Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Car parking: I'll just leave this speedboat here

I've got a really big wooden crate -- it's a little over 4 metres long and just under 2 metres wide -- and it won't fit in my house. I'm the only person who gets any benefit from my having this crate -- indeed, my ownership of the crate is actually bad for you. I didn't really care about the fact I had nowhere to keep the crate when I bought it; I wanted it and so I got it anyway. So now, because it won't fit in my house, I'm just going to leave it in the street. It'll block half of the road, but so what? I need somewhere to keep my crate and that's where it's going.

If you heard me say this, you would quite rightly brand me a selfish bastard who deserves to be beaten soundly with rolled-up copies of the Daily Mail until I learnt a little civic responsibility. But hold fast! What if, instead of a crate, it was a saloon car I was talking about? A car has exactly the same dimensions as my crate, but you'd think absolutely nothing of my saying "I don't have anywhere to store my car and I knew this when I bought it, but I'm just going to leave it in the street where it'll block half the road".

Parking cars is a topic which, more than most, gets people angry (certainly more than the World Bank's policies or the invasion of Iraq, as far as I can see). I've been dwelling on the subject since, about a year ago, I had an email from somebody wanting my expert endorsement for a policy of greater freedom for motorists to park where they like. This got me thinking, and I soon realized that car parking is a nice illustration of the bizarre level of freedom given to motorists. (I turned down the request, incidentally.)

Because here's the question: why should I be allowed to own a car if I have nowhere to store it? I am not permitted the same freedom to store anything else on the road. If I own a caravan, or a speedboat on a trailer, I am obliged to have off-road storage facilities for it. If I want to place a skip outside my house when doing building work I have to take great care that this hazard is brightly lit and removed as soon as possible. These are all relevant comparisons, as skips, caravans and speedboats on trailers are all are more-or-less the same size and construction as a car.

You might at this point be thinking that you pay about £100 a year to tax your vehicle, and that this sum makes cars different from all these other items. This argument is fallacious in so many respects that I think I'll devote a whole post to it soon. For now, let me put it this way: I pay masses of tax every time I buy a bottle of whisky, but I can't thereby expect the State to provide me with a shelf to store it on or a glass to drink it from.

So I'm left unable to see a rational reason why I should be allowed to own a car when I have nowhere to store it, leaving me with no option but to dump it in various bits of the civic landscape. I'd be genuinely grateful for any suggestions.

Edit: To offer one more important comparison, I used to live on a narrowboat on the Kennet and Avon canal. As anybody who has ever tried to buy one with know, it is impossible to own a boat on the inland waterways without either proving you have somewhere to keep it, or issuing a solemn promise that you'll keep on moving indefinitely without leaving it at the canalside. Our canals are a public transport resource just like our roads, but apparently the rules are very different...


  1. I want one so people stop parking large vans outside my house...not to mention the smoking burger eating noisy spitting teenagers (oh dear, age is a terrible thing) I thought I might try and make a large pretend car...but your crate is fabulous!

  2. Here in Edinburgh, there have been huge arguments about the council wanting to put communal rubbish bins on the streets of the New Town. The residents complain that these bins detract from the architecture of the World Heritage Site, but oddly none of the residents has asked to have the parked cars (which is a greater detraction) removed. Odd that...

  3. Here in Edinburgh there has been a wee bit of a stushie about communal bins in the New Town. Certain residents have objected to these bins on the grounds that they "distract" from the architecture of the World Heritage Site. Oddly there have no such complains about the parked cars on the same streets, even though these are a greater distraction, one wonders why...

  4. Great Post. I have often thought the same thing, but with a shed. I've always wanted a shed but I don't have the room because I live in a flat. People are allowed to store their property on the street, why not a shed? Turns out it is only motorists who are allowed to store their property on public land for free.

  5. really!!! lots of people need a car for work, transport blah blah blah. we live in the 21st century and cars are a part of our society now. deal with it and stop whining.

  6. Bikerider - if that's really your opinion, and you're not just spoofing a Mail reader, I hope you can see that it's not a very strong argument. Think how what you say can just be turned round to anything, whether positive or negative:

    "I've just been mugged!"

    "We live in the 21st century and mugging is a part of our society now. Deal with it and stop whining"

    etc. etc.

  7. so what do you suggest, banish cars from the earth. take vehicles away from people who genuinely need them and cannot afford off street parking. if the cars are not blocking the street they would be full of spitting teenagers on bmx bikes and skateboards. some people just like to moan, it's in their nature.

    1. We have to have cars in the street, otherwise children might play there.

  8. "if the cars are not blocking the street they would be full of spitting teenagers on bmx bikes and skateboards. some people just like to moan, it's in their nature"


  9. I'd like to have skateboards and bmx bikes on the road because there a lot better in so many ways.

  10. @bikerider: might it be sensible, rather than "banishing cars from the earth", to enact a scheme in which motorists pay for the massive amount of public space they take up for storing their cars?

  11. A few years ago some local residents were told that they couldn't put stones or Bollards on the grass verges outside their houses as it was council property. The residents had places the bollards there as motorists were routinely parking on the grass verges and they were churned up into muddy eyesores. Strangely, the council weren't so stringesnt in removing the parked cars as they were the bollards put there to protect the verges from the cars.

  12. Great post. There's one day a year you can get away with parking something other than a car in the street:

  13. This is not a facetious comment, but if you live in a parking zone, you need a resident parking permit. Though these permits might not reflect all the externalities of parking on the street.

  14. Don't let's beat about the bush. Parking is a euphemism for "vehicle storage" and the motor car is a victim of its own success. In Amsterdam the same problem exists with storing bicycles, which are if not properly stored, sometimes impounded by civil authorities who charge a hefty (storage?) fee for their return.
    If you don't pay your bike can sold on to defray the costs of removing the burden on the civil environment of your selfish vehicle storage. Vehicle storage is the reason your car doesn't really work anymore; unless you have somewhere to store it until you need it again. Its the main reason I use mine less and less; that and the indignity of creating and participating in traffic.

  15. I park my car on the street because I have no other place to park when at home. Even so, I would be in favor of charging vehicle owners for storing the cars in public places. My car is shared by 3 people, so we would split the cost. The streets are a dangerous, polluted, unattractive part of our city landscape. Anything to reduce the portion of our city devoted to cars would make our city more pleasant and livable.

  16. Couldn't agree more with this post.

    Of course one could argue that the cars aren't in anyone's way and there's still room to get past. But where I live, the presumed god-given right to on-street parking often means no space is available for dedicated cycling infrastructure.

    Or, if the road space isn't required for moving vehicles, imagine how we could have lovely wide pavements, for more social neighbourhoods, kids playing, etc. Of course, in reality the pavements are usually full of cars too.

    I'm still wondering how this started? Who thought "I'll just store my car here." and why did no-one beat them with a newspaper?

  17. A huge amount of the laws and town planing rules we take for granted, came from the auto industry. They actually had whole departments of people writing legislation and handing it to councils to implement. Far more than just being a strong lobby. If you haven't read "Happy City" You should.

  18. Your argument is great. Can't fault the logic. My concern is that no one is looking at the need for mass storage of vehicles and the congestion that's caused by the storage.

    I grew up in the 1950's and no one had a car, one guy on our estate had a motorbike. The road was wide (far wider than roads built today) and devoid of parked vehicles.

    So, how do we get back to that situation. Firstly, the populace within that area worked within a short distance of their place of employment. They could either walk, bike or use a bus to get to work.

    What do we have today? People commuting 20, 30, 40 miles each way to go to work! I've had plumbers on government funded schemes drive from Humberside to Essex to fit a boiler in my house!!!

    To turn the tide we need government incentives to give tax relief to businesses who allow workers to work online from home. Tax penalties to companies who recruit from more than five miles from their base. Incentives for people to move to their place of employment.

    The M25 and all our roads are full of tradesmen/businessmen going in opposite directions.


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