The problem of pavement parking

The problem of pavement parking

By Andy Chivers

Andy is a trustee of Cyclox

Here’s a game to play as you make any journey through town. Score 1 point for every car (or van or lorry) parked correctly. Then take off 1 point each time they are parked on the pavement. I score –2 if the vehicle has all four wheels on the pavement or if the pavement is so obstructed it will stop a child’s buggy or a wheelchair getting through. See if your journey ends up with a positive or negative score. Sadly my journeys tend to end in the negative.

Pavement parking is a big problem not only in Oxford but nationwide.

woman with pushchair squeezing through tiny gap left by car parked on pavement

People parking on pavements think that they are kindly freeing the carriageway for other motor vehicles to flow freely and not be held up. But this isn’t so kind to pavement users: people wanting to walk two abreast, people pushing buggies, wheelchair users, or people with visual impairment. Sometimes it is impossible to get past on the pavement and they have to walk in the road to pass. The Department for Transport undertook a large consultation on pavement parking in 2020. Although there was great support for making pavement parking illegal, there appears to be no legislative time given over to this. London remains the only city in England where pavement parking is illegal.

To see how much of a problem pavement parking is in our city, look at @BadlyParkedOxford on Twitter, which also records vehicles parking on cycle lanes.

Changing cities

All this is a demonstration of how cities have changed over the last century. Streets were originally designed for slow-moving traffic, mainly foot and horse-drawn vehicles. The slow-moving bicycle was added to the mix in the late nineteenth century. Streets were full of activities like children playing, markets, fairs, street vending, street performers and musicians. (If we fast forward to twenty-first-century Oxford, there is a barrel organ player regularly in Cornmarket now it is a safe pedestrianised area).

Then the motor car was invented. It was, and is, a wonderful machine, and it caught on quickly. It offered so much choice and the freedom to travel anywhere, any time. The nineteenth-century two-wheeled invention was gradually side-lined, and streets in cities became dedicated to the motor vehicle. To quote Simon Kuper (Financial Times 9 February 2023) “the twentieth century was rubbish for cities”.

Using the car less

Today many of us are car owners and we have developed complex journey plans which allow us to drop children off at school, commute to work, go to the gym, have a drink with friends after work, pop into the out-of-town supermarket and get home to cook a meal, all with no need to consult bus or train timetables.

We have got used to the convenience of a car but at the expense of liveable streets.

We need to discover how to use the car less and travel by bus or bike more.

Of course, there are plenty of journeys which have to be in a car or van. It is important that those essential journeys can be made easier by removing non-essential ones. Is there another way you can make your journey? And can we reclaim the streets for slow moving nineteenth-century traffic? To quote Simon Kuper again “The post-pandemic urban ideal is a cleaned-up version of the nineteenth century city with twenty-first century enhancements.”

Going back to the counting game I mentioned at the start. I am looking forward to seeing Oxford with pavements and cycle lanes free of parked cars so that people can walk and ride comfortably, and the game is meaningless.


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