Saturday, 14 March 2020

Footway Parking Fail: Redux

I detest footway parking. It's antisocial, anti-people, damages the very fabric of the footway and helps to perpetuate the dominance of cars in our streets and places.

It's back in the news again (for England at least) with an announcement by the Government that there will be a 12-week consultation on footway parking in the summer which doesn't quite match the headline suggesting that something is actually being done - "Transport Secretary acts to make pavements safer for pedestrians"; I'm a cynic, but I hope this is the beginning of the end.

I've gone into detail before on the subject from a legal point of view and indeed offered views on how we've got here. I'm not going to go through the legals again and as for getting to where we are, it remains a combination of people not thinking of others when they park and a political decision not to deal with it is previously. So, fingers crossed.

When we look at the attitudes of some people, it's no small wonder when we see the "leadership" from motoring organisations. In response to the news, the AA said;

"An outright ban could lead to unintended consequences with parking chaos becoming more widespread. A better solution would be for councils to make a street-by-street assessment and where pavement parking could be allowed it be clearly marked and signed."

When the ban was being talked about at the end of last year, the RAC said;

"The issue of pavement parking is divisive, with motorists often left with little option but to park on the kerb on some narrower residential roads, to allow access for other cars and emergency services. But for many pedestrians including wheelchair users and those with visual impairments, these cars block vital paths, leaving them feeling isolated and unable to access services."

The statements are reflective of the attitudes I have experienced from people more generally in that most are mortified that they might be stopping disabled people from using the streets, but because of the need to get emergency vehicles through, they have no option but to park on the footway; it never seems to dawn on somebody that the solution might actually be for them to park somewhere else.

English traffic authorities outside of London and Exeter (which have general bans) have the powers to ban footway parking, but in an echo of the AA's position, they effectively have to review this on a street by street basis and cover a ban with a traffic order such as can be seen in parts of Stevenage;

A ban using current powers requires the entry and exit from an area to be clearly signed (above) and for repeater signs to be provided within the area (below);

This is the general UK approach to our roads and streets in that you can do what you like unless it's banned. For example, we have a National Speed Limit, a 30mph speed limit in built up areas, but apart from that pretty much anything goes (in the general sense) unless we regulate with other speed limits, parking controls, one-way systems and so on. 

The problem with the approach is as well as costing money with design and implementation we also have to advertise proposals (and consult with reasonable governance) and if this is in an area where many people park on the footway, it will turn into a populist "vote" in line with the way restrictions on the "freedom" to drive often court controversy.

The good thing about a national ban is that immediately the tables are turned and people now have to confront their priorities. In London, the footway parking ban has exemptions where a borough, The City and TfL can mark and sign an area for footway parking. In theory, the marking should be the footway and carriageway (to mark the bay - it can be fully on the footway) and the signage has to mark the start and end of a run of bays.

In practice, the marking and signing of bays is very lax and in some areas, footway parking is simply tolerated. There is no requirement for a traffic order to allow it, although there should be a formal decision to designate footway parking. In my local authority days there was at one point a list of "exempted" streets and even when it was done more professionally, decisions were made at delegated officer level which made it easy for politicians to push for it, but not take responsibility. 

At one point, the function was under my responsibility - I did allow it in designs a few times, but these were always in locations where wide verges were tarmacked over and where the general footway area wasn't impacted. They were also for bus stop accessibility schemes where I needed to get cars out of the way for bus stops and not maintaining parking wasn't politically possible (of course, it doesn't make it right!)

I'd like to see a complete ban, but my feeling is that we will probably end up with the London model. I would like to see traffic orders being required to permit footway parking because at least there is a formal process which will be easier to challenge that some of London's murky practices. A process which requires a level of formality might mean that people have to design the footway parking scheme and therefore become open to scrutiny with their choices - and let's face it, the principal choice being made is that of available width.

A very common footway width is 1.8m which I assume has it's roots in imperial antiquity and indeed the guidance on width from an accessibility point of view is quite old - Inclusive Mobility. For a wheelchair user and an ambulant person walking side by side, Inclusive Mobility suggests 1.5m as the minimum. Side by side is important because walking is often a social activity and given that people use wheelchairs it is right that we ensure social interaction by providing space. 

Of course, in the real world, we have things on the street such as lighting columns, occasional overhanging hedges and indeed wing mirrors from parked vehicles and so 1.5m is too narrow and 1.8m gives a bit of buffer space. In fact for lightly used footways, 2m is probably the reasonable minimum to provide - it's certainly the recommended width in Manual for Streets with additional width space for other street activities take place;

Given that quite a lot of footway parking takes place on tight residential streets which weren't designed for lots of car parking, a 2m footway being our reasonable basic provision for low pedestrian flows frankly blows most footway parking out of the water. The photograph below is a street in Cambridge which is pretty typical - here, bays are marked to try and regiment parking which is partially on the footway to keep a clear space through the middle for traffic to pass.

This is head in the sand stuff because the footways aren't even 2m wide and so we end up perhaps with a usable footway of just over 1m - that is not conducive to social walking and it's questionable whether or not wheelchair or mobility scooter users will actually get past - and this is an arrangement which has been designed. I'm afraid the answer here is parking in the carriageway on one side (I'll come back to this later).

In most areas, footway parking enforcement is a police responsibility and with a few noble exceptions, it is roundly tolerated and indeed encouraged to "keep the road clear". When enforcement takes place, it's when there is an obstruction and often only on complaint that proactive enforcement. One persons "you can squeeze through" is another's access prevent and why should walking be about squeezing through all the time? Walking should be attractive, easy, accessible and enabled.

When pedestrian flows start to get higher, we are no longer looking at the basic space needed to walk down the street, we are into comfort levels. For a given width, there's a "comfortable" capacity and as things get busier, it becomes less comfortable. Perhaps crowding means some people step into the carriageway - it's a common sight by schools and so footway parking can take an otherwise comfortable situation and degrade its quality.

Going back to the example from Cambridge. There will be some thinking that it is very easy for me to suggest taking away half of the parking capacity of the street - where will people park - other streets might be equally filled up. Well yes, it is very easy for me to say and we need more people saying it. Footway parking is a symptom of our car-sick approach to spacial and transport planning. 

We need to change how our streets and urban places operate so people don't need so many cars and as a long term plan, we can get cars off the footway and then off the streets completely and that is, I'm afraid why I am cynical. I'm not seeing any leadership from government on this and so local authorities need to be bold. The ones that are bold are already changing streets, so perhaps a footway parking ban might wake a few more up.

Oh, and as a parting shot, I normally go on about the Dutch approach and in urban places, they are obviously getting the problem sorted. In less urban places, it hasn't been fully cracked as yet!

1 comment:

  1. It has been my experience that footway parking comes to a swift end when the local people learn that an ordinary carpenter's awl makes an excellent tool for puncturing car tyres.