Why I’m petitioning to enforce parking laws on S. Broad Street

Vehicles are parked in the median of South Broad Street in Philadelphia

Vehicles are parked in the median of South Broad Street in Philadelphia

During the DNC last week, my organization, 5th Square, launched a petition calling for enforcement of the existing law that prohibits parking in the median of South Broad Street. As the petition rocketed to over 1,000 signatures in just a few days, we received a clear mandate from South Philly residents that this illegal and dangerous practice must finally come to an end.

As a South Philly resident myself, I know firsthand that South Broad median parking puts our residents, particularly our most vulnerable residents, at an unnecessary risk of injury and death in exchange for a minimal amount of parking supply.

The statistics paint a grim picture of the fatalities that have occurred along South Broad where law enforcement turns a blind eye. PennDOT crash data from 2008 to 2014 shows that every single pedestrian death on South Broad occurred south of Washington Avenue, the stretch where illegally parked cars consume the median’s buffer zones, turning lanes, and crosswalks. From City Hall to Washington, where enforcement occurs, there have been zero pedestrian deaths in this same period of time. This is particularly astounding given the much higher foot traffic and vehicle counts in Center City compared to South Philly.

In addition to pedestrian fatalities, injuries also spiked south of Washington. Along this stretch of South Broad, 145 pedestrian injuries were reported from 2008 to 2014. This is more than twice the number of injuries reported north of Washington. Looking at these statistics, we see a consistent and concerning theme where illegal median parking is strongly associated with greater risk of injury and death.

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Anyone who observes the practice in action shouldn’t be surprised by the risks involved. To park in the median, a driver must come to a complete stop in the left-hand lane, reverse in moving traffic, and parallel park as traffic attempts to merge and pass on the right. The driver must then open the door and exit the vehicle with no more than 18 inches of space between the parked car and traffic lanes. They must then either cross mid-block or walk along the row of parked cars in this narrow space to cross at the corner. This process repeats in reverse order when it comes time to leave the illegal parking spot. There are simply too many conflicts and too many opportunities for tragedy.

Despite the injuries and fatalities attributed to this illegal and dangerous practice, and the daily stress felt by all who use the street, some say that the practice must continue because the spaces are needed, going so far as to say that bedlam would occur if illegal median parking were removed.

However, we found that the supply of illegal median parking spaces is infinitesimal in comparison to all legal parking available. There are 138,000 residents in South Philadelphia, and there is room for only about 180 cars to park in the median stretching 1.5 miles from Washington to Oregon Avenue.

During the DNC last week, the median was freed from illegal parking, which imposed no negative impact to surrounding blocks and demonstrated in a very real and discernable way that illegal median parking provides little actual benefit.

Also on the subject of need, some say the median offers “overflow” parking supply, an argument that assumes the median fills up as a last resort when nearby parking isn’t available. But that assumption is false as well. The median is a guaranteed free, long-term, no-ticket, no-tow parking zone. By contrast, most blocks closest to South Broad are metered parking or permit parking zones where visitors and residents must pay or risk being ticketed. Given these two options, of course the median will be full, but not as a last resort. The parking incentives make it a first resort, which is why you’ll often see a full median yet spaces available around the corner. It’s premium parking, not overflow.

Furthermore, while many believe this illegal parking solely serves residents of South Philly, a cursory glance of rush-hour parking shows that it functions as free parking for out-of-town commuters. Rather than pay for a parking lot in Center City, many out-of-town residents park in the median and take a quick subway ride to their offices. Next time you walk or drive down South Broad, see how many New Jersey plates you can count in the median.

Finally, look at “tradition” as the reason for the illegal median parking to remain. Often the argument boils down to “new vs. old” — parking has always been this way, and it’s a “unique quirk” and an unbroken tradition dating back generations that newcomers can’t have a say in. However, news articles show that the 3rd Police District did indeed enforce the law in the 1990s by removing cars parked in the median. Nearly 20 years ago, four-term 2nd District Councilmember and long-time South Philadelphia resident Frank DiCicco fully endorsed Capt. Michael Cooney’s enforcement, saying, “When you park in the middle of Broad and you step out of your car, you’re literally stepping out into traffic. And some people go very fast down Broad.” Then-Councilman DiCicco knew the risks associated with this illegal and dangerous practice, just as we know today what is needed to make Broad Street safe. We must act now to enforce the law before we put more residents at undue risk of injury and death.

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