I can’t now remember what I was originally planning to do this week. Something useful or creative, possibly, like writing my next novel,* or getting ready for a local cycling networking event we’re planning at the weekend. Instead what I’ve been doing is cycling round Bigtown on a daily basis, counting empty parking spaces in the many car parks dotted around the town.
Bear with me, for there’s a reason, beyond idle curiosity. You see, the coonsil, in its infinite wisdom, has had plans to build flood defences (it has in fact had plans in development since about the time we moved up here but, you know, all in the fullness of time – I mean, the town only floods once or twice a year). As part of these plans, the main – or at least the most obvious – car park in the town centre was going to disappear under the new flood barrier (I was baffled when we moved up here as to why Bigtown had decided that the obvious use for the banks of a beautiful river complete with resident otters and salmon was parking cars on it until I realised said river regularly bursts its banks). Obviously they couldn’t actually lose any parking spaces, for fear of opening the Hellmouth (the coonsil has a parking strategy which says that no parking place may be lost without an equal or better parking space replacing it, and I really wish I were making this up), so plans were hatched to turn the Greensands, a nice patch of green space upstream, into a replacement car park.
(Joni Mitchell classic lyrics aside, perhaps paradise is a bit of a stretch, but it’s a pleasant enough spot where kingfishers and treecreepers can regularly be seen, and besides we need all the green spaces we can get these days).
Then, due to local political shenanigans that I don’t even pretend to understand the latest coonsil administration fell, and with it the plans to build the flood defences at all. This has left some of the more dinosaurish parts of the coonsil in a quandary: how were they to get their lovely new car park now? The answer was clear – they would put in a planning application to build it anyway, just in case. After all, sometimes the main car park was flooded, and then where would people park their cars? The fact that even they admitted that paving over yet more of the open areas would make the flooding more likely was neither here nor there (nor indeed the fact that when the floods are really bad, that area will be underwater too). And sometimes the fair comes and closes off the car park (never mind that every time we complain that the fair also cuts off the cycle path we’re told that the fair has been coming here since James the 6th’s time and we should just get used to it). Clearly, if we might occasionally lose some parking capacity then we need a spare car park (long time readers may recall that they have form on this sort of nonsense).
Now ask anyone in Bigtown (who isn’t a cyclist) and they will tell you that there’s not enough parking. Especially when the fair is in town. Which it is this week, as it happens. So, taking the opportunity to check whether, in fact, we do need a whole spare car park when the main one is closed, we’ve been spending this week surveying the town’s car parks at various times of the day and counting any free spaces.
The week is yet young, but we’ve already found a few things out. For a start, Bigtown has dozens of little car parks scattered around the centre of the town, all of them free to use and, in truth, mostly fairly full most of the time – it’s no wonder they estimate that a third of the town centre traffic is people driving between car parks looking for a space (there’s also the issue that some of these car parks were laid out in more innocent times and the spaces aren’t large enough to accommodate your average All-Terrain Global Warmer that you definitely need for nipping out to the shops so in some cases one vehicle takes up two places). There’s also a massive car park, right next to the main riverside car park, which is always, even at the busiest times, almost completely empty (this – it may not surprise you to learn – is pretty much the only one which charges for parking). It’s actually quite refreshing to find that there’s one part of the town that’s not completely dominated by cars – at one point there were more cars parked illegally on the nearby supposedly pedestrianised shopping street than there were in the pay and display car park. There is also another large car park, free to use, which is pretty close to the High Street but maybe not quite close enough for some people, which always has a good number of spaces in it. And finally, there’s the Greensands itself, site of the proposed car park, which already has a bit of parking on it, and which is never full. So they’re going to make a half empty car park bigger, despite the fact that even the car drivers of Bigtown don’t want to use it.
It makes no sense. Even the people who want to bring cars back onto the High Street agree it makes no sense. And yet, we’ve had to drop everything positive we could be doing in order to battle this nonsense to prevent Bigtown becoming even more car-dominated and car-dependent than it already is. It does, genuinely, make me despair.
On the other hand, if you want any advice on where to park on a busy Tuesday morning in Bigtown, I’m your woman.
* Just kidding, obviously.