You can get a ticket if you park with the front of a car facing the curb when a nearby sign says “Back-In Angle Parking Only.” Same for a head-in parking sign.

Share story

After watching a performance of Swan Lake, Scott Gary and his family returned to his Chevrolet Suburban to find a $47 parking ticket tucked against the windshield.

He hadn’t been able find a spot in the Seattle Center parking garage so he drove around in Lower Queen Anne until he found space on a side street.

It was an angled parking spot, and he was fined for parking in the wrong direction — with the front of his car facing toward the curb instead of the street.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., NHL Seattle, PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company and Seattle Children’s hospital. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

Learn more about Traffic Lab » | Follow us on Twitter »

Gary violated Seattle’s municipal code that deals with angle parking, according to the ticket he received.

The section says vehicles parked in angled spots must be positioned in a direction “consistent with such markings or signs.”

Gary defended his action.

“With my big vehicle and narrow streets, it was the only safe and prudent way to park it in the dark and rain with poor maneuvering visibility,” he said. “The car was wholly within the parking space and it seemed totally safe.”

Not wanting to fight the fine in municipal court, Gary paid the ticket. Still, he was perplexed, so he wrote to Traffic Lab.

“Why does it matter which way the car is pointing and why is it illegal to park nose in?” Gary asked.

It is only illegal to park with the head, or nose, of a car facing the curb when a nearby sign says “Back-In Angle Parking Only.” Same for a head-in parking sign.

As for the logic behind the rules, a parking-enforcement officer said the ordinance is for safety reasons.

According to the Seattle Department of Transportation, “Back-in spaces allow motorists pulling out better visibility when re-entering traffic; they help direct people exiting parked vehicles away from travel lanes; on steep hills they prevent runaway vehicles (as long as it makes sense with the direction of travel); and they help calm the flow of traffic.”

In Gary’s case, the spots were angled in the northwestern direction.

Drivers traveling westbound would back in so that when they were ready to pull out, they would be traveling with the westbound flow of traffic.

For a driver traveling eastbound, the northwestern angled spot would seem like an easy spot to get into.

However, entering the spot would require a driver to cut across the opposite lane of traffic. And when leaving, a car parked head in would have to swing more than 90 degrees around in order to travel with the flow of traffic.

If a large truck was parked next to the driver attempting to back up out of an angled parking spot, he or she might not be able to see an oncoming car.

And if that driver wanted to continue traveling in the direction he or she came from, the driver would have to cross a lane of traffic.

Angled parking, in some situations, forces drivers to find a place to make a U-turn or turn around some other way to enter a spot adjacent to the lane of travel.

The signs also set expectations so drivers can anticipate from which direction a car will enter the parking spot.

If there are no signs posted, the officer said drivers may choose to park in either direction.

Got a question?

Do you have a question about transportation for Traffic Lab? We’d like to try to answer it. Send your questions to or tweet at us @STtrafficlab, and we may feature them in an upcoming column.