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Back-in diagonal parking in downtown Bakersfield may take some getting used to

Reverse angle parking has come to downtown Bakersfield.

But some motorists may be unclear on the concept.

Bakersfield city workers on Monday painted reverse angle parking stalls on the south side of 18th Street between N and Q streets in the city's downtown district.

This kind of parking design has never been tried before in Bakersfield, city officials said.

The back-in diagonal parking design provided nine additional parking spaces on approximately three blocks of blacktop, a result that pleased Cafe Smitten owner Shai Bitton.

"It was very much needed downtown. It's a good thing for Bakersfield," Bitton said.

But as Bitton peered out the cafe's expansive windows, most of the stalls showed motorists had parked their cars front-end in.

"Some people haven't gotten the idea yet," the restaurateur said, smiling.

The reverse angle parking design is new to most drivers, Assistant City Manager Chris Huot said Monday afternoon.

Some will find it awkward at first. But it has several benefits, including improved driver visibility of traffic, Huot said. Vehicle trunks are more conveniently and safely accessed from the sidewalk and vehicle doors block pedestrian access to traffic lanes and guide people back toward the sidewalk.

"Cities such as Tucson, Arizona, have reported reductions in collisions when looking at before-and-after data associated with the installation of reverse angle parking spaces," Huot said in an email. "Several cities throughout California and the nation have implemented this type of parking in an effort to improve safety and increase the number of available on-street parking spaces within commercial areas."

It might seem mundane, but getting parking right in downtown Bakersfield is an important step toward encouraging more business activity and future housing development opportunities in the area, Bakersfield City Councilman Andrae Gonzales said.

The councilman, who represents the downtown area, fully supports the change. Sure, drivers may get it wrong the first time out, but eventually it will become routine for most motorists, he said.

And try backing a motorcycle out of a traditional front-end-in space. It's awkward at best. Motorcyclists, too, will benefit, he said.

"The city will roll out public outreach and education on the new parking (Tuesday)," Gonzales said.

Sgt. Brian Holcombe, spokesman for the Bakersfield Police Department, said the new parking rule can indeed be enforced when motorists park in the wrong direction. But the department recognizes this is the first time drivers in Bakersfield have seen this new parking method, and wants to give residents a chance to educate themselves before implementing enforcement.

"The fine will be $35" for the infraction, Holcombe said. "A 30-day grace period is being granted."

Comments were mixed in a Facebook post describing the new parking design. 

Katrina Barnum Huckins said "the change in safety was dramatic" when the parking design was tried in Tucson.

But Kern River Valley resident Pam Stewart was less positive. "You won't catch me parking there," she said. "Backing up is not my forte."

Bakersfield resident Joanne Brinkley said her truck was once "T-boned" when she tried to back out of a vertical parking spot on Eye Street. "I would be happy to back into a space so I can see to get out," she said on Facebook.

The parking project is part of a larger effort to improve the availability and efficient use of parking in the downtown area, city officials said in a news release. Other efforts include reducing a variety of “time limit” regulations into three periods (“one hour,” ”90 minutes,” and “2 hours”), making parking enforcement more manageable; establishing a parking mall on “G” Street, between 18th and 20th streets, to increase the parking capacity by 23 spaces; and improving the user experience of the downtown parking structure.

Obviously, some love the new design. Others are not thrilled. But one thing is certain: Bakersfield drivers will need to more fully grasp the concept.

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