Yellow lines tell us no more than we already know

I’ve spent a good deal of time looking into the issue of parking in Faversham’s town centre, first of all campaigning against the proposal to paint yellow lines and then working as a member of the Public Realm Group.

What I understand is that the yellow lines were painted to distinguish between a) where there would be room to park in the evening (single yellow line) and b) where there wouldn’t be (double yellow lines). The view was taken that people wouldn’t be able to judge this for themselves. I don’t agree that people can’t judge for themselves – especially when the consequence is that the public realm of the town is defaced with yellow paint, a public realm that I used to speak about in conference presentations around the world as being rare, remarkable and beautiful for having no road markings.

But this is the view that was taken. And it fits a pattern. For about a century, traffic engineers have thought that they know better than road users, hence guardrailing that stops people crossing roads where they want to and endless signage that tells people things they either know already or didn’t ever need to know.

Anyone can check the logic of the yellow lines for themselves. If you walk around the town centre you can see that the double lines are painted where the road is narrow and the single lines are painted where it’s wide. The yellow lines tell us no more than what we can already see for ourselves.

Beyond this, I haven’t been given an explanation why the lines were needed, especially in the context of national guidance against the use of yellow lines in historic environments.

If you take the view – as I do – that most people are intelligent enough to know where the road is wide enough then you don’t need lines. I suspect that just as many people park inappropriately with the lines in place as they would if they weren’t there.

When working as a member of the Public Realm Group I prepared a parking plan for the town centre (unpaid, voluntary work) that did away with the yellow lines while still permitting short-term parking before 10am and after 4pm (20 or 30 minutes ie enough to let people drive in and pick up a heavy item). I consulted with businesses and with Swale/KCC officers. The Town Council then went to public consultation with this parking plan among the options. In the interests of fairness, we presented other options that included keeping the yellow lines. I recall we had over 400 responses.

The most popular option in the public consultation was a yellow-line-free solution with short-term parking.

In what I consider an unfortunate sequence of events, the Public Realm Group then presented they Town Council with a choice between painting yellow lines around the Guildhall or closing the gates to the town centre on a more regular basis. In other words it disregarded the results of the public consultation and rather “dumbed down” the discussion into a false choice between two equally inadequate options.

I hope readers can see why this episode is most frustrating and worrying. When a Town Council ignores the results of its own public consultation by a) considering options that weren’t put to the public and b) not considering options that were, then I think it’s only reasonable that we should all be concerned.

On a positive note, the plan I prepared still exists and the yellow lines have been painted in such a way that they can easily be removed.

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