Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Posts tagged ‘bicycles’

On-street parking

Matthew Yglesias has given a pithy summary of the case against free on-street parking:

Obviously people who currently get to occupy valuable urban space with their private vehicles would like to keep that privilege. But by the same token, I’d love it for the city government to just give me a free car or stop charging me property tax. That doesn’t mean it would be a good idea. There may be an argument that 30 to 40 parking spaces for cars is a better use for a given piece of land than protected bicycle lanes, but “Waaaah, don’t affect my parking” is not a very persuasive argument. The streets are public spaces and they need to be used for public benefit, not just the benefit of whoever happens to own a car on the block.

This is even more of an issue here in Oxford, where people with private cars get to take up not only the streets, but also substantial portions of the already quite narrow sidewalks. (Yglesias was discussing the debate over installing a new bicycle lane in Washington DC. I’m not sure if it would be quite so contentious here, since — as I discussed here — drivers don’t hesitate to park in bicycle lanes, and so far as I can tell the enforcement is zero. See, for example, the photograph below, of a typical local cycle lane.) [Update 5 Oct, 2013: Not quite zero. I actually saw a car in the cycle lane with a fixed-penalty notice on the windscreen. So there.]

People clearly have ideas about things that by right and nature ought to be free. Perhaps because I don’t drive a car myself, I cannot imagine why parking spaces should be one of them, particularly not residents’ parking. To be sure, residents’ parking is not free here. It’s £50 a car — just enough to create a sense of entitlement among those who have paid for it, not enough to come anywhere close to covering the real costs of providing

It’s not at all clear why people have any more right to 6 square metres of public road to semi-permanently store their automobiles than I have to store my surplus books. I would not be permitted to set out a storage shed by the side of the road. (I suppose I could use an automobile as a storage facility — some people clearly do, at least in Berkeley — but I would at least need a driver’s license and a car that was sufficiently functional to be registered.)

Bicycle lane on Iffley Road

Bicycle lane on Iffley Road

On foot and cycle in Berkeley and Oxford

Big-ChanningMLK3

Berkeley bicycle boulevard.

628x471

Wide Berkeley sidewalk.

I’ve just returned from my sabbatical in Berkeley, and while I’ve written some harsh criticism of life in the US when it unfortunately intersects with the medical system, as long as you can stay healthy there are some conspicuous advantages to life in Berkeley. Particularly if you walk or ride a bicycle.

Some of it is no one’s fault: There’s obviously more space in Berkeley for wide sidewalks, and the crush of tourists on a few major boulevards, particularly in summer, is peculiar to Oxford. On the other hand, Oxford city council chooses to allow merchants to block half of the narrow pavement with advertising signs. Still, with the narrow, often one-way streets, Oxford is no paradise for drivers either.

And maybe that’s part of the reason why Oxford drivers are, there’s no way to prettify this, hateful toward non-drivers. (Presumably toward other drivers as well, but I haven’t had that experience.) Not all of them, of course, and not all the time, but enough to make cycling something I avoid when I have time to walk, and makes me feel on edge much of the time even when I’m walking. Berkeley drivers are sometimes thoughtless, of course, but the threatening incidents of recklessness still seem less frequent in Berkeley than the incidents of active aggression and rage in Oxford.

Cycle lanes are occasional and intermittent, and the average Oxford driver considers “cycle lane” to be just a fancy word for “free parking”. We don’t have as much of a problem with restaurants or constructions sites parking their dumpsters on the cycle lanes as they apparently have in Belfast, but here’s a cheeky comment on their difficulties.

I suspect that the better conditions in Berkeley are a good example of the civilising influence of the law. California law requires that drivers stop for pedestrians in any crosswalk, whether or not it is marked. And they do. Nearly always, except on high-speed highway-like urban roads, and even there if you make yourself conspicuous you’ll usually get someone to stop pretty quickly. This gets people into the habit of paying attention to slower travellers using the road, and frequently they’ll stop even when they are not required to, for instance, for pedestrians crossing in the middle of a block, or for cyclists on a cross-street.

In Oxford, as in all of England (I have been informed), cars are required to stop only at elaborately constructed official zebra-striped crosswalks with huge flashing lights overhead. Because of the elaborate construction these are rare, and even so are often ignored. And I can certainly count on the fingers of one hand the number of times in five years that any driver has stopped to let me cross the street as a pedestrian when it was not strictly required by law. It didn’t matter if it was snowing or pouring rain and I was out walking with a small child. In Berkeley I was more likely to be embarrassed by a car stopping for me to cross when I was merely loitering near to the crosswalk.

Tag Cloud