The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Archive for September 9th, 2008|Daily archive page

Cedar Rapidians get shot at mastering a new skill: back-in angle parking

In Brian Fagan, Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Downtown District, Jerry McGrane, Monica Vernon, Tom Podzimek on September 9, 2008 at 4:00 am

Sometimes it seems hard for nine people, the nine members of the City Council, to make a decision.

It seems, too, that it might be easier sometimes if they just ask the city’s experts what they think.

Take downtown parking.

It’s been little short of a free-for-all since the June flood.

No meters. No fees. No enforcement.

Giant on-street Dumpsters and disaster services crews have given way to contractors and big pickups as the downtown is in the initial throes of rebuilding what the flood damaged.

Behind the scenes, the city’s parking manager, one of its traffic engineers and the Downtown District’s executive had spent some weeks working to come up with a parking plan that might bring some order to the flood-damaged downtown as it rebuilds and comes back to life.

The hope was that a post-flood parking scheme might take affect Sept. 15. It’s been put off now until Oct. 1 at the earliest.

The plan features three components: a reduced rate for all monthly parkers; limiting parking on Second and Third Avenues SE and SW to construction vehicles and equipment; and changing parking on First Street SE and the Second Avenue and Third Avenue bridges to angle parking to add more spaces than the current parallel parking there. The extra spaces are needed because the city’s rickety, flood-hit First Street Parkade won’t reopen.

Once again, at an 8 a.m. Monday session, the City Council took on a discussion of the downtown parking matter. The discussion went an hour.

The heart of the discussion centered on angle parking and a concept foreign to Cedar Rapids — back-in angle parking.

Ron Griffith, a traffic engineer for the city, told the council that all the studies “emphatically” say that back-in angle parking results in fewer accidents than front-in angle parking.

Still, council members Jerry McGrane and Chuck Wieneke thought back-in angle parking was not something that local motorists, particularly older ones, wanted any part of.

Understand, too, this City Council for more than a year had had big hopes for revitalizing the downtown into a place of sidewalk cafes, bicycle routes, pedestrian strolls and slower traffic flow — angle parking helps slow traffic.

Many of those thoughts are still swirling as the council also is trying to get the disaster-hit downtown off its knees.

So council member Brian Fagan was asking what the new post-flood parking scheme might do for bicycles and sidewalk cafes, and council member Tom Podzimek was reminding council members not to forget the vision.

Meanwhile, council member Monica Vernon had Googled parking plans and had run on a few reports that suggested that back-in parking might not lead to more fender benders between cars, but cars hit parking meters more often, Vernon said she’d read.

At one point, someone suggested that the back-in approach made it easier for someone to put something in the trunk, while someone else said people in the downtown put items in side doors, not trunks.

None of the council members asked the city professional staff what they thought might be best.

Eventually, Vernon put her foot down and asked that the council not put off adopting some kind of parking strategy to await more data comparing accident rates of back-in verses front-in angle parking and so on.

Vernon said the council had bigger fish to fry, and in any event, the parking plan was an emergency one that would be sorted out and refined as contractors left the downtown and motorists got some experience with back-in angle parking.

Back-in angle parking it is, the council said.

You want to see it in action: The contractors along Second Avenue SE in the downtown started doing a couple weeks ago.

At meeting’s end Monday morning, the council said it supported construction zones on Second and Third Avenues and a reduced parking rate for monthly parkers as a way to keep businesses downtown.

It was still unclear if the pioneering, back-in angle parking for Cedar Rapids would be on one side or both sides of First Street SE between First and Seventh avenues SE. It will be on just one side of the Second and Third avenue bridges. Most of the back-in spots will be reserved for monthly parkers.

The city of Des Moines is one spot that has been trying back-in angle parking, and Gary Fox, that city’s traffic engineer, reported Monday it is working well in limited use in Des Moines.

Fox said the city of Des Moines is using the back-in angle parking on two downtown bridges, where most of the spaces are used by downtown employees. The spaces on the bridges are 12 feet wide or three feet wider than the typical angle parking space.

Fox said back-in angle parking also is used on a few other streets on the east side of the downtown across the Des Moines River from the core of the downtown.

Des Moines has an entertainment district on Court Avenue, which features front-in angle parking and sidewalk cafes. Fox said hitting outdoor diners with vehicle exhausts was why those angle parking spots have not be converted to back-in spaces.

Fox said traffic engineers increasingly have come to dislike the traditional front-in angle parking in an era of behemoth SUVs and pickup trucks. It is nearly impossible to see backing out of one of those spots, he said. It’s easier, he added, to drive straight out if you had backed in in the first place.

The city of Cedar Rapids’ Griffith said, in the end, back-in angle parking is really little different than traditional back-in parallel parking that all drivers had to learn before getting a driver’s license.

Doug Neumann, president/CEO of the Downtown District, said the district was eager to get a parking plan in place. Businesses have returned to many buildings above the ground floor, and some of them need parking spaces on the side streets — those will remain parallel parking with meters — for their clientele. Right now, downtown employees park in the unenforced spots and stay all day, Neumann said.

According to the city of Des Moines, several cities use back-in angle parking, including Seattle, Portland, Ore., Indianapolis, Salt Lake City, Tucson, Ariz., and Pottstown, Pa.