The Highway As A Free Car Park

Sometimes we forget just how much our common sense and comfort can be usurped by the motor car. We love them and need them so much, we get confused. It’s all too easy to let our dotage blind us to otherwise obvious realities.

Let me give one example. We generally assume, without actually recognising it or saying so out loud, that the highway is a free car park. The highway is, of course and without question, a normal and perfectly acceptable place to leave a car all day, overnight, or even for weeks at a time. In the absence of strong reminders not to we assume an absolute right to park wherever and however we choose.

So, in this Bristol street, with no signs to say “NO, DON’T!”, a Renault driver (picture above) has been flustered, a bit late for work and not very good at accurate parking, perhaps.  Never mind, it happens to us all and no one was watching.  Twelve inches or so from the curb isn’t that much and no one will mind.

However, as well as being a quiet residential street, this particular free car park is also a public highway with plenty of people with good reason to want to travel along it. The width of the road was set in the middle of the nineteenth century and hasn’t changed since. Notice the vehicle at the top. It is about to collect rubbish from the street’s eight houses (some in multi-occupation) and then from the 32 appartments at the other end of the street that no one can see from the top.

The van driver has seen a problem and is turning round to get a better run at it. He is planning to reverse down.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the street a Royal Mail van has made deliveries to the 32 appartments (not visible in the picture) and is setting off to complete a good morning’s work (see above).

At this stage, the refuse vehicle has had to stop part way down and its driver has got out to scratch his head and suck his teeth. He’s a bit stuck. The gap between the parked cars is obviously too narrow and after some discussion the crew have run down the street to haul the wheelie bins from the eight houses all the way back up. I wonder if they will get a bonus? The Royal Mail van has to wait. There is no other way out.

But then, after a wait of only five minutes the Royal Mail van and another car are able to get on with their lives.  So all is well (see picture below).

Well, all would be well, but for the 32 appartments who have not had their rubbish collected at all. So the the whole process will have to start again tomorrow.

While I chatted to the driver of the refuse van, the subject of fire engines and ambulances cropped up. I happened to mention that the 32 appartments are part of an over-60s’ development and that paramedic vehicles make frequent calls. He told me that Bristol is generally terrible for access along the highways. He is too tactful to mention their other primary purpose as free car parks.

All this is known to Bristol City Council of course. But our innocent Renault driver will remain as oblivious as all the other people who are simply pleased to know about a handy free car park near to the offices and shops, conveniently placed right beside a public highway.

The Highway Code (bless it)  says: (para 243) “DO NOT stop or park … anywhere where you would prevent access for Emergency Services …” Roughly translated into English this means that you can prevent access for Emergency Services if you want, but if things go wrong you might get blamed.


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