John Q. Citizen (I am withholding his real name because he fears reprisal) walks by the Police Administration Building to and from his job.
Almost every day, he sees cars owned by police officers and civilian employees parked illegally on Seventh Street between Arch and Race, with most of the offending cars between Race and Appletree Street, which borders the Roundhouse parking lot.
“I have walked this way probably every day for the last five years. It’s not every day,” says Mr. Citizen, “but I’d say four days a week there’s a car parked at hydrants.” Blocking a fire hydrant is a $76 fine — if a ticket is written.
He says the cars are never ticketed, and wants to know how they can get away with that. Is it blue privilege?
Mr. Citizen asks a fair question. But before checking with the cops, I walk Seventh Street a few times myself to see if cars are routinely illegally parked and if they are not ticketed. I stroll over there three times over two weeks at different times of the day, I find cars illegally parked — at hydrants and elsewhere — each time, and I never see any ticketed.
One thing these cars have in common is a parking permit displayed on the dashboard. The placards are for parking inside the parking lot. Free parking is a nice perk.
Can you tell me what’s going on, I ask police spokesman Capt. Sekou Kinebrew.
“Those permits are for the lot, yes,” he tells me, adding: “We do have a crowding issue.”
Too many cars, too few parking spaces. A lot of Philadelphians face that problem. Permits are distributed based on several factors, including rank, unit of assignment, and tenure, Kinebrew says.
The permits have the name of the employee. In addition to the parking permits issued to police staffers, on one occasion I see a press parking permit issued to a journalist. That permit does not authorize parking in no-parking zones.
I notice that some of the permits are out of date. Kinebrew figures they belong to “people who work here but never renewed.” Permits are “not for use in areas otherwise illegal,” he acknowledges.
Nevertheless, on the east side of Seventh, cars are parked in a right-hand turn lane under a red and white sign clearly stating, “No Stopping Any Time.”
Cars are parked under an identical sign attached to a pole on the west side of the street, but there’s a wrinkle. Right under the “No Stopping” sign someone has placed, on a 3-foot pole on a round base, a sign that reads “Police Vehicle Parking Only.”
No departmental name appears on the sign. Who put those signs up?
Not PPD, says Kinebrew, adding that he doesn’t know “who or what agency placed the signs there.”
Philadelphia Parking Authority spokesman Marty O'Rourke says it doesn't matter who put the signs up, "they are not legal signs put there by the city."
Guess what? Since my initial inquiry, O'Rourke says PPA has been ticketing illegally parked cars on Seventh. Prior to that, he admits, "there was less stringent enforcement, as a courtesy."
What had been blue privilege on Seventh Street has been revoked. If there's no room for them in the cop lot, they'll have to pay for parking, just like you, me, John Q. Citizen, and everyone else.