There are no problems with cyclists on the pavement down my street here in York. That’s because it’s entirely blocked by parked cars. The resulting obstacle course also makes the footway impassable to anyone with a walking stick, child buggy, six-pack, or any surplus inches round the waist (which means pretty much all my neighbours), so everyone has to walk in the road – to be hooted at by drivers looking for a parking space.
As residents we’ve tried objecting, but the council refuses to do anything about pavement parking, arguing that the residents would object.
England’s legal situation is curious. Depositing a skip on the pavement is illegal without a permit, but you can dump a car there indefinitely, no problem. It is, however, an offence to drive on the pavement to get it there, but how could you prove someone did so? They could have craned it in.
A Private Member’s Bill to ban pavement parking got nowhere in December 2015, but the government promised us a ‘review’. So watch this space – before someone plonks a white van on it.
As an aside, don’t try pavement parking in London, because it’s banned there. And anyway you’re twice as fast going by bike in the capital.
Back to York, though, and as with most UK cities there is a shortage of parking spaces, and cars have to go somewhere. But that shouldn’t be an excuse to turn urban footpaths into assault courses. Or a reason not to swop a few for bike parking.
Indeed, a friend of ours in Cambridge, Simon, has shown what can be done. He’s persuaded the council to change a single car slot in front of his house, down a narrow street cluttered by pavement parkers, into a four-stand bike corral. There’s clearly demand: last time we saw it, there were ten parked there, including a half-bike/half-wheelbarrow Christiania.
Clever stuff. But then cyclopolis Cambridge is cleverer than most. Buskers play Bach, not Justin Bieber. When you sign on for free café Wi-Fi, the drop-down box’s default title is ‘Dr’. And the last pub quiz I joined in began ‘Particle Physics: Name the six types of lepton’, to groans of “Too easy!”. Uncoincidentally, they can also boast a modal cycling percentage of around twenty times the rest of the country’s – in other words, around 20 per cent.
This isn’t simply down to budget-conscious students, sustainable-life professionals, car-resistant old lanes and compact layout; but also self-sustaining, everyday cycle culture. Listen to residents describe redecoration: “The front door was that awful muddy Dawes Galaxy brown, but we’re redoing it Cycle Superhighways blue, and the sofa’s Santander hire-bike red…”.
In other words, Simon had less resistance than elsewhere. Still, it took two years of resolute campaigning. The advantages (multiple vehicles parked instead of one, pavement space returned to pedestrians, encouragement for a non-polluting form of transport, and so on) didn’t convince the council at first. What did the trick was an objection-squashing survey showing over 60 per cent of residents were in favour of the scheme (and 85 per cent owned bikes).
Now, York may not be Cambridge, but I suspect you’d find similar support in the terraced streets around where I live. They appear devoid of bikes and full of cars, but that’s because there’s no on-street cycle stands. If you go out early morning, you’ll see plenty of bikes being wheeled out of entrance halls.
Enough people want more bike parking. What we need to change is perceptions of perceptions: the council conviction that nobody would accept losing car space. The answer is in those hallways crammed with bikes, whose owners are getting tired of being stabbed in the ankle by jutting pedals.
I even had a recent minor victory of my own. Bike to East Yorkshire’s fine Skidby Mill, just south of Beverley, and you’ll now find good cycle parking where last year there was none. All it took was a friendly email via the council (containing links to Cambridge Cycle Campaign and Sustrans websites) to an equally receptive Mill person. Covered racks appeared in a fortnight.
So don’t be fooled by anti-cycling rants from rentaquote broadsheet columnists or local-rag loonies: one-person campaigning can get results. Sometimes you’re pushing at an open door. If, that is, your way there isn’t blocked by a pavement parker.