Archive | July, 2012

Are the @racfoundation being a bit silly again?

26 Jul

I notice that the RAC Foundation have again been using the ‘surplus’ word in relation to parking, this time it is in an article titled ‘Councils make half a billion pounds surplus from #parking each year‘ in which they express irritation and surprise that Westminster Council made a ‘surplus’ of £38 million from parking fees last year. Needless to say, their definition of ‘surplus’ ignores all capital costs as usual. This may sound like a lot, but this is a place where a single 5 bedroom flat can cost £30 million and office rental can run to £100K per week! Indeed, a single parking space, (at 320 sq ft) would cost £32,000 per year if rented out at £100 per sq ft, which is about right for Westminster.

It isn’t just the RAC Foundation who seem to be a bit blinkered in relation to parking in Westminster. Go back only a few months and we find a shop-keeper and a bishop both complaining about the terrible problems that would be caused if Westminster Council charged for parking on Sundays. The shop-keeper, Philip Green, explained that “people who come to London know they have got to find a place to park. Charging people on a Sunday is just outrageous behaviour” and the Bishop of London explained that “detrimental to the parishioners who have met Sunday by Sunday in our parish churches for hundreds of years“.

So.. not only do we have an organisation whch is no-doubt populated by very intelligent people calling the whole market economy into question, we also have a very rich shop-keeper suggesting that the city would grind to a halt unless people are allowed to park for free in the most expensive part of London and a bishop who seems to believe that parishioners have been driving to church for hundreds of years. Most remarkable! Personally I would suggest that charging motorists for parking on the highway in Westminster (and also in Kensington/Chelsea and other expensive areas) makes a huge amount of sense.

Play Streets

25 Jul

I have just been reading a short article about ‘play streets’ which appeared the Guardian recently.

The article starts by noting that “in 1860, a 12-year-old Colchester boy was imprisoned for playing rounders in the road“. Playing in streets had actually been banned for over thirty years, nationally by the ‘Highways Act 1835’ (section 72) and in London by the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 (section 54). Both of these pieces of legisation allowed for a fine of up to 40 shillings for playing “football or any other game” in the street and it was apparently the failure to pay the fine which led to imprisonment of the boy. Indeed, according to a report in Hansard a total of 44 children had been imprisoned in 1859 year in London and Middlesex for playing in the streets! Incidentally, this legislation still in force as the Highways Act 1980 (section 161) which reads “if a person plays at football or any other game on a highway to the annoyance of a user of the highway he is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale“.

The Guardian article then went on the talk about how Play Streets were introduced to the UK from the 1930s with the ‘Street Playgrounds Act, 1938’, a piece of legislation that I hadn’t even heard of before which allowed streets to be designated for children to play in with use of vehicles restricted to residents and their visitors. These grew in popularity and by 1963 there were 750 streets around the country.

A playground street in operation

The utility of these play streets unfortunately diminished over the following decades. The Guardian blamed Thatcher for the decline, however I can’t find any evidence for that; powers to create play streets are currently provided by the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (sections 29-31) as amended by the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 (schedule 8). I do however note that various other sources have suggested that the decline was due to streets becoming increasingly dominated by parked cars. By the 1980s Play Streets were evidently all but forgotten.

I am pleased therefore to finally see all the renewed interest in play streets. Do check out Playing Out and the resources published by London Play. It is also encouraging that the ideas are getting cabinet level support in the person the Anne Milton, the Health Minister.

There is one huge problem of course… where are all the parked cars going to go? I say that because Play Streets not only require restrictions on vehicle movements, they also require the removal of the many many parked vehicles that now litter our residential streets in order to both recover sufficient play space and to stop vehicle owners fussing their property being damaged as a result. After all, we find it hard enough to walk along the pavements of many streets due to parked cars, let alone having enough space for kids to run around and kick balls.

By way of example, I note that the 1980 legislation relating to plays games in the street is still being cited, often in relation to damage to property and cars. For example: In Blackpool (2006) where police explained that ‘Residents have raised concerns about damage being caused to property, vehicles and flower beds etc’, Leicester (2007) where parents were threatened with a £100 by police after children had obstructed on the highway by leaving ‘jumpers for goalposts’ on the carriageway, Newark (2008) where residents complained of flowerbeds being trampled by children retrieving balls and damage to vehicles parked outside their properties; and in Manchester (2010) where three police officers told parents that their children could receive ASBOs for playing football in the street explaining that ‘you should not let your kids play on the road – it is not a playground.’

Interestingly however, Rother Council note that the 1980 legislation should only be used where the playing of games in the streets is creating problems for other road users and not where the only issues relate to nearby properties. As such it would appear that the Act should not have been cited in many of the above cases. To be clear there appears to be no actual ban on playing games in the street, only a ban on causing ‘annoyance to other road users’ by playing games on the street.

A particular treat for me when researching this post however, was to discover that the MP who had originally raised the issue in parliament back in 1860 was a certain T.J.Miller…. who happens to also be my great-great grandfather!

One small correction for The Guardian. I believe that the boy was arrested for playing rounders in London, not in Colchester as reported. TJ Miller was indeed MP for Colchester, but he appears to have been discussing a London/Middlesex issue, not a local one.

RAC Foundation – failing to see the obvious?

18 Jul

The RAC Foundation has just published one of their weighty tomes, which this time looks at parking. As always, their reports seem to contain both useful new information and analysis which they then interpret from a ‘motorism‘ viewpoint.

This report confirms that private cars are only actually used for an astonishingly low 3% of the time(p.24), that one-third of front gardens have already been turned into hardstanding,(p.10) with 25% of vehicles being left on the highway over night, rising to 60% in high density areas.( Motorists pay an average of only £42 in parking fees annual, excluding residents charges(p.vii) with local authorities make an average of only £60 per vehicle in fees/fines.(p.102)

The report studiously fails to mention the huge role that car clubs play in reducing parking pressures mentioning car clubs only twice noting rather unhelpfully, that “all cars take up kerb space and cause congestion“(p.55) in a section which confuses car club cars with private vehicles powered by alternative fuels. This is despite evidence that each car club car typically replaces between 6 and 20 private cars!

It also repeats the commonly held view that ‘inadequate’ parking inevitable means that cars will litter the pavements: “Inadequate provision of parking results in parking on pavements and verges,blocking roads for other vehicles. It can cause disputes between neighbours and reduces the opportunity for children to play outside.” Personally I don’t believe that this is inevitable; support for alternatives combined with effective policing works well in many thriving and prosperous cities. People own less cars, keep them further from where they live and/or make alternative transport arrangements. If you really want child-friendly cities then look to Freiburg and other places which largely reject the private car, not to larger car-parks.

The words ‘adequate’ and ‘inadequate’ appear a total or 25 times through the document and seem to being used to imply that it is practical to provide sufficient parking in our cities and that the lack of this parking is a failing of the authorities and has nothing to do with the size of private cars or the fact that they are unused for an average of 97% of the time! Yes, we should ensure that children receive ‘adequate’ clothing and food and that the elderly receive ‘adequate’ heating and care, but most adults should be able to provide for their transport needs within their own means. I suggest that ‘limited’ would be a more suitable, and less loaded term to use in future.

The report does suggest that “there is an argument in principle that space should be charged for as a scarce resource“.(p.102) but then warns that “paying for parking is an emotive subject, as motorists feel that they should not pay for parking on the street, it being seen as common property for which they have already paid through taxation“. In this case there is a note of reasonableness around charging, which is then neutered by a warning not to try it!

The RAC Foundation blog post is, as usual, more opinionated and rehearses the injustices metered out to motorists. Here are a few examples:

There is a strong suggestion that is it unreasonable for motorists to pay more for parking than the cost of collection: “Together, councils in the rest of England made a surplus of £310 million in 2009/10 from parking activities“. Two things are interesting about this, firstly that the ‘surplus’ is so small, working out at about same amount that Barclay’s Bank have just been fined for being very naughty; it is also the use of the word ‘surplus’ which neatly forgets the value of the land, the cost of maintaining the facility or the pricing of scarce resources.

The blog reiterates that planning authorities should provide enough suitable parking at ‘the right price’ and again uses the word ‘adequate’. To quote: “providing adequate parking in the right place at the right price is a big challenge for planning authorities.” How are they meant to do that? Should we should knock down one house in twenty and turn it into a multi-story car-park made available for only the cost of cleaning it so people can continue to own more private cars without paying the full economic cost? If not, then what exactly do they suggest?

Again, apparently being intentionally thick (sorry, and this is my personal view, not a statement of fact), the author goes on to again imply that authorities should provide ‘adequate’ parking for private cars as part of their general responsibility to society: “Unlike their legal obligation to keep traffic moving there is no law that makes them provide adequate space for stationary cars, though the two topics as inextricably linked“. This of course neatly avoids remembering that car clubs remove many of the parking pressures, and that bicycles, motorbikes and public transport require limited or no space, so these issues are not ‘inextricably linked’ except in the mind of a Motorist (the ones with a capital ‘M’).

Finally, it is worth noting that the blog post is littered with emotional language, including the following phrases: “there is a fear that councils regard parking provision as an afterthought“, “it is a hugely emotive topic“, “the suspicion amongst many…“. The use of emotional language is not generally helpful and tends to result in less intelligent and more primitive responses. Please keep the emotional language out of it so that we have a better chance of thinking effectively and rationally about this.

Institutional ‘motoristism’?

14 Jul

(or should it be ‘institutional motorism’ – see update at the bottom of this post)

Coming home recently I have notice police cars parked in illegal and/or antisocial ways on a number of occasions. In this first incident they had parked a marked police-car with two wheels up on the pavement on a double yellow line and probably within less than 10 meters from a junction. So was it a big emergency? Ok, not an emergency at all, just a routine traffic speed patrol. I politely asked them if they could re-park legally which they were fine about it, but why don’t they do it as a matter of course?

Police car up on pavement on double yellow within 10 meters of a junction

OK, so it is not an emergency, just a routing speed patrol

And then there was the time a few weeks back when I noticed this police car parked with its bonnet slicking out blocking the entire pavement. OK, so it might have been an emergency, but actually when to looked at the back of the vehicle there was loads of space into which the driver could have reversed.

Badly parked police car blocks pavement

Plenty of room for the driver to have reversed into the bay properly

Why does this matter, I hear many motorists thinking? It matters because it shows that there is a culture in the police that pedestrians and the pavements they rely on are less important than motorists and their needs for convenient places to park. One could possibly call it ‘institutional motoristism’ and then look at how society has dealt with other ‘isms’, such as racism and sexism (and homophobia)? All of these other ‘isms’ were endemic in both the police and also society but needed to be dug out of the police force before the wider societal issues could be addressed effectively.

Institutional motoristism (or possibly just ‘motorism’) has a more nasty side when the police side with aggressive motorists who threaten or assault pedestrians or cyclists. Check out ‘The Cycling Lawyer‘ blog for a cyclist/barrister’s view on the bias in favour of motorists as demonstrated by both the police and the judiciary.


A comment has just be left below noting that Chris Hutt, the late author of the ‘Green Bristol Blog’ proposed the term ‘institutional motorism’ back in 2010 which he defined as being ‘a deep rooted prejudice in favour of motorised traffic at the expense even of the safety, let alone the convenience, of those that dare to travel on foot or bicycle‘. That is certainly what I was referring to and is easier to say that motoristism! Neither have quite the same root as racism or sexism – to follow those it would have to be ‘transport-modeism’ which doesn’t really work or ‘modeism’ which doesn’t mean anything useful at all. As such motorism seems to be the one to use.

What is encouraging is that the term seems to be picking up gentle traction. ‘At War With the Motorist’ used the term in July 2011 saying “In the 1950s the future was the car and road transport, and for five decades TfL could get away with their assumptions and their institutional motorism. The times are a changin’. We need to show TfL that they can’t get away with this in 2011“. Apparently they picked up the term from ‘People’s Cycling Front of South Gloucestershire’ in their ‘Institutionalised Motorism near UWE‘ post from July 2011. The term is also turning up in comments on blogs around the web.

A double decker bus up on the pavement?!

12 Jul

Can you believe it; we now have a 20 tonne double-decker public service operating a school service being parked up on the pavement. Did the driver apologise and move the vehicle when requested to move by a reader of this blog? Err… no, in fact he evidently got pretty agitated about having the photograph being taken and has kept on doing it. What do the local enforcement guys and the DfT say? Well, err, only that there is nothing that they can do because is it a PSV, not an HGV you see. What I do know, is that the council will be paying for this school-bus service twice. Once to run the service and then again to repair the damage to the pavement caused by such a heavy vehicle. Possibly the council should just suggest that the company either behaves or loses their schools’ contract.

Umm. double decker up on the pavement!

Here is another view of the vehicle. Large isn’t it! We have disguised the operator’s name on the photos, and would request that if any bus expert reading this is able to identify the operator that they keep that information to themselves as we are trying a direct route to the management which should work based on what I know about the company. They will then hopefully have a quiet word with the driver and I think the problem will be fixed. If not then the vehicle will be back when school restarts in the Autumn and we will have to try something else.

Big isn’t it. Not doing a lot of good to the pavement either.

Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff

10 Jul

The police have just announced a crack-down on people cycling on the pavement on Cowbridge Road East in Cardiff. For sure, many pedestrians are concerned about cycling on the pavement which is also against the law (highway code rule 145). Personally I would prefer there to be legal dispensation for young children to cycle on the pavement, but in general let’s ensure that the roads are safe for cyclists and make sure they use them which is after all what many cyclists are asking for.

Needless to say, rule 145 also makes it illegal to drive on the pavement, but the police and newspapers prefer to ignore that irritating little detail. It is also illegal to stop within the controlled area on the approach to a Toucan crossing (Highway code Rule 240) and an Act of Parliament, which was passed in 2004, should also have made it illegal to park in mandatory cycle lanes except that in 2010 the DfT was still procrastinating and consulting on the subject. The Highway Code rule 243 also says “DO NOT stop or park within 10 meters of a junction” (but of course DO NOT only means “we would prefer it if you didn’t but can’t do anything about it really”).

So lets take a look at what is going on on Crowbridge Road East. This great way to get an idea of a place us using Google Streetview which gives a snap-shot of life in British cities on a random day and a random time of day. Sometimes it is 4am on a Sunday, but for this bit of Cardiff it seems to be a typical day.

This image from Google Streetview shows cars parked almost continuously along the cycle lanes. Note that these are only ‘advisory’ cycle lanes, which have dotted lines, so even if the DfT had completed their ‘consultation’ it would still not be illegal to park in these lanes. There are however also cars parked on the zig-zags of the approach to a crossing which is highly illegal. Get video evidence of who is driving and the police may even accept it and prosecute.

Parking in cycle lanes on Crowbridge Road East

And then this one a few meters down the road on a junction where a cyclist was seriously hurt recently. It shows a van clearly parked fully on the pavement, and a 4×4 across the cycle-lane with two wheels up on the pavement within 10 meters of a junction.

Parking on the pavement and in cycle lanes on Crowbridge Road East

The wonderful OpenStreetMap is a good way to confirm that the speed limit around here is 30 mph which in practice generally means 35mph at which speed most pedestrians and cyclists that are hit will die. So now lets look at the safety record. Here is a map showing reported road casualties on this road. The map shows that one 16 yo boy and a 45 yo man and a motorcyclist have all been killed on the road in the past 11 years (between 2000 and 2010) with over a dozen serious injuries, including at least seven pedestrians and two cyclists and numerous slight injuries.

Road injuries on Crowbridge Road East and the surrounding area

So… did Google Streetview show up a huge problem of pavement cycling? Not exactly, more a problem of vehicle owners behaving anti-socially making cycle lanes unusable pushing cyclists onto either the main road (where they occasionally get killed) or onto the pavement.

DIY traffic calming in Beech Croft Road, Oxford

9 Jul

Here is an encouraging story about what can be achieved by a community that works together to make changes in their street.

DIY traffic calming

Here is a report on the BBC about it.

And bizarre a visit by Richard Hammond of Top Gear in the mix. I am told that Richard Hammond had no idea what was in store for him and that the residents had no idea who the presenter was going to be.

You can read more about the project on their blog, on the associated ‘road witch’ blog and also in a report by Oxford city Council. The project was the first of a number of schemes supported by the Sustrans DIY Streets project.

Incidentally… here is a great story with loads of pictures about the terrible sate the street was in for pedestrians some time back. (added following comment below – thanks).

Beech Croft Road some time earlier