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.

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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:

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“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.