There are some new backward parking spaces in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood neighborhood. The city’s put in reverse angle parking along three blocks of Commonwealth Ave – spaces that are angled against the direction of traffic, designed to be backed into. It’s part of a $4 million project to make the area more pedestrian and bike friendly.
The reverse spaces also serve to narrow the street and slow down traffic. But, the concept of backing into these spaces goes against what we’re used to. And the result is a lot of confusion.
On the corner of Commonwealth and Thomas Avenue at lunchtime, traffic seems to be picking up and half the cars seem to be parked correctly.
From the opposite side of the street, it’s tempting to pull forward into the spaces, across oncoming traffic. In fact, there’s one set of spaces where every person I saw park pulled in that way. Emily Walters was one of them. She says her way is just easier.
“That would be a pain to have to back in," Walters says. "I’d have to go all the way up past the parking lot, and then back in.”
Parked beside her, and also facing the wrong way, is John Fulcher. He says he just didn’t pay attention to the signs flanking the spaces that say "BACK IN ONLY."
“Didn’t see it, I didn’t know it was reverse angle," Fulcher says. "We’re not conditioned to back into parking spaces, which is no excuse for not reading the sign. But we didn’t read the sign.”
Fulcher and Walters are not alone. It’s something Blake Barnes sees every day. He owns the Common Market, which is right in the middle of the new parking initiative. And he’s seen a lot of confused drivers.
“You’re pulling in across these lanes of traffic, then trying to back out at an angle that’s meant to go the other direction…yeah, you ask anybody over here," Barnes says. "It’s really, really confusing.”
Barnes says some drivers don’t appreciate it when he parks the right way.
“I came in, was backing in to my space, and I got flipped off and a horn blown at me from the person coming down the street, and I’m like ‘What are you doing? I’m doing what they told me to do!”
So last week, Charlotte’s Department of Transportation put on a demonstration of reverse angle parking.
The event was billed as a "RAP." Get it?
The city commissioned a rap song to roll out the new parking -- to the tune of $250. Jason Lane performed his composition at the press conference.
The message: reverse parking is as the song says, “easy as 1-2-3,” with benefits to boot, says Jim Keenan, an engineer with the city.
“When you are backed into one of these spaces, and you go to pull out, you’ve got a real clear sight line down the street to see if there’s anyone coming," Keenan says. "And in addition, when your vehicle is backed into one of these spaces, you have safer loading and unloading.”
It’s not that everyone is parking the wrong way. Alice Rogers dutifully backed into a space. There was just one problem.
“I thought I’d do the right thing and back in today, and I properly backed right into a handicapped spot," Rogers says. "Because I didn’t notice that…dang!”
Blake Barnes thinks the city’s demonstration is all well and good, but he’s just not sure that increased awareness of reverse angle parking can help people overcome how awkward it feels.
“It’d be great if everybody saw it, but you know, they’re just not grasping the concept.”
Drivers get a few more weeks to retrain themselves to back into these new spaces. The city says on April 1, it will start handing out $25 fines for vehicles pulled in the wrong way.