Milman Road residents were surprised in early August 2018 when Reading Borough Council (RBC) put up a notice at the west end of the road saying they proposed to permanently ban parking there.
A spokesperson for RBC said that more space at the cul-de-sac west end of Milman Road had been requested so that cars picking up and collecting children from the school could manoeuvre more easily, and the council proposed converting two or three cars’ worth of parking into a turning space.
Who asked for it, and why?
In an email of 10 August, the acting head of New Christ Church school Alison Crooks said:
This is the first I had heard of changes to the parking restrictions near the school. The council have not been in consultation with me as the headteacher about this at all.
I know historically and currently we have issues with our parents… choosing to sit at the end of the road waiting for collection.
Parents collecting children have also been known to… reverse dangerously around the corner into Spring Gardens in order to turn around and this has caused issues for us regarding the safety of our children.
On 13 August, Councillor Rose Williams said:
There was a meeting about 18 months ago [ie about February 2017] between Cathy Doberska, the previous head teacher, and parking services that I was invited to.
There had been several near misses by parents driving to the end of the cul-de-sac, dropping their children off and then reversing back past parked cars and then reversing around the corner. It was decided that it was safer to create a turning point at the end.
Crashmap (which may not be comprehensive) suggests there was one incident near the health centre in 2003, and in the last 19 years there have been numerous incidents at the other (east) end, at the Basingstoke Road junction, including a serious one in 2014.
The council considered two options: creating a turning space, or making the parking opposite the school residents-only and converting an equivalent area at the other end of Milman Road to shared usage; this would reduce traffic near the school. Both were controversial and the council rejected suggestions for improving signage.
Milman Road is a cul-de-sac with about a hundred properties; it is also offers access and parking for Aveley Walk, Elizabeth Walk, Boults Walk and Mitcham Close. The road contains a school for 210 pupils, a health centre catering for 14,000 patients and a pharmacy. Visitors to the health centre who have mobility problems need nearby parking access, and local residents – and their visitors – have no choice but to use parking on the road if they arrive by car. Visitors to the nearby Hindu Temple also use the road for parking. Like many roads in central Reading, Milman Road is a narrow, Victorian, primarily residential road entirely unsuited to the traffic demands of the twenty-first century.
Residents and visitors have had to deal with the combined traffic of a school, health centre and pharmacy for many years. Both the health centre, the pharmacy and the school receive regular truck deliveries; these trucks often park illegally and cause traffic blockages.
Some (but by no means all) parents visiting the school park willy-nilly on junction corners, pavements and school-keep-clear spaces, blocking driveways, garages and emergency access. In their desperation to get as close to the school as possible, parents often drive on pavements and put their own children’s schoolmates at risk. The proposed new turning area is frequently occupied at school pick-up times by cars idling their engines, filling the road and playground with exhaust fumes.
The situation is eminently dangerous; of that there is no doubt. It is difficult to see how creating a turning space would help in the face of such traffic overload and lawlessness.
Vive la résistance!
RBC’s proposals went out for a public consultation that ended on 23 August. The Whitley Pump launched a local petition; partly to assess local attitudes to the turning space proposal and partly to publicise the fact that it existed.
We managed to obtain 56 signatures objecting to the proposal from people who used the road; and this was only limited by the time available by volunteers to canvass the road and the subset of residents who were at home. 12 people also objected directly to the council; these objections were printed in the papers for the traffic management sub-committee (TMSC). Nobody supported the proposal, not even the school.
On 11 September, the day before the deciding TMSC met, and three weeks after the public consultation ended, the school held a meeting to discuss the proposal. New Christ Church school’s chair of governors Joanna Laynesmith sent a letter to RBC councillors and officers summarising their discussion:
We are grateful for the council’s efforts to respond to the problems of inadequate parking and poor driving at drop-off and pick-up times for our school. We are, however, concerned about the appropriateness of the planned alteration.
Prohibiting parking at any time will cause inconvenience to the school’s neighbours at many hours when this is of no benefit to children’s safety. Therefore, we are writing to ask the committee to consider introducing yellow zigzag lines to indicate that the no parking regulations cease after 5 pm and are not applicable at weekends.
We would also like to point out that the regular presence of traffic wardens during drop-off and collection to enforce these and other restrictions would significantly improve the chances of your amendment contributing to children’s safety.
The TMSC did not consider these late amendments because they were not within consultation period; the school said that the consultation had taken place during school holidays when staff weren’t available.
Even these new proposals were inadequate; many school visitors take no notice of existing unenforced parking restrictions, so why would they take notice of new ones? It would also mean that residents and health centre visitors would have to remember to shift their cars twice a day five days a week to allow school visitors to illegally park in the space they had just vacated.
Summary of Milman Road residents’ objections
- Parking is already limited on Milman Road and reducing parking spaces just makes an already difficult situation worse.
- If child safety is really a consideration, then parents need to be discouraged from bringing their cars down this narrow residential road in the first place, not make it easier for them to manoeuvre once there.
- The Victorian brick wall at the west end of Milman Road is already damaged where reversing cars have gone into it. The structural stability of the wall needs to be a priority because there is a school path directly behind it, and traffic must be discouraged from manoeuvring here.
- The north and west sides of the road near the school already have double yellow lines or ‘school keep clear’ zig-zag markings which are ignored by school visitors. Cars often idle their engines here and add to local pollution levels; adding more double yellow lines would only encourage more idling engines and more pollution.
- It seems disproportionate to permanently deprive local residents of the ability to unload from vehicles, and reduce available parking to people with mobility problems visiting the health centre, because it might allow parents to more easily negotiate a road incapable of handling the traffic.
- Allowing traffic to turn more easily in a narrow cul-de-sac doesn’t make the road safer for anyone. If the western end of the road is dangerous for children at school pick-up times, then the solution is to discourage parents from going there in the first place, not making it easier for them to turn around.
The council decision
The 12 September TMSC meeting at the RBC civic offices considered and dismissed the Milman Road parking restriction proposal. Councillor Liz Terry said:
Having looked at the huge number of objections… and understanding that there have been changes of opinion even from the school, we propose that we don’t go ahead with [this] and leave the situation as it is. It’s not satisfactory because it’s a very narrow area but it doesn’t feel as if this does anything to help the local residents.
As people have stated in their objections, this [would] result in people waiting to pick up their kids idling their cars outside even further.
- Residents working together can overturn unfair or worthless proposals.
- The Council need to enforce existing traffic and parking regulations on Milman Road.
- Parents must be encouraged by the school and the Council to walk their children to school, and use public transport as necessary.
- The Council needs to carry out consultations during periods when all can participate.
If blame needs to be passed around, then most of it lands squarely on vehicle drivers who are unable or unwilling to adapt their behaviour to a road designed for a quieter era.
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