Councilmanic Prerogative, Broad Street median parking, and planning politics in the Kenney era

Dylan Purcell and Michelle Tranquilli have an excellent data visualization of the newly-released city parking ticket data at Philly.com, looking at which blocks get the most tickets. 

Ticketing was flat citywide between 2012 and 2014, but concentrated in the major commercial corridors, as one might expect. One of the stand-out findings was that the number of parking tickets issued increased by 21% in South Philly during that period. Head over to their visualization page to see what the trends are like in your area. 

Patrick Kerkstra has some thoughts on the takeaways for policy, pointing out that the places where ticketing is lowest might have some extra space on the streets for traffic calming or public space.

That may be right, but there’s a wildcard factor that the ticket data can’t measure: the policy of intentional non-enforcement.

The trouble with making inferences about the tightness of the market for curb parking, or the prevalance of bad behavior, from the ticketing data is that the ticketing data can only really show us the hot spots within the areas PPA has permission to enforce the law.

In South Philly, for example, it’s common to see cars parked half on the sidewalk, fully blocking crosswalks, or on the medians of South Broad Street and Oregon Avenue. There are a lot of parking violations happening there, but not very many tickets being written, because the violations are officially condoned.

What will become of the non-enforcement policy in the next administration?

Jim Kenney told Ryan Briggs this week that he plans to crack down on illegal sidewalk parking, and it “may be the first thing I tackle when I get [to City Hall]” when asked about 5-year-old Josetta Krause’s request that the city crack down on cars parking on the sidewalks.

But while Kenney says he also thinks Broad Street median parking is a bad idea, he doesn’t plan to push the issue. 

This is an interesting practical application of one of the more substantive disagreements between Kenney and former DA Lynne Abraham during the primary.

Kenney doesn’t allude to this, but the way Philly’s political system processes an issue like Broad Street median parking is through the Councilmanic Prerogative tradition–a political cartel dynamic whereby district Councilmembers are afforded the latitude to decide land use and development issues in their districts unilaterally by the other district Councilmembers.

Abraham made the case that Philly needs truly citywide policies to function like a 21st century city, and the seriatim nature of Councilmanic Prerogative makes that impossible. Kenney made the point that there isn’t really much a Mayor can actually do to disrupt that tradition, and what’s more, trying to do so would poison the well with Council and limit what the Mayor can achieve in the next term. According to that view, this is an issue for Councilmen Mark Squilla and Kenyatta Johnson to decide.

At present, they really do have free reign to make that call.

I got to witness first hand how this works in my neighborhood last year when I and a few neighbors in Bella Vista approached Councilman Squilla at a neighborhood public safety meeting to request that the Parking Authority begin enforcing the median parking ban on Washington Avenue.

Washington Avenue is the most dangerous street in our neighborhood, and we suspected that the blocked lines of sight from parked cars were contributing to the unsafe conditions for people crossing the Avenue.

Councilman Squilla agreed that the laws should be enforced, and he followed up with the Parking Authority the next day, sending an email to PPA executive director Corinne O’Connor asking her to begin enforcing the parking rules. And just like that, a few days later PPA was out on Washington Avenue writing tickets.

Then, a group of neighbors on the west side of Broad Street asked Councilman Johnson to request Washington Avenue median parking enforcement too. He obliged, and a few days later the PPA was out enforcing the parking ban there too.

This has basically worked. For the most part, motorists seem to have learned they can’t park on the median anymore, and for those who haven’t, there’s a local Facebook group called Washington Avenue Advocates where neighbors posts photos of parking violations and alert officials about them.

So the Broad Street median parking issue really comes down to whether the 1st and 2nd District Councilmen, whose districts border Broad Street, want to send a second email to Corinne O’Connor asking her to send some parking enforcement officers out on Broad Street next week.

This will be an interesting area  of political tension to watch in the likely event Jim Kenney becomes Philly’s next Mayor, and one that’s likely to give planning fans some agita.

The Citified crew has been parsing Kenney’s policy positions within a frame of Old Philadelphia vs. New Philadelphia, and this seems like an issue where the Old Philadelphia instincts come into play. To generalize, it’s the preference for informal agreements over citywide policies, lax enforcement of the official rules, and maximally local decision-making. The idea to let neighborhoods opt out of citywide streetsweeping if enough people don’t want to move their cars was of a piece with this way of thinking.

Kenney seems willing to do what he can within the scope of the powers directly available to him, but consistent with the positions he took during the campaign, he thinks this is an issue for the two Councilmen to handle, and he’s not going to try to bigfoot that decision.

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