Developers and RCOs Take Heed: the Zoning Code Changes on March 25, 2013 — Bill No. 120889

February 6, 2013
"New" is all relative anyway.

“New” is all relative anyway.

Get ready for some changes in the New Zoning Code.

On January 24, 2013, Philadelphia City Council overrided Mayor Nutter’s veto and voted Bill No. 120889 into place. The Bill goes into effect on March 25, 2013. And just last night, we received a fact sheet from the Philadelphia City Planning Commission that displays the major changes, which mainly affect developers and Registered Community Organizations.

What does this mean for you? Well, if you’re a developer or on the board of a RCO, you have some new rules to follow, and probably some more work to do. Here’s a quick greatest hits.

Read the rest of this entry »

Philadelphia’s News Outlets are Hearing Us!

April 11, 2012

Leo Mulvihill, a lawyer who lives in the area, said that neighbors saw vagrants breaking in, and that the building was being used as a drug den and an illegal chop shop …

‘We are a system of laws. . . . Each time you have a violation, you have to be given an opportunity to respond,’ Gillison said. ‘That’s just the way it is here in America. The bottom line is that it’s incumbent on the owner to respond.’

The city can seal properties without an owner’s permission, but the city places a premium on working with owners and trying to get them to take responsibility.

‘I understand that L&I has policies. I understand that there is due process afforded to the owner,’ Mulvihill said. ‘The important point is it shouldn’t have deteriorated to the point it did before the city did anything about it.’

After deadly fire, debate over who was responsible for building’s condition (Philadelphia Inquirer).

I wasn’t kidding when I said that yesterday’s post wouldn’t be our first. Check back as we figure out what else we can do to fight slumlords and get the city to act so this doesn’t happen again.

The Post in Which I Attempt to Answer: Where am I Supposed to Park my Scooter?

January 27, 2012

Foreshadowing my noble attempt.

Once upon a time, I used to ride a Honda CH-80 Elite scooter around these City streets. You might recognize it as the pizza delivery driver’s ride  from the opening scene of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

I scooted merrily around Philadelphia without a care in the world, pleased at myself for the fantastic gas mileage and quick manner in which I navigated the streets. But I hung up my scooter helmet for good one day when I scooted out to get my sick wife some orange juice, and in an unfortunate pothole incident, my life was almost ended by a 1997 Ford Taurus. That would have been a tragedy — killed by a Ford Taurus. Embarrassing.

Though my scooting days are now over, for the time that I scooted around town, I faced the same problem that many two-wheeled riders still face today: Where the hell can I park this damn thing without getting a ticket? (Spoiler: By the end of this post, I won’t be able to answer this concretely.)

Unofficially, I’ve been told a few different things from Philadelphia Parking Authority employees: within three feet of a building, so long as it’s not obstructing the sidewalk; to an inverted U bike post; to a traffic sign; to a pole, etc. But as anyone who’s parked in the City knows (or anyone who’s ever seen Parking Wars, for that matter), you can’t really every count on the word of a PPA employee to be “the law.”

So Here’s the Law.

Under the City Code §12-913. Prohibitions in Specified Places

  (1)     Except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or to protect the safety of any person or vehicle or in compliance with law or the directions of a police officer or official traffic-control device, no person shall:

(a)     Stop, stand or park a vehicle:


               (ii)     On a sidewalk except that a bicycle may be parked as provided in Section 12-807.


Got it? No vehicles other than bikes on the sidewalk. This leads us to a follow up question: what’s a “vehicle” for the purposes of the code?

Well, the Philadelphia Code doesn’t actually define a vehicle in the definitions section of Title 12. Luckily for us, the Commonwealth picked up the city’s slack.

Let’s look to the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. §102, Definitions, which defines just about any motorized-two wheeled device you can think of:


“Motor vehicle.” A vehicle which is self-propelled except an electric personal assistive mobility device or a vehicle which is propelled solely by human power.

“Motorcycle.” A motor vehicle having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground.

“Motor-driven cycle.” A motorcycle, including a motor scooter, with a motor which produces not to exceed five brake horsepower.

“Motorized pedalcycle.” A motor-driven cycle equipped with operable pedals, a motor rated no more than 1.5 brake horsepower, a cylinder capacity not exceeding 50 cubic centimeters, an automatic transmission, and a maximum design speed of no more than 25 miles per hour or an electric motordriven cycle equipped with operable pedals and an automatic transmission powered by an electric battery or battery packpowered electric motor with a maximum design speed of no more than 25 miles per hour.


“Vehicle.” Every device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices used exclusively upon rails or tracks. The term does not include a self-propelled wheelchair or an electrical mobility device operated by and designed for the exclusive use of a person with a mobility-related disability.

Under these definitions, it seems that unless you’re driving a Jazzy Power Chair around town, you, the scooter driver, are on a “motor vehicle ” under Pennsylvania law, and therefore presumably also under Philadelphia law.

The PPA agrees, and established special zones with scooter-only parking:

Pennsylvania Law prohibits motor  vehicles from driving or parking on sidewalks. The Philadelphia Parking Authority has established new parking zones to accommodate motorcycles and scooters in the area between Arch and Locust, Broad and 20 Streets. Only motorcycles and scooters are permitted to park in these zones, where the meter fee will be one-half the prevailing rate on the block. Motorcycles and scooters may not park on the sidewalk in that area. Doing so will result in a $76 fine.

You can find a list of these parking spots here. When you seen them, you can tell that they’re special sports because the parking meters are white. Also, and perhaps more obviously, the spots are very tiny.

As far as I can tell – According to the law as written right now, it looks like you have to park your putt-putt in the street.

“No motor vehicles may be parked on the sidewalk. A scooter is a motor vehicle. Ergo, no motor scooter may legally park on the sidewalk.” If A, then B. A, therefore, B.  It’s a simple logic problem, right?

Wait a second – at the bottom of the PPA page, though, they give you a little nudge-nudge wink-wink: “Motorcycle zones are  still in the  process of being installed within the  pilot area. Once a motorcycle zone has been established on a block, the prohibition on sidewalk parking will be strictly enforced in the vicinity of that zone.” Curious. Does this mean they’re not strictly enforcing sidewalk parking rules outside of these areas? A quick walk around City Hall seems to confirm this, as scooters are parked all over the place.

So, with the PPA basically admitting they’re not enforcing the sidewalk parking law outside of that area, it seems that you can park on the sidewalk chained to a bike rack, even though it’s technically illegal,  so long as you’re not blocking sidewalk traffic.

This Sounds Like a Typical “It Depends” Lawyer Answer. What Can you Definitively Tell Me?

As far as I can tell, these are the takeaways from today’s post:

  1. It is illegal to park your scooter on any public sidewalk.
  2. If you park on the sidewalk in the designated “Motorcycle and Scooter Zone”, the PPA will write you a $76 ticket.
  3. Calvinball rules apply to the rest of the city.

I’m glad that almost 1,000 words later, we’re right back where we started. Isn’t it grand when laws are well-written and don’t allow for ambiguity?

Bonus Takeaways All Drivers and Bikers  in the City who Ride Around with iPod Headphones in Totally Oblivious to the Rest of the World — Stop Doing That.

It’s not only stupid, it’s illegal.

§12-812. Use of Audio Headphones

(1)     No person shall operate a bicycle on a street or highway while wearing headphones connected to an audio device.


 §12-1122. Use of Audio Headphones While Operating Motor Vehicles.

(1)     No person shall operate a motor vehicle on a street or highway while wearing headphones connected to an audio device.

(2)     For the purposes of this Section, the term motor vehicle shall include any automobile, truck, bus, motorcycle, or motor-bike.

Until next time — when I try to tackle a recent Philadelphia Common Pleas Court case that really bolsters tenants’ rights against slumlords — safe scooting!

Note: Leo really enjoyed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie as a kid. While the scooter survived the Taurus near-death incident, Leo decided to sell it immediately afterwards to prevent future near-death experiences. Last he saw, it was living somewhere down on Christian Street – its tell-tale scratch marks and bright red color are a dead giveaway. The Taurus could not be reached for comment.

If you have any experience being ticketed for parking your scooter in the City, let me know in the comments below, and let’s see if we can figure out the rules to Calvinball. 

Snow: A Philly Primer (p.s. shovel your sidewalk).

January 21, 2012
The view out my window this morning.

Time to get the shovel.

[Ed. note Jan. 4, 2014 – If you’re coming here from Fishtown Neighbors Association‘s Facebook post, welcome! Leo originally wrote this back on January 22, 2012, but we’re pretty sure the same rules still apply.] 

Well, we finally got our first snow of the winter here in Philadelphia. And while it’s no blizzard, we nevertheless need to address the thorny issue of snow removal.

The Philadelphia City Code 10-720 – Snow Removal from Sidewalks.
As much of a PITA as it might be to get up out of your warm bed early in the morning, you should get that walk shoveled ASAP.

Under the city code, you have six hours from the time snow has stopped falling to get out there and clear a path three feet wide on your sidewalk.

If your sidewalk is less than three feet then you’re allowed to clear a path only a foot wide. If you’re a tenant in a single home, you probably have to clear the sidewalk yourself.

If you live in a multi-family building, it’s the landlord or management company’s responsibility to take care of show shoveling (though it’s likely your lease says that you’re supposed to shovel).

But  remember that you can’t just shovel it right into the street, either – that’s a no-no under the rules.

And if you neglect to shovel, you could face city fines between $50 and $300! What a way to ruin a snow day.

Finally, if you see an area that’s seriously impeding people getting around the city, you could always call the Streets Department Customer Affairs Unit at (215) 686-5560 to report a non-shoveler – though you might as well just be a good neighbor and shovel it yourself. Call it your good deed for the day.

Shoveling Out Your Spot – A Lesson in Etiquette.
Few things get a Philadelphian as hot under the collar as spending the time to shovel out a car, only to have someone else swoop in and steal the fruits of his labor. According to urban legend (and reputable news sources as well), the spot thief may suffer from any number of maladies, from bricks through the windshield, to slashed tires, to acute lead poisoning.

Though Philly parking spot etiquitte has been written about manymany times, lets distill it to three simple rules:

  1. If you take the time to shovel it, it’s rightfully “yours”, and you may place a parking chair there for a reasonable period of time while snow is still on the ground.
  2. Don’t steal the spot another person shoveled.
  3. If you leave a cone, lawn chair, or trash can in the street even after the snow has gone, people can and will remove the marker and park there. Serves you right for leaving your dammed parking chair in the street for so long.

Sure, the age-old tradition of saving spaces is actually illegal, as are vandalism or physical assault in retaliation.

But think about it from a Fred Rogers’ perspective: does a good neighbor take a spot that another took the time to shovel out?

Do I have to Worry About Slip & Fall Lawsuits?
As we’ve all learned through experience, ice and gravity aren’t a good combination. But do you have to worry about a lawsuit if someone falls on ice or snow in front of your property?

Pennsylvania law requires that where there’s a general accumulation of snow and ice, a court should apply the “hills and ridges” rule. This means that a plaintiff who slips and falls because of generally icy and snowy conditions must prove two things:

  1. There was some sort of defect in the walkway that the landowner previously knew or should have known about, and
  2. The defect, rather than the snowy and icy conditions alone, caused her fall.

This doctrine applies only in snowstorms or in generally icy conditions. As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court put it in Williams v. Schutz, 240 A.2d 812, 813-814 (Pa. 1968):

proof of hills and ridges is necessary only when it appears that the accident occurred at a time when general slippery conditions prevailed in the community as a result of recent precipitation… the law, wisely, does not require that such abutting owner keep the sidewalk free from snow and ice at all times: to hold otherwise would require the impossible in view of climatic conditions …

[T]hese formations are natural phenomena incidental to our climate … Since it is virtually impossible for a property owner to keep his sidewalk completely free of ice or snow when general slippery conditions exist, and since under these conditions a pedestrian is better prepared to exercise a greater degree of caution when traversing the ice or snow, courts have been reluctant to permit recovery without a showing of hills and ridges.

In plain English – Pedestrians: pay attention and walk carefully. Landowners: shovel and salt your walks.

Where a landowner can run into problems, though, is where he initially shovels and salts, only to have lower temperatures cause ice to re-freeze into a slippery mess:

[W]here a specific, localized, isolated patch of ice exists, it is comparatively easy for a property owner to take the necessary steps to alleviate the condition, while at the same time considerably more difficult for the pedestrian to avoid it even exercising the utmost care. Id.

Translated from legalese: if you see ice in front of your house that is somehow localized and not the pure result of natural forces, get rid of it pronto. Otherwise you might be on the hook if someone takes a spill in front of your house and hurts herself.

That’s it for a quick primer on rules of the snow here in the City of Brotherly Love. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to stop writing about it, get out of my pajamas, and go shovel my own walk.

***Note: I do not, in any way, endorse retaliation against anyone for spot stealing. While it might be considered rude, it’s no reason to escalate the situation to vandalism or violence. Really, just take the extra 20 minutes to shovel a new spot.