Time to consign yellow lines to history


I’ve always hated yellow lines. And that’s not because they stop me from parking where I want, since I rarely drive anywhere.


No it is the aesthetics that make me angry. They are an urban excrescence. No other country uses such a visually intrusive method of controlling parking.  That is always brought home when you see a crew filming a period piece and they have to spend ages covering up the yellow markings on streets which otherwise looks as if they have been unchanged for centuries


Moreover, they are incomprehensible. While a double yellow line suggests no parking at any time, even that is not always the case since one is allowed to stop unless there are signs telling you not to. Single yellow lines are dependent on the hours shown on panels which can vary dramatically and are a source of utter confusion.  Often, there is no panel  to explain when parking is allowed.


Therefore, they are not really fit for purpose since there is no reason why, as on the continent, signs could not be used.  But far worse than that is the visual damage they do to our towns and cities – and even parts of the countryside where they are used.


There are some fantastically mad examples.  I cycle regularly through a side street just off  the Caledonian Road in north London and a specially built curve feeder path has been built for  cycles. It is about a metre wide and yet on both sides double yellow lines have been painted. How daft is that? Just before writing this piece, I cycle on a roundabout near Coram’s Field in Bloomsbury, and I notice it is surrounded by a single yellow line – which suggests next time I go to the cinema at the nearby Renoir, I could actually park there.


In fact, no one is likely to park on a roundabout. There is a general  offence of causing an obstruction and in any case we are a relatively sensible race who would not wish to park in the higgedly-piggedly way that still pertains in some developing countries.


Interestingly, yellow lines are not the only solution. Graham Smith, an urban design consultant, says “yellow lines are everywhere, they are a kind of statement of ownership by motorists, they ‘limit’ pedestrians and seem to obliterate cycle lanes”.  He explains that it is now possible for authorities not to use yellow lines and says that this has already happened in what are known as Restricted Parking Zones where parking restrictions do not require yellow lines. These were originally intended for use in historic centres, or near sports stadia and in seaside towns but there is no reason, especially since powers have been devolved to local authorities, to create them anywhere.


Rather quietly, these have been encouraged by the Department for Transport, but It is rather as if the government is scared of the implications of what is suggested. The idea has not been publicised and consequently no town or city in England has come up with the idea of making its whole area into a RPZ, which would then mean there would be no reason to have yellow lines. However, Glasgow has begun to create CPZs without yellow lines, but with much clearer signage.


Towns with historic centres which would benefit the most could start the trend.  Yes, at first, there might need to be some extra signage, but that need not necessarily be intrusive (by the way, is there anything dafter than those huge poles stuck up next  to the road which then have a little 6ins by 4 ins sign on the top, impossible to read for anyone with less than 20/20 vision). Signs should be readable and clear.  There are cost advantages, too since the painting and maintenance of yellow lines is expensive.


There is no limit to where RPZs could be introduced. In fact, I would like to see the whole of London turned into one. Already, given the spread of Controlled Parking Zones, people do not expect to be able to park anywhere except in designated bays or on single yellow lines after hours (though, as mentioned above, with all the confusion that entails). No Parking, rather than Parking, would become the default, a position that is much more in keeping with 21st century mores.


The whole panoply of parking regulations and signage was devised in the 1960s as a way of restricting the completely anarchic parking of the time. The idea then, promoted by the Buchanan Report,  was that most parking would be in multi storey car parks and therefore on street parking would be limited. However, the car parks were mostly, and thankfully never built, and the police could not cope with enforcing regulations. Consequently the ghastly intrusive package of signs and lines was created together with traffic wardens to enforce them.


This whole process needs to be rethought. Let’s throw off the shackles and confine yellow lines to the dustbin of history and recreate the right environment for our towns and cities.

  • bz2

    Actually, a big part of the reason why you won’t find something equivalent to the double yellow line on the continent is that in a lot of continental European countries we’ve got an alternate method of denoting “no parking anytime”, it looks a bit like this: http://www.oldenzaal.nl/files/2741/hengelosestraat.jpg 🙂

  • Paul James

    Completely agree Christian. In the Netherlands for example, towns have a blanket parking ban signified by signs on entry to the town (like a CPZ that covers the whole town) and then designated parking bays where the ban is relaxed. Seems to work very well, and no messy yellow lines or eyesore signs.

  • avlowe

    The answer is in the simplicity which existed before parking restrictions inverted the original status quo of parking permissions, as exemplified by the original Highway Code signage of the 1930’s.

    The basic premise should be that the core purpose for a road (and the sole statutory obligation on a roads authority) is to provide a means for traffic to pass and repass on foot and on wheels between 2 places. There is NO obligation for a roads authority to provide any surfaced area for parking of any vehicle. On the street outside (a typical standard 7.3m carriageway), prior to the introduction of the CPZ, we had around 65% of the road width blocked out of use during the working day by parked cars, and looking around across the city I did a rough calculation that at least 50% of the road surfaces which were costing money to maintain could be abandoned, as they were obviously not required for moving traffic. This could have a radical effect on the costs of road maintenance, as obviously much less surfacing is required.

    So what of the bits of road no longer required for moving traffic. Well our title deeds show that the solum of the road outside actually belongs to us – one of the key reasons that the Road Traffic Act expressly prohibits any roads authority from making any gains from the use of the land on which the road sits – if the Council is charging for parking on my land I want ground rent! Locally we have some interesting examples of this detail. All the buildings on one cul de sac are now owned by Glasgow University, and since that road no longer delivers a route between 2 places, it has been de-listed and reverted to the owner of the solum – Glasgow University, who have put up a barrier and use it as a private car park. Elsewhere on University Gardens the part of the carriageway required for wheeled traffic remains as an adopted road, but the parking spaces are owned and managed by the University. I’m tempted to press for reversion of the space on the carriageway outside here as t would be nice not to look at someone’s parked car and instead have a display of planters or even a proper extension to the gardens on the other side of the street.

    The reversion would remove all arguments and doubts about what the parking restrictions are in a street or any stretch of road – you can stop to set down & pick up, but have to remain with the vehicle, unless you are at a place where parking is permitted and details are posted anywhere else – no parking. This would delight those who embrace the market economy as the value of parking would be directly linked to market factors such as the value of land and the trade-off between using that land for car parking of other purposes. Thoroughly recommend checking out Donald Shoup’s work – given that a typical private car is parked for 95% of the time, and car parking is perhaps the largest single use of land in most US cities (and many UK ones) he opted to study parked ‘traffic’ rather that traffic for the 5% of the time the cars are ‘moving’. The other issue – well demonstrated in Glasgow is that massive provision of car parking at a single location creates massive traffic problems when that car parking empties at very narrowly defined times. Less than 35% of local households own a car but with around 20,000 parking spaces in the city core, fed by the M8, we get an hour or so of gridlocked traffic twice per day and outside those times the bulk of streets are almost deserted – hugely inefficient use of resources – car parking near empty overnight and roads hardly used outside some very short peak periods.