Carless on a car dependent Thursday

As well as being a transport planner and researcher, I am also a wife and mother of two children in primary school. We live in a one-car household, partly due to our mobility history and partly on principle.

Despite living in a small town in South East England, which some locals prefer to call a village and many would consider fairly car-dependent, we moved here so my husband could walk to work. I have always taken the train when not working from home. With our excellent, catchment school less than a mile away and local amenities to meet many of our needs, the car’s role in our mobility history has been for more occasional errands and leisure trips.

Meanwhile, my principles as a transport planner and researcher are to practice what I preach and minimise the car ownership and use of my household. A single car should be able to give us more than enough flexibility and freedom to go where we wanted.

Then, two years ago, my husband changed jobs. Commuting by car is at least twice as quick and convenient for him as convoluted cycling-public transport options. We still have one car, but it is in use at particular times of day and year without much flexibility.

I can still commute by train (although I have been working from home for 16 months), and the children’s school and activities are all within walking and cycling distance. And yet, I was recently forced to admit that our car dependence has increased.

One sunny Thursday, my husband had to work late. Three of the four activities (two each) outside school which my children attend are on a Thursday, so my husband usually comes home early to help with the ferrying, whether by car, bicycle, or on foot. But now I had to do it alone. Without a car.

I walked to pick the children up from school. We came home and my son changed for his first activity. We walked there (~10 minutes). I waited outside, doing some work on my phone, and then we walked home.

A little later, we walked (~10 minutes) to my daughter’s Thursday activity, but this time I rushed home, as my son’s next activity starts 15 minutes after my daughter’s.

I cycled with my son to his activity, his pace slower than mine due to leg and wheel size. He was less than 15 minutes late. Not bad. I cycled quickly straight from there to pick up my daughter and we walked home together.

My phone’s health app said I’d been ‘active’ for four hours without stopping. My husband came home in time to pick up our son and his bicycle in the car.

I don’t begrudge the exercise. I’m lucky to be fit enough, and my work flexible enough to have been able to get my kids where they needed to go all afternoon. Indeed, we’re privileged to be able to let them participate in such activities and to even have the option to purchase a second car. We won’t because I still have my principles, but I recognise that my son wouldn’t have been late and I would have been able to do more work and finish the day less exhausted if I had a car available.

It was a car dependent day. For accessibility and car dependency is not just about the location of activities, it is also about their timing – schedule, duration, and travel time.

Car dependency is also about family structure and household decisions (unless in single person households). Not only did we choose to prioritise my husband’s car commute, I chose not to let even our older child walk unaccompanied to a nearby activity because there is a busy road without a pedestrian crossing between our home and the venue.

Until transport and accessibility planning takes account of time as well as space, families as well as individuals, it will struggle to solve car dependency.

Me, an Oxford academic?

I have been working as a researcher in the Transport Studies Unit at the University of Oxford since October 2019, but it’s taken a while for the full meaning of being ‘an academic at Oxford’ to sink in.

Partly that may be because I’ve only just had my first experiences teaching this past month: an hour’s discussion session for our executive education course (with a pre-recorded 15-minute lecture) and an hour’s session for the Masters in Sustainable Urban Development, which is run out of the Department for Continuing Education.

Despite the audiences being made up of more mature students and professionals, not dissimilar to the audiences at the many academic and professional conferences at which I’ve presented, being responsible for teaching them as part of an Oxford University course is different. There is more expectation of a certain level of expertise, even if it is from the literature rather than primary research.

Indeed, no matter how junior you are, if you conduct research at the University of Oxford, expertise is expected.

I’ve been approached by journalists, politicians, organisers of research events, etc for my advice and/or participation in recent months. Some of the approaches I found myself checking to make sure they were genuine. Who were they? Why were they contacting me? I hadn’t previously thought about being approached in that way. But gradually, I’ve realised that these are real requests, looking for input from the Oxford brand.

And that is the crux of the matter – the Oxford brand is world renowned, and rightly so. Yet it feels odd to be asked to share knowledge because of I’m associated with it on topics only tangentially related to the research I am actually doing as an employee of the University.

I find myself drawing on knowledge from my past work in local government, industry, with professional institutions like the Royal Town Planning Institute, and even from quick Internet searches prior to a call. And I do feel some imposter syndrome, whether teaching or responding to an external request – is my expertise expert enough?

Yet there is another side to expertise. Whether it is in demand or not, being seen to have it does not ensure that those who requested it will act on what you say, change what they think, or even truly listen to you.

The questions asked often reflect entrenched views or presumed answers. They don’t always offer the scope for responding with recommendations that might actually make a difference. They don’t necessarily allow for the complexity and nuance of research findings or how they might affect real people and communities.

This inflexibility or lack of openness to debate is something we all encounter and which I’ve certainly encountered before in various roles, both professional and personal.

I’ve also ended up sharing expertise with others who think along the same lines. In such situations, you’re preaching to the converted, you debate the nuance in a friendly way, and you come back next year to do it again and lament nothing has changed.

But perhaps, just perhaps, this is where the Oxford brand, being an ‘Oxford’ academic could move the scales a little. The weight of your expertise, of your involvement, the ‘gravitas’ as an old boss of mine called it, is suddenly greater. It seems odd gaining gravitas not through additional age or experience – although I’m always getting older and (thankfully!) learning new things, but through the age and experience of your employer. Yet if it helps you get your message across, even if it is an old message, or helps you have more positive impact, even in a small way, it is worthwhile.

So I am trying to embrace the opportunities offered to me as an academic at Oxford and ‘an expert’, even if what that means is only just beginning to sink in.

Policy, what policy?

I have recently started a new research project which involves analysis of the social justice aspects of policies and policy-making for electric mobility.

I was also recently accused, in relation to a different project, of unhelpfully conflating guidance and policy.

Personally, I would refute that I was mixing the concepts up, but I do understand why it was seen as unhelpful.

The inconsistency in our respective perspectives appears to have derived from their narrower focus on policy as formally adopted strategic principles. Yet I believe policies are also inclusive of the more detailed descriptions of potential ways to implement those principles, even if agreed at a different level. For example, the road user hierarchy with pedestrians at the top and private cars at the bottom is an example of a strategic policy. But I would say that design guidance for the layouts of roads that put pedestrians first, or the sections of the highway code that indicate who has priority at a junction are also policies.

And yet, strategic policies often gain widespread, multi-level approval more easily, whereas ‘the devil is in the detail’. Pointing out such details could be seen as unhelpful if there is limited power to apply or implement the policy concerned.

Still, just in case, I thought I’d look up the dictionary definition of ‘policy’.

The source of inconsistency was immediately clear. Policies are defined as ‘principles of action’, ‘ideas or a plan of what to do’. Policies should systematically both ‘guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes’. So are they principles and ideas to guide decision-making or are they actions and plans that achieve something called outcomes? Policies are also defined as being adopted by or agreed to in some official manner by a particular group or organisation. Yet there are as many ways to officially agree to something as there are groups or groups of groups who might do the agreeing.

These questions also partially explain the why the academic literature on policy processes and design is contested, as it struggles to make sense of the discontinuity, ambiguity and uncertainty inherent in a process now generally accepted to be non-linear. Allocating agency and unpicking power relations is also tricky, as policies are not the same as politics, and individuals can be actors in their own right as a ‘policy entrepreneur’, for example, or buried in an ‘advocacy coalition’ or a ‘target population’. The terminology reflects the challenge of defining the policy process in a rational and consistent manner.

All this may be why many transport studies include a section on ‘policy implications’, usually of the effectiveness of certain ideas or principles, without engaging with policy makers or the process of how policy is made. Yet if transport planning wants to achieve goals of social justice, economic prosperity, and environmental sustainability, policy implications must consider not just statements of principle or indicators to measure outcomes, but also all the steps in between. And that means engaging with multiple elements of the policy process, even if the idea of distinct, linear policy stages has been criticised as overly simplistic.

This is particularly important for a project that aims to assess social justice, which also has multiple aspects. Transport research and planning tends to focus on distributional justice, measuring policy outcomes like accessibility. Yet there is also procedural justice, which is all about who is involved in policy design and decision-making, and the recognition aspect of justice, relating to who decides what is a problem that needs addressing and so sets the policy agenda.

In conclusion, policy is complex and contested. That is part of what makes policy what it is – and makes it only more likely that some will argue about what it isn’t.

Road to Freedom

This week, Jews around the world celebrate Passover, when we remember how God redeemed, delivered, and freed us from slavery in Egypt. I say ‘us’, not ‘our ancestors’, because we are told to imagine we were there too, experiencing the biblical story of the Exodus: once oppressed and now free.

This year, for many in the privileged west, imagining being freed is perhaps less of a stretch. As spring and sunlight return to the northern hemisphere and vaccinations gather pace, we feel the fear of disease decline, and the joy of easing restrictions on what we can do, who we can touch, and where we can go. We see the road to freedom ahead.

And yet, just as the story we tell on Passover ends at the first stage on the ancient Israelite’s road to freedom, with the prophet Miriam leading the people in song and dance on the far side of the Red Sea, so we too are very much at the beginning of our road to freedom. The difference is we are a lot less sure about whether our final destination will be the promised land.

So what else can we learn from the journey described in the Bible? Alongside redemption and freedom, we are told that we became the people of God. In other words, with freedom and rights came rules and responsibilities, such as following the 10 commandments and many more laws and codes. The biblical unwillingness to initially accept those rules and responsibilities condemned an entire generation to wander in the wilderness until the people who had known slavery were no longer in positions of leadership.

In modern times, not only can we not wait for a generation to pass to choose our direction, we also have yet to fully debate and describe the new responsibilities that are attached to the freedoms we think we are reclaiming.

I take my examples from the area of transport and mobility, where our freedom has been so restricted. We know that we should not, cannot simply return to our travel patterns of 2019. Nor do we necessarily want to, but who will take responsibility for what changes?

In the UK, there has been a 20% rise in people walking regularly. Do we have an individual responsibility to continue to walk more for our personal and public health? And whose responsibility is it to ensure safe, accessible environments in which to walk?

Alongside large increases in online ordering, support for local, independent retailers has grown. Do we as communities have a responsibility to continue to shop locally to help revitalise our neighbourhoods? And what other services do we need locally and how must space be organised to support that vitality – and our increased footfall?

Those with experience of working from home have quadrupled over the past year, with benefits from reducing the spread of disease to increased productivity and better work-life balance. Is it time for employers to take more responsibility for the time and energy dedicated to commuting – and how can they help employees avoid a return to the congested roads and overcrowded buses and trains of rush hours past?

Carbon emissions fell by an estimated 7% globally in 2020 – in large part due to a reduction in travel, both by road and air. Is it time for national and global organisations and businesses to take responsibility for preventing a rebound in emissions from long distance travel? And how can they also support those visiting loved ones spread far and wide, as well as all the innovation and inspiration that comes from working with, studying and exploring other cultures and places?

With freedom comes responsibility. If we, as individuals, communities, businesses, and governments do not take responsibility for and debate the rules we need to guide our post-pandemic freedom, we may well end up wandering in a wilderness instead.

The Dangers of Divided Responsibility

The rhetoric around climate change has shifted substantially in the last 5 years. There is a new urgency to declare it an emergency, to draw attention to global warming and its impacts, and to set ambitious emission reduction targets. International organisations, multinational corporations, networks of activists, national governments, local stakeholders; the majority from all sectors are singing from the same hymn sheet.

This shift is great news, but the challenges of transforming policy into action and rhetoric into reality are immense. Concerted efforts are required, not just voices in harmony. And yet, speaking together is much easier than working together.

A major reason that ambitious action is so difficult is that the responsibility for achieving the desired outcomes is divided and subdivided. Individuals are not only unsure what they can do personally, but even within organisations or government bodies, policy- and decision-makers are too often confused about their roles and responsibilities. Where do they fit in relation to the roles and responsibilities of others, and whose resources are available to do what? The result is often inefficiency if not inertia.

Let me use surface transport in England as an example. (I’m talking about England only – if you add in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it’s even more complicated!)

Most funding for transport comes from the central government, but Ministers and civil servants have very little responsibility for detailed planning and implementation. For national or strategic infrastructure, arms-length companies such as Highways England and Network Rail were established to get such things done. Meanwhile, the responsibility for local roads lies with local city and county governments, usually using monies distributed by or sometimes bid for from central government. However, to make things more confusing, in many parts of England there are two tiers of local government – county and district or city and borough. The county or city is the local transport authority, but the district is responsible for land use planning.

I (and I am not alone) have argued in past blogs that land use planning, the density of housing and the location of employment and amenities have an integral role to play in reducing the need to travel and changing how people travel, thereby reducing carbon emissions from private vehicles. Place-making determines whether people have space to walk and cycle, and where they can walk and cycle to. Yet different people in different levels and departments of government are planning where housing and services are located than those planning the infrastructure for people to walk and cycle on.

Density and the relative locations of where people live, work and play also influence the viability of public and shared transport. Yet the responsibility for providing those transport services often lies with private operators, who may negotiate with the higher tier local transport authority (e.g. the county), or even the national governments when it comes to rail operators, for the provision of infrastructure, financial support, and favourable policies. Funding for public transport operations or revenue spend is also quite separate from any budgets for building infrastructure and capital projects, and as it is rarely permitted to mix these resources, so the interactions between the outcomes of capital and revenue investment is rarely accounted for in advance.

Meanwhile, another source of transport funding at the local level can be gathered from fees, fines and permits for parking on- and off-street. Yet those charges are usually collected by the district or borough level of government, even though other local roads and transport matters are managed at city or county level. So even the responsibility to put in electric vehicle charge points, for example, is divided between levels of government. And I haven’t even started writing about the movement of goods by private fleets or the roles of private utility companies providing electricity and other services under the roads.

Confused? You’re not alone. Nonetheless, we must find ways to transform the rhetoric into reality – for sustainable surface transport and all the other sectors where ambitions for an equitable, vibrant and zero-carbon world could otherwise be derailed by divided responsibility.

A Walk through Winter Lockdown (an ethnography)

The neighbourhood where we live is full of trees, but not necessarily leafy. This is particularly true now, when the deciduous trees are skeletal silhouettes, no matter the time of day or position of the sun. But even in summer, there are too many pines and other conifers – the neighbourhood is needle-y. And yet the trees are towering and majestic. They were here before most of the houses, before most of the streets, pavements and other signs of human habitation.

The fallen leaves, needles, nuts, and cones from so many trees have created a mushy, muddy detritus along the edge of pavements and gutters, built up over months. It is messy, but not smelly in the cold, damp air. Along with bumps and cracks in the pavement where tree roots have pushed upwards, and puddles where rain has pooled downwards, the slick surface of compressed and decomposing natural materials narrows the available space and makes an additional hazard during daily lockdown walks.

Our neighbourhood is not in a city, but it is in the densely populated southeast of England. There are never urban crowds, but we are rarely alone on a stretch of street for long. There are other households with children, some young, some older. Teenagers are usually absent from their family unit. There are joggers and dog-walkers. There are pairs of women, taking advantage of being able to see one other person outside the house, and there are pairs of elderly residents, occasionally masked, usually walking very slowly, sometimes holding hands.

Were so many out walking so regularly in the neighbourhood at all times of day in January 2019? Did they walk at different times of day or not at all? Is this only a lockdown practice, and is there any observable routine?

Whether or not the when and where of pedestrian practice has changed, the how has definitely become ritualistically different. On quiet residential streets, some cross to the other side of the road when they see someone coming towards them. Some wait until the two households are almost upon one another and then string out into a single file, or step into the muddy grass of a verge. Some go onto the road. Joggers usually do. People with children or dogs usually don’t.

But going onto the road is risky for anyone if there is traffic, which there often is on the busier streets. Passing cars are still a threat, even if the roads are less busy than they were a year ago. Traffic is also loud, drowning out the birdsong – or at least the bird squawking and twittering that is the more common audio accompaniment on the side streets.

Thus on the busier roads giving space can mean stopping entirely when width allows, such as at a driveway or dropped kerb. Stopping and waiting until the oncoming household has passed or to cross the road to continue is unattractive, causing a new type of negotiation in body language and facial expression.

Pedestrians who forge ahead without making eye contact expect you to stop. Those who smile and slow down to reach a conveniently wide place are readying themselves to pause purposefully. Some hesitate, creating more obstacle and delay. Some have buggies or wheeled trolleys and take up more space, or struggle to divert without a dropped kerb. Sometimes pedestrians hurry past each other, too close, but reducing risk through speed, heads turned sideways, a muttered ‘sorry’ over their shoulders.

These new ways of negotiating pedestrian space in a residential neighbourhood engender new types of interactions and connecting or disconnecting. There are new norms around good or bad manners – for example, saying ‘thank you’ where someone has stopped or taken the less attractive path, on the road or in the mud.

There is also new recognition between those who might normally be elsewhere during the working day. Does this create new communities of neighbours who might otherwise never meet? Does it integrate population subgroups, such as elderly residents, families with young children, or dog walkers, exposing them to the diversity of life stages and situations around them? Will any new experiences of neighbourhood and community be retained as people return to other routines of work, school, and socialising?

It’s a question of continued observation… my attempt at an ethnographic approach!

Can we build back fairer?

As we reach the end of a difficult year, we are all looking forward to the next one – one in which we regain the freedom to move around more, go places, see people, participate in activities in person. We have missed out on connecting, which is the main purpose of transport systems. Although it is also the main purpose of telecommunications systems, these could only offer incomplete substitutes for some of the most meaningful types of connecting.

Yet transport systems and the connections they offer cannot, will not, and should not return in all the same forms they took less than a year ago.

We need to continue to encourage walking, cycling and other forms of active travel that improve public health. We need to help people renew their confidence in the safety of public transport. We need to reduce the amount of travel per person, where telecommunications can replace unnecessary mileage.

As the slogans go, we need to support a ‘green recovery’ and ‘to build back better’ in transport as in other sectors. If we are to avoid further crises, it is time to take the decarbonisation of transport seriously and reduce local air pollution as well.

A switch to electric cars is part of the solution, but my current and future research suggests that we need to put this switch into perspective, not only because it is not the whole of any environmental solution, but also because the transition to electric mobility will not be a socially just solution without efforts to make it so.

This year has highlighted the importance of redressing decades of social injustices due to race, poverty, and gender as much as it has taught us not to ignore our vulnerability to natural disasters. It is as important to build back fairer as it is to build back greener.

My research looks at both the social and the environmental through the lens of the transition to electric mobility. If the replacement of petrol and diesel with electric is to be fair and equitable, then how do we recognise different needs and capabilities, enable more participation in identifying solutions, and make sure the relevant infrastructure is built in an accessible way?

Electric cars are very expensive, but they are becoming more affordable to purchase, lease or access on the now-developing second-hand market. Yet what about post-purchase? Any household who can plug their electric car into their home electricity overnight whilst they’re sleeping will rarely have to make a special trip to refuel, and will save money on the daily costs of running a car.

In contrast, those who rent and / or live in flats and terraced housing are less likely to have a private garage or driveway to park and charge an electric car. So how do we build the right sort of charging infrastructure in the right places so that drivers who cannot charge an electric car at home aren’t put at a disadvantage? How do we make public charging affordable?

How do we also make it safe and convenient if such characteristics are subjective and the majority of electric car owners and enthusiasts are currently men? How do we involve women, or those on low incomes, or those from different ethnic backgrounds in the forums on and front lines of implementing electric charging infrastructure?

Will the solutions for central urban areas be the same as those in the suburbs, small towns, or villages? For whom is shared electric transport, or micro-mobility (e.g. e-bikes and scooters) a more accessible solution?

These are the types of questions we need to begin to answer next year, as we all seek to reconnect in not just a green recovery, but an equitable one. Let’s build back better, greener, and fairer.

Light Relief

Diwali was a couple weeks ago. Hanukkah is a couple of weeks away. Both carry the nickname Festival of Lights. Meanwhile Christmas lights and displays are starting to appear in our neighbourhood.

And why not? It’s late November. It’s dark by late afternoon. If the sun happens to come out, it’s low in the sky, its light weak, watery and only briefly over the British Isles. Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, where most of the world’s land mass and population can be found, the days are shorter. No wonder so many cultures have traditions of celebrating light at this time of year. We need a bit of light relief. And this year more than ever.

Which made me start to think about the ways that light(s) relief has transformed transport. The changes aren’t as noticeable as say the electrification of vehicles, nor perhaps as novel as driverless cars and drones.

But then again, they’re so pervasive and have happened so gradually, that you probably started to take it for granted before you’d even noticed it had changed. The yellow sodium glow of the street lamps, the blazing fluorescence of security lights, the uneven flicker of fairy light decorations. They’ve all been replaced with the steadier, more focused light of LEDs – light-emitting-diodes. The multitude of less efficient, more energy intensive and thus more carbon emitting, artificial light sources has been disappearing, and the quality of the light our eyes perceive along our streets has changed.

Street lamps now give a clearer, whiter light (although steps have been taken to make sure the light isn’t too white!). They vastly reduce light pollution as well as the cost to local governments, some of whom might otherwise have had to turn some lights off under budget pressures, even though the possibility raised concerns of rising crime. Instead, with LED street lamps, we still feel secure, whilst we also have a better chance of seeing the stars.

Other lighting innovations in transport include the bicycle lights that you can re-charge with a USB cable, the car lights that sense how dark it is and turn themselves on as appropriate (when driving of course – it’s also a lot harder now to forget to turn them off!), even an array of head torches for pedestrians and night-time joggers. They’re all LEDs, saving society money and energy.

But the lighting that gives the most relief this time of year are the displays. The shapes and colours made out of lights which line High Streets and homes, which twinkle above and beside our public realm. They invite us to pause as we’re passing through, to feel festive, welcome, part of a community, safe. Like the transport spaces they illuminate, they make us feel connected, whether we’re walking, cycling or in a vehicle. And like all celebrations of light, they remind us that soon the days will be getting longer, the sun will be higher in the sky, and we’ll have less need of light relief.

Putting Parking in its Place

There is less than a month left until the consultation on options to reduce pavement parking in England closes. In my blog last month, I argued for option 3, which would, by default, ban pavement parking unless action were taken to allow it; such action being marking permitted parking bays partially on the pavement.

If Option 3 is implemented, it will be a massive improvement in the management of our public highways and streetscapes here in England. However, for me it is not an end point, but should be just the beginning.

It’s not that I’m against parking. I’m against parking as a free-for-all. Free in terms of price, but more importantly in terms of space. The default in many places is park where you like, how you like, when you like, whatever type of vehicle you like. The result is often an untidy, obstructive mess. People are parking in public in such a shameful way, fig leaves are definitely required.

It’s a pet peeve whether I’m walking or driving. You know what I mean. I’ve probably made you think of dozens of examples of poor parking just by using the phrase.

People park across the kerb or too far from the kerb. People park too close to your car, making it impossible to get out, or too far from the next car over, making it impossible for you to get in. People park too close to the junction or where pedestrians cross, blocking visibility for everyone.

Near the shops, cars are left cluttering up the street when there’s a perfectly good car park around the corner. Or they’re left into the night or overnight among the houses of strangers just because there’s a railway station down the road.

Then there’s the caravan that detracts from the view out your window, the commercial vehicle that is left with its rear end in the road, the SUV that occupies either two normal spaces or the parent and child space at the supermarket even if there is no sign of any children.

I could go on, as I’m sure you can tell. I know regulation and enforcement aren’t popular, but we’re dealing with the limited resource of public space. Bays should be marked so people know where and how to park. I’d appreciate those lines helping me line my car up neatly. In some cases, there should also be signs with instructions about when or how long or who can park.

And if there are no signs nor markings, there should be no parking. Yellow lines simply are not attractive. And too many assumptions are made if there are no yellow lines. The Highway Code prohibits parking within 10 meters of a junction, but how often have you seen that enforced? Obstruction is still a criminal offense, but people block driveways and entrances without even noticing. Never mind obstruction of pedestrians as discussed in my previous blog.

Marked parking bays don’t guarantee good parking. Yet there is a good chance they’d reduce bad parking. They would certainly make it more obvious where parking is or is not allowed. Obstructive, inconsiderate parking should become the exception, rather than the rule. That’s how I propose putting parking in its place.

An Unnecessary Obstruction

The Department for Transport (DfT) in England is currently consulting on three options that will reduce the amount of parking that occurs on ‘the pavement’ (or ‘sidewalk’ or ‘footway’ alongside a carriageway). The aim is to address the obstruction that vehicles cause when they park where people are trying to walk.

The ubiquitous habit of parking on the pavement in the UK has evolved due in part to infrastructure design, in part to outdated legislation, and in part to misguided priorities.

First, many residential streets in the UK are narrow and many houses have no off-street parking, or insufficient space. Some of this is down to history, with neighbourhoods built before mass car ownership. However, there are also many more recent developments, where narrow, winding streets and cul-de-sacs were in fashion and developers did not predict that cars would get so much bigger or that households would have so many of them.

Secondly, although the Traffic Management Act 2004 offered a much-needed update to parking management and enforcement in the country after 20 years of neglecting the issue, it did not make the process of introducing parking restrictions any less bureaucratic, and it did not directly address the prevalence of pavement parking. It allowed local governments to take over responsibilities for creating and enforcing parking restrictions from the police, but only by writing and advertising Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) with precise measurements and correct signs and road markings.

The default is that parking is permitted, even if it is on the pavement. That is why the DfT proposes Option 1: streamlining and digitising the TRO process. This would help authorities pass more TROs to prohibit parking where it is a problem, whether on the pavement or not. However, I would argue that it is unlikely to make much of a dent in the profligate habit of pavement parking seen in your average residential neighbourhood.

Why? Because the third reason parking on the pavement is so widespread is down to cultural norms: it is quite simply assumed and expected in most places that the private space a household has available for parking should not limit the number of vehicles it owns, so long as there is some unrestricted public space on-street nearby. If that street is not wide enough for traffic to travel safely between cars parked fully on the street, then the cars park partially on the pavement. There is absolutely no consideration as to whether pedestrians can travel safely on the pavement or are forced to walk around into traffic.

Thus the DfT suggests Option 2, where consideration should be given as to whether pedestrians, including those in wheelchairs or pushing children in buggies, are being obstructed by the cars parked on the pavement. In such cases, Option 2 suggests, local authorities could issue a parking ticket to the car causing the obstruction without the need for signs or road markings.

But there is a catch – parking enforcement must have some way of showing that the vehicle was not just on the pavement, but causing an ‘unnecessary obstruction’ by being there. The consultation suggests that this could be demonstrated at least in part by an exercise in measurement, as the amount of obstruction depends upon both the width of the pavement and the width of the vehicle, and how much the two overlap.

Yet how to define, let alone demonstrate the ‘unnecessary’ bit? The document undermines its own arguments by suggesting that an obstruction to the pavement may be necessary if there is not sufficient carriageway for vehicles to pass on the road. In other words, parking is necessary, driving is necessary, and only if both of these can happen safely is walking on the pavement safely a necessity.

Thus, we turn to Option 3. Ban parking on the pavement. Make pavement parking enforceable by default, unless a TRO, with all its bureaucracy, signs and road markings, streamlined or not, is officially designated to allow it. Make local authorities and local communities decide if they really want to give up their sidewalks to SUVs. If they do, they can, but only after some actual consideration.

The counterargument is that too many cars will no longer have a place to park, too many exceptions will have to be made. That is the argument of those who think parking has more rights to the pavement than pedestrians, who assume parked cars are a necessary obstruction – if they think about it at all.

In my view, Option 3 is the only one worth considering. Surely if we really thought about the pavement parking we encounter when walking around our own neighbourhoods, we would conclude that it is almost always an unnecessary obstruction we’d all be much happier without.