Thursday, April 16, 2009

Grass Verges: How long to wait for action?

The problems of grass verge parking are rapidly becoming one of the hottest topics on the doorstep in Coleridge. It is clearly a difficult issue - for some people (those not needing to park a car on the road) verge parking is just wrong, causes immense damage to the local environment, and should just be banned with the full force of the law. For others, they have no choice as there is nowhere else to safely park their cars, so it is completely unreasonable to try stopping verge parking.

Take Chalmers Road for example:

A huge verge parking problem (as noted above, I am aware that people parking on the verges may have no realistic alternative). But there are measures the Council could take here to protect some of the verges and improve the streetscape, such as planting some trees where people want them, and repair the verges. So I have been trying for some weeks now to get the Council to take some action. I have wanted to know the answers to two questions: What can the City Council do to protect grass verges on Coleridge (such as planting a tree on the verge on the right here), and who in the Council is responsible for developing the Council's policy in this area. 

Despite bragging in their manifestos about what they have been doing to help solve the grass verge problem, the answer from Liberal Democrat Cambridge appears to be nothing and nobody - the Council is literally doing nothing at the moment to work towards solutions to this tricky problem (or if they are, some very senior officers in the Council can't tell me who is responsible for work in this area.)

Solving this problem in the longer term will require a number of significant policy changess. Car ownership now is higher than ever imagined when Birdwood Road and Chalmers Road were built, and personally I think that is a good thing - this is a huge boost to personal liberty and for economic development, due to better workforce mobility - these upsides of car ownership are frequently ignored by the anti-car brigade. Contrary to the Lib Dems vision for Cambridge, we are not going to return to walking, cycling and horse and cart as the only ways of getting around. As much as walking and cycling should be encouraged (and this will be part of the solution), cars aren't going to disappear, they will just become greener and less polluting, ultimately being powered by energy captured in useful form without producing carbon dioxide. So to solve the verge parking problem, as well as encouraging alternaives, we will need to take steps to increase the availability of parking - for which there are a number of potential solutions, e.g. we could make it cheaper for people to get a "dropped kerbs" - currently an expensive Council mandated process, or create other parking spaces within the existing street layout.

But as a measure of how far from understanding the problem the Council is, it is setting up a much bigger problem for itself in future, by banning developers from including sufficient car parking on new developments, such as the flats going up on the Tim Brinton site that will be built with significantly less than one parking space per flat. Parking generally is probably the most frequent source of complaints to local Councillors - what a shame the City Council doesn't seem to be doing anything about the problems and in fact through the planning system is making them worse.

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