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Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Neighborhood of Parking Garages

When I first moved to my neighborhood about seven years ago, parking on my street was not the problem it was when I lived at 21st and Pine Streets in Center City. In Center City, parking was a nightmare, with friends and family telling me how they had to circle the block ten or twenty times for a full 30 minutes before finally finding a space. Often they’d be forced to park six or seven blocks from my apartment, causing them to complain—when they finally did show up late for whatever occasion had been planned—with frayed nerves.

“I hate Center City!” they’d declare. “This is the last time I’m coming into the city!”

Moving to the neighborhood, I was certain, would put an end to the parking problem. Visitors would just be able to zip in and zip out of parking spaces with their cars of various sizes.

That’s the way it was for a few years: plenty of available spaces and little traffic. My street, which is a kind of cul de sac, had the advantage of being cut off from the more congested traffic patterns of straight through streets that aren’t cut off by rows of houses. People who were not from the neighborhood would not know that my street even existed unless they stumbled upon it by accident.
“It’ll be easy parking from now on!” I told friends.

Then there was a change.

A negative byproduct of gentrification, more cars and fewer parking spaces, seemed to kick in overnight. One time, while waiting for visitors to arrive for an event, I heard a familiar refrain: “We circled the block six times and had to park 3 blocks away! Why do you live here?”

So how did the “no parking” problem follow me here from Center City?
The next day, I went looking for answers. I checked out the relatively new townhouses at Edgemont and Lehigh Avenue, a project that initially pleased me no end. When the project was first proposed I remembered listening to the concerns of neighbors who wondered if the new houses would create parking problems. The developers were adamant: “That won’t happen. Each house has its own garage.” Like Moses’ Red Sea closing upon the Egyptians, the neighbors buried their fears.

But homeowners, apparently, don’t always use private garages for cars. Many use them to store junk or Flea market items. Private garages are converted to makeshift dens, gyms, you name it, but the car remains on the street.

Take my once “lots of free space” neighborhood, for instance. Within the last couple of years, two parking garages have been added here, a change that has cancelled out once available parking spaces. “No parking, violators towed,” signs now loom over long stretches of the street that once offered plenty of available space.

The current parking problem has caused some people in the neighborhood to become prisoners in their own homes. Some are even afraid to move their cars after 5 p.m. for fear they will not find a space when they return. After all, nobody wants to park five, six or seven blocks away or find a spot in another neighborhood.

Part of the problem, I think, is that too many people own three or four cars. This is excessive, especially when the cars in question are big pick up trucks or military-style SUV’s. Hybrid cars, unfortunately, may be popular in other areas of the city but they don’t seem to be winning many converts here. As a result, we not only lose parking spaces but we have huge vehicles racing up and down streets that are almost too small to contain them. Processions of traffic like this somehow remind me of a bad Arnold Scharzenegger action movie from the 1980s.

So, I’m sorry to say, there has been a big change in the neighborhood since the days of easy parking.

The situation has even affected Lehigh Avenue, at one time refuge for people desperately searching for someplace to park. Today people think nothing of parking in the middle of the Avenue South Philly-style because there’s nowhere else to go.

What to do?

The best solution, in my book, may be for the city to follow up on who builds parking garages. If people are using them to store old family sleds, they should be politely advised to remove the “No parking, violators will be towed” signs.

More importantly, people who own three cars or more should be made to pay a higher property tax. This would be much better than taxing soda, or tacking on a fee for trash collection,

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