Are our streets filled to car-pacity?
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I recently attempted to park my modest two-door hatchback in the vicinity of a mate’s terraced house. The space directly outside her property was planted with a tree – an optimistic addition to a street scene otherwise dominated by stationary vehicles. I crawled to the next road. Nothing. Further and further out I orbited until I finally found a spot several streets away. My jalopy will have displaced another frustrated driver, and so the concentric circle of cars will expand a little more.
I’m lucky enough to have my own drive, so at home I don’t need to rely on karma to park my car. My father’s block of flats has an underground garage so, when visiting him, I can leave my vehicle in his subterranean storage. However his ‘space’ turns out to be a bit of a misnomer; manoeuvring between tight white lines while avoiding wide structural columns is a delicate operation and, even then I have to climb out of the hatch as my car’s side doors cannot be opened without striking a concrete pillar or adjacent automobile.
I’m usually extremely deft at parking. So why, I wondered, do I find it tricksy in this particular car park?
I concluded that it’s because its bays were marked out in the ‘sixties, when most cars were smaller. Perversely, despite the well-documented destructive effects of the internal combustion engine, and the global necessity for less oil consumption, cars are actually getting bigger.
The current fuel crisis is nothing new. Back in the 1970s petrol rationing was a result of surging oil prices. Compact cars, such as the Mini, were already popular, but there was a rising demand for smaller and more economic vehicles. And, undeniably, microcars take up less room. Most twentieth-century domestic garages can’t accommodate many modern family saloons, let alone those monstrous sports utility vehicles.
I’m sure we all have a tale of pootling down a single-track lane on the Island only to be forced into a verge to give clearance to a driver whose car is so huge that its wing mirrors can clip both near and offside hedgerows simultaneously.
These capacious gas guzzlers generate more environmental impact in both manufacture and use than smaller motors. There is a perception that larger cars are safer – but that reassurance is mostly for the benefit of driver and passengers. The truck’s greater mass increases braking distances and reduces visibility; the person behind the wheel of a high and heavy vehicle is more likely to kill any pedestrians they hit.
Which brings us back to the displacement we all experience in narrow streets. Bigger vehicles take up significant room; so we have fewer cars occupying what could be space for many – making precious on-road parking even more at a premium. So next time you grumble in ever-increasing circles trying to find a spot for your SUV, or bemoaning the lack of consideration of other drivers in narrow roads, perhaps you might pause to think whose car is actually the problem here.
This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 29 July 2022 and also online.