Omaha changing drivers' habits with reverse parking - Omaha.com
Published Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 7:17 am
Omaha changing drivers' habits with reverse parking

Parking in parts of downtown Omaha is all backward now, thanks to some city engineers. But please, they beg, bear with them.

The most recent inversion has occurred around the Omaha Police Headquarters and in front of Patrick's Market at 15th and Howard Streets.

Diagonal parking stalls once meant for entering front-first now require a three-step process (handily illustrated on nearby signs): Signal. Stop. Reverse.

Such changes have already come to stretches of Park Avenue and Leavenworth Street. They may someday extend through Midtown Crossing, other portions of Farnam Street and elsewhere in Omaha.

The back-in style is proving difficult for some people to understand. Some people liked their diagonal parking the way it was.

The Public Works Department wants drivers to change their habits — and has even ticketed vehicles violating the rules.

Still, along Howard Street, several cars nosed into parking stalls after the recent transition.

“There's a lot of people upset about it,” said Patrick Andersen Jr., co-owner of Patrick's Market. “I think the biggest complaint is, people aren't used to it. It's not necessarily a bad thing.”

For City Engineer Todd Pfitzer, the concept is a no-brainer, although it requires a different driving style from parking spot jockeys.

“It is just something new, requires an educational element to it,” he said. “Everybody knows how to back up. It's just different.”

So why change? Proponents say back-in diagonal parking is safer.

They say back-in spots improve sight lines when cars exit a stall, making it easier to spot approaching vehicles or bicyclists. Loading items into a trunk or tailgate is easier and safer to do from the sidewalk than the street, proponents say.

Plus, they say, backing into a spot isn't much more difficult than parallel parking.

Cities such as Des Moines, Seattle, Portland, Indianapolis and New York City already use the concept.

Persuading locals to embrace the idea still hasn't been easy, Pfitzer said.

Although Omaha's Urban Village Development firm embraced the style in its recent overhaul of the Park Avenue corridor, Pfitzer said some other developers have been hesitant to adopt the concept.

A street redesign in downtown Dundee includes additional angled parking along Underwood Avenue, but the spots won't change to back-in parking. City Councilman Pete Festersen said a majority of area business owners and residents weren't interested in the idea.

Midtown Crossing is considering changing its angled spots to back-in spaces, spokeswoman Molly Skold said. “But no decision has been made at this time,” she said. “We need a lot more information.”

The area around Patrick's Market and Police Headquarters is the city's latest showcase for the concept. Howard Street now runs two ways between 14th and 16th Streets, and new back-in spots are a featured element.

Any stretch of angled parking has the potential to be converted, Pfitzer said. One concept under consideration could install back-in parking downtown on Farnam Street from 10th to 17th Streets.

Joe Gudenrath, executive director of the Downtown Improvement District, said the city is implementing changes at a reasonable pace — “without shoving it down people's throats.”

“As long as it demonstrates the positive impact that it's supposed to, I could see it spreading,” he said. Easing into the change is better, though, Gudenrath said.

Andersen said he loves how a new two-way Howard Street makes it easier for traffic to reach his store but also sees both perspectives on the new parking spots.

“If you're driving up and there's a car right behind you, how do you back up into your parking spot?” he said.

Eastbound cars on Howard Street occasionally cut across the street to pull into what's supposed to be a back-in spot for westbound traffic.

“It's just change,” Andersen said. “Change is gong to take a while when people aren't used to it.”

The city engineer agrees.

“We do have to kind of phase these things in with the public,” Pfitzer said. “Walk before you run.”

He added: “Before you judge how it's going to work, watch it a little bit, try it a couple of times and you might change your mind.”

Video: Live Well Nebraska Editor Randi Stevenson tested out the new parking strategy. Hear what she and others think of the new initiative in the video below.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1068, johnny.perez@owh.com, twitter.com/PerezJr

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