Archive | September, 2011

The top obstacles for users of Guide dogs

12 Sep

The Guide Dogs association asked 100 users of guide-dogs to identify the worst obstacles they encountered. The percentages below are based on the number of times each item was mentioned by respondents.

  1. Overgrown hedges / low-hanging branches 87%
  2. Cars parked on the pavement 81%
  3. Wheelie bins / loose rubbish 58%
  4. Shop furniture, incl. A-boards, displays, canopies, etc. 42%
  5. Broken glass 34%
  6. Badly maintained pavements 33%
  7. Cyclists/scooters/skateboards on the pavement 28%
  8. Chewing gum 22%
  9. Discarded bikes outside shops 20%
  10. Lack of barriers around road-works 19%

Don’t mention the war!

11 Sep

Mike Penning, the roads minister recently claimed that there had never been a war against the motorist in a letter to Sir Peter Tapsell MP. This is very remarkable given that in July 2010 he said that ending central funding for speed cameras “is another example of this government delivering on its pledge to end the war on the motorist”. He mentioned the war again – this time in an article about the scrapping of the M4 bus lane titled “M4 bus lane to be scrapped as Penning ends Labour war on road users” (which clarifies that this is a war on the motorist actually). Some people will also remember Philip Hammond’s rousing speech at the Conservative Party Conference in 2010 – this version, which has been dubbed and subtitled is the only version of the relevant parts of the speech available on the web that I can find (I wish that the government would publish all speeches online for people to review later). A popular blog titled ‘At war with the motorist‘ was set up immediately after this speech to challenge some of the view expressed by the minister. This clip was created by the folk behind iPayRoadTax.

This recent announcement has prompted me to ensure that the past won’t be forgotten so easily in future. I am making a small start by uploading some key video clips from recent motoring history onto Vimeo. For starters, here are some clips relating to battles and skirmishes for control of our roads. Lets start with the conservatives and their ambitious Road for Prosperity white paper which was published in 1989. It outlined a massive increase in road building and then Margaret Thatcher explained that “nothing can stop the great car economy” (and certainly not “wishy washy environmentalists.”) This clip is from The Secret Life of the Motorway produced by the BBC.

This led to massive road protests during the 1990s, including the M11 link road, Twyford Down (M3) protest and the Newbury Bypass protests. This next clip starts with a short sequence from the Reclaim the Streets protest on the road outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square in 1997 (which has since been pedestrianised incidentally). This is followed by a retrospective piece about the road protests of the period – do notice how wealth rural conservative voters are pushing and shoving alongside younger activists with the support of elderly local residents. Nothing ‘wishy washy’ about this lot!

The conservative government had started backing off from their ambitious road building policy by 1994 when John Gummer denied that there ever been a ‘great car economy’ saying that it was “not one which has ever been put forward by the Conservatives“! He elaborated that “The car must become our servant rather than our master” and that we must not construct a society “which restricts freedom by not allowing people to choose a lifestyle that does not involve having a motor-car“. This new found interest in alternatives to the car didn’t however stop the  transport secretary at the time, Brian Mcwhinney, giving the go-ahead for the Newbury bypass the following year before resigning 30 minutes later!

When New Labour came to power in 1997 there was no question about the direction of transport policy. Here is John Prescott laying out their vision for transport.

In recent years cyclists and pedestrians have been getting more confident, not something that everyone in the motoring community has appreciated. Here is a clip from Road Rage, a documentary shown recently on TV highlighting the battle raging in the UK for control of the roads between motorists and pedestrians/cyclists etc.

Finally, as a bit of light relief, here is Jeremy Clarkson, announcing that this episode would be the ‘last ever Top Gear’ after the car came last in a race across London by various forms of transport (with Richard Hammond winning on a bicycle). There have however been many more episodes of Top Gear!

Clearly there is something very big going on about which lots of people have strong feelings. There are no easy ‘solutions’ to our transport challenges and the car most certainly isn’t it. It will be great if the currently government can avoid falling down the same hole that the last Conservative government fell down. Possibly denial is just part of the process of change in the political world?

HGV spotters guide

10 Sep

Heavy commercial vehicles (ie, goods vehicles with a gross weight of over 3.5 7.5 tonnes) are uniquely subject to a pretty comprehensive ban in respect to parking on the footway or verge thanks to the Road Traffic Act 1988 (Section 19 and 20, Highway Code rule 246). The only exceptions being when they are “unloading in situations where they are not creating a danger and are not causing an obstruction and are where the vehicle is at no time left unattended” or alternatively if they are stopping to save a life put out a fire!

Unfortunately… there appears to be no way to tell from the outside if an HGV is over or under 7.5 tonnes because all HGVs, including the smaller ones with gross vehicle weights of between 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes have the letters HGV on their tax disks. The only way is to ask the driver who is probably not going to tell you if he is being naughty! Here is some basic information to tell the difference between them all.

Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) over 7.5 tonnes

These vehicles which are over 7.5 tonnes, also sometimes referred to as ‘large goods vehicles’ are not allowed to park on the pavement as detailed above. The driver of this vehicle (which I believe to be over 7.5 tonnes) is causing such an offense as he shares a cup of tea and a chat with the staff in ‘Motormania’ while blocking the pavement and delaying traffic and buses on a busy road because there is a place round the back to park and he has left the vehicle ‘unaccompanied’. The cement mixer, also over 7.5 tonnes is probably doing loads of damage to the pavement and there seems to be no good reason for it not to be on carriageway so that one is also causing an offence. All of these vehicles have the letters HGV on their tax disks, but unfortunately so do the smaller HGVs and there is no reliable way to tell if a particular vehicle is over 7.5 tonnes.

HGV with two wheels on the footway – an immediate offence

This is definitely an HGV!

Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) under 7.5 tonnes

These vehicles, known either as ‘medium goods vehicles’, ‘7.5 tonners’, ‘large goods vehicles’ or HGVs are unfortunately below the weight limit re the 1988 Act and can therefore can park all over the pavements to the same extent that cars can! In addition, there is no way to be sure if it is under over the 7.5 tonne limit or over. The vehicle in the picture below was parked completely legally btw and the driver was very helpful which is why I knew it was just below 7.5 tonnes.

This vehicle is just under 7.5 tonnes (and was parked in a proper parking bay)

Light goods vehicles (LGVs) under 3.5 tonnes

These lighter vehicles, known either as ‘light goods vehicles’ or more correctly as ‘light commercial vehicles’ are also subject to the same weak and ineffective rules as cars. They have ‘LGV’ on their tax disks. Clearly these guys are being pretty thoughtless and the police may consider that they are causing an obstruction, but there is no cut-and-dry offense as there is for the large HGVs. The first guys appeared to make the obstruction even worse by leaving the driver’s door open after I had unsuccessfully  tried to get them to move it off the pavement. The second vehicle (with trailer) often parks on the pavement  but doesn’t always have another car on the back – it must be doing a load of damage to the pavement.  The final vehicle is very tall and wide and leaves very little space for anyone to get by but is not quite an HGV. Why on earth do these companies think it is ok to leave vehicles like these on residential streets every night – I guess it is because it is much cheaper and easier for them and their staff than doing the considerate thing- nice!

Light commerical vehicle (LGV) on the pavement – not in itself an offence

Flatbed truck – also a ‘light commercial vehicle’ (LGV on tax disk)

Specialised fixings (again)

Confusing terminology

The terms in use at present are pretty confusing. Here is a quick primer. The new official harmonised EU term for an HGV is ‘Large goods vehicle’ which has abbreviation of LGV and was adopted in 2001; the EU also recommended the term ‘Light commercial vehicle’ for the goods vehicles of less than 3.5 tonnes at the same time. Unfortunately the UK previously used the abbreviation LGV for ‘Light goods vehicle’ and the DfT is still in a muddle over these terms some parts of the department using LGV for HGVs and other parts (including VOSA) using LGV for the smaller vehicles. To make it worse the DfT also uses the term ‘medium goods vehicle’ for the smaller end of ‘large goods vehicles’ (ones between 3.5 tonnes and  7.5 tonnes) meaning that a vehicle can both be a ‘medium goods vehicle’ and also a ‘large goods vehicles’ at the same time! They also sometimes use the term ‘larger goods vehicle’ which may be different from a large goods vehicle or possibly not – I have no idea. Anyway, all heavy goods vehicles (including the medium goods vehicles) have the letters HGV written clearly on their tax disk because VOSA does that bit and uses the older terms and also puts  LGV on the tax disks of smaller vehicles.


I have updated this article following further investigation into how one can tell the different classes of HGV apart (one can’t it seems!).

Companies behaving badly…

8 Sep

I have created a new category called ‘bad company‘ (as in ‘bad boy’) with examples of where businesses are being naughty, selfish, thoughtless or lazy in how they allow their company vehicles to be left on the pavement. I am in no way commenting on their ability to do their trade, some of them are certainly pretty good at it – only on the way they present themselves in public by their choices of parking places. I suggest that they either clean up their act or take the branding off their vehicles!

Here are a few examples taken down one short section of road at the start of a school day on the approach to a primary school. I notice that the same Specialised Fixings van features in our Rogues Gallery and that the R+J Windows van has parked in that position for at least a year. R.L Johnson repair cars, but is it necessary to making walking any less attractive? I smiled when I noticed that the A.J.Cook advertise that they ‘specialise in disabled adaptions and alterations’. What, like making the pavement even narrower by parking a big truck on the pavement outside their offices?

Needham building contractors (790mm for pedestrians)

R+J Windows (complete blockage of the path)

R.L.Johnson car repairers (400mm for pedestrians and a very dangerous corner)

Specialised fixings (again), this time leaving 500mm for pedestrians

A.J Cook building contractors on the approach to a primary school at 8:45am

A.J.Cook helpfully advertise that they specialise in ‘Disabled adaptions and alterations’

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.

44% of motorists believe that they ‘own’ the road outside their house!

7 Sep

According to a recent poll of 2,000 motorists some 44% of motorists believe they “own” the nearest parking space on the road to their home and 18% have felt distressed when a stranger parked in front of their property. In reality it is possible that it is not actually legal at all to park on the highway – Surrey County Council’s website says thatIn common law, drivers have the right to pass and re-pass along the road. There is no legal right to park on a road, verge or footway“. ‘Parp part’ went Mr Toad.

‘Parp parp’

Rural speed limits in the UK and Holland

6 Sep

Following a discussion this blog in response to my recent ‘Safe’ routes to school – no pavements and unlit at 60 mph? blog post, here are examples of rural speed limits in Holland in the the UK. Notice that many Dutch rural roads have 50 mph speed limits (purple) and 40 mph (red) rather than 60 mph (light blue) or dark blue (70 mph). Across the North Sea on the east coast of England all rural roads are 60 mph, no 50 mph speed limits at all and very few 40mph limits. The speed data is from OpenStreetMap and has been visualised by ITO Map. The speed data is not yet complete If you are able to help please then please add information to OpenStreetMap for your area and places that you visit.

Speed limits holland (click for slippy map view)

Speed limits Tendering District, UK (click for slippy map view)

This final image shows pedestrian road casualties for Tendering District since 1986. Large blobs are deaths, small ones are serious injuries. Red for pedestrian, blue for driver, green for passenger. Most pedestrian casualties are in the towns, which is likely to be for two reasons – firstly that most pedestrians movements naturally take place in towns and secondly because pedestrians avoid rural roads knowing that they are unsafe. Casualty data from Stats19 police data. Do remember that road deaths have fallen massively since 1985 when some 5,500 people were killed in GB compared to 1,857 last year.

Road casualties – Tendering district