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Downtown St. Petersburg's about-face with street parking

ST. PETERSBURG — The words "back-in-head-out parking" should explain it all.

Alas, for a number of confused motorists, they do not.

A new way to park in St. Petersburg — introduced on one downtown block — is said to be safer and easier than traditional diagonal or parallel parking.

But not everyone has caught on to how it works.

Some drivers, probably excited at spotting a precious parking space, zip across oncoming traffic and maneuver their vehicle facing the wrong direction.

That wasn't the case with Oren Woodard early Monday evening. Heading to meet a group to feed the homeless at Williams Park, he deftly reversed into one of the 14 back-in metered spaces that hug the park on its Second Avenue N side, between Fourth Street and Third Street.

Woodard, 40, a cartoon and graffiti artist who has contributed to the city's murals and whose work is on display at the Bloom Art Center on Fifth Avenue N, was surprised to learn that he'd just used a new parking system.

"I didn't know it was back-in parking," he said, adding that it just seemed to make sense to park his car that way as he traveled east on Second Avenue.

But he worries about accidents because it's on a busy road, he said.

"I don't like it," Woodard said. "If there was damage, I'd rather it be the back than the front" of the car.

When the system debuted in February, the city left one of its vehicles in a parking space to demonstrate how to park. For two weeks, wrong-way parkers simply got warnings. Since then, 13 drivers have been ticketed.

"The vast majority are not finding it confusing," said Evan Mory, the city's transportation and parking management director.

Signs explain how to use the new parking spaces, carved out from an area where Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority buses once stopped.

Two signs — if a driver even sees them — say Back-in Only Angle Parking and offer instructions to signal, stop and reverse. There's even a diagram showing how to navigate into the spots near the park's band shell.

Back-in parking is already being used in cities such as Washington, D.C., Tucson, Ariz., New York and Charlotte, N. C. For motorcyclists in St. Petersburg, it's not new. In use for about seven or eight years downtown, back-in motorbike spaces are in areas such as next to Sundial, on Third Street at Central Avenue and Kahwa Coffee at Fifth Avenue N and Second Street.

However, there is no immediate plan to increase the number of back-in spaces for other vehicles, Mory said. When that happens, it will likely be within downtown, he said.

"This emerged as a good opportunity," Mory said of the Williams Park location, which went into effect after PSTA discontinued its bus hub there. "We will continue to look for opportunities. Some places work better than others."

The fact is that exhaust from vehicles will not make back-in parking palatable along sidewalk eateries, though proximity to parks would be ideal, Mory said.

He added that this type of parking makes it easier and safer to exit a space and merge into traffic, while creating a safer environment for pedestrians and bicyclists. Mory added that back-in parking lets vehicle doors block children from the road and makes it easier to guide them toward the curb. And it's also more convenient for unloading trunks.

When told about the reasoning behind the new parking spaces, Woodard gave his consent.

"I guess that makes sense," he said.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

Downtown St. Petersburg's about-face with street parking 05/19/16 [Last modified: Thursday, May 19, 2016 11:08am]
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