A few months ago, we launched City Howl, a Web site that allows citizens to post their raves or rants about city services. Every week, we'll be publishing highlights of our investigations into some of these problems.
The Problem: Susan Fahy feels like a prisoner in her own home. The Port Richmond resident has to think twice about going out at night because she knows what the return trip will involve: driving around for 20 minutes and parking four or five blocks away from her Thompson Street home. She isn't wild about walking home alone at 9 or 10 p.m., either.
Fahy, a commercial real-estate property manager, explained that some of her neighbors own four or five cars, which makes it almost impossible for her to find a parking spot on her block unless she comes home immediately after work. It doesn't help that several commercial vehicles, including two unmarked vans and a Comcast truck, are parked on the block at night.
"It's so crazy that I was looking into moving," said Fahy, whose block has parking on both sides of the street.
Her proposal? Have city residents pay higher real-estate taxes if they own more than one car. Fahy, who only owns one car, is even willing to pay more in taxes herself.
A possible solution: We love Fahy's real-estate tax proposal - and it's consistent with a "greener" city - (Mayor Nutter, can you hear us?) - but it won't help her in the short term.
Here's what she could do, though: Round up 70 percent of the residents on her block to sign a petition for residential permit parking and submit the petition to the Philadelphia Parking Authority.
According to the PPA's Web site, residential permit parking exempts residents from meter and time limit restrictions on posted blocks, but imposes the restrictions on visitors. This makes it easier for permit holders to find parking spaces near their homes.
While parking restrictions vary from block to block, a typical block might have two-hour parking from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. except for Saturdays and Sundays, said Deara Person, deputy manager of planning and analysis for the PPA. With permit parking, a resident could leave a car parked in a two-hour zone for days at a time.
Philly currently has 32 permit-parking districts, said Person, which cover areas all over the city, including near the airport and stadiums and as far west as City Line.
If 70 percent of a block's residents sign a petition (one signature per household), the PPA puts together a trial ordinance, which requires City Council approval. The entire process can take a few months, said Person, and then an eight-month trial period begins before becoming permanent.
Residents purchase permits annually ($35 a vehicle in year one, annual renewal at $20). Vehicles must have Pennsylvania license plates and be registered to a home address within the permit-parking zone.
Would permit parking actually help? Fahy's not sure she could get 70 percent of her block to sign a permit parking petition. But even if she could, there's no limit to how many vehicle permits an individual can buy, so some of her neighbors could decide to purchase four or five permits each, as long as all of the cars are registered to their homes.
Rick Dickson, senior director of strategic planning at the PPA, said that in the past five years, about 200 new blocks have become permit parking zones.
"There are visible changes when one block gets it," said Dickson about permit parking. "People who don't live there are limited, and there are more open spaces on blocks that have it."
But it's not the answer to every parking problem, he said. It may be that too many cars reside on Fahy's block for the amount of curbside available, and that even permit parking wouldn't make much of a difference.
Then again, it might. Even though the annual fee for a permit isn't prohibitive, said Dickson, it could be just enough to make people ask themselves if they really need all those cars.
The upshot: Fahy's going to try to get permit parking on her street.
"I'm going to proceed with it. I pulled the petition from the Web site, and I figured it doesn't hurt. I was talking to my neighbors, who thought it was a great idea."
She hopes to enlist a neighbor's help with soliciting signatures.
"I don't want to make any enemies, but it is so frustrating. It's a good neighborhood, but a lot of people talk about leaving because of it."
Have a problem getting services from a city department, or an idea for a more effective way to get things done?
Let us know about it at www.thecityhowl.com or write:
City Howl, c/o the Daily News,
400 N. Broad St.
Philadelphia, PA 19130