Prominent Resident John Schulz Blasts Council for ‘Dumbest, Most Dangerous Parking System in America’

reverse angleCAPE CHARLES WAVE

June 15, 2015

Cape Charles resident John Schulz is well known as an author and former Voice of America foreign correspondent. He also has been an Oxford scholar, National War College professor, magazine editor, and a prize-winning poet. But only now has he made the decision to break ranks with the town’s power structure and roast them for enacting “reverse angle parking” on Mason Avenue.

In a letter to Cape Charles Town Council which Schulz requested be made public record, he wrote satirically,

Dear Council Members: Congratulations! Thanks to your well-thought-through decision, we can all now brag about yet another unique feature of Cape Charles: We have the dumbest, most dangerous main street parking system of any town in America.

Thanks to all of you, anyone wishing to park on our commercial main street can now experience all the thrills and adventures associated with turning into oncoming traffic in the opposite lane, reversing, and, though most of us never practice skills at backing into parking places, begin the adventure of re-crossing into the lane we were in. And, hoping not to scrape the cars parked on either side due to our limited skills at this little adventure, slide our cars into place — also hoping not to drive up on to the curb where we might kill a passer-by we didn’t see in our rearview mirrors.

And, for those of us thoughtful enough to go to the end of the block, do a U-turn, and drive head first into the parking space we previously selected, thus avoiding all this maneuvering and extra lane-crossing, there is a parking ticket “just waiting to happen,” hot in the hands of our local constabulary.


Utterly brilliant decision, folks! Driving on the main commercial street here in Cape Charles is now a heart-pounding adventure, and possibly an expensive one, as we scrape cars already parked and have to pay the deductible fees to our insurance companies. Or, we can just park more skillfully and safely, by coming back to where we started — from the opposite direction — hoping the space is still open, and then be guaranteed to get a ticket. Either way, it’s now a “chance game” of “Pay as You Go.”

You could fix all this: Erase all the wrong-way painted lines, slant them the other way (where most traffic, and everyone entering the town is coming from), and set up your parking as “head first,” in conformity with what every city, town, and metropolitan area in the world does with theirs. The trouble is, the “re-do” and repainting would cost quite a lot of money. But over time, people would forget this unfortunate decision — and likely, would stop giggling every time they hear the words “Cape Charles Town Council.” Yes, you’ve created a one-liner joke!

Council member Chris Bannon, upon receiving Schulz’s letter, provided him four Internet links in defense of reverse-angle parking (and supposedly the influence for Town Council’s decision):

1. Bikewalk
2. Save Our Towns
3. Preservation Nation
4. Hampton Happenings

The links launched Schulz into high gear, as he fired back:

Chris: I have read each of the links carefully, and considered each in hope of being convinced that some advantage accrues specifically for the traffic conditions we find in Cape Charles. Sadly, my letter and my concerns stand. This “wrong way Corrigan” reverse and angled parking system now in place has prompted negative conversations all over town and in every place citizens have gathered where I have been present recently.

Let me (I hope fairly), summarize in a few words what each of the links is advocating. And then let me apply those considerations to what we find in Cape Charles now, and for the very long foreseeable future.

Link 1: “Reverse angle parking supposedly increases biker safety”. Problem: we have EXTREMELY limited bicycle traffic in Cape Charles, and I see more bikes in side streets looking at houses than I have ever seen on our main street. In contrast, Oxford city, England, where I lived, had ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND bikers moving about each day. Drivers knew to look out for them, especially when opening their doors, and bicyclists knew to look out for cars pulling out, etc. With 100,000 bikes roaming all over a dense city, I am sure there were accidents from time to time. But those never reached “epidemic” proportions or anything approaching that in the “City of Dreaming Spires.”

Link 2: “Calming traffic and slowing it down.” Problem: after laughing out loud at the density of traffic daily on our main commercial street — or the lack of it, I asked the obvious question: WHAT traffic??? Sure, we have a huge traffic entry and exit for special events, and police in key places doing a good job of “slowing the traffic” just by being there. And, traffic slows anyway as the crowds gather, first to look for parking places and second to look out for all the pedestrians moving to or from the big events on July 4, Tall Ship days, and perhaps a few other “crowded times in Cape Charles.” In sum, it is the solution, as is the first, to a problem that doesn’t exist.

Link 3: Parking problems alleviated by adding more parking spaces. Problem: obviously angled parking adds more parking spaces. But not a single added space accrues by making that angle such that drivers back into their spaces instead of driving straight into them. So, this “solution” cannot be seen as other than “a wash” after it is decided that more spaces are created with angled parking than with parallel parking. Indeed, most second graders could figure that out in their arithmetic classes. Put another way, reversing or driving in, you get only a finite number of spaces, and yes, more than with parallel parking. No “winning argument for reverse angled parking” in that link either. Score so far: Zero for three.

Link 4: Advocacy for safety as drivers depart, not having to blindly back out into traffic. Problem: pick your poison: back semi-blindly and with limited skills INTO the parking space, or, back OUT blindly into traffic — which is how it has been done in literally thousands of towns and cities for at least 50 years and likely 75 in bigger cities. I would say this, too, is a “wash” in terms of safety, except it is actually MORE dangerous and risky backing IN than backing out for reasons fully outlined in my letter:

1. To set up to pull in on our main street, a driver can either “fool the person behind into thinking we are moving on, by moving past the parking slot, BUT THEN stopping, and then backing up, forcing the “guy behind” (if there is one) to have to stop and to back up sometimes.

2. Separately, to get the best angle for reversing, drivers must turn left into the oncoming traffic lane, stop, and then reverse out of that lane and across the lane they were in, and finally into the “slot.”

3. But what are the risks inherent in that backward parking process? A) few drivers are accustomed to maneuvering backward into tight spaces, In other circumstances, not compelled by a city parking ticket, they feel far more comfortable driving forward into the narrow “slot”; B) aside from crossing into oncoming traffic, drivers then risk scraping against cars that are already parked, and know they have it “right” only by what little they can tell through their rear- and side-view mirrors. Likely, incidents involving scraped cars will escalate dramatically. Only the body repair shops will be pleased; C) it is difficult or impossible to see the curb, so now sidewalk pedestrians are endangered when drivers bump up onto the sidewalk. FAR more likely for this to occur than when we drive ahead into our parking slots.

Summary: The problem with two or more of these links is that they assure us that traffic has been slowed, spaces have been added, and safety is much better than “before.” But none of these advocacy articles clearly compare “apples to apples.” Instead they contrast the current benefits of “the new” versus the old parallel parking systems which are, indeed, a bit of a parking/driving challenge and do, indeed, take up more space and allow fewer cars per block.

And sure, after parallel parking, opening the door on the driver’s side without looking first may well cause a biker to collide with a door. Nearly happened to me once in Oxford on my small motor bike. But all these “favorable comparisons” are between angled parking and parallel parking. The ONE comparison that had any “weight or relevance” to it considered the merits of driving out into traffic with clearer visibility about the flowing traffic. But I have found in three of the four times I’ve now had to park with this ridiculous and flawed new system I ended up next to a big pickup truck. And LO — when I tried to “drive out” I had to inch out the same way I would if I had (far more safely and efficiently) driven head-first into my parking place. Thus, no safety or efficiency gain driving out, FAR more difficult and complicated, and unsafe, driving in backwards.

Please relay my response to the other members of Town Council. I have considered your “link responses” carefully, and find, as you see, next to no merit in any of them as they are applied to Cape Charles now or for many years to come. The “Population Boom” here just hasn’t happened.



30 Responses to “Prominent Resident John Schulz Blasts Council for ‘Dumbest, Most Dangerous Parking System in America’”

  1. Dana Lascu on June 15th, 2015 3:15 am

    Don’t limit yourself to those links. Read the research on this topic and you’ll find that reverse angle parking is the safer option and you can readily assume that more localities will adopt it in the future. With so many golf carts around and foot traffic, this is the responsible solution.

  2. Mary Finney on June 15th, 2015 7:37 am

    I continue to be amazed at how the town council (and their yes-men and women) obviously believe that if they keep telling the citizens how great all their decisions are, then we’ll believe it, completely disregarding our own experience and basic common sense. The county Board of Supervisors also uses this persuasion method.

  3. Thomas D. Giese on June 15th, 2015 8:45 am

    The highway of history is littered with bad decisions. I would like to add my own to the current chapter (I know, in football this is called piling on). I have noticed that parkers are now avoiding the north side of Mason and filling up the south side and the side streets and the old grocery store lot. To make our citizens and vistors “see the light” I propose erecting parking meters on all area streets except the north side of Mason. There are always ways to make people do what they don’t want to do. Just look at the Obama dictatorship.

  4. Joe Banks on June 15th, 2015 9:08 am

    “And, though most of us never practice skills at backing into parking places, begin the adventure of re-crossing into the lane we were in. And, hoping not to scrape the cars parked on either side due to our limited skills at this little adventure, slide our cars into place —- also hoping not to drive up on to the curb where we might kill a passer-by we didn’t see in our rearview mirrors.”

    Go to an empty parking lot and practice skills at backing into parking spaces.

  5. Kearn Schemm on June 15th, 2015 9:38 am

    I have lived in cities for much of my life, in Newark, New Jersey and Vienna, Austria. I worked in DC for 16 years, driving in every day. NEVER have I experienced such a moronic system. Backing into a parking space is harder, especially for a new driver, than driving in head first. It is great to have the extra parking spaces gained by angled parking, but as Mr. Schulz correctly states, the lines need to be redrawn to allow head-in parking for those coming from the east (from out of town). It is best to admit a mistake early, and then correct it. This should be done now.

  6. Christine LeVick on June 15th, 2015 10:38 am

    “Go to an empty parking lot and practice skills at backing into parking spaces.” Great idea, but highly unlikely that people will actually do that. I especially do not see tourists practicing their reverse angle parking skills in preparation for their vacation to Cape Charles. Realistically, it’s just not going to happen. I, for one, definitely will not gamble my car’s doors and mirrors that they will.

  7. John Smith on June 15th, 2015 12:09 pm

    You know life is good when something like this is a major complaint!

  8. Nioaka Marshall on June 15th, 2015 12:47 pm

    When I took driver’s education, we were taught that backing up on a public road was illegal. Not sure when that changed (if, in fact, it has changed). So it would be illegal to back up, illegal to park “nose first”, and it is illegal to cross the middle line. Hmmmm . . . looks like folks will have to ride in circles. Back to a serious note — I believe this is the most stupid idea for parking yet. Put it back as it was before. If we do not have enough parking for everyone, park on side streets. Or maybe, the town is trying to cater to the rich and lazy. Also, has this been made into an “official” ordinance yet? Don’t forget, in Virginia, if it is not in writing, it is not enforceable.

  9. Tony Sacco on June 15th, 2015 2:24 pm

    Solution: make it a one-way street.

  10. Joe Vaccaro on June 15th, 2015 2:29 pm

    I believe Dr. Schulz made some good points and I followed one of the other writer’s suggestions and did a little research. The first item I pulled up came directly from the SAVE OUR TOWNS (that allegedly influenced the Town Council’s decision) and here’s what I saw:

    “Culminating a 17-year campaign, Pottstown became the first town in Pennsylvania to receive permission from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to install back-in angle parking on its main street, High Street, in May 2003.”

    Now I ran some more numbers and saw where Pottstown’s population is approximately 22,300 people versus Cape Charles’ approximate population of 1,000 people. So that wasn’t a great example to work from.

    Trying to be fair minded, I also researched where this type of parking is being utilized elsewhere and saw that it’s in Birmingham, AL, Arlington, VA, Chico, CA, Knoxville, TN, Salt Lake City, UT, Tacoma, WA, Honolulu, HI, San Francisco, CA, Tucson, AZ, Ventura, CA, Portland, OR and a few other big “cities.” So I guess it does work in those big cities where parking spaces are a premium. Does anyone know if we use this anywhere else on the Shore?

    This reverse angle parking might be a work in progress (because as you already know, the Shore hates change) but despite what some of the other writers say here, it’s definitely a “town issue.” Consider the town’s older population and the tourist traffic that we just witnessed over the weekend (I saw several cars pulled in nose first). I think Cape Charles has a good Town Council, but this was definitely not their finest decision-making moment.

  11. Nancy Daniel Vest on June 15th, 2015 3:56 pm

    Richmond, Virginia has had reverse angle parking in some parts of the downtown area for several years. The Richmond version includes the use of parking meters.

  12. Joe Vaccaro on June 15th, 2015 6:00 pm

    Thank you Nancy. Good information. Once again, Richmond is obviously larger than Cape Charles and that large population no doubt dictates the need for more parking spaces. The population factor is not the issue here. It’s also interesting that you point out that this reverse angle parking is “in some parts” of Richmond — but does it take place on “the” main street as it does in Cape Charles? Once again, does anyone know if we use this anywhere else on the Shore or in any other small town the size of Cape Charles? Just asking.

  13. Deborah Bender on June 15th, 2015 7:15 pm

    I have been to most areas of the shore and I have never seen it anywhere. It is hard to do and I even have a back up camera in my car.

    Just saying…..

  14. Nancy Daniel Vest on June 15th, 2015 10:14 pm

    To be honest, there are very few streets in downtown Richmond wide enough to accommodate angled parking of any kind. As a result, there are many for profit parking lots where one must pay 4-5 dollars per hour to park. One of the areas with reverse angle parking is near city hall and a major hospital. The reverse angle parking provides much needed affordable parking in an area that is frequented by many.
    As you research the parking plans of other localities on the Shore, another question to ponder is the width of the existing streets. I would imagine that narrow streets would limit the variety of parking opportunities.

  15. Jack Demamp on June 16th, 2015 9:27 am

    Nioaka wrote, “When I took driver’s education, we were taught that backing up on a public road was illegal.”

    That means parallel parking is also illegal, since the correct method of parallel parking is to pull past the spot, signal, and reverse into the space. This also could “fool the person behind into thinking we are moving on, by moving past the parking slot, BUT THEN stopping, and then backing up, forcing the “guy behind” (if there is one) to have to stop and to back up sometimes,” as Mr. Schulz is so worried with.

    I’ve got the solution though: Since the town needs parking, but its residents are so afraid of change, and lacking the skills necessary to maintain a drivers license — do away with all street parking (if you can’t back into one of these spaces, you can’t parallel park either). The obvious solution is a multi-story parking garage next to the Shanty!

  16. Debbie Suddeth on June 16th, 2015 12:14 pm

    This parking situation is a good idea gone wrong. I have even heard that some shop owners have smelled tail pipe exhaust inside their businesses. Real leaders would admit an error in decision making, correct the problem and move on. Slanted parking spaces are great, but not backward slanted parking spaces. The citizens who live in town and pay taxes are sharing valid concerns and they should be considered in such a fixable solution.

  17. Nioaka Marshall on June 16th, 2015 2:01 pm

    I am in agreement with many comments; however, I take offense at one in particular. The comment from Jack Demamp, “and lacking the skills necessary to maintain a driver’s license” (referring to residents of Cape Charles). I am a Cape Charles resident, took Driver’s Education at Cape Charles High School, and have driven extensively in no less than 14 states. I have a driver’s license and have had one for 37 years. Your statement was very broad and stereotypes our local folks.

  18. Joe Vaccaro on June 16th, 2015 3:17 pm

    Nioaka — Excellent comment. What seems to escape some of the writers’ attention is the fact that a lot of people from this small but excellent community are well traveled (as in world wide) and experienced people — Dr. Schulz being one of them. There’s no need to discuss individual “driving skills” because that’s not the issue. It would be great if we could stay on topic and then we might be able to solve the issue at hand.

  19. Dana Lascu on June 16th, 2015 3:39 pm

    I often question Town Council and town management decisions. However, with new leadership, I find that decisions are trending in the right direction. Any strategy that increases the number of parking spots on Mason will benefit local businesses. And reverse angle parking is the correct decision in an area that is quite busy at times. Interestingly, not only is it a much safer type of angle parking, but it also slows down traffic, which constitutes an additional safety benefit. Luckily, today is Tuesday and Brown Dog Ice Cream is closed, so I don’t have to practice my parking skills until tomorrow.

  20. Jack Demamp on June 16th, 2015 4:37 pm

    Nioaka, duly noted, and I send my apologies. I am just baffled by the difficulty that this type of parking is posing. Folks in many cities across the US have mastered it…it is the first step (and easiest step) in parallel parking, which is what used to be present on the north side of Mason. And I just can’t wrap my head around how backing into a parking space is any more difficult than backing out of one into a traffic lane.

    I did not mean to stereotype any residents of CC. For me, when I took drivers ed, we had to successfully parallel park in order to pass. And since the beginning of a parallel parking job starts with backing into the space, that is where I inferred that people unable to do this maneuver are lacking in driving skills.

    It was meant more to be tongue in cheek, rather than offensive. So again, I do apologize if you took offense.

    I’m glad that it does seem that there are some CC residents going about this far superior parking method with an open mind.

  21. Dave Moore on June 16th, 2015 9:53 pm

    Just more positive proof of the dumbing down of this once great nation.

  22. Craig Richardson on June 17th, 2015 1:28 pm

    Right now, there is no law that states you have to back into those spaces. If anyone has received a ticket, I would dispute it — you will win!

  23. Jim Powell on June 18th, 2015 10:52 am

    A parking violation, and subsequent summons to appear, would have to have a citation indicating what Municipal Code Section, or Virginia Vehicle Code Section had been violated. In order to be a law, it would have to be written in English, codified, and contain a prescribed penalty assigned to said violation. Further, the signs posted would have to refer to said code. Without said citation, it is not a law, and cannot be unless the citizens of Cape Charles vote to make it a law.

  24. Thomas D. Giese on June 18th, 2015 2:14 pm

    Do I dare bring up my Cape Charles subway system proposal again. With that in place there would be no parking problems no matter how much CC grows.

  25. David Kabler on June 18th, 2015 2:46 pm

    The new pavement is down, the lines are painted, and I really do not see VDOT coming back to redo the paint job. Looks like we may just have to get with the program. Let’s turn our attention to stopping this uncalled-for rezoning that is in the works. There is still time to stop that train!

  26. Jill Combs on June 20th, 2015 9:26 am

    When I first saw the new parking, I absolutely could not believe it. Parallel parking scares the hell out of most people, but this is beyond moronic! I have heard from several Cape Charles merchants that the parking is actually running off business. People come in to the town, turn around on the end and leave. Hmmm — could it be the parking? YES!

  27. Dana Lascu on June 20th, 2015 10:38 pm

    After scouring the databases, I found several analyses of different levels of complexity and expertise of this parking procedure (and some citizen opposition, much like here). The one article that sums up best the literature is from Hoboken, NJ, below. Cape Charles is not Hoboken, but it is similar with many localities all over the world that have opted for reverse angle parking.

    Ultimately, if this type of parking is implemented thoughtfully, with sufficient large signs and with police warnings, rather than tickets, it will not alienate our neighbors, our merchants, and our tourists, and we will all be safer.

    Reverse Angle Parking FAQ
    Q: What is reverse angle parking?
    A: Reverse angle parking is a safer type of angle parking. Instead of pulling into the parking spot, cars back into their spots, allowing them to make eye contact with oncoming traffic when exiting the parking space. The back-in maneuver is simpler than a parallel parking maneuver.
    Q: How does back-in angle parking work?
    A: Reverse angle parking is just like parallel parking, except it’s easier (it’s actually just the first maneuver of parallel parking):
    1. Signal: Use turn signal to indicate parking.
    2. Stop: Pull past the space then stop to make sure no traffic is behind you.
    3. Reverse: Reverse into the parking spot.
    Q: What are the benefits of reverse angle parking?
    1. Improved visibility and increased field of vision. When leaving the parking space, motorists are able to see oncoming traffic.
    2. Decreased number of collisions. Motorists no longer have to back out blindly from their parking space.
    3. Improved safety for children. Car doors open in a manner that directs children to the back of the vehicle, ushering them towards the sidewalk rather than the street.
    4. Improved safety for cyclists. Car doors that open will not result in “dooring” of cyclists, and as vehicles exit their parking stall, they are able to see cyclists in the roadway.
    5. Improved loading and unloading. Trunks are adjacent to the sidewalk and open car doors offer protection from the street, allowing loading and unloading to occur at the curb instead of in the traveled roadway.
    Q: Is backing into the stalls difficult?
    A: The backing maneuver may be unfamiliar at first, but it is easier than parallel parking, a common task on Hoboken streets.
    Q: It’s so easy just to pull forward into a standard angle stall. Doesn’t this convenience make it the best parking method?
    A: It is a matter of safety and when you want convenience. With standard angle parking it’s simple to pull in, but difficult to pull out. You have to back your car entirely out into the traffic lane before you can even see the oncoming traffic. With back-in angle parking, exiting the space is more convenient because you don’t have to pull out very far at all to see the oncoming traffic.
    Q: What about vehicle exhaust on sidewalks?
    A: The State of New Jersey has strict anti-idling laws, and vehicles should not be idling whether they are in regular or reverse angle parking spaces. Vehicles idling more than 3 minutes can be reported to the Hoboken Police Department by calling 201-420-2100.
    Q: Won’t reverse angle parking increase the number accidents?
    A: Actually, one of the most common causes of accidents is people backing out of standard angled parking without being able to see on-coming traffic. Reverse angle parking removes this difficulty. The initial stopping and signaling required for back-in angle parking is similar to parallel parking. Many cities report a decrease in parking-related accidents after back-in angle parking is implemented.
    For example, Tucson, Arizona tracked data for bicycle/car crashes before and after installing back-in angle parking, and found an average of three to four crashes per month with front-in angle parking compared to zero reported bicycle/car crashes for the first four years following implementation of back-in angle parking.

  28. Joe Vaccaro on June 21st, 2015 10:29 am

    Dana — More good information. Thanks for sharing.

  29. Nancy Goffigon on June 22nd, 2015 10:18 am

    What concerns me are the safety issues. Do not come out of a side street onto the main street. You definitely can not see oncoming traffic. Also, if you have a small car, as one shop owner does, do not park in one of those spaces. You will not be able to see oncoming traffic either when you leave.

  30. Ron Swan on July 12th, 2015 6:57 am

    I don’t like the confusion and difficulty of the new parking so we limit our visits to C.C. And only park if there are spaces across the street.