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Legalize median parking on South Broad | Opinion

Our neighborhoods suffer from a dearth of parking. We use the median because there are no viable alternatives.

Pedestrians cross the street while cars are parked in the median of South Broad Street between Shunk and Porter Streets.
Pedestrians cross the street while cars are parked in the median of South Broad Street between Shunk and Porter Streets.Read moreAARON RICKETTS / Staff Photographer

South Philadelphia is a place of deep-seated traditions built over generations. Parking in the median of Broad Street is one of those unique customs — one born out of necessity. The lawsuit filed by the political action committee 5th Square threatens to end this decades-old practice, hurting residents by depleting an already scarce resource.

Outsiders and newcomers are often confounded by median parking, but to South Philadelphians these spaces are just like any other. On any given day, a space may be used by a variety of hard-working people: a father dropping his children off at school before heading to work in the suburbs, a niece taking her uncle to an appointment at one of the 45-plus medical practices along this corridor, a grieving friend returning to the neighborhood to say one last goodbye at a wake, or a mother coming home after a long day to spend time with her kids. These people, and the many small businesses along South Broad Street that serve them, are the ones who would be unfairly impacted if this lawsuit is successful.

Many South Philadelphians are reliant on their vehicles, especially for their daily commute. According to the City Planning Commission, 51 percent of employed South District residents travel to work by car. Yet, our neighborhoods suffer from a dearth of parking, since the majority of residences lack designated off-street spaces. We therefore face the nightly routine of circling block after block, sometimes for 30 minutes or more, searching for any available space. I would be hard pressed to find a South Philadelphian who parks in the median expressly to shirk parking fees and permits. We park in the median because there are no viable alternatives.

What we view as a necessary practice, 5th Square views as a public safety hazard, contending that median parkers are required to "dart between moving cars to get to the sidewalk." The reality is that drivers can comfortably walk from their space to the crosswalk without ever stepping into the lanes of traffic, and many do. Others choose to jaywalk because it is the path of least resistance, but this is not unique to the median or even to South Philadelphia. Banning median parking will not stop jaywalking.

5th Square has implied that median parking is responsible for eight pedestrian deaths on South Broad Street between 2008 and 2016, but half of these fatalities happened outside of the stretch where cars are parked in the median. Furthermore, there is no evidence that these incidents were directly caused by median parking. As a proud graduate of the Philadelphia School District, I know that correlation does not equal causation. It is simply incorrect to link median parking to a higher incidence of pedestrian death just because these phenomena exist concurrently.

Widening the lens to include North Broad Street further underscores this logical fallacy. From 2008 to 2016, the number of pedestrian fatalities on the half-mile stretch of North Broad Street between Allegheny and Erie Avenues was double that of the 1.5-mile section where median parking occurs in South Philadelphia. Clearly, a deeper and broader analysis of accidents involving pedestrians is required to draw any definitive conclusions.

My point is this: We are not married to the tradition of median parking, but we are dependent upon the approximately 200 spaces it provides. Removing these spaces without replacing them will impose a greater strain on the already dire parking reality for those who live here. 5th Square does not propose a reasonable solution. Instead, it recommends the implementation of demand-based pricing for meters and permits — a policy that would raise costs across the board, disproportionately impacting the working class by pricing them out of vehicle ownership and, as a result, job opportunities.

As a lifelong resident of South Philadelphia, I do not want the future of my neighborhood to be decided by people who don't understand the challenges we face each day. I propose that South Philadelphians, old and new, work together to find practical solutions to the chronic parking problem. For now, I must defend median parking so that we can use the spaces available to us.

I advocate for the legalization of median parking — not for the sake of tradition, but for the people and factors that necessitate its continued existence. I have co-authored a proposal to advance this legislation and I encourage you to voice your support by signing the petition and contacting your local councilman.

Joe LiTrenta is a native of South Philadelphia and the host of the YouTube series Philadelphia Block by @JoeLiTrenta