Urban Adulting for Suburbanites: Parallel Parking

Parallel Parking Magic by Geek2Nurse (2007) CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/481SQX
Parallel Parking Magic by Geek2Nurse (2007) CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/481SQX

One of the adventures of living in an older neighborhood of duplexes (built early 1900’s) is that there are very few driveways. There *are* alleys, but you’re not allowed to park back there. (I’m not sure what the original purpose of alleys were. Maybe trash pickup? This will require more research). Instead, residents vie for limited street parking. On my street, you are allowed to park on both sides of the street, which makes traveling down the narrow corridor between parking cars fairly exciting. (It’s a two way street, so you happen to encounter another oncoming vehicle, one of you has to yield into an empty parking spot. Or, in extremis, back up.)

Finding a home for my car is a daily challenge for me, since despite having a compact car, I never learned to parallel park. Parallel parking is not on the Kansas driver’s test. I mostly was driving in areas where there are abundant parking lots (and driveways and garages) to park in, so I never bothered to learn. (I don’t think my driver’s ed instructor ever got around to teaching me, mostly because she was so frustrated with my inability to master normal things like backing up and 3-point turns.) This hidden fault – my inability to parallel park- has come up on trips to downtown KC, but has never been much of a problem. Until now.

Learning to parallel park has been a serious source of anxiety. It’s not just that your car might be kind of crooked, but you could seriously shmoosh up someone else’s car in the process. I even called a local driving school to see if I could pay an instructor to take me out for a couple of hours to practice. (They wouldn’t: Turns out you need a Michigan learners permit for the school to be covered by insurance. “Michigan learners’ permit? But I’ve had a KS driver’s license for 18 years!” Alas.)

It was after I received my first City of Detroit parking ticket (for parking too close to the crosswalk at the end of the block), I decided it was time to buckle down and learn parallel parking.
Instead of paying a human instructor, I turned to the internet. Turns out that YouTube has some very helpful videos and tips for practicing parallel parking. (Esp. the nice folks at Vehicle Virgins.) My roommate also gave me some helpful tips as I watched her parallel park on the street. I realized the only way I was going to get better at it was to Just. Do. It.

On a day off, I took my car (with its telltale KS license plates) over a few blocks to less busy side streets in my neighborhood. I picked a car parked along the street (with a lot of space behind it) and practiced backing in using the parallel parking steps outlined in the youtube videos. There was a lot of trial and error with judging the distance to the curb. Sometimes, I realized that the amount of oncoming traffic was greater than I had anticipated. (Detroit drivers are not so pleased with having to wait for newbies to get their cars from sticking out into even residential street traffic.)

I moved even a few streets over, where there were even fewer parked cards and even less ambient traffic. One of the neighbors walking down the street saw me and came over to say “Hi.” “Are you here for Megan?” he asked. “No,” I told him. “I’m just practicing parallel parking.”

“Oh, I can help you with that,” he said. So my new parking instructor called out instructions on how to turn the wheel as I attempted to back up behind a parked car. It was super nice, for a total stranger to offer to help like that, especially to a “new” person white girl like me. After about 5 minutes of directed parking assistance, I thanked my benefactor and went to try parking on another block. (After about an hour of parallel parking practice, I had a better handle on getting close to the curb, backing up and pulling into largish spaces. But I was exhausted.)

Since that day, I still haven’t managed to parallel park in an area with lots of traffic (still usually enough spaces where I can pull in, or I go around the block a couple of times). However, my newfound car spatial skills have certainly come in handy for turning around in tight spaces and getting close to the curb. I will make time to keep practicing (maybe early Sunday morning) so I can finally get my car into some of the more convenient parking spots I’d been avoiding.


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