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.