The changing needs of residential parking in UK towns and cities are opening up opportunities for new sustainable mobility

Suburban London residential street with parked cars


Across the UK millions of people live on residential streets laid out in the Victorian era. These rows of low rise terraced housing are icons of the British landscape, but typically have been developed in a way that often leads to contemporary car parking challenges. There is usually little room for off-street parking on these Victorian era streets, and attempts at using the limited space in front of the houses for parking leads to a congested and disfigured landscape blocked with vehicles. On-street parking, while often workable, is usually restricted and often creates two rows of parked cars with limited space for through movement.

Local councils across the country try to control this street congestion and maintain the support of local residents via sets of controlled permitted parking zones, parking time limits and restrictions and other rules. This is particularly the case near rail stations and local high streets.

But, there are a number of changes and challenges in these assumptions as the nature of car ownership, use, social demographics and mobility opportunities evolve. This presents exciting opportunities for the future of these otherwise congested streets.

There is a pending challenge in cities across the UK and wider world as the demand for local parking changes. Restrictions in space on these streets often impacts the ability for dedicated cycle infrastructure, improvements to pavements as well as the ability for public transport buses – of any size – to reliably operate on these roads. Also, cars, delivery vehicles and service vehicles regularly become blocked in and move with difficulty through these types of streets.

However, in particular in larger cities across the UK, a number of significant trends are emerging. Smaller households may lead to fewer vehicles per house (or flat). An ageing population is leading to lower car use, lower trip rates, and lower car ownership. Contemporary lifestyles are encouraging use of cycling, the sharing economy and consideration of car clubs and ridesharing. Work is also changing in terms of a knowledge-based economy with centralised city centre workplaces, or working remotely from home and living a more hyper-localised lifestyle for some part of the week.

Across the UK 77% of households owns at least one car. In Greater London this drops to 54%, 60% in Edinburgh, 68% in Leeds, 62% in Brighton, 56% in the City of Manchester, and only 35% in the London Borough of Hackney!

Across the UK 77% of households owns at least one car. In Greater London this drops to 54%, 60% in Edinburgh, 68% in Leeds, 62% in Brighton, 56% in the City of Manchester, and only 35% in the London Borough of Hackney! While the extent of these trends varies in cities across the UK and their social structures, the trends remain the same. The car manufacturers recognise these trends and this is encouraging their interest in new retail models for car ownership and service-based new mobility models.

So what are the impacts on the Victorian street?

Car ownership is dropping in many areas of the cities identified above and more generally in many markets, particularly the larger urban areas. This, in theory, should lead to more on-street space in residential areas.

However, one of the key challenges from the fall in car ownership is that it does not necessarily lead to more on-street space. The reality presents some counter-trends. Many car owners, particularly in cities, still retain cars from an earlier lifestyle stage, a vehicle that has been passed down from parents, or is an employee benefit or requirement even if the vehicle is only occasionally used. This on-street residential parking starts to become on-street long term car storage!

Residents in a single area can still display divergent views as to the need and use of a car and while some may welcome having fewer or no vehicles, others see the availability of more on-street space as the opportunity to increase their personal or household car ownership via vehicles for householders just coming of driving age or to have a second, or third, specialty vehicle.

Depending on the residential location, this on-street space can become useful commuter or town centre parking if strict controls are not in place and rigorously enforced which is an issue for local authorities with declining financial resources.

The trend to remote working and particularly the growth in self and small and medium sized employment (SMEs) can lead to the use of residential space by locally based businesses and thus, a growth in commercial parking in residential streets.

This is also a very personal story reflecting a number of real challenges on my own street in London. However, it presents a number of opportunities for how, my, and many other communities can embrace new mobility models and create better, greener, more sustainable and flexible street landscapes.

How should the valuable on-street space that is created as a result of declines in personal car ownership be used? This is a crucial point for the future of transportation and the vision for new mobility.

Does this space become available for the local residents who choose to own multiple vehicles per household to meet perceived needs for mobility? Or, in effect does the street offer long term, relatively inexpensive and accessible storage for occasionally used vehicles? This seems to place an unfair burden on those that have chosen not to use personal cars, but now might otherwise not see an immediate benefit in terms of more street space. Furthermore, having a vehicle – that is not yours – semi-permanently parked in front of your house can be seen by many residents as a type of urban blight!

Should the occasional user of vehicles be actively targeted by local authorities to move into the shared use vehicle market? While this seems to be a policy of many councils, the intensity of these campaigns still seems very weak and mainly led by the car club operators and with their dispersed and limited resources.

Meanwhile, the use of residential on-street parking by commercial vehicles tied to the self-employed or SME business trend seems to be a negative outcome for many as these vehicles are often oversized and branded for their commercial roles. It would be unfortunate to turn residential streets into commercial car parks.

How do we reclaim this space for more sustainable new mobility opportunities or increased local green or environmental space?

How do we reclaim this space for more sustainable new mobility opportunities or increased local green or environmental space? It should be seen as a significant opportunity to radically improve cycle facilities, shared vehicle services and bring public transport much closer to the population that it serves, and particularly, to support new micro-transit services and mobility hubs.

This is a significant opportunity for local community dialogue as these on-street opportunities become more apparent and parking pressure becomes less acute. It is a chance to redesign and improve streets, and lock in benefits for a more sustainable future as well as avoid behaviours that would otherwise absorb the extra street space that is created without providing benefits for the wider set of users of the street.

Declining car ownership is causing puzzlement, debate, confusion and conflict in streets across the UK and, in particular, in those inner city and suburban streets that struggled for many years with how best to insert car culture. This is a significant opportunity to actively implement the policies that will lead us to a sustainable and low carbon future.

About the author:
Giles K Bailey is a Director at Stratageeb, a London based consultancy assisting businesses think about their strategic vision and innovation. Previously, he had spent nine years as Head of Marketing Strategy at Transport for London.

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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