflamed by the parking’s proximity to a busy intersection. The parking spots closest to the intersection, they posited, could be the heart of the issue; a vehicle backing into one of those spots can create congestion in the intersection as it brakes before parking.

The congestion effect is most noticeable when the parking maneuver stops vehicles as they take an unprotected left-hand turn from Main Street onto 100 South, across two lanes of oncoming traffic. It is possible that back-out parking would create similar congestion problems in the area as they back out into oncoming traffic.

Nonetheless, the council kicked around the idea of restriping the parking on 100 South back to back-out parking while expanding back-in parking to 100 North, from the food truck park to Moonflower Market and the Moab Arts and Recreation Center. Ultimately, the matter was tabled until the next meeting, which will likely be its next regular meeting on Jan. 8.

These areas, Williams said in the report recommending the expansion, would have the most positive impact for bikers, who often use the stretch of road to get to Moonflower, to the bike path and elsewhere in town, passing behind the rear of parked cars as they go.