A FEW WEEKS ago, some friends of Help Desk pointed out that the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, that beautiful boulevard that's supposed to be Philly's version of Paris' Champs-Elysees, has a little side gig. It moonlights as a municipal parking lot.
Sure, it has sculptures, LOVE Park and the Swann Fountain, which often spouts colorful water. But when we ventured to the Parkway near 16th Street, all we could focus on were the two rows of city cars, stretching out as far as the eye could see, parked in the middle of the street.
Yeah, we'll say it: It looked like South Broad Street.
Except, this is a private party - as far as we know, no civilians park there. The cars usually belong to city employees visiting the Municipal Services Building, City Hall or the Parkway building.
Not exactly what you want to see on our most beloved (and best-funded) boulevard. It just doesn't make sense, said former Managing Director Phil Goldsmith (who sometimes writes for the "It's Our Money" project). "Why are we putting so much money into the Parkway and then allowing it to be a parking lot?"
Over the past few years, the city and the state have each contributed more than $7 million to a nearly $21 million Parkway revitalization project that's ongoing
During his tenure, Goldsmith was passionate about keeping the boulevard free of city vehicles. He said that he called the police when he saw cars parked on the median. "It sort of became a fetish of mine," he said.
PARKWAY, INDEED: First things first: It's not legal to park in the middle of the street, no matter how big the street is. That includes South Broad Street, even though the police, who are responsible for that median, tend to allow it there.
Police spokesman Lt. Ray Evers said that it's up to the discretion of the officer, but that in South Philly, parking in the median is a "cultural thing."
"If you live down there, you know what's accepted and what's not," he said. "That's life."
Is it the same on the Parkway? We called David Wilson, first deputy managing director of administration, who deals with city-vehicle parking, to see if any former managing directors had written official policies on the issue. He told us that he hadn't found any, but, crucially, the practice is still not allowed.
OK, so it's not allowed. But it's still happening. Why? When we asked who enforces the no-parking-on-the-Parkway rule, Wilson said that it was the Parking Authority's jurisdiction. But he hadn't heard of the Parking Authority ticketing any cars illegally parked on the median.
When we called the Parking Authority to ask why these city cars get a free pass, spokeswoman Linda Miller sent us back to the Managing Director's Office without further comment. This time, Wilson agreed that it's up to the Managing Director's Office to ensure that city cars don't park on the median. "It's frowned upon," Wilson said, but admitted that the administration could do a better job of enforcing the parking rules.
A few weeks ago, Wilson said, he notified Fleet Management, the department that manages city vehicles, that parking on the Parkway median was prohibited. He also sent a memo to departments to remind them of the rules.
When we checked the Parkway yesterday, it didn't look like much had changed. Asked what he'd do if city employees continued to park there, Wilson said he'd keep contacting the departments and stressing that it wasn't allowed. He'd also try to find a different place for the cars to park, he said.
Obviously, the Managing Director's Office has a lot on its plate. But we can't help but think that if the administration really didn't want city cars parking on the median, there wouldn't be a city car in sight.