Here’s a pub quiz question for you: When did double yellows first make an appearance on our streets? Answer: 1960. Thanks to the Road Traffic Act. Rule 238 of the Highway Code, if you’re going for a bonus.
And since then, they – and the tortured souls whose thankless task it is to uphold the law – have been the scourge of the ‘just dropper-offers’, ‘the quickie butcher-nippers’, the ‘too damned lazy to walk to the cashpointers’.
Not that you’d know this from a wander down Station Street in Cockermouth, this one-way, two-lane highway being daily reduced to single track by the assorted vehicles abandoned along its right-hand, double yellow-banded edge. Largely, I should add, without the obvious benefit of a ‘blue badge’.
It’s not just Station Street, of course. Awkward corners, tight ‘bridge on bend’ approaches, pedestrian crossings – they’re all fair game. But the serial abandonment of cars on Station Street is so commonplace, I half expected them not to reinstate the double yellows when they resurfaced a few months ago but no, back they came, all bright and shiny. I’m just not sure what purpose they serve.
All so different to my old home turf, a leafy ‘village’ on the outskirts of Manchester, where the shops and eateries have long since disappeared behind post-5.00pm shutters, such is the anticipation of crime, and the traffic wardens show no mercy. As I discovered to my cost not long before moving to Cumbria.
But then I only had myself to blame.
When the first traffic wardens set about dishing out £2 fines to anyone caught parking on the new double yellow lines, fifty-six years ago, they were also supposed to ‘help the public find parking spaces’. If only.
En route into Manchester to pick up a brief from a client, and already tight for time, I needed to swing by the bank to pay in a long-awaited cheque. But as I pulled up in a parking bay outside the bank, there were still three long minutes to go before the ‘no parking’ restriction lifted for the day. The same three minutes to bank opening time, as it happened. On an otherwise traffic-free road.
And there she was. My nemesis. We exchanged eye contact. Nothing. Just a nonchalant glance over her shoulder before strolling a couple of hundred yards ahead, then on across the road.
What to do? Drive off? Sit it out? Make a dash for it? Surely anyone with an ounce of community spirit would have said something? Something friendly, like I imagine those traffic wardens of yore might have said. Something like, ‘I’m terribly sorry Madam, but you can’t actually park there at the moment, because then I’ll be obliged to give you a ticket. But give it another three minutes and you’ll be fine, so how about you just drive round the block and then pull in here again?’
Instead of loitering, on the other side of the road, now even further away. Whistling.
And that’s where it all went wrong. Thinking her non-engagement meant acquiescence – and another couple of minutes having now passed – I went for it. Stepped out of the car, clicked the lock and walked the twenty yards to the bank just as the doors opened. In and out of the bank in as long as it took to stamp a paying-in book. In the short course of which, the Lovely Rita had turned on her heels, sprinted what was by now some distance, crossed back over the road, slapped a ticket on the windscreen and walked away, basking in the glow of meanness. For what? A minute? If that?
Okay, so it wasn’t double yellows. Strictly speaking, this was Rule 245, not 238 (there’s another bonus point, right there. You’re welcome). It was still an expensive lack of judgement on my part. Possibly too a naive faith in human nature. And I was, as they say, bang to rights. Rules is rules.
But the point is, why do none of these rules seem to apply here in Cockermouth, when it so evidently clogs up the road? How long before Mister Perfectly Able-Bodied Cashpoint-Nipper gets clipped by a wagon full of rubble, en route to Strawberry How?
Blue badge blues
Speaking of able-bodied cashpoint-nippers, we’re regularly amazed to see drivers, sans passagers, pull up on those same double yellows, clearly exhibiting a blue badge yet appearing to be more than capable of walking further than 50 metres.
My new parents-in-law struggled for months to convince the authorities that they needed a blue badge, despite the Gremlin’s pa being quite evidently very shaky on his feet, needing a stick to walk, finding it hard to get in and out of a car unaided and having recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s (not in itself a reason for a badge, we learn). Turned down at the first two applications, they eventually succeeded.
The system is far from straightforward. As ever these days, you’re encouraged to apply online. Fine for the techno-savvy, not so easy for many in the much-older generation. But even the old-fashioned telephone route seemed wracked with miscommunication and misunderstanding. Combine this with a huge degree of pride, of not wanting to concede loss of independence and it’s no wonder they nearly gave up on the whole idea. I suspect many do.
We also regularly hear them talk about not being able to make use of their blue badge (on double yellows, for example), and having to totter some distance to their destination – because the area they might have parked is full of people who either don’t have a blue badge – or do, but are clearly using it as a lazy parking permit. So we’re a little miffed when we see it happening here too.
Blue badge holders are allowed to park on double yellows for up to three hours, unless a ban on loading and unloading is in force. We understand, of course, that blue badges can apply to either driver or passenger, so it may well be that the driver is perfectly able-bodied. I’m happy to be corrected if I’ve misunderstood, but shouldn’t the disabled person (to whom the badge belongs) also be in the vehicle when taking advantage of any parking concessions?
And wouldn’t it be nice if those non-blue badged, double yellow-hoggers weren’t taking up all that space and preventing someone who really needs to park there from doing so?