By Stefanie Jackson – Cape Charles can make parking more convenient on Mason Avenue, the town’s main street for commercial activity, but it would come at a hefty price – 63 fewer parking spaces – a loss the popular but tiny tourist town likely can’t afford.
Like most small towns on the Eastern Shore, the streets of Cape Charles were once dominated by parallel parking.
Northampton County has one public beach – in Cape Charles. As more tourists discovered the beach and other attractions in town, Cape Charles began looking for a way to maximize street space and create more parking.
In 2015, parallel parking on the north side of Mason Avenue was eliminated in exchange for “reverse-angle parking” – diagonal parking spaces that vehicles must back into.
It was arguably safer, in part because drivers pulled forward out of a parking space, with a clear view of oncoming traffic.
It created more parking spaces but less convenience for tourists who were confused by the unfamiliar parking arrangement.
Drivers who parked improperly in reverse-angle spaces were ticketed by local police, and some tourists were so angered to receive a violation that they vowed to never return to Cape Charles.
Concerned citizens joined a parking committee with the goal to “reverse the reverse” angled parking.
In February 2019, the parking committee presented its recommendations, which included replacing the reverse-angle parking on Mason Avenue with pull-in angled parking.
The committee also recommended changing the parking angle from 60 degrees to 45 degrees to give drivers better visibility when backing out.
The Cape Charles town council unanimously approved the parking committee’s recommendations at its February 2019 meeting.
The parking committee’s plans were sent to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for approval.
But Cape Charles got an unpleasant surprise when new Town Manager John Hozey, who has been in his position for about five months, recently contacted VDOT.
VDOT stated that pull-in angled parking would be acceptable on Mason Avenue because of the low speed limit and commercial area.
However, pull-in angled parking would require more street space than the parking committee anticipated.
Mason Avenue is 48 feet wide. A little less than half of that width, or 22 feet, is used for the two driving lanes. The parallel parking area on the south side of street is 10 feet wide, leaving an area 16 feet wide on the north side of the street for reverse-angle parking.
Since the parking spaces are set at 60-degree angles, diagonal parking spaces that are 21 feet long fit in the 16-foot-wide area.
Creating pull-in parking spaces on a 45-degree angle would require a 21-foot-wide area, according to VDOT’s standards. VDOT would require the diagonal parking spaces to be 29 feet long – enough space to park a 17-foot-long vehicle, such as an average-size pickup truck, on a 45-degree angle.
If pull-in angled parking would occupy 21 feet on the north side of Mason Avenue, that would only leave 5 feet on the opposite side – not enough for parking of any kind.
The result would be a loss of 15 angled parking spaces on Mason Avenue’s north side and 48 parallel spaces on the south side, for a total of 63 fewer parking spaces.
The town council has four choices at this time: implement pull-in angled parking and lose 63 spaces; bring back parallel parking and lose 20 spaces; pursue a traffic study to make Mason Avenue a one-way street and lose 15 spaces; do nothing and lose no spaces.
Cape Charles hasn’t given up on its parking dilemma, but citizens should not expect to see changes anytime soon while the town council and staff follow up and do more research.