Philadelphia officials promise crackdown on Center City traffic scofflaws

Added enforcement of traffic laws will focus on Market and Chestnut streets.

(Emma Lee/WHYY)

(Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia officials Thursday announced a concentrated crackdown on traffic scofflaws to address Center City’s growing traffic congestion problems.

Speaking alongside officials from the Philadelphia Police Department, the Philadelphia Parking Authority, SEPTA, and City Council President Darrell Clarke, Mayor Jim Kenney described the focus of this traffic law enforcement initiative.

Philadelphia Parking Authority Director Scott Petri joins city and SEPTA Philadelphia officials to announce a new effort to address Center City congestion by stepping up enforcement of traffic laws starting Monday along Market and Chestnut streets. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“It’s great to be working with everyone today to enhance enforcement of bus, bike, and right-turn-only lanes on Market and Chestnut streets,“ he said. “We have all seen it: Backups happen when people double-park — the dreaded double-park — stop in a bus lane, and make other illegal movements. Heavy traffic backs up buses, stalls delivery trucks, and forces cyclists to weave in and out of lanes or to jump up on the sidewalk.”

PPA Executive Director Scott Petri and police Chief Inspector Melvin Singleton said their agencies will adopt a no-tolerance approach to double-parking, blocking bike lanes, illegal U-turns, blocking-the-box, and other traffic violations along Chestnut Street between 22nd and 10th streets and down Market between 13th and Seventh streets.

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Neither Singleton nor Petri would say how many more officers — if any — they would deploy during the increased enforcement push, which Deputy Managing Director Brian Abernathy said would continue through Thanksgiving.

According to Petri, PPA officers have issued 3,300 bus zone enforcement tickets on Market and Chestnut streets in the past two years. Petri also said the parking authority issued 298,000 tickets for safety violations in Center City in the past year alone — making up 40 percent of the agency’s tickets in the area.

Traffic snarls hamper SEPTA service

One of the primary focuses of the city’s traffic crackdown will be to unclog some of the blockages that have slowed down SEPTA’s buses in recent years. SEPTA buses have seen average bus speeds decline 1 percent the last few years – a seemingly tiny change that multiplied over hundreds of buses each covering routes dozens of miles long adds up to significant delays. Bus ridership has fallen 17 percent in five years, with SEPTA officials citing slower trips as one of the primary reasons.

Increased congestion is one of Center City’s growing pains – the city has grown by more than 100,000 residents in the past decade, with most of the expansion focused in the downtown core and surrounding areas, which have also added 50,000 jobs. In February, the Center City District issued a report arguing that the increased congestion threatened to choke off the city’s ongoing development.

Earlier Thursday, Clarke introduced a bill to create a new class of traffic enforcement officers – unarmed officials who’d have the ability to issue tickets but not make arrests. Clarke first floated the proposal last year, noting that other cities have used similar enforcers to regulate traffic for less than the cost of a fully vested police officer. The Fraternal Order of Police opposes the idea.

Clarke’s proposal would require an amendment to the City Charter, meaning it would end up on the May ballot as a voter referendum should City Council and the mayor both approve it.

Thursday’s announcement was held before a battery of news cameras and microphones on the northeast corner of Broad and Chestnut streets. As the mayor and other officials spoke, an unmarked car driven by an uniformed police officer sat parked on the median of Broad Street behind them — a clear violation of Section 12-913 of the Philadelphia Code.

A reporter approached the car, but the officer behind the wheel declined to roll down his tinted windows. Instead, he turned the ignition, signaled to join traffic, then drove away.

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