Sidewalks next to Shissler Recreation Center in Fishtown before (left) and after (right) PPA began ticketing enforcement. (Left: Shannon Wink; Right: u/thecw)

A yearslong effort to curb sidewalk parking around Fishtown’s Shissler Recreation Center may have come to a close, after neighbors put to the test the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s new emphasis on quality of life concerns. 

As in many other neighborhoods, the area suffers from both a harsh ratio of cars-to-available parking space, and lax enforcement from the PPA. 

But today, the blocks framing Shissler Rec remain clear — to the clear delight of some residents — due to the authority’s shift in focus: After neighbors made a consistent fuss on social media and to local officials, PPA workers stop by the rec center on a daily basis to ticket vehicles in violation. 

The critical impact of increased violation enforcement is especially telling as neighborhood organizations already tried, for years, to take matters into their own hands. 

“I’ve been here about 15 years,” Shannon Wink, former lead of the neighborhood RCO’s public safety committee, told Billy Penn. Cars on Blair Street right outside of Shissler have “always been a thing.”

As long as it’s been a thing, Fishtown Neighbors Association has tried to address it. Beyond conversations with neighbors at community events and in passing, Wink recalls mentioning the site as an illegal parking hotspot to a police officer assigned to the district at community meetings. 

Getting law enforcement officers involved wasn’t a practical or ideal response for Wink: “I don’t think sidewalk parking needs to be a policing issue, or at the very least a 911 issue,” she said. 

Rich Lazer, the former Philadelphia deputy mayor for labor and newly-appointed PPA executive director, agrees with Wink on that front. Lazer has stressed quality of life issues and customer service in his first few months on the job, including reining in poor parking in residential areas, distinct from PPA’s typical watchful eye over meters downtown and in commercial corridors. 

“This is something that we’re looking at citywide, at other rec centers and public areas like this,” Lazer told Billy Penn. “To be able to try to work in some enforcement mechanism to try to combat this issue.”

It’s a parallel effort to the PPA’s aim to increasingly address the commercial dimensions of rampant sidewalk parking and the recent uptick in bike lane enforcement

Lazer’s admonition to residents dealing with similar issues around the city is simple: Contact the PPA, we’ll come.

After years of cajoling, the PPA paid attention to Fishtown

Volunteers with FNA spent years talking about sidewalk parking at Shissler, an effort that yielded some fairly predictable feedback.

Neighbors would explain to volunteers that construction in the bustling neighborhood made parking a nightmare. That doesn’t justify lining up cars that block the entrance to the local rec center, said Wink, the former FNA board member.

In Philadelphia, sidewalk parking is illegal, unless you’re parking a bicycle, since cars become impediments to people with accessibility concerns who rely on sidewalks, excluding them from social life. That’s not even considering when and how it can encourage people young or old to step into the street — not always the safest move in Philly, as the uptick in traffic-related deaths demonstrates. 

In 2018, at the advice of Friends of Adaire — a non-profit supporting the neighborhood elementary school — the FNA bought ten plastic FlexPost bollards for $300. The bollards weren’t heavy-duty, made to bend as the name might imply, but were installed directly into an especially problematic portion of the sidewalk.

“Two of us went over to Blair Street and spaced out the FlexPosts, plugged into the rec center’s electricity, and he drilled 10 FlexPosts into the ground,” Wink said, explaining this went down with the awareness and backing of the Shissler staff. 

So how’d that go?  “Pretty well for the most part,” Wink said. “For a long time.”

In the last year, however, the cars returned. Pics she posted to Twitter show the ultimate demise of the bollards: rolled over, simply missing, or certainly not in working order. 

Those pictures were part of an unorganized but consistent social media blitz that peppered the PPA with complaints. It spurred a state representative to get in touch, PPA Director Lazer confirmed. 

A few weeks later, after renewed ticketing, the sidewalks were clear.  

Is it always so easy? Lazer and his team are adamant about making it so.

The agency leader noted the PPA has increased its monitoring of social media complaints, just one aspect of the organizational pivot. “You can call, you can email us, we have a staff phone line,” he said — and getting a local elected official involved never hurts. 

Wink thinks the process was a fair one. After leading with neighbor-to-neighbor conversations and working with Parks and Rec staff to try and find a cheap, feasible solution, calling in the calvary — ie., parking enforcement officers — felt like the right move. 

“I do think there needs to be room for those conversations to talk to people about why, even if it seems really obvious,” said Wink. 

“I think a good starting point is always, ‘let’s talk about it’ and not ‘let’s fight about it.’”

Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...