GOSHEN — A city councilman and downtown building owner is looking for a new angle on the streetside parking changes coming to Goshen.
Adam Scharf is pushing for back-in angled parking when the city redraws the spaces downtown, with the aim of doing away with parallel parking. The change is expected to create more than 40 new spaces.
Traditional back-out angled parking is the current plan. Proponents say it’s popular with downtown business owners, though others have expressed fears such as having to back out blindly into traffic.
Back-in angled parking, also called reverse or head-out parking, is a less common alternative. In this design, where the spaces are angled in the opposite direction, a vehicle stops just past a space and backs up into it, then pulls forward to get out.
Scharf pitched the idea to the Goshen Board of Works and the Redevelopment Commission this week, and previously brought it to the Traffic Commission. He said he canvassed people in the 100 block of East Lincoln Avenue, on the north side, and they responded well to the idea.
“There is unanimous support ... amongst all the residents, building owners and business owners, that preferable to traditional angle parking is head-out angle parking,” he told the board of works on Monday. “For many practical and safety reasons: Not blindly backing out into traffic and just crossing your fingers and praying that a semi or high-speed traffic on Lincoln Avenue will smash into you, that they honor your rear lights. Or loading in and out, having the trunk right up against the curb. Or not having to exit the driver’s side and swinging a door into traffic as is the case with current parallel parking.”
He said they understand that it could be a problem to have only a small section of the street park a different way. There would be a learning curve in using such a different method, but he said there are a lot of practical and safety advantages to consider.
He said he hoped the board could consider it, now that the RDC opened the window to the opportunity by writing linear feet of striping into the contract for downtown street improvements, without specifying how the striping would go.
“I know it’s 11th hour, I have no great hopes for major change in the Main Street angle parking plan at this point,” he said. “But I truly do believe, and there are others who are of this mind too, that there’s a better way to do angle parking even if it’s somewhat new and somewhat unfamiliar.”
‘Everyone else will follow’
Scharf made a similar proposal to the Redevelopment Commission on Tuesday. He listed Indianapolis, among other places, when commission member Vince Turner asked where they could see head-out angled parking in practice.
Commissioner Tom Stump pointed out that Goshen once tried reverse angled parking with a handful of spots on Jefferson Street, in front of the chamber of commerce, but eventually changed it back. The city started a two-month trial in the summer of 2012, with a sign explaining to drivers how the new method of parking worked.
Scharf said there’s a question over whether the problem was with the different style of parking itself or if it was just too confusing to have a few spaces that differed from all the surrounding ones. He said it could help to have a “dummy” car in place to set an example, and to do it on a larger scale.
“The first car is the most important, by a long shot,” he said. “If you get somebody parked the right way, everyone else will follow. If you get somebody parked the wrong way, everyone else will follow.”
Stump said the biggest problem he foresees is if someone stops to back in, but the driver behind them doesn’t give them room to park. Scharf pointed out that it’s the same situation with back-out parking.
“I fully agree that that’s not a bad idea,” Stump said. “Except, you change things, and when you start changing things, then you get problems with people who aren’t familiar with it.”
‘Awkward and uncomfortable’
As far as who the decision ultimately lies with, city attorney Larry Barkes said the traffic commission will make a recommendation to the board of works. But he said the redevelopment commission will also get involved because it’s a source of funding.
Civil Traffic Engineer Leslie Biek said after the meeting that back-in angled parking does have its strengths, like visibility and the extra safety for kids of vehicle doors not opening in the direction of traffic. But it’s something that’s uncommon in the area, and she said drivers would have to know how to use it correctly for it to be safe.
“I think it would require a lot of public education, additional signage, and it would be pretty awkward and uncomfortable till people get used to it,” she said. “And I have concerns that they ever would get used to it, but that’s just my personal opinion.”
She also noted that when Scharf brought the request for the parking change to the traffic commission in July, specific to Lincoln Avenue, it was shortly before they started repaving Lincoln. She said there wasn’t enough time to get public input on the request before the paving began.
“Our major concern is public feedback,” she said. “So if we were comfortable that the public was in support of it, we would definitely be more comfortable with that.”