Parking controls break down 1930s-1970s

7 Sep

I have been poking around the legislation that used to restrict the parking of vehicles on the highway in the early years. There are a few facts which still need to be worked into a clearer narrative with some gaps which need to be filled in but the general story is pretty clear. It starts with a tough parking regulatory framework where on-street parking is prohibited by default unless permitted in particular places after consultation. This process then melts under the pressure of increasing car ownership (car ownership which grew from 5% of the population having a car in 1930 to 20% by 1960). By 1963 the parking situation was a disaster – as highlighted in the the seminal ‘Traffic in Towns‘ produced in 1963: “the crowding out every available square yard of space with vehicles, either moving or stationary, so that building seem to rise out of a plinth of cars; the destruction of architectural and historical scenes and the intrusion into parks and squares” (page 22-23) The previous regulations, which were not working were quietly ignored and then repealed and were replaced by an ineffectually framework which started with the presumption that parking was allowed unless it was specifically banned. There was then the failed attempt to ban pavement parking in 1974.

Here are two photos from the early 1960s. The first shows a street where cars have ‘taken complete possession of the pavement. The lower image shows Place Vendrome in Paris crammed with cars. I am pleased to be able to report that the square is now almost completely free of parked cars as can be seen using Google Streetview. We are still living with the consequences of this failure. The curious fact however, is that I believe that there is no actual legislation to allow this parking on the road, it just happened and legislators went onto the defensive. See below for a more detailed analysis of how the cars took over.

Indiscriminate parking, as illustrated in Traffic in Towns 1963 (copyright image)

The Road Traffic Act 1930 (section 120) went into considerable detail describing how a local authority could create on-street parking for vehicles with the implication that parking was not allowed in other places. The creation of these parking places was complicated and time consuming and could only be done after extensive publicity and consultation. The 1926 Automobile Association handbook includes a similar description of the process of creating on street parking facilities (on page 183-4) implying that this process must have already been in force at the time. This same requirement was carried forward into the Road Traffic Act 1960 (section 81) only to be repealed by the Road Traffic Act 1972.  To quote the 1930 Act:

Where a local authority propose to make an order under this section authorising the use as a parking place of any land forming part of a street … the local authority shall cause notice of the proposal to be published in at least one newspaper circulating within their district, and shall also cause a copy of such notice to be posted for not less than fourteen days on the land to which the proposal relates, and every such notice shall-
(a) specify the land to which the proposal relates ; and
(b) notify the date (which shall not be less than twenty-eight days) within which any objection to the proposal shall be sent in writing to the local authority; and
(c) contain a notification of the right of appeal conferred by this section.
(3) Before carrying into effect any proposal of which notice is required by this section to be given, the local authority shall consider any objection to the proposal which is sent to them in writing within the time fixed in that behalf, and shall, after so considering it, give notice of their decision to the person by whom the objection was made, and if any person is aggrieved by any such decision he may, within twenty-one days after receiving notice thereof, appeal there from to the sheriff.

The Road Traffic Act 1960 also authorised the use of traffic regulations which in 1963 were used to create the first yellow lines. One has to ask why it was necessary to use yellow lines to prohibit parking on the street when there was a special process in the same act in order to create parking. I think it is clear that parking regulations were being completely ignored by this time and there was no effective action to enforce them. Two years after the legislative process to create parking bays was dropped in 1972 there was the failed attempt within the Road Traffic Act 1974 to ban all pavement parking but this was never enabled during the subsequent 37 years!

The highway code provides an interesting insight into the situation over this time. The first edition of the Highway Code in 1931 said that “No vehicle should be left standing on the highway for a longer time than is reasonable in the circumstances. Do not leave your vehicle at a standstill in such a position as to cause inconvenience to residents of to other users of the road. Draw in your vehicle close to the kerb and do not stop where the road space is already restricted by standing vehicles, road repairs or other obstructions. It is an offence to leave a vehicle in such a position as to cause obstruction. It is also an offence under the road traffic act to leave a vehicle in a position or in a condition or in circumstance likely to be dangerous.” The term ‘reasonable in the circumstances’ seems pretty vague but the general tone is ‘don’t do it’. Curious that there is no reference to the regulations in the 1930 Act and the possibility of permitted parking places – possibly very few had actually been created.

By the time of the 1946 version of the Highway Code this requirement had been deleted entirely, there is no guidance that I can see relating to parking in the code. The 1954 version then introduces the familiar phrase of “You MUST NOT park your vehicle or trailer on the road so as to cause unnecessary obstruction” with reference to section 88 of the Motor Vehicle Construction and Use Regulations 1951 (which I can’t find online at present). What is ‘unnecessary’ obstruction I wonder? People have, of course, been arguing about whether an obstruction was necessary or not every since.

I would like to find the pre-1930 regulations and fill in any details and correct any errors. Do please leave hints for me in the comments section or on twitter if you have more of the story. A big thank you to Dave H (@BCClets) for his tweet which gave me the initial clues to get onto this particular trail. Thanks also to these guys, who published the scans of the old highway codes that I am referring to above.

4 Responses to “Parking controls break down 1930s-1970s”

  1. livinginabox September 8, 2011 at 6:10 am #

    Your link to the 1946 Highway Code didn’t work for me, nor did the Wayback Machine help much either (same error reported). Serendipitously, I found that Highway Codes for 1931, 1946 and 1954 can be accessed and downloaded via this clearly related page:

    Fascinating post BTW.

    Note: Was there a 1956 version of the Highway Code? As in: “The 1956 version then introduces the familiar phrase….”, or is this a typo?

    • Peter Miller September 8, 2011 at 8:17 am #

      The link you mention above to ‘medical-records’ was indeed the one I also found; I have now added a link to that site directly at the end of the article as a ‘credit’.

      I have also added a link to the 1954 version (which was wrongly attributed to 1956 which I have now corrected – thanks). Do please check the links to the individual highway codes again, these seem to be working for me.

  2. Loulan September 11, 2014 at 10:42 am #


    I was wondering when yellow lines, both single and double became enforced in rural areas? When did it become more common? Was it after the 1972 act?

    Thanks 🙂

    • Peter Miller September 18, 2014 at 11:08 am #

      No idea unfortunately. How common are these anyway?

      What is more useful in rural areas is the ban on parking beside a road with white central ‘no overtaking’ markings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: