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Parking zones a thorn for businesses

WHEN Franco Borda signed the permit-parking petition, he was trying to be nice to neighbors around his store, FrancoLuigi’s, at 13th and Tasker. He didn’t realize that he’d be hammering his employees. This is not a long story, but a sad one, and yet it contains the kernel of a commonsense solution if anyone is willing to listen. In Philadelphia, common sense often seems to have passed its sell-by date.

WHEN Franco Borda signed the permit-parking petition, he was trying to be nice to neighbors around his store, FrancoLuigi's, at 13th and Tasker. He didn't realize that he'd be hammering his employees.

This is not a long story, but a sad one, and yet it contains the kernel of a commonsense solution if anyone is willing to listen. In Philadelphia, common sense often seems to have passed its sell-by date.

Last month, the Philadelphia Parking Authority trooped around the South Philly neighborhood, posting signs prohibiting parking for more than two hours unless the car had a residential-parking permit. On some blocks the prohibition ends at 6:30 p.m., on other blocks, 10 p.m.

Why different rules for different blocks? Because the city has decided that the neighbors own the streets and get what they want.

Here's the process, as explained to me by PPA Deputy Executive Director Carl Ciglar: Neighbors circulate a petition — a minimum of 51 percent must sign — to get permit parking. Their City Council member signs off on it, and PPA enforces it.

In the past 10 years, the number of permit-parking blocks has almost doubled, from 600 to 1,150. With residents catching the "Not On My Street You Don't" fever, public streets are morphing into private preserves. When one block gets the permit, nonresident parkers move to the next block, and then those neighbors demand it, too.

It didn't take Borda long to realize that signing the petition was a mistake.

We're sitting in the High Note Cafe, next door to FrancoLuigi's, a great pizzeria that has occupied the corner for 28 years and employs 20 people. Borda is eating a healthy salad but having trouble keeping it down.

Permit parking creates a hardship for his employees, such as Nick Apadula, the GM who lives in Girard Estate, 1 1/2 miles away.

Once at work, "I have to move my car every two hours," he says, or eat a $31 ticket, which he says happens three or four times a month. "I'm here 14 hours a day. How can I not get a ticket?"

But wait — it gets worse.

"You have to move the car out of the zone, not just change spots," says Borda. Depending on where you are, the next zone might be several long blocks away.

"This is organized crime at its best," he grouses.

Suffering at 13th and Wolf streets is hairstylist John McIlwain, who rents out two apartments above his John Paul of Philadelphia shop and says that the permit parking "has been a thorn in my side for years." He lives in Jersey, drives to work every day and then has to hunt for a spot.

"Many times we are late for work, we have to ride around for 10 or 15 minutes to find parking," McIlwain says. "Employees might have to walk four blocks to work from the nearest nonpermit zone." Worse, an occasional customer has had to rush out with a wet head to move her car.

"I pay real-estate tax, renters tax; I pay city-wage [tax]. I feel I should be entitled to buy a parking permit," says McIlwain.

Michael Giordano agrees. He owns Century 21 Forrester Real Estate, on Passyunk Avenue near Snyder, and says that one agent quit because of the aggravation. Others just suffer, not so silently.

It seems as if these businesses are being punished, treated like aliens for the sin of creating jobs in the neighborhood and bringing in revenue.

Borda believes that because of booming business on East Passyunk, the city is getting ready to extend some parking prohibitions until midnight, like in some sections of Center City. "If that happens, we might as well close up, turn this into four apartments and move to Chalfont," where he lives.

What to do? Borda has a common-sense solution.

"Punish us!" shouts Borda. "Charge businesses $100 for a commercial-parking permit." Residents pay only $35 the first year and $20 thereafter.

Councilman Mark Squilla is aware of the problem and has brought the idea of commercial-parking permits to the PPA, but "they said it was too hard to do at this time."

Impossible, actually, PPA Deputy Executive Director Rick Dickson told me, because the Philadelphia code states that permits can go only to residents.

Squilla suggested a pilot program —"I wouldn't mind doing it in my district" — to test commercial-parking permits, but Council must first change the code.

Squilla has shown leadership and proposes a common-sense solution. How about Council joining him and help out tax-paying, job-creating, suffering businesses? 

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