Skip to content

Street Talk

Big Trees Downtown, Backward Parking Not As Newfangled As You Might Think

By Mickey Howley

Last week I bored the regular readers with tales of my trip to Natchez and the coast.  I’ll admit I was on a mission to get away from the Valley. It was a combo trip, attend a conference and then get in a bit of traveling. Eat some seafood, don’t answer the phone, get some sand between the toes, and relax. The gulf coast was not as crowded as usual. Maybe the economy had kept some at home, or more likely, the little tropical disturbance that popped up and kept things wet, windy and cool.

In the past I would try and drive to my destination, as quickly as legally possible. Stay on the big roads, set the cruise, don’t stop too often (my bladder is good for up to 300 miles sometimes). But that style of driving I find, lately, pretty boring. Sometimes the journey is more interesting than the destination. And so I’ve been running the old US highway two lanes and rolling on the state highways.  If you drive these roads, your speed over ground is half of the big roads. You crawl through every little town; outside the town limits there is always someone slow to pass, no quick exits for fast food and gas.

Unlike rolling on the interstate, if you drive the two lanes, occasionally you will see something of interest. Red Bay, Alabama is one of those back road towns. It is a touch smaller than Water Valley, fifty years younger and it does not have as large a downtown. But if you drive the main street there (it has 3 names: 4th Ave. South or AL Hwy. 24 or the Tammy Wynette Highway), the entrance for several blocks is a tall tree lined street. These trees create a canopy under which you drive and the effect is to slow you down and look. This is what one wants visitors to do in a town.

This brings me to a point streetscape architect Tom McGilloway made in his talk at the state Main Street meeting. Tom said plant tall trees on the street, especially downtown. Tall trees make a canopy over the street.  Unlike crepe myrtle size trees, tall trees don’t block the sidewalks and signs and building facades that one would like to see. The canopy visually narrows the street and this effect alone slows traffic. He said plant them on the line between properties, and also that asymmetrical plantings on the street were better than regular spacing.  Of course, you have to plan the sidewalk area for the larger root structure, but that is not as hard as you think. Of his tree suggestions, willow oaks seemed to be some that are most common here.

McGilloway had another idea, one being used in his neighborhood. Angle parking where everyone backs into the curb. Here is how it works; the angle spot is reversed from how it normally is painted. You over shoot the spot just a bit and then back into it, easier that parallel parking. The advantage of backing to the curb is that you never backing blind into on-coming traffic, so it is safer for you and bicyclists and other motorists. Plus you can load the rear of your vehicle from the side walk and not from the street. And as you are looking into on coming traffic, pulling out is breeze. Think about it. It is a simple but different idea and requires no more parking skill or maneuvers than you are already doing. If you notice, big trucks always back into spots for those very reasons.

Remember the Farmers Market is every Saturday from 8 to 11 under the big magnolia on Main. Last week’s survey had everyone liking the idea of new sidewalks. Visit to survey what kind of urban parking skills you have.

Leave a Comment