A Modest South Philly Parking Proposal

(August 2016)

I have a modest proposal that should put a swift end to the threat to the natural right enjoyed by Philadelphians to park cars in the median of South Broad Street.  Some people whine that cars are ticketed for parking illegally elsewhere in the city, that cars in the center of the city’s central boulevard are unsightly, or that median parking itself is unsafe.  I say we should institute universal park-wherever-you-want throughout Philadelphia.  Then, every neighborhood will enjoy the same freedoms, cars will be everywhere to spoil views equally, and the sheer number of parked cars will slow vehicles to ensure the safety of those who dodge traffic to reach their cars next to even the busiest passing lane.  Giving the Parking Authority free reign to meter these new spots could even generate revenues for our cash-strapped public schools. 

The forces trying to move Philadelphia forward believe that the arc of the world-class city is long, but it bends towards rational systems of rules.  But, today, I stand with the city's silent majority in declaring, "parking in the South Broad Street median now, parking in the South Broad Street tomorrow, parking in the South Broad Street forever."

Parking Wars

When politicos and pundits enjoyed the Philadelphia we show off for the tourists during the Democratic National Convention, a bit of our municipal housekeeping for our guests exposed a deep rift in our civic foundation.  While our Democratic visitors were in town, we cleared the South Broad Street median of the cars that routinely, if illegally, misappropriate that public space.  For the week of the political convention, South Broad Street was cleaner and safer than it has been in decades, but once the Dems left town, we went back to looking the other way as drivers resumed this unsafe, unsightly, and unlawful practice.

Philadelphia cleaned up for company while the DNC was in town, but now that our visitors are gone, we can ask ourselves a fundamental question as a city:  "Are we a world-class metropolis, capable of competing with any city on the globe for residents, employers, and visitors?  Or, are we a backwater town, content to embrace our peculiar local institutions and let the little fix stand in the way of making big progress?"

This is not hyperbole.  The fact that law-enforcement professionals, elected leaders, and civic officials wink and nod when drivers break the law shows that Philadelphia is a city that places realpolitiks before reason and simplicity before safety.  In a city where the rules are, "there are no rules for some," everybody will look for a way to get over on everyone else.  If THEY can do THAT, THERE, then WE will do THIS HERE.  Ends justify means.  "Corrupt and contented" will endure as a metaphor longer than "pelting Santa with snowballs."

Parking Authority

We have two real choices as a city.  We can end this practice and remove the eyesore of illegally parked cars endangering the public welfare on the city's most celebrated thoroughfare.  (And then move on to end each of the other convenient-but-corrupt little fixes that show Philadelphia to be a backwards burb and not a modern metropolis.)  Or, we can give up trying to be something we just can't be.  

If so, then put in parking meters to monetize Broad-Street-median parking and at least put the lipstick of revenue for our schools on this pig of a public-policy capitulation.  Then, why stop there?  Just put a meter on every median, traffic island, fire hydrant, and crosswalk to allow more parking and generate additional revenues everywhere in the city.  At least this way, we will have established what we are as a city, haggled over the price and accepted the reality that our little fixes stop us from achieving big-city success.