A plan to help tame Philadelphia’s snarled streets doesn’t look likely to happen soon.
A new public safety enforcement officer program is budgeted in the coming fiscal year, but the city is “considering delaying" hiring until the 2022 fiscal year, Managing Director Brian Abernathy said in a statement Friday.
Mayor Jim Kenney’s first budget proposal of his second term added $1.9 million to the Police Department budget for the new officers, to aid in minimizing the city’s traffic woes. Private cars and ride-shares, delivery trucks, buses, and a growing population are all competing for space on Philadelphia’s crowded streets, prompting headaches throughout Center City.
The coronavirus has forced revisions to Kenney’s $5.2 billion spending plan proposed in March, with tax hikes and layoffs eyed as solutions to close an estimated $649 million budget gap.
Last month, Kenney highlighted the huge financial cost of the pandemic. His revised budget, detailed Thursday and now in the hands of City Council, also closes swimming pools, cuts street sweeping expansion, and changes the community college scholarship program.
The unarmed “boots-on-the-ground” officers in the traffic plan would patrol designated zones in Center City and enforce such violations as illegal double parking and blocking bike lanes and crosswalks, according to the proposed guidelines from the Managing Director’s Office.
The crew of 20 enforcement officers — 10 on each of two shifts — would not have arrest powers but would be able to issue citations. The program also is expected to staff a sworn lieutenant, office clerk, four radio dispatchers, and two supervisors.
Last year, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that asked whether the City Charter should be amended to create a class of officers to help regulate traffic flow and address other “quality of life” concerns. The idea has drawn criticism from the police union.
What transportation will look like once stay-at-home restrictions are lifted remains to be seen, but a bump in congestion could come if more people choose to drive as opposed to using transit.
The city recently confirmed that it would make changes to parking and loading regulations along Chestnut Street permanent after success from a six-month pilot aimed at reducing congestion and improving SEPTA service.
Christopher Puchalsky, director of policy and strategic initiatives at the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability, said last week that the changes in the pilot program had “a positive effect.”
“It didn’t solve all the problems,” he said, “but it definitely moved it in the right direction.”