a heated argument in the office prompted this post. i do not like footway* parking for a number of reasons and it is another in a long list of symptoms of a wider car-centric society.
|Footway parking on the school run. Doesn't it make for a lovely|
user environment? No wonder children have to be driven to school
walking is so dangerous and unpleasant!
So, it all started when a colleague lamented the random nature in which footway parking is agreed. He was annoyed that a lack of senior management or political leadership meant that decisions were being made on the basis of he who shouts loudest gets (local government at its best). Footway parking is an easy and cheap thing to install (in London at least) and so politicians love it as they are seen to be doing something.
Now, there were three of us in the room and my other colleague felt that if the road was too narrow for parking (often on both sides), then footway parking was a sensible way of letting people park and maintaining emergency vehicle access.
I gave my favourite example of a cul-de-sac which had footway parking on both sides. The remaining footway is just less than 1m. If people park within the marked bays, you can barely drive a car through, let alone a fire engine or a refuse vehicle.
|Seriously, there is only space for one line of cars in this street. To|
think otherwise is living in a state of denial. Sorry, you need to
reduce the amount of cars you have or park them somewhere more
So, after a bout of parking tickets, the residents went loopy and "something had to be done".
I proposed taking away parking on one side as it was the only way to get fire and refuse vehicles into the street. The residents went loopy again and councillors demanded a site meeting which I duly attended.
I invited the local fire brigade officer and he explained to the massed experts that he could not get a fire engine into the street and so his fire-fighters would have to run hoses along the street (over some distance), rather than get close to the hydrant at the end (they carry some water in the fire engine, but pump water from the mains if they are fighting for a while).
The experts suggested the fire engine could drive over their gardens or bash the cars out of the way. The local fire officer said his engines were too heavy for the grass and the fibreglass cabs tended to smash in a collision; besides, with a house on fire, this was wasted minutes. Even when the pre-arranged (but not announced) fire engine turned up and could not get through, the residents decided their parking was more important than burning to death (my sarcasm).
The problems here are two-fold;
(1) The idiot(s) who "designed" and agreed the footway parking did not think it through in terms of space left for people to walk or fire/refuse access. Residents should have been told that finding parking was their problem from day one. I doubt the decision to proceed was taken formally, rather than a junior officer told to get it painted in.
(2) The residents were so wedded to their cars, so intent on parking as close as possible, none of them were bothered about what would happen if their house was on fire. This was fine for the noisy people at the meeting, but I knew some were privately worried, just scared to speak out against the noisy lot.
To this day, nothing has been resolved and there has not been a fire. Of course, finding parking is a daily issue for people; having their house on fire is not. The chances are, they will never be involved in a house fire. Was my idea of removing parking on one side therefore a gross over-reaction?
I think that the rot set in many decades ago and no government has dared to act. In London, footway parking is kind of regulated following the provisions under S15 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1974. This piece of legislation effectively bans parking on footways and verges in Greater London unless otherwise permitted (using signs and/or road markings). Of course, this has created a limited hoop to jump through in order to introduce footway parking, but at least in theory some thought has to go into the process. Interestingly, Exeter had its own Act which does pretty much the same thing (S30), but this is rare. The GLC acted 40 years ago to try and stem the problem and will probably take another 40 years to sort out the mess in the rest of the country!
|Handleys Chase, Basildon. Typical of a new estate which is built|
some distance away from shops and services and in a town which
is heavily reliant on the car to function. People own multiple cars
and so the footways are the natural place to park for them.
Image from Google Streetview.
The definition of "obstruction" is very woolly. Even if part of the footway is removed from use for pedestrians, it is only really an obstruction where people are effectively forced into the road. Of course, enforcement is highly variable where the police is concerned and there is no one piece of law they use, although they have several to choose from (and there are others);
- S22Road Traffic Act 1988 - leaving vehicles in dangerous positions.
- S137Highways Act 1980 wilful obstruction of the free passage along a highway.
- S72 Highways Act 1835 - driving on any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers.
In February 2011, the Minster, Norman Baker MP, wrote to councils asking them to "use their powers to prevent parking on the pavement where it is a problem and causing an obstruction." So, rather than deal with the problem, those in a position to give leadership basically abdicate the responsibility to local councils who are the last people to want to upset those who want to park everywhere. Still, this current lot do believe in saddling local authorities for everything!
Why do people park on the footway and what are the problems it causes? The reasons for parking on the footway are manifold and everyone has their reasons. Aside from people who are naturally lazy, I would list the following as reasons I have heard, read or had relayed to me. This is in no order and not scientific!
- I have nowhere else to park my car,
- If I park in the road, my car/ wing mirrors will get hit,
- I am doing traffic a favour - if I park in the road, I will block traffic,
- I need to drop the kids off at school,
- I work shifts and always get woken up by the refuse truck/ delivery trucks who want to get past, so I park on the footway to get out of their way,
- Well, many families have more than one car and they have to park somewhere.
|Reede Road in Dagenham. This road is a bus route, so footway|
parking is allowed to help buses get through, but the road is also
traffic calmed - madness! Image from Google Streetview.
- If we carry on allowing drivers to park where they like and without regard for other highway users, then the conditions for walking and indeed cycling will get worse as driver behaviour essentially becomes ingrained that "their" convenience comes first in all cases,
- Footways are rarely constructed to a "carriageway" standard and constant use by vehicles will lead to a steady deterioration in the condition of the footways. This will mean that further pressure is put on limited road maintenance and indeed road safety budgets.
- People have choices and freedoms, but this must be accompanied with responsibility and consideration. If you park on the footway to "do traffic a favour" by not blocking others, why is it acceptable to block pedestrians? Perhaps you are parking in the wrong place.
- You have chosen to have a car, why have you not thought about where you are going to park it? You wouldn't buy a new sofa and expect the tax-payer to build you a room to house it in now would you?
- If you have footway parking in your street, traffic speed will increase and you will then want traffic calming to deal with the speeding traffic.
- How can utility companies get at their kit that you have parked over - it will be brought home to you at 3am when sewage is running into your garden, but the water company cannot get at the manhole which needs clearing!
Now, I know I am being controversial, as I know full well that running a car is the only option for many people against a backdrop of poor public transport, poor cycle infrastructure (see, got cycling in!) and hostile pedestrian environments. I do run a car and have somewhere off street to park it; so it is easy for me to preach to others. However, this is part of a wider self-fulfilling problem;
"I drive because there is no alternative or the alternative is costly, inconvenient or dangerous."
So, while people rely on their car, there will be no alternatives or what is available will be costly, inconvenient or dangerous and they will continue to park their cars where they like as in many cases, there is not enough space to park cars on both sides of the road without using the footway.
Activists can lobby the police for enforcement, but it is hard work, it might be better to lobby your council to put in a TRO to stop footway parking. In London or other places with a general ban, ask for a copy of their footway parking design guide or policy and if the situation you are concerned about does not meet the criteria, ask for it to be reviewed. If there is no policy or guide, then how can they objectively design a footway parking scheme?
The trouble is, there are some terrible examples of footway parking "improvements" installed by local authorities such as Cann Hall Road, near Stratford. Thiswas the subject of a post by Crap Walking & Cycling in Waltham Forest a while back and Google is not up to date. I cycled this road last year by mistake (I got lost coming back from the City when I was on a training cycle) and yes, it is a mess for pedestrians and cyclists!
I fully expect there to be a legal challenge to a council in the near future in terms of the impact footway parking has on disabled people. Councils are transport authorities and they have duties under the Equality Act 2010 to consider how decisions impact on certain groups and in terms of making their transport infrastructure accessible. Sadly, it often takes a case such as this to show how wrong things are before things improve.
There are no easy answers; footway parking is a symptom of the unrelenting lack of political leadership in the UK when it comes to all aspects of transport.
Update 25th February 2013
Well, I just got back from the walking school run and yet again, they are bouncing up onto the footway (legally into the marked bays) within a whisker of the kids - we had to move across to let them get up. Another fruitless letter to the council's parking department coming up!
*I have referred to "footway" parking as being the legally correct term. It is often referred to pavement parking, but as an engineer, the word "pavement" describes the structural layers of roads. So there!