Storing cars on the pavement

Grit dispenser

Hello again, dear imaginary reader. It’s the first of January. It’s a beautiful day here in Bristol, mild, sunny, still. And very quiet of course, being January first. Just the time for some idle psychological speculation.

Pavement parking. Oh dear, yes, sorry. So anyway, the background is that I live in an area with an eighteenth century street layout. The houses were built long before it was assumed that everyone would own a large personal conveyance and so the streets are lined on both sides with parked cars, many, or possibly most of which are parked, at least partly, on the pavement. This is a slow moving area, so walking in the middle of the street is not dangerous, but in places it is compulsory, which is annoying.

Pavement parking is a popular topic in the active travel blogosphere. Ugly, nuisance, potentially dangerous, blah blah blah. Yes, of course I’d agree.

Except that I think that if you tried to put any of these points to someone who has just parked their motor on the pavement you would be greeted with utter astonishment and incomprehension. What sort of reply would you get if you actually asked a few people – asked them very, very politely of course, because we are imagining real life here, not the internet, and we would actually like to be listened to and get an honest answer. I would anticipate the following categories of reply.

Answer one: “If I didn’t park on the pavement then other people wouldn’t be able to drive down the road because there isn’t any room. It’s obvious. Are you stoopid or something?”

Answer two: “Yes, oh, I know it’s awful and I do worry about the elderly and young mums with buggies, and I do try to do it as little as possible, but really, the roads are so narrow round here that if I didn’t park on the pavement then it wouldn’t be possible for anyone to drive through the area and what if there was a fire or someone needed an ambulance?”

Answer two is essentially the same as answer one but with added handwringing. And my point is? Implied assumptions. My imaginary interlocutors are quite right – if they are going to park in a built up area with narrow roads then the socially responsible thing to do is park on the pavement. There is, they think, no alternative. If I were to point out that there are at least two alternatives, one of which is to park somewhere else and the other of which is to not have a car at all, I would get more of the open-mouth treatment. These are both, currently, unthinkable. They need to be made thinkable.