I was writing this to be an article for Highways Magazine except I realised that I had covered the subject only in September. Not wishing to waste my effort, I’ve posted it here because my last rant was back in 2013.
The ban which has come a little closer is only in Scotland as the Scottish Parliament has voted in principle to ban footway parking after a consultation which saw 83% of those responding supporting the proposal. There has been a long-running campaign by Living Streets for the ban, which the charity wants rolled out to the rest of the UK. The change in Scotland is far from delivered however, because there are those who want to water the idea down with exemptions for their own particular view point, such as allowing deliveries to take place for up to 20 minutes.
My view is straightforward and that we should ban footway parking and give the space back to people on foot. If there is a supremely compelling reason for it to be considered in a particular location, then it should be designed and signed by exception. I’ve heard all of the arguments before about emergency access and people having nowhere to park their cars, but that’s tough. Emergency access routes can be protected with double yellow lines. If the only way people can store their car is on the footway, then that should be their problem and not that of the person trying to get past with their wheelchair or buggy who are forced into the road or the visually impaired person who has to try and negotiate the selfishly placed obstacle.
It’s not just about access for pedestrians, footway parking destroys surfaces, obstructs access to utility chambers and degrades the walking experience, because even when space to squeeze past is left, the simple ability to walk in pairs along the street having a conversation is lost.
Footway parking across the UK is a total mess which comes from our highway laws which broadly allow people to do what they like unless it is otherwise regulated (either through national legislation or local traffic order). Enforcement from a civil point of view relies on having traffic orders and signs in place and the response from police forces is highly variable and relies on the use of obstruction to target the badly parked. London and Exeter are the curious exceptions where footway parking was banned many years ago by primary legislation. There is a compelling case to sort this out across the whole of the UK.
There have been plans in the past, but it has always been a ‘fear’ of the resources the police and local councils would need to enforce it and that as usual, it was for local authorities to make their own decisions which in reality means that view have pushed on with local bans. We can of course install bollards to stop footway parking, but this comes at a cost and erodes the very space we are trying to protect.
How did we get here? As usual, we didn’t especially go out to design in footway parking into the fabric of our streets and indeed, many streets predate mass motorisation anyway. It’s a symptom of wider problems in society where the perfect storm of high levels of car ownership meets selfish attitudes from people more worried about their wing mirrors being clipped than a child walking to school. And so the cycle continues until every part of available space has been given over to our cars.
Footway parking should not be something which is up for debate. As with so much about our streets, the conversation needs to be moved on to one where we acknowledge we have a problem and work to solve it. Polite campaigns haven’t dealt with the problem and leaving it to local councils and the police has been, in the main, an abject failure. We are dealing with a cultural problem in which those with power and a large physical presence on our streets exert their will on those without a voice or power.