The muddle in the middle

The stretch between Federal and Ellsworth streets on Broad Street has long proven popular to median parkers.

Could South Philly’s tradition of parking in the middle of Broad Street be coming to an end?

With fresh memories from last month’s Democratic National Convention, during which the City suspended the cherished practice, a local political action group — citing threats to safety, particularly for pedestrians — is petitioning for a permanant ban on median parking.

“Mayor [Jim] Kenney committed to a ‘Vision Zero’ policy for street safety during his 2015 campaign, and South Broad is one of the most dangerous places for pedestrians in the entire city,” the 5th Square PAC charges. “Median parking plays an important part in that, and the DNC provides the perfect opportunity to fix it.”

As of press time, the group had received 1,167 supportive signatures for its petition. Contending that “the Band-Aid has already been ripped off” through the July convention and that “few people seem upset about it,” the appeal’s originators say elected officials need not fear any “political backlash” in making the ban permanent.

Mayor Kenney, however, while campaigning last year, declared “I’m not going to be about changing that. That’s not on my agenda.” He told the Philadelphia Inquirer this week, “It’s not something I’m championing one way or the other.” Traffic experts, nonetheless, note that median parking is a safety hazard. A Plan Philly study of the city’s worst intersections for pedestrians includes several locations along Broad, including Snyder and Washington avenues and Ritner Street. 5th Square is pushing for raised medians as a concrete means to prevent parking.

The urbanist PAC, whose Facebook page notes members’ enthusiasm for securing “better public space, land use, and transportation for the people,” has certainly taken on the elephant on the street. The right to grab a median spot while running a quick chore is a longstanding, if unwritten, rule in South Philly.

“I would definitely be against a ban,” local resident Stephen Pagano said of the reported measure to minimize the possibility of accidents and deaths along the 16-block stretch from Oregon Avenue to Washington Avenue. “I’m not in favor of something like turning lanes on 16th and Oregon, if we’re going to talk about something dangerous, but with regards to this, what is the alternative? If you don’t live in South Philly, you don’t know what the struggle is.”

Pagano said he relies on using median parking at least once a week. Likewise, colleagues from Methodist Hospital, along with patients, also frequently refrain from letting their vehicles become chummy with curbs.

Their combined contention that the custom must continue, however, will never win favor from George Gonzalez.

“It is such a damn eyesore,” said Gonzalez of the 1700 block of South 17th Street. “I don’t live far from Broad Street, so I hear the pros and cons all the time. It just seems to me that people have grown too entitled and have placed their selfishness above common sense.”

Gonzalez, who is a lifelong Point Breeze resident, signed the petition on Saturday, agreeing with its concluding sentence, “If a safer South Broad is good enough for the DNC delegates, shouldn’t it be good enough for the average Philadelphian?” He also loved the website’s call to “beautify and further improve safety on the South Broad median with planters, greenery, and more generous pedestrian space…”

“I doubt much, if anything, will change because it’s a way of life to so many,” he said. “That doesn’t make it right, though.”

The South Philly Review took to South Broad Street on Monday to ask locals their thoughts on the matter (see Word on the Street on page 4), with all of the responders seeming set in their ways.

“I read that this whole thing affects maybe 200 spaces,” a man who requested anonymity stated. “With all that is troubling this city, median parking is what is on their minds? Give me a break. Go after a larger cause.”

“I disagree with that,” a woman who requested not to be identified said. “I’ve been following this whole matter carefully and though I’ve used median parking, I’m not proud to say that, and I don’t think it should continue.”

If a ban were enacted, opponents say, where would drivers park their cars? Patricia Mitchell argued, for example, that South Broad Street parkers are boosting the local economy by frequenting local businesses.

“Are they going to build parking lots in South Philly?” Mitchell, of the 400 block of Christian Street, wondered with a laugh. “Some people have multiple cars, and I just feel any sort of ban would be a punishment.”

The DNC-motivated abeyance obviously did not stand as the first time that motorists have needed to find parking alternatives, as any reveler at The Mummers Parade or supporter of a Broad Street Run participant knows. Mitchell said such alterations are easy to tolerate because they are temporary.

“My parents told me that [Mayor Richardson] Dilworth tried to do this the year before I was born,” she said of the politician’s failed 1961 attempt to end the median parking practice. “More than five decades later, Mr. Kenney, if he gives this any attention, will likely be unsuccessful, too.

“The Philadelphia Parking Authority has the freedom to issue citations for this,” Mitchell added of its website’s mention of $31 tickets for “Parked Improper — Two Way Highway” incidents. “Why doesn’t it, though? We have enough troubles. Let us park on the median.”

Contact Editor Joseph Myers at or ext. 124.

Quick departures and hindered views have become staples of median parking.

Photos by Tina Garceau