By JOY BROWN
Pottstown, Pa., is being used by Findlay officials as one example of where reverse-angle parking is being used. But has it been a success?
“It has and it hasn’t. People either like back-in angled parking or they absolutely hate it,” said Doug Yerger, Pottstown’s public works director.
Pottstown, on the Schuylkill River about 40 miles northwest of Philadelphia, has some similarities to Findlay.
High Street, its primary retail corridor and a state route, was formerly like Findlay’s Main Street: It had four lanes, a middle turn lane, and parallel parking along each side.
But the steel industry’s retrenchment and shopping malls cut into downtown traffic. King of Prussia Mall, one of the nation’s largest, is 20 miles away.
About a decade ago, Pottstown officials sought to both revitalize downtown and to discourage speeding and dangerous driving that accompanied cruising.
It took advantage of a state repaving project on High Street, Yerger said, giving Pottstown a fresh slate for a street redesign, which he said was “a big, big help.”
The municipality paid only about $200,000 for:
• Eight blocks of one lane in each direction.
• A left-turn lane.
• Reverse-angle parking on one side of the street, parallel parking on the other side.
• Bicycle lanes between each travel lane and the parking slots.
The back-in parking idea alone was revolutionary for the region. In 2001, when Pottstown pushed for the changes, few municipalities in the country, and none in Pennsylvania, had tried it.
There were skeptics.
Part of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s headline for a story on the project was, “Inspiration or idiocy?”
“There was no rule book to cover this whole thing,” Yerger said.
Many drivers initially had problems with the different parking, and some still do, Yerger said. The street’s slope made it difficult to see the lines, so they were made wider.
“Keep in mind that when you back in, there’s more of an overhang between the back wheels and the bumper,” Yerger said. Some drivers don’t stop until their rear tires hit the curb, which has resulted in more than a few collisions with sign posts, landscaping, and even pedestrians, he said.
“We’ve had a couple of accidents where people have been knocked off benches, but that’s the extreme exception,” Yerger said.
Some drivers still try to park front-first, he said, either because they’re ignorant of the law or because they’re simply choosing to ignore it.
But, in 2004, a year after the changes, High Street had a 25 percent reduction in accidents, and a 43 percent reduction in injuries from them, according to a report issued by engineer John Nawn, then project manager.
Parking increased by 21 percent, and pedestrian crossing time decreased by 12 percent, Nawn reported.
Yerger said he knows of no long-term study.
Because High Street is a state route, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation plows the street in winter, pushing snow into the bike lanes and parking spaces.
A downtown organization that collects assessments for upkeep and improvements, similar to the Downtown Findlay Improvement District, hauls the snow away.
With the exception of this winter, with its unusually high snowfall, Yerger said the plowing has, for the most part, worked for Pottstown.
Overall, “I really believe this has worked well for us,” he said.
“But the volume of traffic certainly has a significant role in this whole thing. If there’s constant traffic behind you, then a lot of people will get so nervous about it that they don’t even try” to reverse-angle park, he said.
Yerger said if the steel factories were still open, the design would not have accommodated rush hours at shift changes.
Pennsylvania traffic counts in 2001 placed High Street’s average daily traffic volume at 8,900.
The Ohio Department of Transportation in 2010 placed Findlay’s downtown Main Street average daily traffic volume at 16,620.
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