Friday, 15 August 2008

"Improved parking enforcement" anyone?

Readers of this blog and the Bristol Traffic blog may be somewhat stunned at the latest pronouncements from Bristol City Council. According to BCC spokeswoman Kate Hartas, "Improved parking enforcement and responsible public attitudes to parking have meant the need for towaway is reducing." One wonders what world these people live in.

On any day I can walk just 100 metres from my home and find half a dozen examples of cars, vans and lorries parked illegally, obstructing the highway, blocking pedestrian crossing points and parking on pavements. What I can't find is a policeman or traffic warden doing anything about enforcing the law. It seems that the major commuter routes to which Bristol apparently give priority are strategic routes for motor traffic, not walkers or cyclists.


Elizabeth said...

The council should start its enforcement with its own employees and contractors. In the absence of the police - occasionally to be seen parking on double yellow lines themselves, to pick up their takeaways before driving off to who knows where - these people are among the most constant offenders when it comes to driving on to pavements to park. They seem to think if they are about the council's business they are absolved from considering other people. The drivers of delivery vans, collecting vans, builders lorries, and of course mothers picking up children from school, these too seem to think they have a function in the city's life which puts them above the law, entitling them to damage the pavements and force pedestrians out into the roads, besides also obstructing the passage and vision of their fellow motorists. All of these people, including the police who offend, consider that they are busy and important, that their time is much more precious than other people's, and that they are somehow doing us all a favour by saving it. Try talking to any of them about their habit and they will quite brazenly tell you this is the case. What is clear from this is the complete absence of moral leadership at the top of each organization, moral leadership that we used to take for granted in public and private life in this country. Now it has degenerated into "could anyone sue us?"

David Hembrow said...

This subject came up in a meeting with our local (Assen, Netherlands) planners on one of our Study Tours earlier this year.

One of the British participants on the tour asked why there was so little parking on cycle paths in this city, and the replies that came back (the question was asked more than once) were simply that "they'd be in the way and people wouldn't like it" or "it's against the law".

This went on for quite a while. A very amusing difference between the expectations of the British that drivers would park all over cycle paths despite it being illegal and the expectations of the Dutch that this would simply not happen because it's an anti-social thing to do. Oh, and also illegal.

Where there are proper cycle paths, they are of course designed to avoid conflict between drivers and cyclists. However, where there are just cycle lanes, people here go to some effort not to block those either. This is shown by this photo which I took a month ago:

I think it's no co-incidence that the highest rates of cycling are in those countries which deal most successfully with social issues in general: Low crime rate, low teenage pregnancy, low rate of binge drinking, low unemployment etc.

This issue of people parking anti-socially isn't really a transport issue but a social issue.

Chris Hutt said...

That's a very interesting observation from the Netherlands David. Another reason why we should be wary of importing Dutch examples to the UK, if I may say so.

It shows I think that attitudes are perhaps more important than infrastructure in determining whether somewhere is pedestrian and cycle friendly.

We certainly have a problem here with the attitude of motorists to other road users. It seems to be rooted in the idea that motorists alone pay for the roads and therefore motorists alone have the right to use them, even to the extent of parking on footways and cycle ways.

This idea is so entrenched, despite the fact that it has no basis in reality, that it is hard to see how it can be changed. Perhaps scrapping VED and replacing it with more tax on fuel might be helpful, as well as being more logical from an environmental point of view.

Perhaps you could tell us how these things work in the Netherlands? Do motorists there believe that they pay for the roads?

Elizabeth said...

David is right that inconsiderate behaviour runs right through a society and is not just confined to motorists: here in Bristol we have just as serious a problem with people keeping their rubbish on the pavements - not even in the gutters. The habit which is almost unknown in Bath is spreading like wildfire here as more and more people find they can get away with it. A whole generation has now grown up which thinks that is where dustbins permanently belong - on the pavement, together with all the rest of the slime and filth that gathers round them. Bearing in mind what David says, why should it be so different in Bath? Presumably because the Council there considers it important for tourism to have the place looking nice, and therefore ensures that it does. Here by contrast, being a pedestrian is mostly a depressing and unpleasant experience, and one can understand why so many people prefer to drive or bicycle. That means the problem is never tackled. How many of our council officers walk to and fro in their highly paid lives? We used to have a planning officer who did, and while he was around there was a distinct improvement. But that was many years ago now.

Chris Hutt said...

Elizabeth, sadly you're right about the decline in expectations as far as the cleanliness of our streets is concerned.

Yesterday I was walking around the top of Cheddar Gorge, a beautiful limestone landscape (and my favourite walk) when I came across discarded plastic bottles and crisp packets. I could not believe that anyone who had gone to the trouble of hiking up a steep hill to get there to appreciate the stunning views would then think it OK to leave plastic litter behind. But they did.

Littering may not seem like the number one threat to society, but if people think littering is OK then how can we expect them to relate responsibly to society in other respects. It's offensive behaviour for which there is simply no excuse and if we tolerate that then why shouldn't any other anti-social activity be tolerated? That's the inevitable logic that follows.

David Hembrow said...


I think you're wrong about this being a reason to not build infrastructure for cyclists.

If not for the excellent infrastructure here, cycling rates would certainly drop. You only have to look so far as Dutch cities where the infrastructure isn't quite so good to find cycling rates which are considerably lower (only 30% of journeys are by bike in Den Haag). Or to countries such as Denmark and Germany where despite good social policies the infrastructure is less well designed and less comprehensive, and the cycling rates are very much lower than here.

Good infrastructure removes conflict between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. It also removes conflict between cyclists at different speeds.

Without feelings of conflict, everyone feels happy to cycle.

The infrastructure advantage is the one part of the picture that the UK could get nearly instantly. It "only" costs money. It's a lot easier to build stuff than to change people's opinions.

I think that to try to follow a path of encouraging cycling without building the infrastructure necessary to make cycling pleasant, is naive and destined to fail. It utterly flies in the face of what has worked in other countries.

People don't cycle in the UK for a variety of reasons, but it comes down to cycling not being attractive and not feeling safe. Make cycling attractive to everyone and you get more cyclists.

Cycling simply feels like the right thing to do here. Some of the reasons why are subtle, but many are more obvious. It's very much nicer to make your journeys by bike without having to worry about cars or their occupants.

This is why we've been trying to get planners and campaigners to visit and experience it for themselves instead of just wondering about how well it works here.

The letters pages of our local paper back in the UK often carried complaints from drivers or pedestrians about cyclists, or from cyclists trying to explain how roads are funded etc. It's very antagonistic, and comes from the conditions on the streets. I've yet to see a single letter to our local paper here in Assen about any of this.

No-one seems concerned about who "pays for" the roads. Why ? Everyone cycles here. Cycling is "normal". Everyone benefits from cycling infrastructure.

Chris Hutt said...

David, I'm not saying we shouldn't build any cycling infrastructure but that we shouldn't aspire to import the type of infrastructure found in the Netherlands and expect it to work the same magic in the UK.

I recognise the correlation between quality of infrastructure and cycling levels but I don't see that it's the infrastructure that leads to the high levels of cycling, rather the other way around. At least that's how it was here and in the Netherlands.

For the most part the streets in British cities are too narrow to accommodate Dutch style cycle tracks without something else being displaced. In theory it could be car parking or traffic lanes that get displaced, but our politicians haven't got the balls to push through anything that controversial on any significant scale.

So what we get is narrow cycle tracks squeezed onto narrow pavements, already cluttered with street furniture, parked vehicles, wheelie bins, etc. Such infrastructure encourages the harassment of cyclists who continue to use the roads and reduces cyclists to the status of pedestrians, having to move slowly and give way to motor traffic at every junction.

Even if Dutch style infrastructure could be introduced, how would it operate in hilly areas where most roads have a significant gradient, so slowing or speeding cyclists so they encompass the full range of speeds from walking pace to 30 mph? Dutch cyclists are noted for traveling at fairly uniform speeds which is fundamental to the safe operation of the cycling infrastructure there.

And what about priorities at junctions? In the Netherlands motorists appear to respect the rights of cyclists making conflicting movements but that is not the case here. Again we come back to attitudes being the real issue.

I believe that if we focused on the problem of inappropriate attitudes, particularly on the part of motorists, then we might make some progress. We need to establish in people's minds that streets are shared spaces where pedestrians should generally have priority. This implies much reduced speeds which will have an overall calming effect.

We also need to establish that where conflict occurs between pedestrians and cyclists or cyclists and motorists, it is the responsibility of the faster, larger vehicle (the one that creates the danger) to mitigate that conflict (by slowing and giving way).

if we did those things I don't think we would need to bother with large scale segregation of cyclists, except perhaps along major traffic routes with high traffic volumes, especially with high levels of HGV traffic.

Elizabeth said...

Looking at what has happened in London recently, we should perhaps take heart: there, many people found they no longer wanted to go on the underground after the bombs, so they took to their bikes. This altered the balance and they are now being catered for in a way they weren't before. London is now much more pleasant to walk round as well. Here, people might take to their bikes because of the cost of petrol and the traffic jams. Then the idea of bike lanes would be less resisted, and, who knows, maybe even be allowed at the sides of roads which are at the moment crammed with parked and double parked cars. There is plenty of space there, more than in many Continental cities, and much more than in Japanese cities. It is just that it has for so long been annexed for car parking that people think it doesn't exist.

David Hembrow said...


You said "I don't see that it's the infrastructure that leads to the high levels of cycling, rather the other way around. At least that's how it was here and in the Netherlands."

Unfortunately, that's wrong. Cycling here was declining until the early 70s when emphasis was put on increasing the quality of infrastructure. It has increased ever since.

Also: "For the most part the streets in British cities are too narrow"

Again, they're the same width as Dutch streets. The difference is in what they do with it. The city I live in was established in something like 1200. Just like British cities, the centre was not designed around bicycles, or cars for that matter. Back in the 1950s and 60s they were cramming cars in anyway, but this changed, as is illustrated by the many before and after photos in a local history book:

You see, the Dutch did displace the cars and it's entirely possible for Britain to do the same thing. I really don't think anyone here would now ask for these changes to be reversed.

I've ridden the length and breadth of the UK, and now that most people live in areas which have quite moderate hills, if any at all. Also, bear in mind that the UK doesn't have headwinds which are anything like as strong as those that Dutch cyclists battle every day. Hills are a red-herring. Switzerland has much higher cycling than the UK, and it's not known for being flat.

Cyclists here vary in speed enormously. There are 90 year olds and 4 year olds cycling as well as fit 20 year olds. If you catch up with someone slower you simply overtake. I don't see the problem. New cycle paths here are over 3 m wide. It is not a problem at all to overtake. The Bicycle Road is over 5 m wide.

You also say "if we did those things I don't think we would need to bother with large scale segregation of cyclists"

If you accept this then then you'll also have to accept that Britain never becomes a nation with mass cycling.

All the nations with high cycling rates have a lot of segregation. There are no counter examples.

It's about making cycling into a pleasant experience instead of merely a bearable one. That's the way you make everyone want to do it.

I know it isn't obvious from afar quite what is it like here, and what a difference this makes to attitudes. Please come and see it and feel what it's like for yourself. That's why we run tours.

Pedestria said...

Elizabeth - I fear that the phrase "moral leadership" has become an oxymoron. Such is modern zombie-life.

Those who the gods wish to destroy....