#UnblockBikeLanes: (IL)Legal Sunday Parking

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In January, we published the initial findings of our #UnblockBikeLanes campaign with the Philadelphia Parking Authority. The campaign, begun in late 2013, was created using social media—specifically Twitter—to show the PPA where cars and trucks are blocking bike lanes, directly from those cyclists and pedestrians affected by the obstructionist motor vehicles.

What we found was that after the social media campaign began, ticketed violations initially went up, with the 1000 through 2300 blocks of Spruce Street hosting the highest number of violations—more than 250 in the second quarter of 2014. Then, they went down.


The buffered bike lanes on Spruce and Pine Streets are some of the best in the city, and are partially responsible for a dramatic drop (24 percent) in crashes on those streets. The lights are timed for all vehicles, traffic is calm, and they’re amongst the most utilized bicycle lanes in all of Philadelphia.

But there are problems. Starting with Sunday parking in the bike lanes. Church and Temple congregants are allowed to park in the bike lanes on weekends. As we noted in the initial report on Unblock Bike Lanes, there’s a policy understood by the City, the Police Department, and the PPA that permits cars to park in the bike lanes on certain blocks during religious services on weekends.

That’s why we recently completed a new report—one which took a look at who was and who wasn’t legally parking in Center City on Sundays. Generally, churches and synagogues throughout Center City hand out placards to their congregants to use when parking in designated locations on Saturdays and Sundays. But it’s always been assumed that some people were taking unfair advantage of the lax coverage. So, we put out a call and found volunteers to tally the cars parked in bike lanes, identifying those parked legally (with placards in designated areas) and those parked illegally (without placards and/or outside designated areas.)

Those volunteers—Chris Colvin, Nicholas Manta, Stan Barndy, Jim Hartnett, Andrew Martin—worked from 8:30am to 1:30pm on February 8, then again on March 6, 2015 to determine the extent of parking policy violations on the street segments where the city has a policy allowing parking.

After sending us their findings, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia policy fellow Susan Dannenberg analyzed the data for this report.

By the looks of things, there appear to be three main types of non-compliance with the parking policy. The first: congregants who do not display a placard. At least one religious institution provides information on their website about where parking may occur but does not mention placards. The second: congregants who stay past the time limits of the policy. The third: drivers not attending religious institutions who see other cars parked and assume that they can park on these street segments, too.


The results: A large percentage of parked cars on Sundays are not displaying a religion institution-issued placard. Which is especially strange since the placards are free and, in some cases, can be printed out online.

The top problem areas are the 300-400 blocks, and the 1600-2000 blocks of Pine Street; the 400-600 blocks, and 1600-1900 blocks of Spruce Street; and the 300-400 blocks of 13th Street.

Here’s a graph depicting Pine Street’s problem areas and problem times. Blue indicates cars with placards, orange represents those without:




Here’s Spruce Street:



At 13th Street, our volunteers found 72 percent of cars on the 200 and 400 block at noon were without placards. Surveyors also noted several congregants leaving services and, almost immediately after moving the car, a non-congregant would pull into what they thought was considered a universal parking spot.

Non-compliant parking is occurring—perhaps innocently—due to the assumption that these are legal parking spaces, open to the motorized masses.

In absence of the proper signage and enforcement, these sorts of maneuvers are inevitable.

Changing the behavior of Sunday motorists is going to require a coordinated effort involving the Streets Department, Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, the Philadelphia Parking Authority, and the religious institutions that enjoy this weekly privilege.


In the report located via link at the bottom of this page, we have numerous suggested actions that can only be undertaken if the above city departments and religious congregations work together. They include creating uniform placards which include parking times and locations; street signs that make the regulations clear to non-congregants; a coordinated education campaign by the religious institutions (including an emphasis on, you know, being a good neighbor); and increased enforcement by the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

Sundays on Pine, Spruce, 13th, and other streets in the area seem to be some of the only in the entire city where people in cars are not scared of being ticketed by the PPA. That needs to change, and we look forward from hearing back from the above-mentioned city agencies on this issue. Our entire report is available here. A special thanks to our volunteers who were able to help out on this campaign and hopefully make changes along Spruce, Pine and 13th Streets.

Topics: Biking in Philly, Featured, research

17 comments on “#UnblockBikeLanes: (IL)Legal Sunday Parking

  1. Stephanie

    Proper signage explaining the policy needs to be posted. All cars parked in a bike lane should be ticketed, but people who actually attended a service can be given a sticker (after the service) to put on the ticket and mail back to the PPA WITH A FEE (albeit significantly less than an illegally parked ticket). If half the new revenue went back to the church/temple, the patrons wouldn’t object (as vehemently) and the other half remained with the PPA (to entice them to continue ticketing), it’s a win/win for everyone except the illegal parkers.

  2. Aaron B

    Market-rate parking fees, what a concept Stephanie!

    The City, Churches, and entitled motorists need to understand that parking is never free. Someone is always paying a cost.

  3. Andrew Levitt

    Just spitballing here: how about closing Spruce and Pine on weekends for anything but parking and bike riding.

    Or, if we’re collecting fees for parking in otherwise illegal places, we could also open up the sidewalk for parking, like they do at City Hall.

  4. Tanya

    I find it reprehensible that people who drive in to the city don’t pay for parking while attending an institution that doesn’t pay taxes. Why burden city dwellers with unsafe riding conditions, when we DO pay taxes? (Why does convenience and free beat out safety?) I really resent that on Sundays my travel options are limited to LESS safe streets. If they MUST get free parking, why not park on two-lane Lombard and instead block a lane of vehicular traffic? It would be safer for everyone as it would slow down the traffic on Lombard and keep Spruce and Pine safe for all moving traffic.

  5. John

    Many of these religious institutions have arrangements for free off street parking using parking lots owned by local businesses. Did you check to see how full these lots are? if there are open spaces then the congregations need to do more to encourage their congregants to use them.

  6. Corey

    I think Andrew Levitt is on the right track. The biggest issue with Spruce and Pine is that heavy amounts of car traffic make them unsuitable for on-street bike lanes. This could be remedied with a two-way protected lane. Given the width of these streets and their residential function, however, a protected facility is likely not the best solution.

    What I think we should really aim for with Pine and Spruce is a Bike Boulevard or Fietsstraat. Using Filtered Permeability to eliminate thru traffic, both streets could accommodate bi-directional cycling. There would still be some parking issues, but the extremely low traffic volume would reduce conflicts. These are access streets and they should function as such – not as crosstown shortcuts for drivers.

    This is an approach that would also work well for many other Center City and South Philly streets. It’s a technique that is commonly used in Dutch towns and cities with very high cycling rates. Until something like this is done, I don’t believe we’ll see much of a reduction in problem parking.

    • Chris

      I’m guessing you don’t live on Spruce on Pine. I do. I love the bike lanes and use them often, but it’s not practical to tell hundreds (thousands?) of residents they can never access their homes via car. People have deliveries made, moving trucks are needed for obvious reasons, people need to drop off heavy items they purchase (often on the weekend). I’d be amenable to removing parking and having a loading zone instead to facilitate better bike lanes, but we all know how well suggestions to remove parking go over in this town.

  7. betty

    do city buses not run on sundays? why isnt the burden on the attendants to find a legal way to attend services? how many of them are coming from so far away they can’t navigate getting to church without a car? i’d like to see a study on the car owners and how far they travel to park in the bike lanes. when I bike in these sections, I bike dead center in the travel lane and will continue to do so until this practice discontinues. my mother attends a church that runs shuttles to get their parishioners from legal parking to the church- perhaps its time to shift the responsibilities.

  8. Kyle G

    Another option not listed in the report is for the churches to work with garage owners. Sunday mornings are very slow for garages, so they would stand to benefit by offering reduced-rate parking to churches during that time. Quite frankly, there’s enough available garage parking to handle all of the Sunday demand on Pine and Spruce and the bike lanes could be put back to their intended use.

  9. Tom A

    “We respect those congregations’ members’ authority to park on those streets on Sundays.”

    ~ I don’t. What is so special about church and temple that parking in bike lanes is an imperative, even at the expense of bike safety? If I really need to get into work, I can’t just drop my car in a bike lane. If I have to get to the hospital to visit a sick friend, I can’t just park in a bike lane. Nearly every other use of our roadways recognizes the need to find a legal parking spot when a driver arrives at his or her destination. Nothing about the foreseeable, plannable, recurring need to get to church carries such an imperative that we should reallocate a portion of our streetscape to specifically serve congregants.

    I would much, much rather see a bike lane be a bike lane, but if you’re going to provide special, free parking on Sundays, it should be available to anyone and everyone visiting the area. Otherwise, we’re providing special treatment to religion, and that sounds a lot like an Establishment Clause issue to me.

  10. Pedestrian

    Perhaps it time for the bikers to stop crying that everyone else is breaking the law, and instead start looking at their own widespread failures to obey the law. We all know that arrogant bikers in Philadelphia are reckless, out of control, and think they are so special that traffic laws don’t apply to them. Get over yourselves – you are a tiny minority of people compared to drivers, pedestrians, and transit riders – and start to practice what you preach!

  11. Michael McGettigan

    This is also a class issue. These wealthy downtown churches say, “Hey, here’s a nice, FREE parking spot (subsidized by government), stay as long as you like afterwards for brunch and shopping.” Message to motorists: this lane is yours to fool with the other 6 days of the week, we’re not really serious about bike lanes.

    In Philly’s neighborhoods, poorer churches run shuttles, and attendees take transit.

  12. James Kennedy

    I’m really pleased to see so many comments here. I hope that people who care about getting Spruce & Pine to be protected bike lanes will organize, go out and talk to people in the neighborhood, and not wait for things to happen on their own. Hopefully the Bike Coalition will hear the feedback it’s receiving on this issue and adjust its position, but if it doesn’t then people should just do an end-run around the Bike Coalition entirely.

    It’s not the Coalition’s fault that things aren’t perfect now, and I talked a bit online with Randy LoBasso about this. What is the fault of the Bike Coalition is that its messaging emphasizes the importance of parking instead of reaching out to congregations about how much of an asset biking could be to people attending services. If the Bike Coalition always hangs its head in shame over how biking gets in the way of parking, that’s how everyone will see it. It needs to speak the right message first, get out and build the right relationships so that people support that message, and bring Philadelphia into the 1970s already (since that’s how far it’s behind from a Dutch perspective).

    I don’t really understand the underlying policy of protecting church parking over other parking uses. I understand that it’s kind of an interesting study to see how people ‘take advantage’ of church parking to visit shops or do other things, but what is the principle that says that Philadelphia should be distinguishing between the two? Parking is a useful commodity, but it’s also useful if you’re going to a coffee shop.

    In Providence, church parking was such a huge issue to some in our West Side that they tried to stop the development of a new business on Broadway in order to keep a vacant lot for their cars. It looked like they were going to win at first, but the community rallied and the business came instead–and it’s a huge success. Not only did it bring activity to the street, but it reduced the lot on its property, added trees, created weekly food truck festivals, and so on. If that can happen in Providence, then I know it can happen in Philadelphia, because Philly has a lot more going for it than Providence does. (check out the article on this:

    I agree with other commenters that it would be a good compromise in the meantime to close the street every two blocks or so to through-traffic, and to allow parking on both sides on Sunday only if it means having an Autoluwe slow-zone for bikes on the street).

  13. Owen Sindler

    Instead of having cars park in the bike lanes, have them park in the right hand auto lane where 2 traffic lanes exist. Leave the bike lane intact. What statement is being made when the bike lanes are being used to park cars?

  14. TM McCloskey

    No one seems to be stating the obvious. A lot of Churchgoers are elderly. Asking them to park a few blocks away and walk to church would be dangerous for them.

  15. Jim MacMillan

    If we need to keep parking available for the church-goers, why not close the streets to all other traffic except for parkers, bikes and pedestrians during those hours? No permit; no motor vehicle access, except for permitting previously parked cars to leave. How easy is that?

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