Every week, Bob Quinn drives to Ninth and Pine Streets to take his life partner, Jim O’Leary, to physical therapy for Parkinson’s disease. They always leave the house early, so Quinn can cruise around the block until one of the parking spaces reserved for people with disabilities opens up across the street from the hospital center.
They’ve been doing this routine for about eight years, going from their home on Christopher Columbus Boulevard to the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at the University of Pennsylvania. But a couple of months ago, they noticed one of their usual parking spots wasn’t there.
Then Quinn, 70, found that a few other spots in Center City where they were used to parking also seemed to be gone. He wrote to Curious Philly, where Inquirer readers pose questions and our reporters hunt down the answers: “Why are handicapped parking spaces disappearing around Center City?”
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We took the query to the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which had the answer. The authority said it is replacing parking kiosks throughout Center City, and during that process has moved accessible spaces so they are the closest to a block’s sidewalk ramps.
“That way, if you are disabled, when you get out of your vehicle, you’ll have easy access to get to that ramp, and [it’s] less likely someone’s going to block you,” said Corinne O’Connor, PPA deputy director.
The PPA has also relocated disabled parking spaces on blocks where it is testing a pilot program for loading and unloading regulations.
The process will not decrease the total number of accessible parking spots in paid parking areas, the PPA said. (Residential parking spaces for people with disabilities are not affected by any of these changes.)
In total, 52 disabled parking spots on metered blocks citywide have been moved within their blocks, and 24 spots have been removed on blocks that don’t have paid parking due to construction, new bike lanes, or needs such as an ambulance zone. Half of those spots will be available again after construction ends. The PPA has also added 33 disabled spots since June.
The changes began in May, according to Parking Authority records. The areas affected are all in central Philadelphia, on streets including Chestnut, Walnut, Spring Garden, and the Ben Franklin Parkway.
The Parking Authority couldn’t specify how many such spots there are except to say there is one for each metered block in the central area. A 2002 Inquirer story reported that the city had set aside about 1,000 parking spaces for disabled motorists, one for every metered city block.
The 50 kiosks being placed on Center City streets from Fourth to 20th and Race to Locust are part of a test phase, O’Connor said. Next, the PPA will begin installing them in University City, she said, and it will take about nine more months to replace the kiosks in the rest of Philadelphia. When unveiling the plan in October, the PPA had originally estimated that the kiosks would be fully installed by June.
The new black kiosks are upgrades to the old green ones, which PPA Executive Director Scott Petri said had reached the end of their useful life. There will be one kiosk per block, located as close as possible to the middle of the block.
The kiosks will eliminate the need to put a slip of paper on your dashboard after paying — instead, drivers have to punch in their license plate number. They will also feature a color touch screen and multiple languages.
In Quinn’s case, the parking spot nearest to the Parkinson’s center is now closer to the corner of Spruce Street — which he called a walk “for someone who is handicapped with a walking problem.”
Last week, the PPA said it was tentatively planning to add an additional accessible space to the block.
Petri said the authority had not received complaints or concerns from drivers about such parking spots.
“We’re always receptive to the needs of individuals who need assistance and utilize public services,” Petri said, “so if people have issues, they should bring them to our attention.”