You don’t have to be a stickler for the rules to be bothered by illegal parking. It’s dangerous for pedestrians, a hazard to bikers, another obstacle for buses… and a frustrating problem for residents and city planners to address.
Now, a South Philly photographer is taking an illegal-parking shame campaign to social media. Julia Rowe, who lives near Sixth and Morris, recently launched Twitter and Instagram accounts dedicated to documenting outlaw park jobs in the city. She posted her first Instagram picture three days ago, and sent her first Tweet on Thursday. She’s also taking submissions at email@example.com.
Everywhere you look, especially in South Philly and parts of Fishtown, somebody has left a vacant hunk of metal and rubber on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk, with no indication of when it will be removed. For one thing, this is very dangerous. When cars block the footway, pedestrians, stroller-pushers, and people in wheelchairs are forced to navigate around them, which often puts them on even more dangerous terrain in the street, where drivers tend to reign free. Parking in the crosswalk—blocking the box—also cuts down on visibility for other drivers, making for more dangerous turns.
It’s also super annoying. Leaving your car in a crosswalk, especially, is sort of akin to standing on a street corner and handing a note that says “fuck you” to everyone who passes by.
Also: It’s illegal.
“I’ve been taking photos of illegally-parked cars for a very long time,” Rowe said over the phone on Friday. “Had I known it was such a hot issue, I probably would have done this a lot sooner.”
Rowe said she used to work in disability services in Virginia, and so she’s trained to spot aspects of the built environment that don’t work for people with disabilities. The law requires every sidewalk to have a curb cut for wheelchair accessibility, but without parking enforcement, the law doesn’t work.
Rowe doesn’t drive—she describes herself as an “avid pedestrian”—but says she has had to park in South Philly before and knows it can be tricky. Marty O’Rourke, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Parking Authority, said that PPA only patrols areas where there is residential permit parking and so doesn’t regularly come across many violations in areas that don’t require permits. If you see a violation, he said, you should call the PPA at 215-683-9775.
“There’s no policy for light enforcement,” O’Rourke said. “If a block isn’t regulated, [officers] wouldn’t normally be on the street enforcing.”
Still, there’s a widespread sense—confirmed by routine observations all over South Philly—that the PPA isn’t very vigilant about these types of parking violations. Over the summer, when the Democratic National Convention was in town, PPA temporarily began enforcing a parking ban in the South Broad Street median, which was denounced by some and encouraged by others. The Philadelphia Police Department can enforce parking violations as well, but it isn’t their first priority.
The “Not A Spot” campaign carries on the proud tradition of other web-shaming campaigns targeting behaviors that are illegal but under-enforced, like littering. One of the best of these to come out of Philly in recent years was called “That’s not a trashcan, now it is.” Literally nothing but pictures of waste items discarded in non-receptacles, like newspaper honor boxes, bicycle baskets, and shrubs. (See also: Boxes of Blight and Awareness Cone.) It also carries on the less proud but ultimately inevitable Philly tradition of being hyperfocused on parking, parking availability, and parking etiquette.
What’s the endgame? Rowe, who is also working on a project in which she’s trying to photograph every street in Philadelphia, said she doesn’t have the overall solution the city should pursue to resolve neighborhood parking problems. But she said it has to start with enforcing the laws we already have.