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What’s Up With the Back-In Parking Spaces in Courthouse?

by ARLnow.com January 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm 6,747 101 Comments

A reader, Christine, wrote in to ask about a parking ticket she recently received in Courthouse. Here’s her story:

I’m writing because I’d like to find out if any of your other readers have had the same issue I ran into last week. I received a $50 parking ticket for pulling front-end first into an angled parking space in Courthouse. These are the spots right next to the big AMC lot (cannot remember what street). Apparently the parking spaces were “Back-in Only”, which I failed to notice (admittedly this is my own fault). What I don’t understand is why Arlington is charging me $50 for pulling into a spot facing the wrong direction?! It’s not as if I was parking in a zone I didn’t have a permit for, or parked over a line taking up two spaces. It also seems like a pretty easy mistake to make, considering the street is 2-way and there is only parking on one side.

I’m not saying I don’t deserve a ticket (though I believe a warning would have been more appropriate considering this whole “back-in only” idea is not exactly prevalent), but $50 just seems insane.

We reached out to Arlington County Department of Environmental Services spokesperson Shannon Whalen McDaniel for the answer to why the spaces are back-in only. Here’s her response:

It is a safety issue. Back-in spaces are generally safer because of improved visibility when leaving the space. On 14th Street, which has a slope to it, safety is further enhanced because the cars would roll into the curb if the brakes failed.

Is a $50 fine too much, or does safety take precedence?

Update on 1/13/11 — WUSA 9 did a follow-up story to this article. Check it out here.

  • wat

    isn’t that street also one way? Pulling in front end first implies you were driving the wrong direction on that street, or pulled off a 300 degree turn into the space.

    • Christine

      I assure you there are 2 yellow lines running down the street in that area, indicating that it is not one-way.

      • Andrew

        Technically, you have to drive on the “wrong” side of the street (if only for a second) to pull front-first into a back-in space at an angle.

        However, I learned years ago (thanks to a brochure from Liberty Mutual insurance company) that it’s almost always safer to back into a parking space (regardless of whether it’s designated “back-in” or not) because it’s easier to be aware of your surroundings when you’re backing in than when you’re backing out. So, I make a point of backing in regularly.

        I once got a parking ticket for backing in to a “head first” parking space. I didn’t see the signs so I guess I deserved the ticket, but I was still furious that the municipal (Pittsburgh) garage would have a regulation that contradicted public safety. Apparently, the rule made it easier for parking enforcement to write tickets: In PA, cars don’t have license plates in front, and a vehicle backed into a spot might come too close to the wall for the officer to read the plate. When choosing between revenue and safety, I guess we know where their priority is.

    • RL

      It’s a two way street, but to park the way she did, you have to drive in the wrong direction.

  • Kenny Stultz

    The last comment from Ms. McDaniel makes no sense to me. If the brakes fail, won’t the car will roll into the curb no matter which way it is facing?

    • I think what she was saying — or at least my interpretation of it — is that if you’re pulling in front-first, you’re accelerating into the space, whereas if you’re backing in you’re letting gravity do most of the work.

      • Not Larry Sabato

        That’s crazy, if we made all laws for “if brakes fail” we wouldn’t have roads!

        • Michael

          Don’t tell that to the folks in San Francisco about laws based on brakes that might fail. If you don’t point your wheels in the appropriate direction on hills (so your car will roll into the curb and not the street) you’ll get a ticket.

      • Greg

        I’m pretty sure what she means is if the spaces were slanted the other direction to permit cars travelling east on 14th St. to pull directly into the space front in, you would roll down the hill if your brakes failed.

      • Okay, disregard my last interpretation. The real answer concerns the angle the spaces are facing. In order for the spaces to be front-in on that particular (northbound) side of 14th Street, they would have to be angled downhill toward the center of the street. By the virtue of being back-in spaces, they are angle downhill toward the curb, away from vehicular traffic.

        • Sean

          Well now you’ve stymied the debate on whether failing brakes are worse facing forward or backwards. Nice Going…

          • Rob42

            You have to back in because of how the spaces are angled.

            The spaces are angled that way (as opposed in the opposite direction which would allow for front first parking) to prevent cars from rolling into traffic.

          • Sean

            Rob, if everyone thought the way you do about this, no one wold have gotten a $50.00 ticket…

    • RL

      You are right, it doesn’t matter how you park, you will always go down the hill and hit the curb.I guess she was confused.

  • George B.

    I saw this for the first time last week. The street is not one way, but the way the slope of the hill and the spots are set up, it would be very hard to pull out of the spots safely the other way.

    I think the $50 ticket is fair. Especially since there are pretty obvious signs about it.

    • wat

      oi
      I was thinking of the street near ray’s the steaks, which was the first i noticed around courthouse to have back in parking. But maybe that isn’t even one way, i know the street by 5 guys is, so maybe i was combining the two in my head.

  • $50 seems steep…

  • Rover

    I’m surprised a tow truck didn’t hitch you up in about 30 seconds.

  • Sean

    Back-in parking makes sense where Ms McDaniel is speaking about. If you park nose-in at those spots, you will end up facing Southbound in Northbound traffic on 14th St when you leave the space. Otherwise you would have to back across traffic to continue heading South. The way those spots are oriented, the only safe way to park is by backing in.
    The $50.00 fine seems a little stiff but I bet you won’t park nose-in at those spots again. Sorry about your luck, but thanks for calling this out to everyone’s attention.

    • Not Larry Sabato

      That seems like a different argument than “if the brakes fail” that was reported above.

    • Sean

      ‘On 14th Street, which has a slope to it, safety is further enhanced because the cars would roll into the curb if the brakes failed.’

      I agree the slope will cause the car to roll into the curb regardless of which way the car is facing.

      I believe Ms McDaniel is correct that backing into those spaces is safer than nosing in. If the County wanted you to nose-in to the spaces they would’ve oriented them in the other direction. One should only attempt to park there by traveling North on 14th St.

    • Bender

      So why aren’t these parallel spots?

      • Sean

        That sounds like another question for DES.

      • Chris

        On Taylor Street, they used to be parallel spots, but to increase the number of spots, they made them back in spots. I think they got 2-4 more spots this way.

      • Sean

        It makes sense that you could get a few more spots into a linear space if they were stacked instead of lined up end-to-end. Moreover, this also narrows the roadway once cars are in place.

        Yeah, that’s right! i said it…

      • PD Blue

        The County gets more spaces therefore more parking revenue out of angled vs parallel spaces on that block of 14th street.

  • MM

    Pretty sure I’m more likely to cause an accident by backing in to those spaces than anything else…

  • G

    I got a $50 ticket for this same reason in Ballston on N Taylor St. between Wilson and N Fairfax. This is of course in addition to paying for a spot that I got a ticket for parking in anyway… so yes I think $50 is definitely too much. If someone paid for the spot as it is, it’s obvious they simply didn’t realize it was back in only.

    • G

      I think the main problem is that these spots do not have noticeable signs. You have to walk to the end to see it. They just look like normal parking spots that you need to pay to park in, not to mention that there are usually several people already parked that did not back in.

    • Chris

      This is for the same reason Sean stated above. It seems clear to me that the only safe way to exit those spots is to be parked, back end first. Unfortunately, there is so little available street parking in the area that people see an open spot when they are in the wrong position to back into it, that they park front first and worry about it later.

      The worse ticket is the one going north on the 900 block of Stuart Street. That is a bus only lane and while it has signs on both sides of the road and on the street, I never saw them until I got the ticket. People see cars able to go the other direction, it never occurs to them that that one side of the street is bus only.

      • Maria

        I don’t know when you got your ticket, but it definitely used to be difficult to notice the signs until it was too late. In the last year or so, they added stop signs and arrows on the road, so it should be much clearer now.

      • Look Up

        It sounds like both of you dumbasses (Chris and G) need to pay more attention to what your doing, and the signs around you. The Bus lanes can’t be more clearly visible if it punched you in the face. As for the back in parking, would you like to have a paid parking attendant waiting on the sidewalk to TELL you verbally that it’s back in. Stop blaming the damn signs for your ignorance. Once you exit a back in space, you’re pointed in the right direction and you don’t have a huge blindspot blocking your view. I swear I think I get dumber reading some of these posts.

        • Chris

          I don’t believe I ever said it wasn’t my fault for noticing the signs. I clearly stated that they were there. It was simply an observation I made. Your incivility, in my opinion, was not necessary, unless it made you feel better. I hope it did and you can go out on the roads tonight fully aware of all signs.

          • G

            +1
            We’re human. Everyone messes up from time to time… and the county takes advantage of this.

          • Lou

            $50 is too much for a parking violation. That’s a good chunk of money when you stop and think about it; what you can buy at, say a grocery store to feed yourself, with $50. All because you parked in the wrong direction. Still within the lines, not obstructing traffic or anything like that. No actual harm was done, but they think you behaved in a way that could cause some sort of hazard once you are driving. So if you get into a wreck, how about that’s when the penalties start? No more of this legislating things that might happen. It’s pretty absurd if you stop and think about it.

          • Sean

            Lou, I disagree. Fines are a tried & true method of behavior modification. Those of us conditioned to play by the rules will remember the discipline & hopefully not make the mistake again. $50.00 is a blow to the ego as well as the wallet but it’s better than the traffic problems (and worse) if people don’t learn this new rule.

  • K

    Seems like the simple solution to this would be to angle the spaces 90 degrees the other way as to allow front in parking. $50 is ridiculous, and who ever backs into parking spaces like that?

    • Sean

      I think backing into a parking space makes it way easier to leave the space. I park that way most of the time.

    • Maria

      I almost always back into parking spaces, angled or not. It’s easier because you can use your mirrors, so you know exactly where the sides of the car are, and it is generally much safer when leaving the space.

  • OX4

    wat is right. Parking nose first means you essentially drove the wrong way down the street. I got a ticket for almost the same reason — I parked parallel on the other side of the street.

    I’m curious why you reached out to a “Arlington County Department of Environmental Services spokesperson” to answer a parking ticket question.

    • DES is the agency in charge of transportation — including streets, parking, etc. — in Arlington County.

    • OX4

      Oh, my mistake for not reading closer. She was trying to answer why they are back in only.

    • Sean

      I bet ARLnow.com was directed to DES because that department handles roads & streets, including striping of parking spots.

      Christine sounds like she wanted to know why she got stung with a ticket.

      The answer appears to be she was hit by PD for doing something the County didn’t want her to do in order to get her car into the spot nose-in.

      • MB

        Yes. Arlington DES = DOT.

    • Christine

      Actually, i didn’t have to drive the wrong way down the street. It’s the same as taking a left-hand turn down another street, except you’re pulling into a parking space. However, I’m not saying I don’t deserve a ticket, simply that $50 is the same fine you get for parking somewhere without a permit or any other violation, and this doesn’t seem like as big a deal.

  • Liz

    This “back-in parking” also occurs on Key Blvd – a block over from where I live. Since I can hardly ever find parking on the street I actually live on (N. Troy), the first time I needed to park on Key, I also got a ticket! How would I know?! I’m supposed to be able to park on my actual street, where front in parking is just fine. Doesn’t seem quite fair…

    • Maria

      Are you being sarcastic? You would know if you read the signs near the parking spots…

  • arlalx

    Some above say the signs are obvious. I do not agree – especially if you are not walking the sidewalk. I, too, received a ticket for those back in only spaces. I believe Arlington needs to put a sign above the pay-meter to be sure that all people are aware of the requirement.

    • YourWaitTimeIs5Days

      An actual SOLUTION that could help people! County should do this – or a sticker. You miss the sign you see the sticker – either on meter on on the machine thingee that spits out the paper parking slip “back in parking only.” Simple and affordable.

      Now on to the DES response … “Back-in spaces are generally safer because of improved visibility when leaving the space” … so would that make them LESS SAFE when backing into the space????????????

      • Sean

        No, I don’t think that is true at all.

        I believe the comparison she was making was exiting back-in spaces is safer than exiting nose-in spaces. Driving out of back-in spaces is by far easier & safer than backing out of nose-in spaces (into traffic, blindly).

      • Maria

        I don’t think so because you can see cars around you when you’re backing in, but it’s much harder to see cars coming when you are backing *out*.

  • Double C

    I received a ticket as well for not backing in…in spite of the fact that I pointed out to the meter maid that Verizon trucks were blocking the view of the sign indicating that vehicles must back in and that the meter was not working properly.

    • Lacy Forest

      Were the Verizon trucks backed in? On thing I learned at AT&T Safe Driving class was to always back into a parking space so that when you leave, you are pulling out into traffic, not trying to back into it. We cherished the finding of pull-through spaces so that you didn’t have to back up at all. The other useful thing we learned was to avoid left turns. A very high percentage of traffic accidents in urban environments are due to left turns taken at the wrong time.

  • S

    While I accept that the back-in spaces do make things safer than in a drive-in situation, I agree with Kenny and cannot accept that should a cars brakes fail on a downward slope, it would enhance safety by having the car face uphill. If anything, it would make it less safe. Brakes are stronger on the front wheels, and with the extra weight of the engine at the front (in most cars), the inertia that would have to be overcome in order for the car to move would be greater if the car had was facing downhill. It’s simple physics! Don’t they teach about levers and friction anymore?

    As for the fine, I think it’s acceptable. In order to drive straight into an back-in angle park, one must necessarily drive on the wrong side for the road to do so (granted, it is only for a matter of feet)

    • G

      The street that I got a ticket for was 2 way…

      • S

        but the part where you cross from your lane, across the other lane, and then into the parking space, you would have to be heading at approximately a 45 degree angle when you are crossing that other lane; hence you would be going more the wrong way than the right way. And like i said – only for a few yards, but still…

    • mehoo

      I’m not sure your physics is right, E. I don’t think there’s a lever effect, since the wheels overcome friction (as they are designed to do) and do so equally in both directions. But I’m no physicist.

  • Alex

    Arlington is notorious for expensive tickets and they will ticket you for ANYTHING. I recently recieved a ticket at 6:55AM ACCORDING TO AT&T CELL DATA, though meters don’t open up until 7am on my street. I argued with the little man that issued me the ticket, but he ignored me and drove away in his truck. That was straight criminal. I would like to see the county explain that one. I mean running their clocks 5 minutes ahead of cell phone time??? That’s absurd.

    • CW

      Alex,

      What exact time does the Arlington ticket say? If it says anything before 7AM, you can fight and win that battle pretty easily. I had a similar issue in Old Town (2 hour non-metered parking starting at 8AM, so the earliest time that a ticket could be issued was 10AM.) I somehow got a ticket at 9:58AM, and when I showed the time stamp in court, they dismissed it immediately.)

      Good luck to you.

    • Sam

      What makes you think AT&T’s cell phone time isn’t 5 minutes slow? It’s not like cell phones get their time from NIST.

  • Bender

    Either way, one must go the wrong way.

    In order to back into such a spot, one must necessarily drive (in reverse) in the wrong direction. Moreover, since it is harder for one to see out their back window, and going in reverse takes a bit more skill than going forward, I would expect to see cars parked outside the lines more often, crowding other cars, or even hitting the other parked cars trying to back in.

    • Sean

      It’s no different, in concept, from parallel parking. In fact, the driver gets an advantage by not having to cut back once the car is angled into the space. Using mirrors and knowing where the corners of your car are makes this maneuver easier (arguably) than parking nose-in.

    • OX4

      I suppose you could argue the opposite though, which is probably more important. Once you come OUT of the space, you’re automatically facing the right way if you’ve backed in. An angled spot is just like a parallel spot, only…well, angled a bit. If you go nose first into an angled space, you have to back out into the lane facing the wrong way.

      • Sean

        Which, IMHO, is the reason for the $50.00 ‘reminder’…

    • JamesE

      I find the very thought of most NoVa drivers backing into spaces horrifying, and god forbid if they are from Maryland.

  • JamesE

    Can they give out $50 tickets to people that cruise along Fairfax and Wilson at 5 mph looking for a space? possible a severe beating as well.

  • Alex

    James — People have to find spots. Welcome to life in the city. If you don’t like it, move.

    • JamesE

      You can find a spot going the speed limit, unless you are mentally challenged.

      • Alex

        5mph per hour is absurd… but you also don’t want people going 35 and slamming on the brakes then baking up on Fairfax… What I hate is when people make left turns and don’t use the “middle lane” and thus hold up traffic. Those people should be fined.

        • Lou

          I’ve baked up on Fairfax before. But I wasn’t driving.

          • a’town

            did you then hit the galaxy hut?

      • mehoo

        Let’s lay off the mentally challenged, shall we? They’re real people.

  • Bender

    Alex — People can comment how they like. Welcome to life in the blogosphere. If you don’t like it, move.

    • Alex

      Bender – People can comment how they like. Welcome to life in the blogosphere. If you don’t like it, move.

  • K

    Sorry, this is completely unrelated but……

    Dear ArlNow.com

    Can you do another article on how horrible Comcast cable is and why Arlington Comcast doesn’t have an up to date Guide (it looks like it’s from the 80s) like most other parts of the country with Comcast. And why we can’t set our DVR from a remote computer or cell phone like most other parts of the country with Comcast. How we can’t do anything like most other Comcast subscribers throughout the country because the technology and cable boxes here are so outdated. I can’t stand Comcast! Unfortunately I’m stuck with them in my condo building, I have no other choice.

    • K,
      Sounds like a good story idea. We’ll contact Comcast and see if they’d be willing to confirm, on the record, why those services aren’t available in Arlington.

    • G

      A previous commenter explained why this is so. It has something to do with Comcast buying out a previous cable company in Arlington that had dated infrastructure and equipment.

      • a’town

        ya but they’ll charge Arlington just as much (or more) for less service.

        and then, they’ll constantly call you asking you if you want to add a phone line!!! its 2011, nobody uses landlines anymore Comcast, get over it.

  • Arlington, Northside

    $50 does seem steep. $15-20 seems like it would be fair.

    • Alex

      Agreed. 200%

    • Look Up

      $50 is fair enough for being stupid. The county could use that hefty donation for plenty of worthy causes, such as dog parks and day laborer centers.

  • Jack

    Rules are rules. Pay the $50 and move on. IMO it should be a $100 fine or more. Next time take the metro!

    • Sean

      $50.00 stings for a parking violation but I bet everyone who has ever received one now knows to back into those parking spaces. I promise to learn from all of your mistakes…

    • G

      Jack, not everyone lives near a metro. I drove to the back in spot in ballston so I could take the metro. If I took the bus it would have more than doubled my commute… and if I purchased my condo in Ballston it would have doubled (or tripled) its cost vs. what I paid in south arlington… haha

      • LostTourist

        wow G, you really are dumb. Ballston side streets are not commuter parking lots, drive to West Falls Church. If you can afford to feed that meter all day, then surely the $50 ticket was chump change. Take the bus, heck RIDE A BIKE to Ballston. You say S Arlington, there are plenty of fast busses to Pentagon (16), or Ballston (10B, 23A, 22A). You’re just spoiled lazy, that’s your problem.

        • G

          I bike or run to work every single day, and beat the bus every single time. They’re that slow. Also, I parked the car there on that day 15 minutes before it became free, so it only cost me 25 cents.

    • Chris

      Strangely enough I tend to agree. I now am much more careful about reading signs while driving and parking. I still wish that parking meters/streets/etc. had more signs telling what paid/unpaid parking hours are though.

    • DD

      Jack O …. A $100 is reasonable? We need you to run for the council; you’d fit in quite well …..IMO

    • mehoo

      Nobody is saying they shouldn’t follow the rules, just that the punishment is excessive. Which it is.

  • Jean Girard

    The Americans are the worst drivers in tout le monde. You expect to be coddled like un petit bébé.

  • Courthouse

    $50 (or about a full work day of pre-tax wages for a minimum wage worker) is more than fair, if not low. Trivial violations of dubious local regulations enforced without adequate signage or warning are essential to maintaining a fully-funded, large and sprawling local bureaucracy.

    • Thanks for the Laugh, Arlington

      Exactly.

  • KB
  • PD Blue

    I’m sure the decision was not DES since the County gets more spaces therefore more parking revenue out of angled vs parallel spaces on that block of 14th street.

  • Elizabeth

    Hi, I’m from Channel 9 News.
    Please contact me at 202 895 5700 (ask for Elizabeth) if you would be able to give me a brief interview on this topic today, Jan. 13, 2011.
    Thank you!

    • Sam

      Slow news day, huh?

      “Next on Channel 9 News, some lady didn’t read the signs and got a ticket. More details at 11.”

      • mehoo

        I’ll bet you watch it though, Sam.

        • Sam

          Not even if they paid me. What purpose does the evening news play with resources like the Internet in almost every home? Anything that is truly news breaks online within seconds. It’s nothing against Channel 9, but local news in general is not necessary anymore. There’s nothing important that a news reporter at 3:00pm can say is coming at 11pm that I don’t already know about or won’t know about within minutes.

          Local TV news will soon go the way of the telegraph and Pony Express.

          • Elizabeth

            The Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services did speak on camera about their reasons for designing these spots. 🙂

  • Billy

    Safety! Its all about the money, always is. They stole $50 from you, pure and simple.

  • LB

    I got towed a few months ago the first time I parked in my arlington townhouse parking lot because I didn’t see the “front end only” parking sign. $100 to get my car out of the lot. Total BS. Apparently the condo association claims it’s becaue backing in to a spot causes unwanted fumes against the greenery or something like that. Huh?

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