The charity Guide Dogs has called on the UK government to bring forward proposals for a new law to control parking on the footway. In a new report, Blocked In: The Impact of Pavement Parking, the charity urges the government to introduce a new law on pavement parking, with drivers only permitted to park in designated areas approved by local authorities.
“Pavement parking puts pedestrians in danger, including disabled people, older people, and parents with children,” says Helen Honstvet, senior public affairs and campaigns manager at Guide Dogs. “People with sight loss are particularly at risk when forced into the road with traffic that they cannot see. Streets with pavement parked vehicles are dangerous and stressful to navigate. As well as causing an obstruction, vehicles parked on pavements damage the surface, creating trip hazards for pedestrians.
“For most pedestrians, pavement parking is a problem, but for disabled pedestrians or parents with children it is a serious safety issue. People with sight loss are among the worst affected. Pavement parking can mean the difference between walking the streets with confidence or being forced to stay at home, cut off from work, study or social activities.”
The charity has long campaigned for changes to legislation covering pavement parking. In London, pavement parking has been restricted to designated areas since 1974, but in the rest of the England, parking on the pavement is permitted in most cases. Guide Dogs says that local authorities struggle to tackle unsafe pavement parking using their existing powers to make Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs). “Councils’ powers to make TROs, which have extensive requirements for consultation, advertising and signage, mean that tackling pavement parking is impractical and prohibitively expensive. Police forces are in no position to pick up the slack.”
Guide Dogs, along with other organisations – such as the walking charity Living Streets, the British Parking Association and the Local Government Association – support a new law that limits pavement parking to designated areas as the best way to protect pedestrians and change driver behaviour.
In 2018, the Department for Transport conducted a review of pavement parking in England, but little has happened since then. Guide Dogs is now calling on the government to publish the results of this review.
The charity welcomed a report by the House of Commons Transport Select Committee on pavement parking, published in September 2019, which called for a range of actions to tackle this urgent issue. The MPs recommendations included the reform of TROs to make them easier and cheaper for councils to use, an awareness campaign on the negative impacts of pavement parking, better enforcement, a new offence of obstructive parking and, ultimately, a new law on pavement parking.
There are signs of progress, with the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, recently passed by the Scottish Parliament, set to apply similar rules to London across Scotland. The Welsh Government, meanwhile, has assembled an expert group to look at how to tackle pavement parking.
“Guide Dogs supports any solution which would get vehicles off pavements and protect pedestrians, but we believe that a new law limiting pavement parking to areas determined by the local council would be the most effective way of tackling the problem,” says Honstvet. “Our research reflects the everyday impact pavement parking has on wide number of pedestrians. It’s been over 1,500 days since the government promised to look into the issue, and they still haven’t published their findings. We are urgently calling on the government to introduce a new law limiting pavement parking to areas determined by local authorities. This system has been in place in London for over 40 years, and our report shows that in London, far fewer people with sight loss faced daily problems with pavement parking compared with the rest of the UK. While pavement parking may be convenient for drivers, it acts as an immediate physical barrier to some of the most vulnerable in society and can lead to some people feeling lonely and isolated from their local communities.”
Pedestrians in peril
Pavement parking affects all groups of pedestrians, but the impact is particularly pronounced for people with disabilities, including people with sight or hearing loss and wheelchair or mobility scooter users, and parents with children. In 2013, a Guide Dogs survey identified pavement parking as a major safety concern for blind and partially sighted people: nine-out-of-ten said they had problems with pavement parked cars.
Guide Dogs has published new research that shows the wide variety of people affected by pavement parking, and the everyday impact it has on their lives. Nine-in-ten disabled people, including those with sight loss, mobility scooter users, and parents or carers with children said they had been affected by pavement parking.
As pavement parking not only affects people with sight loss, in Spring 2019 Guide Dogs surveyed over 1,800 pedestrians, including over 500 with vision impairment, on their experiences. The research shows how people with sight loss are particularly affected by pavement parking, with nearly all those surveyed saying they have been forced to walk in the road, potentially into traffic they cannot see, to get around a vehicle parked on the pavement.
The Guide Dogs research highlighted:
When pavement parked vehicles block safe walking routes, there may be no alternative but to walk in the road with traffic. Across all groups, over 90% of survey respondents said that they had walked into the road to get around vehicles parked on pavements in the last 12 months, including 96% of people with sight loss.
Guide dogs are trained to take their owners to the kerb when they encounter an obstacle they cannot get past, but it is up to the owners to decide when it is safe to step into the road.
As well as the dangers of walking in the road with traffic, pavement parking can cause injuries when people with sight loss hit a wing mirror or collide with the vehicle. The Guide Dogs survey found that one in five people (20%) with sight loss reported that they had been injured due to vehicles parked on the pavement. Survey participants reported bruises, cuts, falls and ankle injuries.
The impact of pavement parking is not limited to the immediate danger to pedestrians. A significant proportion of disabled pedestrians are forced to change their route to avoid the danger of pavement parking. This can mean taking longer routes, limiting unaccompanied travel, or avoiding leaving the house altogether. Losing independence and becoming more isolated can be just as significant for health and wellbeing.
Around half of all survey respondents (51%) said that they had changed their preferred route in the past 12 months because of pavement parking. Wheelchair and mobility scooter users were the worst affected group, with four out of five (78%) reporting that they had changed their route.
Navigating pavement parked vehicles can itself be a difficult experience. Over half of people with sight loss (52%) reported a negative emotional impact from pavement parking. Survey responses described feeling angry, frustrated, afraid, stressed and anxious. Some participants reported suffering verbal abuse when walking in the road or asking owners to move their vehicles.
The stressful and dangerous environment created by pavement parking has a clear impact on people’s ability to live their lives. Almost one-third (31%) of people with sight loss said that pavement parking made them less willing to go out on their own. Just under one in four (23%) said that pavement parking made them feel more lonely or isolated.
Pavement parking can create a physical barrier, cutting people off from their work, study or social lives. Over one-third (38%) of people with vision impairment said that pavement parking made it more difficult to go out socially, while 16% of people with sight loss said that pavement parking made pursuing work, study or training more difficult. Some reported feeling unable to continue activities because of the difficulties of navigating pavement parked vehicles.
Despite the impact on pedestrians, pavement parking is common, normalised behaviour for drivers. A 2018 YouGov poll for Guide Dogs showed that 65% of drivers admitted to parking on the pavement. The new Guide Dogs’ survey showed the effect the variation in law has on unsafe pavement parking. In London, where pavement parking is limited to designated areas, just 26% of people with sight loss faced daily problems, compared with 45% nationally.
The results by region suggest that the impact of the law on pavement parking is significant. In London, to protect pedestrians, pavement parking is restricted to areas designated by the council. The survey found that people with sight loss in London faced problems with pavement parking significantly less often than in the rest of the country, where pavement parking is widely permitted.
Tackling pavement parking
In many cases, Guide Dogs feels it is not clear to pedestrians which organisations have the responsibility to deal with unsafe pavement parking. Some 56% of those who responded to the survey said that they had complained or tried to complain about pavement parking in the last 12 months, including 35% to their local authority, 22% to their MP and 19% to their local police force (some complained to more than one of these).
People with sight loss faced additional problems when complaining about pavement parking: 12% said they tried to complain, but found the process inaccessible.
“In most areas, local authorities have responsibility for enforcing parking offences,” says Guide Dogs’ Helen Honstvet. “However, outside of London, parking on the pavement is not a specific offence unless the council has passed a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) restricting it – regarded as a lengthy, bureaucratic and expensive process. In most cases, the council will be unable to do anything without a TRO.
“The police do have the power to ticket vehicles that cause an obstruction, including vehicles parked on the pavement, but parking offences are often quite naturally a low priority for police forces. With councils unable to act outside of the unworkable TRO system and police forces’ priorities lying elsewhere, unsafe pavement parking is left largely unpoliced. The result is that complaints on pavement parking are often passed between council and police force, and even when they do receive a response, it is unlikely to resolve the problem.”
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