By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Dottie LeFrance was in no mood to take a chance.
When she pulled onto Bailey Boulevard yesterday, she decided against trying the new back-in, angled parking unveiled this week by the city.
“It doesn’t look easy or safe to me,” LeFrance said after parking her car on the other side of the boulevard, which still has traditional curbside parking.
Most of Bailey Boulevard’s northern side has been converted from old-fashioned parking spaces to the new set up, where a driver must back into a nine-foot-wide space at a 60-degree angle to the roadway. That allows drivers to quickly and easily pull out of the spaces because they are already facing the street.
The change has created 23 new parking spaces that drivers don’t have to pay to use. Bailey Boulevard, just north of downtown, offers free parking and has been packed with cars daily for the last two months, since the city adopted paid parking in much of the nearby downtown.
Having drivers back into angled spots is safe, according to experts. But some observers have questioned that notion, suggesting that some people, especially younger and older drivers, aren’t skilled at backing up between cars. Critics have forecast an increase in fender-bender accidents there.
A reporter who watched the new spaces for an hour yesterday afternoon saw motorists coming and going fairly regularly. Two drivers were seen illegally passing other drivers on the outside while those drivers were trying to back up into a reverse-angle space.
Those using the angled spaces yesterday said they did so to avoid parking fees and the possibility of receiving a parking ticket in other parts of downtown.
“It was easy, no problem,” said Jose Mercado, 48, who was on his way to a medical appointment at Pentucket Medical Associates near Bailey Boulevard. “I don’t want to pay to park. That’s why I tried it here.”
Georgia Bundzinski also parked in an angled spot to avoid parking fees elsewhere. Like Mercado, she was on her way to Pentucket Medical.
“I usually pay, but I decided to try it over here,” Bundzinski said after parking her red mini van in an angled space.
Public Works Director Michael Stankocvich said the reverse-angle spots began filling up at 7:30 yesterday morning. He said the city had a “parking ambassador” on hand to alert people to the new configuration and that he spent a hour or so there himself watching people use the new spaces.
“I was told it was uneventful, and that’s what I saw myself,” Stankovich said. “We expected the spaces would be used by people who ride the train, but you never know.”
Mayor James Fiorentini has been urging commuters and those who work downtown not to park in the heart of the business district and instead park on outlying roads such as Bailey Boulevard, where parking is free. So many drivers have taken his advice that on most days every space along Bailey Boulevard is taken. More spaces were needed and, for Bailey Boulevard, the only way to add spaces was to create angled parking.