Philly’s free holiday parking tradition ends. Here’s what residents, store owners are saying.
Along Passyunk Avenue in South Philly, which houses more than 160 independently owned businesses (and plenty of metered parking), some area residents and shop owners weren’t so sure about the change.
As with some other holiday traditions throughout the pandemic, yet another has gone by the wayside in Philadelphia: free Saturday parking around the holidays.
A winter staple for more than two decades, that promotion made metered parking in the city free after 11 a.m. on Saturdays from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. The idea was that free parking would help bring holiday shoppers into the city, and enable commercial areas to compete better with suburban malls where parking is plentiful.
That all ended when the city announced the change last week, saying in a statement the policy discouraged turnover and was counterproductive. Instead, an analysis from the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability (OTIS) showed that it “encouraged all-day on-street parking” and essentially made it harder for holiday shoppers to find a parking spot.
» READ MORE: Philadelphia ends free Saturday parking in December.
But along Passyunk Avenue in South Philly, which houses more than 160 independently owned businesses — and plenty of metered parking — some area residents and shop owners weren’t so sure about the change.
“I think the city should throw [people] a bone,” said Blaise Leuzzi, a resident of Bella Vista. “It would be nice. People should be able to enjoy the city with their family in town and not worry about the parking. It’s already hectic as it is.”
Jason Rusnock, owner of Good Buy Supply and a Passyunk-area resident, said that the change hasn’t been in effect long enough to know how it will impact foot traffic or parking issues around his shop, which, he added, was busy this past Small Business Saturday. But, Rusnock said, when the PPA eased up on parking enforcement in 2020 due to the pandemic, he didn’t have many parking issues — and the same has been true for Saturdays around the holiday.
“If they leave the holiday [parking], I don’t think there would be a problem,” Rusnock said. “It’s been going on so long, and I have never been upset by something it has caused. It hasn’t been an issue.”
Thomas Rybczyk, owner of DKC Design, said that shops like his, which designs custom kitchens and bathrooms, likely wouldn’t see an impact from the parking program’s cancellation, but small shops and restaurants — which rely more on turnover and walk-ins — could feel it a little more around the holidays. As far as congestion, though, he doesn’t see that changing with the program’s end.
“I don’t see a lot of people coming onto the Avenue for parking,” Rybczyk. “Parking is tough, regardless — meters or no meters.”
For some folks, though, rescinding free Saturday parking in December may be a blessing in disguise — especially for heavily foot-trafficked shopping areas like Passyunk. It may encourage more folks in the area to leave the car at home and walk or take public transportation to shop, which can cut down on vehicle traffic and make it safer for pedestrians, said Nina Braca, manager of Tildie’s Toy Box.
“The street is always busy on the weekends and especially on holidays,” Braca, who lives in South Philly’s Girard Park neighborhood, said. “The less cars the better — especially with people walking around with strollers.”
And the other upside of walking? It’s easier to take in the storefronts and holiday decorations, Braca said.
OTIS said similar parking programs have been discontinued in the past “without negative impacts.” In 2016, for example, free parking in Center City on Wednesday and First Friday evenings was canceled.
It’s possible that this latest change could help businesses around the holidays, as the best practice is to have “one or two open spots” per block, OTIS’s research and analysis found, so motorists don’t have to spend shopping time instead excessively “circling the block” looking for parking.
At least one holiday parking promotion has survived: the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s $8 flat-rate parking at several garages in Center City between 11 a.m. and midnight on Saturdays between Thanksgiving and the new year.
Back on Passyunk, Christopher Koyst, a criminal defense and land-use attorney in Delaware, had parking on his mind, too, but not the end of free holiday parking. His beef? Parking spaces eaten up by outdoor dining areas, or streeteries.
“One aspect of [COVID-19] that leaders haven’t thought through when accommodating restaurants is how many spots they take up without having to pay tax for their use. They are gaining valuable tax-free space,” said Koyst.
That’s also something whose time might be coming to an end, at least in certain areas of Philadelphia. The city’s pandemic-inspired approval for expanded outdoor dining is due to expire at the end of the year. Proposed legislation could grant permanent permission for restaurants’ outdoor dining structures but not necessarily everywhere.