Toxic Custard newsletter walking

The use and misuse of footpaths

I ran a Twitter thread over the last fortnight, highlighting some of the ways that footpath space is misused, or mis-allocated.

This blog expands on those posts.

In some of these cases, capacity constraints are causing problems for large numbers of pedestrians. Able-bodied people are often able to avoid those hazards, though it does slow them down.

More seriously, for those with limited mobility, such as those in wheelchairs, these issues can cause real problems for people just trying to get out and about.

1. Advertising

Real estate advertising blocking footpath

This is commonplace. It’s also in contravention of local council law. For instance, Glen Eira outlaws the following:

  • Placing advertising sign/s or displaying any goods on a Road (including a footpath) or Council Land unless permitted under the Glen Eira Planning Scheme.
  • Owning or occupying a Property from which trees, plants, shrubs or any other thing overhang or encroach on any Road (including footpath) at a height of less than 3 metres or from which a gate obstructs any Road or footpath.

Typically if you ask a real estate agent on Twitter why their banners are blocking the footpaths like this, they’ll invariably say they’re investigating, and ask for details of the specific property, as if it’s some unique occurrence.

It’s not of course. It’s a style of banner that is widely used. There have been occasional prosecutions for this — perhaps there need to be a few more so the real estate industry starts adapting. Some have found a solution: a smaller banner that is clear of pedestrians (though probably not 3 metres above the path).

2. Motorcycles

Motorcycle blocking footpath

Motorcycle parking on footpaths is legal in Victoria — a situation that is unique in Australia. In this post from 2013, I looked at the guidelines (which are not enforceable) and asked the obvious question: are the laws actually appropriate, particularly in busy city centres?

One can argue that motorcycles are more space-efficient than cars. Not if they encroach onto footpaths they’re not.

City of Melbourne’s 2012 transport strategy paper on “Flexible and adaptive private transport” estimates that just 1-2% of trips to the City are by motorcycle. From how they take over vast areas of footpath in some areas, we should be thankful it’s not any higher.

The paper identified this Action (number 42): Increase the supply of motorcycle parking in congested areas to reduce the need to park on footpaths and prohibit motorcycle parking where it obstructs walking, or other complementary activities.

Sounds good, but as far as I know, the short list of three locations in the CBD where motorcycle parking is banned in 2017 is exactly the same as it was in 2001.

There is a law that if the motorcycle obstructs the footpath then council officers can take action. But this is vague. The above example blocks half the busy footpath. Is that an obstruction? (If I blocked one lane of a busy road, I’m sure that would be.)

3. Narrow footpaths

Inadequate narrow footpath

Footpaths like this are found right along most of the Little streets in Melbourne’s CBD: one lane of traffic, two lanes of parking, and two narrow footpaths for pedestrians, despite them being in the majority.

I’m guessing the street has been this way for a long time. Doesn’t mean it still should be. And with City of Melbourne progressively replacing footpaths with bluestone, there’s an opportunity to re-allocate space in favour of the most space-efficient, most desirable mode.

Priorities, right? Recently there have been calls to make Chinatown car-free, at least at some times of day, but throughout the CBD there’s a good argument for reducing parking and widening footpaths to cope with crowds and encourage more walking.

4. Parked vehicle overhang

Motor vehicle blocking footpath

Another common sight where car parks are adjacent to footpaths, including 90-degree street parking.

Someone with limited eyesight who didn’t spot this huge vehicle sticking blocking half the footpath could do themselves a serious injury.

Education of motorists could help, but a design change to prevent this type of overhang would be better.

Possibly this is illegal under the same laws quoted above; it’s not really clear.

5. Traffic signs

Road sign blocking footpath

This one was first spotted by Victoria Walks. Notice how the road is blocked anyway — though this is a temporary (every lunchtime) measure.

Certainly though the roadway is wide enough that it could accommodate the sign plus traffic.

I complained to City of Melbourne about it. They replied that while the placement:

was not ideal, it was not appropriate to locate it on the carriageway, taking up a parking space, as it would affect the servicing requirements of abutting properties within this limited parking area.

They also acknowledged that they only left 1.1 metres of footpath clear, narrower than the recommended clearance of 1.2 metres to allow for wheelchairs.

So there you have it. As far as City of Melbourne goes, parking in the middle of the CBD is more important than footpath users, including those in wheelchairs. And that includes when it’s a sign to advise of No Parking!

6. Driveway extensions

Parked car blocking footpath

This is pretty common in the suburbs. Some motorists think their driveway includes the footpath.

It’s possible to dob people in for this. In the past some have been issued with fines.

But more widely educating might be a better start. Glen Eira have publicised it in their regular newsletter, but given how common it is, more is needed.

7. Motorcycles moving on footpaths

Motorcyclist riding along busy footpath

This is just south of Flagstaff station, one of the busiest pedestrian locations in Melbourne.

It’s not just that the motorcyclist is parking on the footpath; it’s also that he needs to ride it from the nearest ramp. Thankfully he was doing so slowly, walking it (even though he’s sitting on it)… apparently undeterred by the swarm of pedestrians coming towards him.

The bigger problem is that, this footpath is so busy that City of Melbourne have an automated pedestrian counting device to monitor it, and pedestrians regularly walk on the road to avoid obstructions. Despite that, no action has been taken to simply ban motorcycle parking along here.

As per number 2, the ban locations haven’t changed since 2001. Given the explosion in growth in the CBD, that’s just ridiculous.

8. Parked cars

Parked cars blocking footpath

Meanwhile in the burbs, this is happening.

It’s not even clear why these motorists have chosen to mount the footpath, as there’s plenty of space on the road. It’s permitted in some countries, but doesn’t seem to be here. (When I was learning to drive, I was told this was an instant fail.)

For someone with a pram or mobility aid, the choice is try and get past on the grass (and hope you don’t get bogged down) or use the parallel cycling path — not ideal.

9. Caravans

Caravan blocking footpath

Similar to number 6, though trailers and caravans seem to be even more of a blind spot for some owners.

10. No footpath at all

No footpath

Common in some outer-suburbs, but also a problem in Glen Eira. There are a number of streets around Bentleigh and East Bentleigh with no sealed footpath at all.

Pushing a pram? Or you have wheeled luggage? Or in a wheelchair? I guess you just use the roadway and hope a car doesn’t zoom around the corner and skittle you.

Why this persists I have no idea, though I’m told City of Glen Eira at least is moving to address it.

11. Trees and bushes

Bushes blocking footpath

Refer to the council laws quoted in number 1. These are meant to be maintained to leave clearance of 3 metres above the path, which would allow plenty of space, even for an adult on a bicycle (legally on the footpath if they’re supervising an under-12).

The couple pictured above (they’re walking in single file) had to manoeuvre around the bushes to get their pram past. Lucky the weather was dry so the nature strip was okay.

How would someone in a wheelchair go? Onto the grass or cross the street I suppose.

William Street 9am. Narrow footpath + obstructions = people walk on road

The common theme here

Most of us were born with two feet to walk around.

But those who choose to walk, rather than drive, are constantly marginalised, by poor planning, and poor regulation.

The built environment, and the way some people are allowed to misuse it, actively discourage walking.

And almost nobody cares.

This is despite the numerous benefits to personal health, as well as society at large, from more people walking instead of driving.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

16 replies on “The use and misuse of footpaths”

Re example 8: there are some spaces in Yarra St, Abbotsford with paint outlines specifically indicating that cars should park like this. But I don’t know of any others.

I once tried to press the point with someone who was washing their car which was parked on the footpath.

“What if someone in a wheelchair had to get past?”

“I don’t see any.”

A couple other examples of footpath misuse:
-hybrid footpath/driveway (ugh) that links a residential street to a main road with an adjacent property e.g.
-stray oBikes (which apparently are prioritised by councils above all the other examples listed here)
-days/weeks leading up to hard rubbish collection day, especially where footpath is narrow and lots of people are buying new mattresses

Glen Eira do (or at least have in the past) done some overhanging foliage and branches enforcement. Reporting specific cases to them may help, as may be the case with parking on footpaths.

Were they always parked on the footpath ?

It seems a bit unreasonable to demand that someone wash their car inside their garage, just in case someone in a wheelchair happens to come along during the 20 minutes it takes to wash the car.

Not everyone has a long driveway.

Motorcycle parking on footpaths is a major issue. Particularly in the CBD, a single motorcycle causes significant obstruction to thousands of pedestrians.

A week ago while walking on the footpath of Flinders lane, I was nearly hit by a motorcycle riding at speed from a park 20 metres up. This has happened a couple of times recently.

If I recall, riding the motorcycle on the footpath is not permitted – it needs to be pushed, but there seems to be little to no enforcement of this, by council or the police.

Also, by allowing motorcyclists to park for free we are also encouraging what is an extremely dangerous form of transport – compared to driving a car or public transport.

It’s time the council (MCC) started banning (and enforcing) motorcycle parking on footpaths, starting with the lanes and Little streets. Melbourne has too many people for such practices nowadays.

As a wheelchair user I have lost count of the number of times that I have been stopped by a car being parked across a footpath and when the owner comes out to move it they say “I only did it because I wouldn’t be long”, often followed by something like “then I got held up talking”.

Just last night I had to push along a road because of a car blocking the footpath. This house has a no standing zone out the front and a short driveway but the person could have parked entirely legally if they had been willing to walk 100m to the house. One of the consequences of choosing to live in a house with a short driveway is that you will not always be able to park cars on your property. I believe that people should consider this with their choice of property but I doubt that many people do

City of Monash council refuse to police people parking on nature strips and across footpaths, I’ve been told quite clearly several times that although 4, 6, 8 and 9 above are “technically against local laws” they won’t enforce them because it engenders ill will with residents. As though the “technicality” is some minor oddity that causes nobody any problem.

Another example from today (fully blocked from their fence line to the road)..

Me – “Please don’t park on the footpath”

Them – “Yeah I do it sometimes, I don’t really give a shit”

Some people just don’t care about anyone but themselves. Enforcement might be the only way to get through.

Don’t forget building sites. Often I see the following: 1. Trucks parked across the footpath to unload building materials (even though a long driveway often has room for them to park in it) 2. In fenced in building sites they often leave security gates open right across the path during the day 3. Often in South Yarra they set up their portaloos, site offices and fences on the footpath – I don’t know if they have or need permits for this.

Also, another bugbear with me – rubbish bins that get left on the footpath all day or overnight – mostly a problem in those inner city suburbs that don’t have nature strips. As I walk through one of these suburbs to work every day I usually just end up walking down the road on rubbish day. Also in these same suburbs due to the narrow roads and footpaths and lack of driveways, cars tend to park half on the footpath all the time. Naturally this leaves much less than a person wide space to squeeze through.

There are other less obvious obstacles everywhere and I don’t think the councils really care. I have reported trip hazards in the street several times (after having hurt myself) – in one case the hazard was removed straight away (the remnant of a road sign pole that had inexplicably been left sticking up about 4 inches out of the ground in the middle of a carpark), but in the other case the council sent a maintenance team out to look at the path and reported back to me that it wasn’t a tripping hazard (completely untrue as I had proven this by tripping over it in the first place, and had the bruises to prove it).

Bus shelters on footpaths, rather than on the nature strip (or where there is no nature strip). I can think of one example across the road from West Footscray station on Sunshine Rd, and maybe on Gordon St in Footscray.

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