British society’s love affair with the car is brought into sharp focus with the publication of a parliamentary select committee report on parking. Organisations such as Living Streets, the pedestrian’s lobbying group; Guide Dogs; and BikeBiz.com submitted evidence to the transport select committee but were almost wholly ignored. Instead the MP’s report recommends pro-motoring policies such as giving a five minute grace period to motorists who overshoot their paid-for parking time. The report contains other advice to local authorities when dealing with “motorists who make honest mistakes.”
The MP’s did not urge a blanket ban on pavement parking, instead urging local authorities to “ensure that they communicate clearly to motorists.”
Parking on infrastructure meant for pedestrians, two wheels or more over the kerb, is now so endemic it’s perceived to be perfectly normal and therefore correct. Ironically, the law that states cyclists shouldn’t ride on pavements is the same law that could be used to prevent motorists from parking on pavements but part of the problem is that there’s no blanket national ban on pavement parking.
In the Netherlands, highway parking is strictly regulated and this allows local and national Government to provide safe, continuous bike paths, largely free of parked cars. In Japan, on-street parking is all but banned, with cars having to be parked in underground car parks and with stiff fines for transgressions. Such a policy is of huge benefit to cyclists and pedestrians.
Want to increase the modal share of buses, shanks’ pony and cycling? Come down hard on on-street parking. But, as the Government is committed to “ending the war on the motorist” there’s little sign this would happen, especially because successive Governments see motoring as a key part of the British economy. Viz, Eric Pickles.
Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association, gave evidence to the select committee. He said:
“When it comes to on-street parking, it may seem pretty obvious but, if a car has nowhere to park, the use of that car is made pretty redundant.”
The RAC Foundation told the MP’s “The average car is parked for about 80 percent of its time at home and elsewhere for 16 percent of its time meaning it is in use for only 4 percent of the time.”
Parliamentary report after parliamentary report has recommended the reigning back of the supposed rights of motorists to park wherever they like, including on footways, but still nothing is done. And the latest report has almost shied away from the subject entirely, preferring to focus on “unfair” parking charges.
A transport committee report in 2006, urged ministers to fix the anomaly of allowing motorists to park on footways. It recommended a nationwide ban on ‘pavement parking’:
“Parking on the pavement is likely to cause a grave danger to pedestrians. In particular, it creates hazards for people with disabilities and visual impairments, older people, and those with prams or pushchairs,” said the report. “It is also unsightly and reduces the tight management of the streets which is a key to preserving a high quality street environment.
“A ban on pavement parking would benefit many people, including people with disabilities, yet the Department has shied away from recommending enforcement because of the scale of the problem. Mr Mike Talbot of the Department for Transport told us that the Department had "looked at this from time to time and the problem has always been that if you define no parking on the footway or the verge in all other circumstances except where signed, it would not be enforced."
“We accept that the problem of vehicles obstructing footpaths country-wide is a large one and a major effort would be required to enforce the law. But the 'do- nothing' response of the Department is no longer a credible option. The police too should be involved in enforcement of this aspect of street management. With clear signage and after a period of intense enforcement, we expect that a pavement parking ban would become self-enforcing as the public become familiar with, and accept, the new rules.
“The Government must grip the problem of pavement parking once and for all and ensure that it is outlawed throughout the country, and not just in London…That such an initiative will initially require additional resources to enforce is no excuse for allowing some pavements to continue to be swamped by cars and made inaccessible to large numbers of pedestrians.”
However, the latest report contains no such directives to the Department for Transport, despite receiving compelling evidence from Guide Dogs, Living Streets and other organisations.
Evidence from Living Streets said:
“Inconsiderate parking can cause a major barrier to many vulnerable road users. It is clear that the current legislative situation relying on police enforcement isn’t working. Bizarrely, it is illegal to drive on the pavement but not explicitly illegal to park on the pavement. Police have power to take enforcement action under section 137 of the Highways Act 1980 which makes it an offence to wilfully obstruct the free passage of the highway. However, in practice, it is difficult to prove someone has driven onto the pavement and evidence is required to substantiate this, and enforcement action can vary, depending on the individual police officer. We believe it is simply unrealistic to expect vulnerable pedestrians to report an obstruction and await arrival of a police officer to confirm such incidences.”
The Guide Dogs charity’s evidence said:
“Pavement parking creates an obstacle for pedestrians, making it especially difficult for mothers with pushchairs, wheelchair users and people with limited mobility to use the pavement safely. Blind and partially sighted people are particularly affected as they may not be able to detect and avoid a parked car. Alternatively they may be forced into the road, particularly dangerous if they are unable to perceive oncoming traffic or the return to the kerb is obstructed by a line of cars.”
A local authority told Guide Dogs:
“The inconsiderate and dangerous practice of motorists blocking the free passage of pedestrians on the footway is totally unacceptable and should be dealt with in such a manner that it becomes as inappropriate as drink driving, or using a mobile telephone whilst driving.”
The latest transport select committee report admits that there needs to be national standardisation against pavement parking but then made no recommendation that national Government should do anything whatsoever about it, instead throwing it back to local authorities:
“While parking restrictions should normally reflect local circumstances, in some instances there may be a case for introducing greater standardisation across the country. For example, pavement parking may help maximise parking spaces, especially in narrow streets, but it can significantly reduce the space available for pedestrians. The current legalsituation in relation to pavement parking is unduly complex. In London, pavement parking is banned throughout the 32 boroughs and the City of London under the Greater London (General Purposes) Act 1974, while outside London only a couple of English local authorities have banned pavement parking through private Acts of Parliament.
“The powers available to local authorities in Wales are broadly similar to those in England. In Northern Ireland, pavement parking is not permitted on urban clearways and where parking restrictions are marked on the road these also apply to the pavement. In Scotland driving on pavements or obstructing access to a pavement are both illegal, however, there is a lack of clarity on the legality of pavement parking. This patchwork of divergent and often confusing restrictions on pavement parking can be difficult for motorists to understand. We recognise that parking restrictions should reflect local circumstances. “However, in areas such as pavement parking, where there is a confusing patchwork approach across the country, local authorities must ensure that they communicate clearly to motorists.”
And that’s it, “communicate clearly to motorists.”
Guide Dogs called the transport select committees findings a ”damp squib”, and called again for a national law against pavement parking.
Guide Dogs campaigns manager James White said: ”The report is a bit of a damp squib. It identifies some of the problems, but goes on to make a very weak recommendation - that local authorities should communicate more clearly with motorists. This is simply not good enough when 90 percent of our service users are regularly being forced into dangerous situations by inconsiderate drivers.
Here’s part of the BikeBiz evidence submitted to the transport select committee:
“Parking on pavements is endemic in the UK yet highways — in the widest sense — are not just for cars.
“There’s a blanket national ban on cycling on the pavement but there’s a confusing mish-mash of conflicting laws which means there’s no equivalent national blanket ban on parking a car on the pavement. This is a ludicrous situation and one that transport ministers keep failing to tackle. While the “local authority parking enforcement” inquiry is, by definition, local perhaps reference can be made to a problem that can only be effectively tackled nationally, in partnership with local authorities?
“Pavements — and bike paths — are often used by cars for parking, which is dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. Storing unused cars is a major function of British streets but in other countries this is not the case, where off-street parking is often mandated.
“Motorists can’t legally drive on the pavement in the UK, but a loophole means, in many localities, they won’t be charged for driving their cars onto pavements and leaving them there. Some local authorities have enacted bylaws to stop motorists parking on pavements but these are few and far between. To park on the pavement you tend to have to drive on the pavement but pavement parking is now considered so “normal” police look the other way because to enforce the law would involve charging millions of people.”