It's obvious to everyone, motorist or not, that car parking is in crisis. From the motorist's point of view it's either too expensive or too hard to find, and from the walker's or cyclist's point of view parking takes up valuable road space that ought first to be allocated to those passing along the road. Increasingly the competition for parking spaces leads to illegal and dangerous parking that obstructs footways and cycle lanes.
Each year such examples of blatantly illegal and, I would say, arrogant parking as those illustrated here (and here) become more common and unremarkable. It wasn't so long ago that pavement parking was unknown, but when it started to appear in Bristol in the 1980s the police failed to stamp it out (when doing so would have been relatively easy) so that today it is so established that the police and local authorities would hardly dare do so.
But parking is one of the key issues that must be tackled if Bristol's aspiration to be a green city is to have any credibility. Clearly walkers are entitled to expect that footways and the main road crossing points are kept clear. Apart from the danger of obscured sight lines at road crossings and actual obstruction of the footway (especially for those with baby buggies or wheelchairs), the presence of vehicles on the footway undermines the status of walking, sending a negative signal when we should be striving to send positive signals.
Cyclists suffer particularly from on-street car parking, not just the illegal sort on cycle lanes but the generality of kerbside parking. Most streets in Bristol are perfectly wide enough to allow a reasonable coexistence of cyclists and motorists, with each being able to overtake or undertake the other, according to traffic conditions, quite safely and without intimidation. But add in kerbside parking on one or, more often, both sides of the road and cyclists and motorists are left to compete for the same limited space, with predictable consequences.
Roads exist to allow people and goods to be moved around safely and conveniently. That should be their overriding function, but in the UK we have allowed a situation to arise where motorists have come to assume that they can use roads for parking their vehicles, for the most part free-of-charge, even at the expense of the safety and convenience of others. That is not the case everywhere - in Japan for example you are simply not allowed to park in the street!
If we are to restore acceptable conditions for walking and cycling this parking crisis must be tackled. The first steps in doing so are clear enough - effective enforcement of the existing rules. But we must go further, challenging the assumption that the street can be used for free storage of motor vehicles. Parking space is a valuable commodity in urban areas, yet for the most part on-street parking is given away free-of-charge. This represents a massive subsidy to car owners at the expense of the whole community, including non-car owners - the opposite of a green tax, more of an anti-green subsidy.