Q: What are the rules for a parked vehicle that obstructs the flow of traffic? The area where I see this often is on Harris Street in the main part of Fairhaven. People with crew cab trucks and RVs park in diagonal spots, with their vehicles often extending well into the flow of traffic.
A: Wouldn’t it be nice if there was one rule that applied all over the state when it comes to some of these traffic issues? Of all the topics we’ve covered in these articles, parking in a way that obstructs traffic holds the dubious position of having the least consistency I’ve found so far in municipal codes. Here’s why.
Unlike many traffic laws, rules about parking that obstructs traffic are not found in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). Instead, there is a law titled “Parking not to obstruct traffic” found in a section of the Washington Administrative Code called the Model Traffic Ordinance (MTO). The MTO was created so that local jurisdictions could adopt a common set of traffic laws beyond what is covered in the RCW. A city can adopt the MTO in its entirety, or choose not to adopt some sections and change or add others. That’s what has happened with parking.
I’ll give you some local examples, but first we’ll look at the law as written in the MTO. For any city that adopts the law as written, drivers shall not park in such a manner as to leave less than ten feet of the roadway for traffic. A traffic lane usually ranges from nine to twelve feet wide, depending on the type of road, so the ten foot limit seems pretty reasonable. However, it leaves drivers guessing about how far ten feet really is. I don’t think someone with a long vehicle is going to get out a tape measure to make sure it fits.
The city of Bellingham chose not to adopt this section of the MTO, and instead has a municipal code stating that no person shall park a vehicle in a parking spot so that any part of the vehicle extends beyond the markings of the parking spot. This makes it easier for drivers to decide if they fit; if your car sticks out past the white parking stripe, you’ll have to find a new place to park.
Out of curiosity I measured a couple of angled parking spaces. The first space I measured (in Fairhaven) was only about 12 feet deep. That puts some serious limits on what vehicles might fit, and in observing parking on that street it looked like many, if not most, of the cars stuck out past the parking stripes at least a little bit. A few inches past the stripe probably doesn’t create a problem, but a big truck would. A full-size crew cab pick-up, whether it’s a Ford, Chevy, Dodge or Toyota, exceeds 19 feet in length.
The second angled parking spot I measured (in Blaine) was over 21 feet deep. Road width and design puts constraints on angled parking, and just because a vehicle fits in one space doesn’t mean it will in another. A truck that fits just fine on that particular street in Blaine would create a traffic hazard in Fairhaven.
Here are some additional variations throughout Whatcom County: the city of Lynden took the MTO parking law and added vehicle length limit of 21 feet for angled parking. Similarly, Ferndale adopted the MTO parking law, adding a vehicle limit of 20 feet. Blaine and Everson adopted the law in the MTO as written.
Regardless of the city, drivers of longer vehicles need to recognize their vehicle limits their options when parking. When a vehicle sticks out too far, it forces other drivers into the oncoming lane to maneuver around the parked vehicle. It also creates a hazard for the next parked car when it’s time to leave, as that driver will have to back out well into the traffic lane virtually blind. It’s not great for cyclists either, as it pushes them further into the lane with cars.
If you’re driving an RV, a long pickup, a big SUV or some other large vehicle, do your part as a good traffic citizen to make sure you fit when you park. Your fellow road users will be safer for it.