Boulder parking enforcement officers issued warning tickets and handed out pamphlets explaining the program.

Transportation officials doubled the number of signs explaining how to park.

But three months after Boulder started requiring cars to back into angled parking spots on University Avenue between Broadway and 17th Street, many drivers still pull into the spots with the front of their cars facing the curb.

On a recent weekday afternoon, almost half the cars were parked the wrong way, including an SUV driven by University of Colorado freshman Emily Pierce, who was waiting for a friend. She was surprised when a reporter told her she was parked the wrong way.

"Do they have signs?" asked Pierce, who was parked directly underneath a sign explaining the parking system.

In the rest of Boulder, cars are supposed to pull forward into angled parking, and they can be ticketed if they back in.

Boulder transportation officials changed the direction of parking as one of several "Living Laboratory" transportation experiments designed to test street design innovations to see if they improve safety for bicyclists and drivers.


Other treatments include buffered bike lanes on University Avenue and Spruce Street, with more separation from the vehicle lanes, and a "bike box" at Folsom Street and Canyon Boulevard, a marked area in the intersection that moves bicycles to the front of the queue and allows them to clear the intersection before cars.

An evaluation of the various treatments will be part of the Transportation Master Plan update next year.

The idea behind back-in angled parking is that it reduces collisions between cars backing blindly out of parking spaces and bicycles and vehicles in the lane of travel, said Bill Cowern, transportation operations engineer for the city of Boulder.

That stretch of University Avenue was chosen for the test program because it's the only place in the city where there is angled parking with a designated bike lane running past it, Cowern said, though in looking at five years of accident data leading up to the test project, all the collisions there were between vehicles.

"The safety benefit is more than just bicycles," he said. "It's predominantly people backing out and hitting other cars."

Drivers still back into the spots, but their mirrors give a good view of any cars or bicycles coming behind them, whereas drivers have a much harder time seeing oncoming traffic when they back out of the spots.

Marni Ratzel, a senior transportation planner and bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the city, said back-in angled parking has benefits for drivers and passengers as well. The trunk of the car ends up near the sidewalk, rather than near the lane of travel, so it's safer for people to get materials from their cars.

Open car doors shield children from the street and steer them toward the curb and the sidewalk, rather than into traffic.

However, some drivers find backing in difficult.

Shivani Ehrenfeucht, a senior in the environmental studies program, said she almost never gets the angle right the first time, and traffic backs up behind her as she adjusts her car.

Deena Gumina, a graduate student in education, was blunt.

"I don't like it," she said.

She didn't notice the signs at first, and another driver warned her she was parked incorrectly.

Boulder parking enforcement has issued 1,087 tickets for wrong-way parking since the direction of parking was changed Aug. 12. That was after a four- to six-week transition period during which officers wrote only warning tickets and gave out educational pamphlets.

Eric Guenther, assistant parking manager for the city, said the number of tickets is not that much higher than would be issued in other blocks downtown or on University Hill, but most other tickets are for non-payment or expired parking passes, not parking the wrong way.

Adam McPherson, an adjunct faculty member in the media program, said he doesn't have a hard time backing in, but other drivers tend to pull up right behind him, blocking his path. It's hard to signal in a way that other drivers understand they need to leave room.

And if he's turning left out of the parking spots to go west on University, it can be hard to see past other parked cars to tell if it's safe.

He attributed the many incorrectly parked cars to habit.

"People get used to parking a certain way," he said. "No matter how you change it, it's going to be hard for some people."

None of the drivers interviewed by the Camera knew why the city had switched to back-in angled parking.

Ehrenfeucht, who rides her bike more often than she drives, immediately saw the benefit when the program was explained by a reporter.

When she rides her bike in areas with angled parking, she rides on the sidewalk to avoid getting hit by cars pulling out.

"Ultimately, if they find that it's safer for bicycles, it's worth the small inconvenience to me," she said.

In addition to bicyclists opting to ride on the sidewalk, Ratzel said many cyclists will ride on the outside of the bike lane, closer to or even in the vehicle lane, where there is regular angled parking because they're worried about cars backing out.

As part of the evaluation, transportation planners will look at where in the bike lane cyclists ride in the block with back-in parking, how well cars yield to bikes when parking, how cars use the parking spaces and how far vehicles park from the curb. They also will look at whether the back-in angled parking creates new safety problems even as it solves others.

The city will also track accidents, but Cowern said it will take years to get statistically valid data.

Cowern said it's normal to have a transition period when new street treatments are put in. He doesn't know if the transition period for back-in angled parking is longer than normal.

The city already doubled the number of signs, but many drivers don't seem to see them.

"Just about anything innovative we have done in Boulder, we have had a transition period, sometimes of weeks, sometimes of years," Cowern said.

However, many communities around the country use back-in angled parking, and drivers learn to adjust.

"I know that it is possible for a community to come to understand and thrive on back-in angled parking," he said. "Dozens and dozens of communities have done it."