Response to Dunbar Traffic Regulation Order Proposals

I welcome that the council is consulting on these proposals.

I have made comprehensive comments on the specific consultation questions and expressed a range of concerns about the proposals – sketchy though they are – first outlined in the Cabinet paper dated 29 March 2011. I have annotated a dynamic map with additional commentary and thoughts here:

In my view the TRO measures should contribute to 3 things:

a)   High Street regeneration,

b)   a modal shift to active or public transport, and last but not least

c)    pedestrian and cycle safety.

The objectives should not be about providing or controlling parking per se, but use parking policy as a tool to achieve these objectives. In the past we have regarded parking as a service to be provided. Because we have too many cars competing for decreasing space and we are recognising that cars, although functionally still the most versatile way of getting around for longer distances and complex journeys, have their downsides, environmental and social.

So, I argued that the measures need to be framed in a forward looking strategy, not one which panders to old fashioned fallacies.  There is no evidence to support claims that parking restrictions are the cause of High Street decline or limit visitor numbers. It was never the case that it used to be better before.  Parking is only a hygienic factor in decisions about visiting places, not the main motivator. People make choices to visit places based on the offering and opportunities to satisfy basic needs and pleasure. So many more today want to experience places, having broadened their horizons and seen what is possible in continental Europe.  We hanker for monthly markets, when our European cousins get daily ones.  What is clear is that people do not really want to have to negotiate with cars and fuss about awkward parking on a High Street itself, unless they consider the High Street as a drive by convenience store, the car a shopping trolley cum umbrella, useful to tie the kids in and stop gran from running amock.

People that walk rather than use the car spend more time on the High Street and spend more, or so research in cities like London and New York suggests. With a predicted increase in vehicle use partly as a result of new development, there is a need for more deliberate and transparent policies that discourage the use of the private car especially for short journeys that are easy to substitute.

So we have a challenge. We need to find ways to make it easier for people to leave their chariot at home, rather than make it easier to park.  A parked car kills no one and creates few environmental impacts, though it may look ugly.  At present it is too easy to park on the High Street, the car parks are underutilised and inefficiently designed – though I understand that council facilities are frequently better designed than supermarket ones!  Capacity might be increased if this was deemed necessary.Locally the facilities are poorly sign-posted or not at all.  Who would know that the Co-op has a great car park a minute away from the town? Pop in to do a bit of shopping there and up the steps to complete your shopping.

There are conflicting views. The interests of traders and residents may not be aligned. Policies that might work to stimulate trading in non-residential areas e.g. malls are unlikely to work in primarily residential towns.  Traders need to be good neighbours and residents too must rub along with shop keepers.  But lets examine why residents are good for business. They care and they invest in their homes and the local economy.  Residents represent a significant constituency on the Dunbar High Street and contribute pretty significantly. I’ll bet they meet more of their regular shopping needs than transient car shoppers. I suspect many car users are picking a paper, posting a letter, topping up on pop, scratch card, fags and booze – convenience shopping. Is this why officially traders are resisting longer parking and return times?  To accomodate that, I have proposed that we have really short waiting times in about 3 locations as well as longer waiting times.  A mix of options, rather than a uniform solution.

I would argue that a High Street that is a desirable place to live in is also likely to be a place that people want to visit and set up shop / shop in.  Residents if empowered are more likely to help enforce a stronger sense of civic responsibility and take ownership for problems, if the mechanisms are in place and used. Less traffic and congestion (in Dunbar this is really only a transient problem a few times day) and more space for pedestrians contributes to feeling of a welcoming and safe place, which no amount of expensive CCTV can do.

High Street parking is easy for tourists (I speak to many who always ask me where the meters are) and shoppers alike (one circuit or less is usually enough to find a spot).   But here is the rub. Most people will check the High Street before looking for other options, as this is the natural form of the town, with all the roads leading to the High Street. We need to change that.  Car Parks are not clearly signposted and they are primarily used by residents, businesses and holidaymakers.  Most other High Street users are using the on street facilities, because they are convenient and meet their requirement for short errands.  While the Dunbar Trades Association will be calling for retaining the status quo, they fail to realise that the status quo is untenable in the longer term, particularly as paid parking measures will almost certainly need to be introduced in the not so distant future.

It is unreasonable and potentially discriminatory that there is no provision in the order for some resident parking for High Street residents – there are literally hundreds of householders, who will have all nearby parking removed. Town residents are also more likely to car share and be single car householders, so the requirement is not as great. They are also less likely to use their car as much for short journeys.  Yet even those that live in social housing will have better provision, but few homeowners and occupiers. If the proposals are enacted, they will exacerbate the already acute shortage of parking at the South end.  Residents parking is good for local owners and occupiers, who don’t have a 9-5 work pattern, ie work only PT/shifts or the elderly or the disabled. Residents parking reduces turnover and helps to calm an area, like the Abbeylands cul de sac.

Also any increase in traffic into the cul de sac would be detrimental to the tranquillity of this area and it will increase concerns about safety at the junction, which is already too wide and open to frequent abuse. Furthermore even more speculative journeys would be made to the High Street in search of parking.

Having gathered over 70 signatures from South High Street residents, I am in no doubt that there is overwhelming support for the principle of a resident only parking scheme and that the cul de sac would be the right location along with a properly designed street scheme and a safer junction. But let us be clear about one thing, residents are not asking that the vacant site become a general car park, as this would only increase traffic – and would give the wrong signal.

Finally, there is a perception that the High Street is not that safe for pedestrians and cyclists. Cyclists on pavements are just one symptom, few people cross the road outside of the crossing points, even though it is possible to cross obliquely at most times of the day (a useful rule of thumb); traffic speeds are higher than before since the moderating effect of the cobbles has been removed; the carriageway is slightly too wide and often unobstructed encouraging cars to pick up speed when they should be proceeding dead slow; parked cars in considerable numbers create a barrier between the carriageway and the footway and accentuate the division between pedestrians and cars. Drop kerbs are located in inappropriate places, desire lines are not exploited as they should be.

There seem to be few or no measures in the order designed to improve pedestrian and cycle safety.  They seem to be entirely driver centric e.g. the proposal to introduce a pelican crossing at the South end is simply wrong headed.

To conclude there needs to be a significant re-orientation of the proposals to make Dunbar not just cycle and pedestrian friendly, while actively discouraging casual unnecessary or substitutable car journeys, but a better place to live, work and play.

There’s many would love to be much more involved in street improvements generally, if only there was a mechanism for doing so. Lack of consultation was the 3rd most important concern in a recent survey.

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passionate about the new and the old, but only if it is any good