I live on a small residential street near Chinatown, an odd court cornered by a main house that shares a garage. Recently after arriving home from a flea market with a large dresser tethered into the back of my busted Beetle, I pulled on the sidewalk to unload, in front of the garage addressed to my house, turned on my blinkers, and quickly ushered the piece behind the gate on my court.
I know how ruthless the PPA can be on my street. Most of them are polite though. I've lived here for five years and they know me and my car. They smile.
This wasn't one of those days. Within the >3 minutes I was out of sight, a meter maid had ticketed my car and vanished. Legally it's understandable. I was illegally parked. But my hazard lights, open trunk, and open gate indicated that I was clearly loading, on a street with no proper loading zone. Still, it was technically illegal.
But there are other parts of the city where cars park illegally, and the illegality is not so technical. It's unnerving to receive a ticket when I was clearly loading on a small residential street for less than five minutes, then drive down the city's most prominent boulevard to find cars, many not even registered with the Philadelphia Parking Authority or even the state, parked along the Broad Street median, or even atop the concrete median on Oregon Avenue, all without a ticket.
Apparently the problem with the illegally parked cars along Broad Street and Oregon Avenue isn't as simple as the PPA letting the cars slide. Like most nonsense in the city it comes down to various agencies claiming it's someone else job. The PPA is responsible for cars parked at corner, in front of stop signs, or overstaying their limit in loading zones. Parking atop a median isn't a parking violation, it's a traffic violation, which defaults to the responsibility of the Philadelphia Police Department.
Five years ago a South Philadelphia Division Police Inspector told the South Philadelphia Review that the Broad Street median parking tradition was "done." Five years later those cars remain. As it is today, cars are occasionally ticketed but only at the discretion, or availability, of a police officer with nothing better to do.
But the ultimate problem has nothing to do with the PPA's inability to ticket cars in the middle of the street or the Police Department's reluctance to do so. It's in the minds of those who reserve their parking spaces with lawn chairs as they drive a block to the 7-11, those who won't park in a space that can't be seen from their front window, and those whose relatives visit their 20 foot wide row house and somehow expect a space near the door.
It's the definition of unreasonable.
In the best of cases, these people think it's a headache to park a block away. In the worst, they'll tell you that saving spots with pieces of furniture is a "Philadelphia tradition." But not only is doing so an illegal tradition, it's unfair to the other forty people who live on the same block, fairly hunting for the same space.
Truly eliminating the illegal median parking along South Broad Street would likely exasperate the alleged woes of those who expect curbside parking, but it would also introduce them to the reality of having a car in one of America's densest cities. South Philadelphia and other neighborhoods where our unusual parking traditions abound pose equally unusual obstacles, which have likely led to the PPA and the Police Department - along with midcentury malaise - to overlook the violations.
South Philadelphia is one of the city's densest neighborhoods, but it's also one of our flattest. Unlike similar neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. or New York where occasional apartment buildings and parking garages offer street parking a bit of retrieve, South Philadelphia is almost exclusively single family row homes.
It's not a problem without a solution, but the solution is not one brought to us by architects and developers. It's a solution that involves an evolving mentality and abandoning unjust traditions. Forcing the hundreds of cars illegally parked along Broad Street and Oregon Avenue into their neighborhoods will force neighbors to accept the fact that parking a few blocks from their house isn't that bad.
But how do you force the city to finally address this antiquated ignorance? Next time you receive a parking ticket, suffer the indignity of traffic court with a photograph of South Broad Street's median lined with hundreds of unfined traffic violations. The PPA will likely tell you that ticketing those cars is not their job, but they might also drop or reduce your own fine. Once this happens more than a few times, the city's Police Department will find themselves pressured to finally resolve the issue.