Archive | November, 2010

Clearing snow from pavements

30 Nov

In Minneapolis residents residents are reminded by the local authority to clear the snow on the pavement (sidewalk). The authority’s website says politely that ‘Keeping our sidewalks free of ice and snow is the neighbourly thing to do’. It then goes on to make it clear that residents that the law “requires that property owners clear sidewalks after the end of a snowfall within 24 hours for houses and duplexes, Four daytime hours for apartment and commercial buildings (daytime hours begin at 8am)”.

In the UK the Telegraph rather unhelpfully reported in January 2010 that “Health and safety experts warn: don’t clear icy pavements, you could get sued”. The government has now made it clear that you can clear snow with a proviso that you should avoid making the pavement more dangerous. It then says: “don’t be put off clearing paths because you’re afraid someone will get injured… Remember, people walking on snow and ice have responsibility to be careful themselves. Follow the advice below to make sure you clear the pathway safely and effectively.”

David Howarth who is a former MP for Cambridge and a former lecturer in Law at Cambridge University goes further. He says “furthermore, in the very unlikely case where the intervention does make the situation more risky, it is not enough to show that the passer-by fell over. The passer-by would have to show that he would not have fallen over anyway, or would not have injured himself just as badly in some other way – something that is very hard to do”.

He goes on the say “Finally, even if the risk was made worse and the injury was caused specifically by the enhancement of the risk that the householder was responsible for, there is still no liability unless the passer-by can prove that the householder acted in an unreasonable way. Since most people think, as you and I do, that it is perfectly reasonable to clear the snow from the pavement outside one’s house, even if the case had not been thrown out previously, it would fail on this point.” Finally that “There is no known case of anyone in this country ever being sued successfully in these circumstances“.

He signs off saying “There is no need for a change in the law. What we need instead is a change in the quality of the people who write and edit newspapers“!

So, get clearing!

Welcome to another 52,000 vehicles!

29 Nov

By the end of 2009 there were 52,000 more vehicles on GB roads than at the end of 2008 and this is despite a big down-turn in car sales, and government money in a scrappage scheme to encourage sales until the end of March 2010. The scrappage scheme did at least take one old car of the road for each qualifying new car.

Between 1997 and the end of 2009 (roughly the period Labour’s term of office) the number of cars on GB roads increased by over 7 million or 27%! Clearly the purchasers of these additional vehicles plan to leave them somewhere when they are not in use. This may be outside some new house on a shiny new driveway or somewhere else out of the way however I am sure many front gardens were dug up with associated dropped kerbs, creating their own problems for pedestrians. Many will of course have been squeezed onto the highway where-ever possible, across pavements, on verges etc etc. Here is a graph showing the relentless increase in vehicle numbers in Great Britain since 1950.

GB vehicle stock 1950-2009

And here is the graph showing just the registrations and scrappages each year for 1960 onwards. The bumps and lumps in the curve generally fit with the state of the economy.

GB vehicle registrations and scrappages

The lack of sales and relatively low increase in the vehicle stock is in general treated as a problem by government because of the lack of ‘growth’ which is in their view always a good thing. In human beings uncontrolled growth is known to a huge problem (we call it cancer!) and if the pet hamster we had as a kid hadn’t stopped growing at the right moment then results would have been disastrous as pointing out in this wonderful little animation.

There are however also encouraging signs that we may be approaching a peak in vehicle numbers and that they could drop significantly in the coming years. Car clubs are growing fast, cycling is growing fast, rail travel is growing fast and mileage in cars per head of population has actually been on its way down for some time now. In addition the iPhone, blackberry and other smart phones can only be used when someone else is driving. Personally I think it is the mobile communications devices that will encourage most people out of their cars so that they can work while traveling. That is the subject for one of more later post though!

motorists – 2nd class citizens?!

27 Nov

Mr Herron from Sunderland has spent more than £100,000 of his own money campaigning to improve the status of motorists who he said had been treated as “second-class citizens” but didn’t convince the judge I am pleased to say.

He lost a court case where he claimed that the controlled parking zone in Sunderland city centre were too large and confusing for drivers and wanted the 39 penalty charge notices issued against him for parking on single yellow lines within the zone to be ruled unenforceable! 39 times? The markings must be very confusing or is this another case of willful ignorance? He also complained about “petty little bureaucrats”, “stealth taxes” and said he only wanted “fair enforcement” etc etc. He said that prohibitions in a controlled parking zone should only be enforced if every part of every road within the zone had been marked with either parking places, a single or double yellow lines.

Commenting on the Heron case, Paul Watters, head of transport policy at the AA said: “There is a need for greater clarity in the implementation of parking restrictions by councils across the country”. Paul Watters also recently suggested that every single dropped kerb should be marked with white paint to warn motorists not to park across them! For course the AA recently complained that fines for illegal parking should only cover the associated enforcement costs. Are the AA suggesting that fines should be massively increased to cover the cost of marking every dropped kerb and controlled parking zone in the country or is he expecting that cost to be also share out between motorists who already know the law and by non-motorists! I think I know the answer already.

Talking about democracy and fairness. I recently posted about how 88% of the ‘traffic’, ie the pedestrians, dropping kids of at a local primary school where on foot but only got 18% of the highway to use. Now that is 2nd class in by my recogning.

Highway robbery?

25 Nov

Local Authorities have written to the Department for Transport asking for the maximum fine for illegal parking to be raised from £70 to £120 (still subject to an early payment 50% discount) giving a maximum cost of £60 for someone who pays quickly. This request is for maximum fines outside London to be able to be as high as in London. While researching this just now I came across a long rant about the injustice of it all in the Independent in 2006 titled Highway Robbery.

The AA say that it was a ‘clear breach’ of the government’s rules because “The guidelines state that local authorities should not view civil parking enforcement as a way of raising revenue”.

Lets examine that claim.

Firstly, surely the purpose of a penalty for breaking the law should be sufficient to encourage compliance? If parking legally costs £20+ (as it does in Cambridge and some other places) then the fine needs to be considerably higher than that should it not?

Secondly. What is the cost of illegal parking? The total national fines were £330m last year. What does the AA think that should cover? Just the salaries of the parking wardens and police? What about the legislation regarding the creation of yellow lines (£1,500 a time), installation of all the bollard sand fences needed to physically stop drivers parking on the pavement, the costs of repair cracked pavements and verges turned to mud as in the following picture.

Ruined verge

Personally, I think that the AA keeping are keeping their blinkers well and truly fixed on the narrow enforcement costs. Is it not the motorists who are doing the ‘highway robbery’ by claiming all of the highway and then taking a chunk of the pavement as well. In addition they then use every trick in the book to make enforcement difficult?

People may be interested in seeing the fuss and denial over the years about speed cameras which raise £110m per year all of which was used for road safety work until this year when the new government ‘raided’ 40% of it. Check out the Wikipedia articles on UK speed limits and UK speed limit enforcement but if you really want to see it ‘warts and all’ then look at the associated talk pages and history. The encouraging thing is that the RAC Foundation and the AA are now supporting speed cameras.

I will take a look into what the costs are and do a post about it soon. It was, of course, only because the parking enforcement was so broken in the first place that I started this blog.

Willful ignorance?

25 Nov

I passed a UK Mail delivery van parked on the zig-zag lines by a pedestrian crossing yesterday. I asked him politely to move and he responded saying he was allowed to stay there for 5 minutes. wrong! When I challenged him I got a tirade of abuse including words beginning with F and P together with the ‘get a real job’ and ‘people like you need a smack in the gob’ etc. Not exactly what on expects from postman pat! Update… see bottom of post for an impressive, prompt and helpful response from UK Mail to this particular incident.

Zig zag man

It is, of course, a criminal offense to even stop on the zig-zag lines. To quote: “The only time in which it could be permitted to stop on zigzag lines is in the case of an emergency or where the reason that the vehicle came to a halt was beyond the driver’s control”. Rule 240 of the highway code says You MUST NOT stop or park on …”a pedestrian crossing, including the area marked by the zig-zag lines”. The actual legislation is in ‘The Zebra, Pelican and Puffin Pedestrian Crossings Regulations and General Directions 1997′ (Section 18). The markings are defined in schedule 4.

I notice that their website implies that these drivers are self employed and that the job is ‘fast-paced, exciting, challenging – and lucrative.’ ‘An average day will see me make in excess of 100 deliveries and 20 plus collections.’ and ‘it requires energy, adrenaline and vitality in bundles.’ They do also say that ‘UK Mail invests a lot of time and effort in training and supporting its staff’ however that doesn’t seem to include training about the Highway Code. It is a public company which operates 3,500 vehicle from 50 sites and made £17m profit last year. It says that it is committed to pushing the boundaries of the postal and express delivery markets. Ummm, does that include parking?

The choice of these huge vehicles is of course a business decision as is the number of deliveries required in a day as is the decision to incentivise the drivers and celebrate speed on their website. The drivers lack of knowledge of the law seems to fall into the category of ‘willful ignorance‘ which is a very common condition amongst poor parkers! Of course if the drivers are really expected to do 120 deliveries/collections in a day (lets assume a long 10 hours) then that is one every 5 minutes which doesn’t give much time to find a parking spot each time in such a large vehicle when they also have traffic to deal with and finding the person to sign for the package.

This is the third time in a few weeks that we have experienced an aggressive response to poor parking choices by people driving professional vehicles who have all said that they are parking legally. Personally I feel it is an issue we will see time and time again until these companies feel financial and brand pain. As usual I will contact the company and see what they say.

Update – success!
Within 1 hour of emailing the head office I have received both an email and a phone call from the local UK Mail manager and he is taking it seriously. Very impressive! To quote from his email (with him permisssion). I hope that the driver will also be taking this important message on board.

“Here at Ipswich we pride ourselves on our customer service and try to
maintain very high standards in both performance and customer service.
However when these standards slip I need to take action quickly and through
your feedback this will allow me to do so.

“The individual will be brought to task, and will not be driving until after
his interview Friday, please take my assurances that If after interview he
retains his job he will not be repeating his actions again

“Please feel free to contact me if you or your organisation ever note
anything that would be deemed as unacceptable again. We are not above the law and however “pressurised” it appears my people are I do not accept such actions.

Bad parking day?

24 Nov

A colleague commented yesterday that ‘we all have bad parking days’. This person certainly was having one given that he was blocking the pavement with a car sporting a sticker saying ‘please leave room for wheelchair access’!

Please leave room for a wheelchair!

DIY enforcement

20 Nov

Some fake yellow lines turned up over night at a dangerous junction in Elmswell in Suffolk some time ago when a concerned resident took it upon themselves to tackle a parking problem. The parish clerk said: “The lines appeared on a corner which is incredibly busy and narrow where there had been some rather thoughtless parking”. The markings only came to light around six weeks ago when the parish council applied to create a disabled parking bay on the same side of the street. The parish council want them to stay, the county council say that they are illegal and go.

The legal process to create real ones costs £1,500 and there isn’t any money. Possibly we need a simpler process? Of course there are plenty of regulations about not parking where the vehicle may cause a nuisance or obstruction but the motoring lobby is basically too strong at present for the authorities to dare use them. That is why we need to build a stronger and more vocal ‘pedestrian lobby’.

Incidentally the UK seem to also be pretty keen on fake speed cameras created by local people. A retired policeman in Newbottle, near Houghton-le-Spring, Durham recently installed a fine bird-box in his garden that displayed remarkable similarities to a Gatso speed camera. A device also appeared in Congleton, Cheshire. Indeed their are a veritable rash of these devices across the country. The last month an enterprising resident of Cardiff decorated an ex-police van to look just like a mobile speed detection van and left it in his street.

The good thing is that these interventions do seem slow the traffic down. It is not illegal to install such devices on your own property and the van was legal because it didn’t say anywhere on it that it was a police vehicle. In some ways the rules that came in in 2001 saying that cameras have to be yellow and visible from a distance can be used to advantage.

Again the process of getting real cameras seems very complicated, however at least the macabre rule that only allowed cameras to be installed at locations where 3 people had died or been seriously injured in the last 3 years was removed in 2007. Imagine being told that a village had to wait for another death to get the camera they needed.

A farmer in the USA went as far as to install his own lower speed limit signs for the road and even had the local troopers issuing tickets on the strength of them.

Freedom, what freedom and for whom?

15 Nov

A DirectGov press release in August 2010 says.”Wheel clamping on private land is to be banned in England and Wales. The ban, which will be introduced in the new ‘Freedom Bill‘ in November, will impose tough penalties on anyone who clamps a vehicle or tows it away on private land”

Freedom for whom one has to ask. Freedom for the car driver to trespass, park and then drive away with confidence that they can ignore any signs saying ‘private’, ‘keep out’ and ‘no parking please’ with no more concern that they generally exhibit when parking on a verge, pavement, bus stop or anywhere else on the highway?

Needless to say the ‘motoring organisations’ have been pushing for this for some time. The RAC Foundation said that wheel-clamping was a breach of human-rights legislation because the concept of “one citizen “punishing” another is alien in English law”. The RAC Foundation’s did however say acknowledge  “We recognise the right of a landowner to enjoy his property without unauthorised obstruction.” The AA said that “bad and immoral practices” among private parking firms in England and Wales was “shocking and unacceptable”. Also that “The public have absolutely no protection if a private parking firm acts unfairly – it is a civil matter and no-one is interested in helping”. Finally in a flourish of brilliance that “Many elderly and vulnerable people have been ripped off by these callous cowboys.”

Lynne Featherston, the Home Office minister said that some firms were operating a “sort of entrapment” and an outright ban was the right answer and that “Most police forces do not spend their time prosecuting clamping companies”. The minister did however acknowledge on her blog that the police will not be able to cope, saying that “Cars that are parked dangerously on private land  – for example – blocking the entrance to a hospital or such like will be towed by the police. However, the police powers are for exceptional circumstances only”.

The British Parking Association acknowledged that reform was needed but that “If clamping is banned the Government must describe how it would protect landowners’ interests where vehicles are parked unlawfully on their land”. Matt Roberts, manager of Worcester Ten Pin Bowling who said that he was sceptical about the Government’s plans and was worried about parking becoming a “free for all” – “What alternatives are there to protect the car parking spaces that we pay for? I don’t like the idea of wheel clamping, if there is another way then I’ll do it”.

Which? magazine conducted a poll on their website which was split with a slight majority favouring the ban. The magazine was responding to readers concerns both about disabled people being frog-marched to cash-machines and those of land owners. A BBC ‘Have your say’ article attracted over 800 comments with the normal range of extreme views.

Now, I certainly believe that many clamping companies have indeed being run a racket charging exorbitant fees to release vehicles and that something should be done. Is not the real problem that drivers have got so used to breaking parking regulations in some many places and they find it a rude shock to actually get a ticket when parking on private property when they have been getting away for it for years on pavements, outside schools and on verges? We reported some time ago about the illegal parker who appealed successfully against prosecution on the grounds that he had done it many times before and never been challenged.

The huge opportunity now seems to be that we suddenly have business owners and even the ‘British Parking Association’ on our side. Every small business which owns and pays for a few parking places outside their property is going to need protection. Our challenge is to ensure that the action that protects their rights also protects the rights of the  “elderly and vulnerable people” (to quote the AA again) who wish to use the pavement and indeed the rest of us who have seen our rights and freedom trampled on for years.

The said Freedom bill, or “Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill” as it was described by the Queen in the Queen’s speech is very broad rangeing. It will cover many important concerns. For example:  ‘Restoring freedoms and civil liberties’, ‘Allowing members of the public to protest peacefully without fear of being criminalised’, ‘reform of libel laws to protect freedom of speech’, ‘protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury’, ‘restoration of rights to non-violent protest’, ‘Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation’, ‘repeal of unnecessary criminal offences’, ‘introducing new legislation to restrict the scope of the DNA database’, ‘Protecting privacy by introducing new legislation to regulate the use of CCTV’ and ‘Ensuring the storage of internet and email records is only done when there is good reason to do so’.

Let’s see if the bill can get them to acknowledge and deal with the whole parking mess across both public and private land. It is now predicted that the bill will be published in ‘the spring’.

Traffic management … or illegal obstruction?

14 Nov

A company called Traffic Management Solutions Ltd were called out to fix some traffic lights in Cambridge yesterday. Clearly it is good to get traffic lights fixed, however… this was the start of a very sorry tale for one of our intrepid local ‘PL support officer’ who spotted the parking choice at 10:15am and then again 90 minutes later when they challenged the driver. Before I tell you what happened lets take a look a the choice of parking spot. Firstly one has to say that no, the vehicle was not in motion – indeed if one looks closely there is no one in it. The second thing to say is that no, the vehicle was not just parked here for 2 minutes. It was there for 90 minutes. It is of course on a junction partly across a pedestrian crossing at a junction on a bend on double yellow lines within the zig-zag lines of a pedestrian/cyclist crossing opposite a dropped kerb.

Neat parking!

Here is the aerial view. The vehicle position is shown in black, the pedestrian route in red.

Newnham junction vehicle location in black

Unfortunately the driver was not at all interested and indeed claimed a legal right to park there! Clearly there were very much safer opportunities nearby, indeed reversing 10 meters further back would have helped a lot. He then got very arsey about having photos taken and threatened to phone the police claiming that it was against the ‘Data Protection Act’. So far so bad.

Our ‘officer’ then phoned the police to discover what their view on this was. They did not seem very interested in the parking but did ask if the vehicle was going to be there much longer, in which case they might swing by. They did however confirm that the driver could indeed claim ‘harassment’ or ‘alarm and distress’ if the photographer was ‘distressing’ them. Given the relative size of the two people – the driver was much bigger – and the short time the discussion took, I don’t think that would hold up in court. Also, it is my understanding that it is only harassment if a ‘reasonably person’ would have been distressed which clearly was not the case.

Lets hasard as guess about what the driver was doing wrong.  According to the Highway Code Waiting and Parking rules:

Rule 238

You MUST NOT wait or park on yellow lines during the times of operation shown on nearby time plates (or zone entry signs if in a Controlled Parking Zone)

Rule 240

You MUST NOT stop or park on

  • a pedestrian crossing, including the area marked by the zig-zag lines (see Rule 191)

Rule 242

You MUST NOT leave your vehicle or trailer in a dangerous position or where it causes any unnecessary obstruction of the road.

Rule 243

DO NOT stop or park

  • opposite or within 10 metres (32 feet) of a junction, except in an authorised parking space
  • where the kerb has been lowered to help wheelchair users and powered mobility vehicles
  • on a bend
  • where you would obstruct cyclists’ use of cycle facilities

That seems clear then! Note that in the above rules are identified by the use of the words MUST/MUST NOT are legal requirements, and “if you disobey these rules you are committing a criminal offence. You may be fined, given penalty points on your licence or be disqualified from driving. In the most serious cases you may be sent to prison.”

The words ‘Do not‘ mean that it is not necessarily an offence, but “The Highway Code may be used in evidence in any court proceedings under the Traffic Acts (see ‘The road user and the law’) to establish liability. This includes rules which use advisory wording such as ‘should/should not’ or ‘do/do not’”.

So… I will now email Traffic Management Solutions Ltd and ask them politely to have a word with their drivers and encourage them to be a bit more considerate and aware of the law. The embarrassing thing for me is that it turns out that the company is based in my home town of Ipswich! Do we have a special driving test in this town? It feels as though this is just the start of a very long campaign!

Pavement parking petition launched in York

12 Nov

A petition has been launched by York’s Labour group calling for urgent action to stop motorists parking on the pavement in University Road, York. Residents said the parked vehicles were putting pedestrians in danger. Terence Fisher, 73, of Fulford, said he saw a young woman with a pushchair forced into the road because a car was blocking the footpath. Read the whole of the York petition article in The York Press. The petition can be signed online at www.yorklabour.org.uk.

Of course I recently blogged about Labour councillors in Reading blocking a conservative initiative to ban pavement parking in that town calling it a ‘cash cow’. Funny old world.

Here is a nice example from York of parking on a cycle track, on double-yellow lines pushing cyclists onto the pedestrian path.

Photo by greensambaman

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