The affable little city of Corvallis (approximate population of 55,000) has a lot of things going for it: a large and prominent university (Oregon State); a downtown within walking distance of the big school, replete with locally owned retail (a real oddity in 2019!); a fortuitous location along the state’s prominent Willamette River and only an hour’s drive from the Pacific Coast; a robust park system within the city limits and the unspoiled deciduous and evergreen blend from state parks all around it; and the sociological bragging rights of a central location in the Pacific Northwest, one of the most desired regions to live…but without the high housing costs of big-city counterparts like Portland and Seattle.
Okay, I confess: if it wasn’t obvious already, basically all the advantages to Corvallis I just listed have to do with the where, not the what or who, and certainly not the why. But it’s the best that can be expected from my 14-hour visit, only half of which were conscious. Nonetheless, I was able to absorb what I did in the paragraph above, and only half of it from looking at a map; much was empirical. And I was also able to conclude that, now matter how much the state of Oregon earns accolades for its innovative urban and regional planning solutions, Corvallis isn’t likely to lead the charge. Some would assert that award goes to Portland; others would argue that the award goes to Multnomah County (home of most of Portland’s suburbs and part an Urban Growth Boundary); still others would claim the entire State of Oregon wins for its rural and farmland preservation initiatives; lastly, a few might assert that the real innovator is south of Corvallis in Eugene, home of University of Oregon (and one of the state’s major Community and Regional Planning programs.)
These sundry designations leave Corvallis adrift. Lacking the intellectual heft of any real homegrown urban planning scholarship, it still no doubt punches above its weight class. But there are some peculiarities that defy any real description, like this one on Madison Avenue downtown:Witness the angled parking along the road, going with the flow of traffic, as indicated by both the bicycle “sharrow” in the lower right corner, and the fact that the cars are facing outward. They drove in their lane, then made a soft right to park in those spaces marked by bricks embedded in the asphalt. No big deal. But take a look at some of the other markers.A partially paved-over painted stripe. Looks like part of a beautification program, where the City decided bricks make a more attractive (and more permanent) demarcation than paint for that angled parking.
Again, no big deal—except that the opposite side of Madison Avenue is far less straightforward.Over here, we have both stripes and bricks, angled in opposite directions. Which came first? Did the Public Works Department install the bricks, only to find they weren’t conspicuous enough and then added the paint stripes? That certainly what would appear to be the case, since it’s unlikely the paint would be so prominent if they ripped up the pavement to install the bricks. This predicament begs the obvious question: which set of lines do the motorists recognize? Pivot a few feet to the right and it becomes clear.The vehicle is using the painted stripes–not the bricks.
So, depending on which direction one is traveling on Madison Avenue, the driver uses brick or disregards the brick and uses the stripes. This Google Street View from spring of 2018 (my own pics obviously come from the fall) merely reinforces that arrangement. One might assert that the brick really proved unsatisfactory; after all, it’s hard to imagine it’s that easy to see at night. But if it’s so ineffective, why wouldn’t the Corvallis Public Works Department restripe both sides of the street, therefore allowing paint to trump brick in all circumstances?
My suspicion is that the brick was part of an attempt to pilot an increasingly common yet polarizing traffic safety device: to use reverse angled parking on one side of the street. In medium density urban settings, angled parking is common and often quite desirable because motorists find it far easier to use than parallel parking, and it’s less disruptive to the existing flow of vehicles on the primary cartway. Businesses like it because it allows more on-street parking spaces than parallel parking, due largely to the reduced need for curb space to accommodate a single car. Meanwhile, urban planners and traffic engineers generally dislike it because it results in devoting considerably more of a potentially small-scaled urban road to parked cars, and pulling out of an angled parking space backwards is often hazardous, due to limited visibility imposed by the adjacent parked vehicles.
Reverse angled parking (also called, among other things, back-in angled parking) attempts to fuse the best of both worlds. The more challenging moment is entering a parking space, since the driver has to back into a stall. But this configuration also means the nose of the car (and, therefore, the car’s operator) is closer to the cartway and traffic flow, so exiting a space is a breeze. And, once the motorist becomes proficient in the idea of reversing into a parking space, the entire process is safer overall.
But reverse angled parking has its serious detractors. Many have asserted that the act of backing into a stall, with busy traffic passing or queuing up behind, is just as difficult as parallel parking. And while most cities’ traffic studies suggest that fewer accidents take place on the pilot projects than with conventional, head-in angled parking, it could just as easily be due to the fact that people are scared off by these small (usually one- or two-block) pilot programs and decide to park elsewhere—a consequence that can be awful for the adjacent businesses that front the on-street angled parking.
It is evident that, at this point, this block in Corvallis does not feature reverse angled parking. The bricks attempted to promote the practice on one side of the street, it flopped, and the City striped over the bricks to allow conventional parking. (The only other plausible explanation is that Madison Avenue was one-way at one point in time and the city converted it to two-way.) This article may seem (like so many of my musings) to make a mountain out of a molehill, but even an urban fix as humble as changing the angle for ten parking spaces can require on-the-fly adaptation to change—something that causes resistance even among the neophiles. I think more cities are going to double down on this technique so that, like roundabouts, they eventually become common enough that they fail to elicit such a strong reaction. In the meantime, Corvallis can continue doing its thing, and even if elsewhere in Oregon promises greater urban planning innovation, at least this low-key city can (for now) still boast a disproportionate number of downtown mom-and-pop clothing stores—a real anomaly worthy of discussion on its own…but we’ll save that for another night of story time.
8 thoughts on “Angled parking in Oregon: a solution in search of a problem?”
Amusing! We are dealing with this now in response to a PERCEPTION that there is a need for more parking near a popular taproom in our downtown (I have myself never had to walk more than a block from parking near the taproom, but perception of parking shortage is a suburban trope).
Yes. There really are people who think that more than 100 feet is too far to walk from parking to anything. In suburban lots I park in the first space I see and walk the rest of the way in while those people continue to cruise for a close space. In downtown settings, if I can get within two blocks I count myself lucky.
Agree with you both. Perception of distance often is more powerful than reality–which I’m sure has something to do with perceived distances in unfamiliar settings always seeming greater and more onerous. We don’t live in a time where shopping center parking lots are ever that full anymore, but on a crowded day in the past–or when we arrive late to our job–the distance walked across that vast parking lot is often greater than the added block or two we have to walk when parking in an urban setting, with spaces in limited supply.
Have to admit I, too “cruise for a close space” because walking in a parking desert is so depressing (and can be dangerous)! 🙂 Downtown…not as big an issue if the street is pedestrian scaled and pleasant.
Probably most of us approach urban/suburban parking with diametrically differing mentalities: in the cities, it’s “first available” (even if the walk is a few blocks); in the suburbs, “most convenient to the destination”. Then again, maybe these aren’t so diametrically different, because the suburban mentality is still “first available”–it’s just predicated on an abundance of choice. Of the hundreds of spaces that are available, which one is the most perfect?
“The only other plausible explanation is that Madison Avenue was one-way at one point in time and the city converted it to two-way.”
That would be my guess. I’m surprised they can get two-way traffic through there with the angled parking leaving not much room, but it does encourage slower driving and paying closer attention, which is a benefit.
I’ll admit I haven’t had to ever use back-in parking, because it’s so rare. I definitely see the benefits, but I don’t know if they outweigh the negatives. Perception is certainly a big factor. It could just as well be called head-out parking instead, which might help.
Drivers have a better view of traffic, both vehicles as well as bicycles, when exiting the parking space into the travel lane, especially if boxed in by large SUVs with tinted windows.
Eliminates the difficulty drivers have of backing into moving traffic.
Puts the trunk or back of vehicle to the sidewalk for safer loading/unloading.
Positions drivers and passengers, particularly kids, to enter or exit the vehicle toward the sidewalk with the doors shielding people from moving traffic.
Easier to back into an angled space than a parallel space.
While not as difficult as parallel parking, it’s more difficult than head-in parking.
Drivers not knowing exactly when to stop when backing, resulting in the vehicle overhanging the sidewalk or hitting landscaping or other amenities.
Potential congestion with the initial stopping and backing maneuver, like parallel parking.
Danger of drivers from the opposing traffic lane pulling across the road and nose-first into the parking stall.
Complicates license plate reading for time-limited parking, especially in states with no front license plate requirement.
Exhaust pipes face the sidewalk which can be a problem for outdoor dining, plants, or just people walking by.
By the way I just noticed that the street is one-way a few blocks farther down. So that’s the most likely reason.
Thanks for these considerations, Jeffrey. Yes, upon further reflection, I’d almost definitely say the reverse angled parking example here in Corvallis is more by accident than design.
Your disadvantages to reverse angled parking are terrific. I especially didn’t think of your #4 (drivers from the opposing lane pulling in nose first), but that’s got to be a huge consideration, since it’s an easier maneuver and it’s not illegal (or nearly impossible to cite), and it could actually create more problems, since drivers are likely to make impulsive left-turns in front of opposing traffic just to get that great space. And it defeats the purpose of reverse angled from a safety/visibility perspective. Bearing this in mind, the only situation where reverse angled parking might work optimally is on one-way streets. Also, your final disadvantage (exhaust pipes facing the sidewalk) is a subtle quality-of-life consideration that could have cumulative consequences.