I have just been reading this impressive memorandum to a Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs into ‘Walking in towns and cities’ back in 2000 which included the following observation:
“If pedestrians placed a chair on the carriageway it would be removed immediately, even though it would obstruct a smaller proportion of the road than when a car parks on the pavement. Cars could slow down and take care to avoid the chair, as pedestrians have to with parked cars. The Highways Act applies equally to the road and the footway. Pedestrians are being discriminated against.”
He went on to suggest that the police were breaking the law by treating motorists and pedestrians differently quoting from the 1964 Police Act which requires every police officer to declare that they will discharge their duties ‘without favour or affection, malice or ill-will‘. (Police Act 1964 Schedule 2) The flowery wording he quotes has incidentally been updated subsequently by the Police Act 1996 (as amended by the Police Reform Act 2002) and now reads ‘with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality.‘ (section 29 and schedule 4)
He suggested that it would be illegal for the police to respond to the chair in the road but not the car on the pavement: ‘[ie prosecuting a pedestrian for obstructing vehicles by illegally leaving their possessions on the road but not prosecuting vehicle owners for illegally leaving their possessions (cars) on the footway.]’
So what happened? Well, the committee subsequently reported, and I quote, that: ‘walking has been made ever more unpleasant. Pedestrians have been treated with contempt’. That’s what I love about these cross-party select committees, they don’t hold back with their views! ‘Contempt’, that is a strong word but I suggest that it is accurate.
So… back to the police. Would it be fair and impartial for the police to allow motorists to leave their property (ie cars) on the pavement and to then prosecute a pedestrian for leaving objects of their choice on the carriageway? I am tempted to find out! What if there was an outbreak of chairs, sheds, planters and other interesting but unauthorised objects left on the carriageway for the convenience of their owners, to slow traffic or to beautify the area? Personally I favour planters or other useful objects.
What would happen if one responded to the inevitable approach from the police or from the council by politely reminding the police of their pledge to fairness and impartiality and the council of their duty to remove all ‘things’ left on the highway which constitute a danger to users of the highway (including a danger caused by obstructing the view) and and to stop being blind to vehicles which are also ‘things’ in the eyes of the law (Highways Act 1980 Sections 148–149)
If they attempt to say that cars are different then one can challenge them and also start muttering about why bins left permanently on the pavement are so different. If they start talking about these new objects being a danger to traffic one would mutter about the requirement for drivers to drive appropriately for the conditions (including conditions where there are objects clearly visible in the carriageway) and to question the implied assumption that it is more safe for motorists to avoid pedestrians who are forced onto the carriageway that for drivers to avoid chairs/planters etc that don’t even move!
My only reservation is that I have great respect for my local police who are pulling their hair out over pavement parking and who are also offering me very visible support for this campaign. It is possible, of course, that they would understand the irony of the action and may even quietly be in support of it.
I will sign off with another observation by a parliamentary select committee from 2006 where they said: ‘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’. Select Committee on Transport Seventh Report – Parking: para 261) and then that ‘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’ (para 262)