Archive | January, 2011

‘Spy cars’ to catch school run parents

14 Jan

Several councils in the West Midlands are may join a scheme which uses special  vehicles fixed with number-plate reading equipment to identify vehicle parking dangerously or illegally outside schools at pick-up time. Sandwell Council intends to lease a vehicle equipped with video cameras and automatic number plate technology. Wolverhampton City Council said the authority is prepared to look at all options for controlling illegal and inconsiderate parking including looking into the spy car scheme to assess its viability. Needless to say the Taxpayers’ Alliance didn’t like it, saying that it was an “elaborate scheme’ which may not solve the problem and would probably turn out to be a cash cow for the council”. Personally I think this, together with many other schemes across the country will indeed have a big effect.

Bedford is running a similar scheme. The campaign group Big Brother Watch seemed to be more concerned about mum’s getting wet and how unreasonable it was to expect parents to walk to school in the rain. They told The Mirror who ran the story “This camera will be used to target mums dropping off their kids on a rainy day”! As far as I knew, kids like the rain.

Mud Puddle Sam – Photo by PittCaleb

And then Southend Council are also considering using a parking enforcement car in Basildon following a successful trial in Southend. A spokesman said: “No method of parking enforcement is popular and I understand people are going to be upset if our car catches them out… However, we get a lot of complaints from residents saying we are not cracking down enough on irresponsible drivers and this will help improve the situation… Residents want us to use it for things which are traditionally difficult to enforce, like stopping parking on grass verges or outside schools.”

Notice that it is called a ‘parking enforcement car’ by those who are proposing it and as a ‘spy car’ that will ‘catch’ people by those who don’t or who need to sell newspapers! Do remember that the majority of primary age children walk to school and that it is only a minority of parents who do drive who park illegally and dangerously outside the school. In other words the parking issues are being caused by a small minority of parents to the detriment of everyone else.

‘Ziggy and Zaggy’ scheme

14 Jan

Pupils have been working with neighbourhood police officers in a scheme run by Staffordshire Police and Stoke-on-Trent City Council to hand out warning cards to thoughtless motorists who block footpaths, zig zag yellow lines, block driveways or park opposite or within 10 metres of a junction.

The police explained that the area around the school was dangerous at peak school times and that parents were asking them to try to sort the problem out. Headteacher Dawn Farmer said: “I’m thrilled… in the morning, cars block the whole street and refuse to move, forcing people to reverse down the whole street.. It had got to the point where so many parents were complaining, we had to do something.” One of the 12 year six volunteers explained ‘I just wanted to do something to tell grown-ups off and I thought it would be fun. I’ve already got two people this morning and two this afternoon!”

Handing out warning cards in Staffordshire. Copyright image

APC Overnight and Parcel Force this time

12 Jan

By chance I spotted the same APC Overnight van and driver parking very inconsiderately on Monday outside a school at pick-up time and then again on Wednesday in the pedestrian zone in the retail zone at a time when loading wasn’t allowed. I spoke to him on Monday and he couldn’t see what the problem was. I didn’t bother to ask him today. Here are the photos:

APC Overnight across the pavement outside a primary school at pickup time on Moday

The same van and the same driver in the pedestrian zone outside loading times on Wednesday

Of course it isn’t just them. Here is a Parcel Force van blocking the pavement locally in a very comprehensive way:

ParcelForce van across pavement

And another view of the same Parcel Force van

As always, an email will be winging its way to the companies shortly. I wonder when these delivery companies will get the message?


All emails to their head office PR department seem to bounce. A phone call to head office was diverted to the local branch – they don’t seem to be interested in the actions of local companies even though they have the company name on the side. The local branch was unavailable at the time. Possibly they will pick this up in due course and come back to us using the comment facility below. I may also try the local branch on the phone tomorrow morning on the phone but it is frustrating when companies make it hard to provide feedback and then don’t seem to want it.

Update 2

Just spotted this APC Overnight parked all over the pavement. I asked him to leave the pavement clear next time and park on the companies land which was available, however the driver told me that ‘he couldn’t be bothered to argue about it’.

Another APC Overnight vehicle parked right across the pavement

Learning from Detroit

11 Jan

I had the privilege to find myself in Detroit for 10 days last summer. As someone committed to getting the transport systems in our urban areas working well I was inspired by the BBC documentary ‘Requiem for Detroit’ to see the city which was both the birthplace of mass car ownership and which had been virtually destroyed by the same industry. I was able to see a city that can tell us a lot about what was wrong more generally and which has messages for us back in the Europe.

I found a cycling friendly city with lots of open space, but soon after we got they I started noticing that this bankrupt city was installing dropped-kerbs at every junction including for ones where there were no occupied buildings and no evidence of any foot traffic such as this one.

Brand new dropped kerb – grass gowing out of the pavement

And this one. It is however a complete co-incidence that the unoccupied building in this next photo used to house the ‘State of Michigan, Dept of Management and Budget, Motor Transport Division’ which I guess was in charge of using money wisely! Incidentally, the building is on Rosa Parks Boulevard which is named after Rosa Parks who was later described as “the first lady of civil rights”, and “the mother of the freedom movement” after she refused to go along with the laws in the South that said that a black person had to give up their seat on a bus if a white person wanted to sit down. She lived in Detroit in her later life and is someone who should be an inspiration to everyone who wants the bring about change, including getting cars off pavements!

The ‘Dept of Management and Budget Control’. Closed, but enjoying a brand new dropped-kerb

Why? Well the Disability Discrimination Act in the USA requires urban areas to install dropped kerbs and I was told by a local that the city had been sued for not implementing them. Given that the official boundary of the city was still the same as it had been in the 1930s, the city had to install them everywhere, including places where no one lived anymore. Another person pointed out that the previous mayor was in jail for corruption and perjury having previously been ‘riding around in luxury as city decays‘. I have had no suggestion that these dropped kerbs were part of any corruption though. A combination of well intentioned but unhelpful legislation, poor decision making and cronyism does occur to some degree everywhere however – in the UK we can also spend money on some pretty odd things as has been beautifully highlighted by the Warrington Cycle Campaign’s ‘Facility of the month awards’. Incidentally, Detroit is about to shrink its boundaries as the state halves its road budget due to reducing icome from their ‘gas tax’.

I am pleased to say that we also found a great city though which is full of optimism with younger people coming back with ideas for the future with an impressive Critical Mass ride each month. Both of these Critical Mass videos are worth watching. They present a view of huge empty space in the city, its vibrancy and a glimpse of what is starting to take place in the spaces vacated by all the cars and why creative pioneers are moving back into the city in what has become known as ‘reverse white flight‘.

However… this is still ‘Motown’ and Detroit hosts the North American International Auto Show this week with ‘car dealers rejoicing as optimism returns to motown’.

So there you have it – messages for all of us from Detroit where everything is in the melting pot!

How many people do drive their kids to school?

10 Jan

The government has just published a set of indicators indicating how children got to school across the country last year broken down into primary and secondary age groups. A graph based on the percentage of children walking, cycling or taking public transport to primary and secondary schools organised with the authority with the lowest rate on the left and the highest on the right comes out like this. The red line if for primary age children and the brown line for secondary.

Getting to school 2009-2010 by Authority

It shows that even in the authorities with the lowest rates for primary schools there are nearly 50% of children walking/cycling etc and that in the highest it is up to about 90%. The average across the country is about 63% for primary and 70% for secondary.

The papers claimed that the statistics showed that the schools with the highest driving rates were the rich and rural ones and the ones with the lowest were urban and not so rich. It isn’t actually that clear – here are the only ones where more than 50% of children are being driven: Herefordshire, Windsor and Maidenhead, Solihull, Cornwall, Surrey, St. Helens and Sefton.

The London borough feature prominently in the list of places with the lowest driving rate with Portsmouth being the most interesting inclusion – Portsmouth also has been pioneering area-wide 20mph speed limits with very encouraging results. Here are the ones with over 80% walking etc starting with the highest: City of London, Islington, Camden, Westminster, Isles of Scilly, Newham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lambeth, Kensington and Chelsea, Hackney, Portsmouth.

The slight anomalies for the rates for secondary schools to the right of the graph are probably data errors. The blip down to 40% is for Brighton and Hove and the one to 50% is for Ealing.

My conclusion is that it is a minority of parent who are causing all this trouble and one should bear in mind that many of the ones who do drive will park their vehicles some way from the school gates and walk the final section. I suspect that there is a lot of self selection of drivers going on which results and that ‘die hard drivers’ and ‘complacent car addicts’ are well represented outside the school gates.

Skirmishes on the front line

8 Jan

Yesterday afternoon I used a camera-phone to record some examples of dangerous and illegal driving outside a local primary local school. These included a car arriving at speed and stopping with two wheels on the pavement in the ‘school zone’ and also a driver reversing into a parking spot by yellow lines opposite the school zone. Before I was able to capture more examples of dubious parking the second driver drove up, stopped his car in the middle of the road and then got out and pushed me backwards and asked me if I was a pervert! As in happened, there were two off-duty police officers collecting children from school and I ended up having a useful discussion with these policemen and the assistant head of the school about this incident and wider issues.

The Policemen were unambiguously supportive of the campaign aims but suggested that the approach taken wasn’t ideal. Given my recent experience and regular reports of violence outside schools elsewhere I had to agree with them! Indeed the assistant head said that there had already been four confrontations outside the school between parents. He said that he wanted to talk with the head about what would be appropriate way of proceeding.

The reason for this post however is not to tell that story, but to highlight a pattern. Two previous drivers, both driving black Range Rovers as it happens, had accused me of being a ‘nonce’, ie a pervert. Here is one of one of them parked in the middle of the carriageway in a pedestrian-only zone waiting for someone to return. He had decided that I had taken a picture of a small child who he assured me was buried somewhere inside the huge vehicle hidden behind the smoked glass!

The other occasion was when I had spotted another Range Rover, this time one which was parked on the pavement outside a local shop on double yellow line. I said nothing but then found the vehicle kerb-crawling me as I walked on. The driver asked me what I had been looking at, and then asked if I was some sort of pervert. I found this odd given that he was the one behaving unusually and threateningly but it wasn’t really about logic but about power.

Finally, I  was cycling on one of the new London ‘Cycle Superhighways’ near the Oval and came across this incident. Why are vehicles as large as the one on the left allowed on our city streets at all? This Audi Q7 weighs 2.2 tonnes, has a minimum engine size of 4.2 litres and scores 2 only out of four for pedestrian safety. Clearly smaller cars don’t come off very well in an collision either. Incidentally the £43,000 Range Rover scored a ‘dire’ 1 out of 4 for pedestrian safety in 2002. Here are the official results which include the comment ‘Just three sites out of 18 tested on the vehicle’s front gave any protection. This is dire, and Land Rover needs to improve matters’.

A 2.2 tonne 4-6 litre SUV in serious crash in London

My conclusion from the  above is that the type of motorist who ignores all the social conventions and regulations around what sort of vehicle to drive and how and where to park will also be a self-selected group of ‘Motorists’ (as in die-hard capital ‘M’ Motorists) who are likely to behave unpredictably and dangerously when challenged. Any campaign of this sort needs to be aware of that.

As for the pervert claim, I see that as just one of a number of excuses and distractions by drivers for not address the issue at hand. For sure society needs to be vigilant in relation to child abuse but not at the expense of the huge risk to the safety and freedom of children from the drivers who behave illegally, carelessly or recklessly outside schools every day. That being said the use of camera-phones outside schools, particularly video-recording is unwise in the current climate even though it is the only way to gather credible evidence of driving on the footway or of careless driving.

Parents stone traffic wardens outside Brentwood schools

7 Jan

Its getting messy in Brentwood. Traffic wardens have suffered a string of physical and verbal assaults, they have also been pushed, tickets have been  snatched and on one delightful day they were stoned by irate parents! One  assailant got a one-year custodial sentence for the assault on a warden. The director of environmental services at Brentwood Council said “We normally send a pair of wardens and on a number of occasions they have been accompanied by PCSOs or police because of the reaction they get”. All these incidents have happened on Sawyers Hall Lane in Brentwood, Essex which is a dead-end road with five schools along it.

Road jammed on Sawyers Hall Lane

Traffic backs up in the morning and evening as parents try and collect their offspring outside the school gates, often blocking local driveways. One parent explains: “The situation is totally ridiculous. I have to get here for 2.15pm if I want a space”. She said that she had had paint thrown over her car and a large sticker warning her not to park there super-glued to her windscreen. A local resident said the situation was horrendous and that they “were suffering terribly” and that was impossible to get out at some times of day. One several occasions cars had been driven over local residents’ front garden.

The above report was from 2009, although things are hardly better by February 2010 with parents claiming that they are ‘forced’ to park in dangerous places outside the school. One parent said “I didn’t realise I wasn’t supposed to park here, the yellow lines are a bit faded.” Another parent said who was parked half on the double yellow lines claimed it did not matter because the traffic wardens no longer visited.

Then in July 2010 parents complained that wardens were using “sneaky” tactics because they issued tickets on a sports day on a Sunday complaining that parking enforcement was rarely carried out during busy school picking-up and dropping-off times. A parent said “How mean to deliberately target a family day, where kids, mums, dads and grandparents, were coming together for a sporting event – rather than let their kids roam the streets or sit in front of the computer – just to make money.” The school helpfully issued a warning on the public address system saying “traffic wardens are operating in Sawyers Hall Lane and are ticketing your vehicles”.

Well… I guess it is hardly surprising if the traffic wardens don’t visit at the busy times these days given what happened to them when they did. This sort of conflict is unfortunately only going to happen more often given the relentless rise in vehicle numbers and the current governments claim that they will ‘end the war on the motorist‘.

Reporting from the front line in Oxfordshire

7 Jan

Oxford Pedestrians’ Association and disability groups are battling with Oxfordshire County Council over plans to introduce a controlled parking zone in East Oxford which would leave only 1 meter of pavement available for pedestrians. The Equality and Human Rights Commission have written to the council asking if the council has carried out a full disability impact assessment. The council recently announced that it would consult with the 1,726 affected households again due to the ‘deep divisions over the proposals’. This will be the sixth consultation at it has already spent £160,000 on consultations!

Meanwhile… Oxfordshire councils working with Thames Valley Police and the Pedestrians’ Association supply free windowscreen stickers to be used on cars which block the pavement through their local libraries.

Police encourage use of stickers for pavement parkers. Copyright image

And then… East Oxfordshire Car Club has 6 car club cars available for use by local people without the need to own a car. They have 2 new high fuel efficiency VW Polo Blue Motions and 4 ‘recycled’ cars donated by local residents. That’s the spirit.

Pupils at primary school highlight parking dangers

7 Jan

The kids are back at school and so has the craziness around the school gates caused by anti-social and dangerous parking. I have just spotted this story about some work done in the Autumn at one school where the police worked with the staff and pupils at a primary school in Peterborough to highlight the dangers caused by drivers parking illegally and the availability of a ‘park and stride’ system that had been introduced for the school.

A pupil said: “We’ve made two cars move today with our signs. They just looked confused.” A welfare assistant at the school commented: “We’ve had a couple of near misses and had reports of parents parking on the zebra crossing…reversing onto verges and pavements near school is particularly dangerous for obvious reasons”. A parent explained: “If my little girl hadn’t been clever enough to jump out of the way she could have been killed, the driver didn’t notice her at all.” Children at other schools have been not escaped injury.

Highlighting poor parking

A tight parking spot

5 Jan

You can fit a large vehicle into a surprisingly small space if you try hard enough. Here are a couple of ways…

Roman Signer – Engpass 2000

This first example is from an art installation ‘Engpass at Aussendienst’, Hamburg (2000) by Roman Signer. Thanks to Supralimen and Tate Etc for bring this to my attention. Images courtesy the artist and Hauser and Wirth, Zurich.

Roman Signer’s installation Engpass at Aussendienst, Hamburg (2000) © Roman Signer

Roman Signer’s installation Engpass at Aussendienst, Hamburg (2000) © Roman Signer

Stoke Gifford-Vertical parking 2008

This second example, which has been given a working title of ‘Stoke Gifford-Vertical parking’, was probably achieved by someone without any art training. The ‘installation’ was created in the early hours of 26 April 2008 in Stoke Gifford, Bristol and resulted in significantly less damage to the vehicle than the first method. Thanks to Bristol Traffic for that one.

Vertical parking 1

Vertical parking 2