Despite what you may have seen or heard, this much is certain: You are not allowed to park on sidewalks in Pittsburgh. Like, not at all. Never.
But that hasn’t deterred many from doing so in places (ahem, Mount Washington) where narrow streets and the potential for sideswipes often leave car owners looking for elbow room where they can find it, and, in turn, pedestrians and cyclists looking for oncoming traffic as they’re squeezed into the street.
“Sidewalk parking is a big problem in Pittsburgh,” said Scott Bricker, executive director with Bike Pittsburgh, a bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organization, “but there are solutions.”
Among them is consistent enforcement of laws banning the practice, he added. But is that happening? It would appear not.
According to statistics provided to The Incline by the Pittsburgh Parking Authority (PPA), most Pittsburgh neighborhoods and parking districts saw just a handful of sidewalk parking tickets issued over the two-year period between 2015 and this year — some as low as one and none higher than 106. (The numbers, broken down by neighborhood and residential parking permit district, are below.)
The highest totals were seen Downtown, in the South Side, the Strip District and Oakland. Comparable totals were also seen in the North Side and Lawrenceville.
Asked about local enforcement of the laws, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police spokesperson Sonya Toler told The Incline: “It is unlikely that our data is kept in a manner that differentiates if a parking violation occurred on a sidewalk versus somewhere else; therefore, we would not be able to answer how often that is enforced or if there are trouble areas.”
Toler continued: “I am not aware of any conversations between the Bureau of Police and City Council or any city department regarding parking on the sidewalk. … It’s the state and City Council that create the laws governing parking and the obstruction of sidewalks.”
Those laws have remained something of an abstract notion, though, as demonstrated by this blogpost from Polish Hill and a perennial crop of Reddit threads on the subject. The Polish Hill post quotes a Pittsburgh community relations officer who said officers generally don’t issue tickets for sidewalk parking unless they receive a complaint. The post also garnered at least one apparent defense of sidewalk parkers.
“Oh C’mon….it’s everywhere on Polish Hill as you have so aptly stated. Heck. If my air-conditioner ever fell out of my second story living room window, it would land on my neighbor’s car always parked on the Pulawski Alley sidewalk,” a commenter wrote.
Given that, some might say it’s obvious why a culturally accepted — and to an extent legally tolerated — practice endures. Others might say if tickets are tied to complaints and ticket totals are low, then sidewalk parking may not be the public nuisance some claim it is.
Bricker disagrees, saying that while some may accept sidewalk parking as a way of life — as has long been the case both here and in cities like Lancaster and Philadelphia — that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. Bricker told The Incline via email:
We mostly see children riding on sidewalks, so this illegal practice forces kids into the streets. Because very few municipalities in PA integrate traffic calming features into their streets like speed humps, raised crosswalks, roundabouts, and curb bump outs; this can be especially problematic.
But just as worrisome is how these drivers are forcing many times more pedestrians onto the street and obstructing wheelchair users who cannot easily wheel over a 6-8″ curb down to the street level.
[…] As for bicyclists, sidewalk parking can exacerbate the persistent problem of speeding on Pittsburgh streets. Parked cars can act as traffic calming, so when someone parks on the sidewalk, it essentially widens the street, encouraging drivers to go even faster.
If public safety causes aren’t your thing, though, there are financial arguments to be made against sidewalk parking as well, experts say. This includes the damage caused to sidewalks by parked cars over time, damage property owners are legally required to repair. It also includes the potential for lawsuits, as the state superior court ruled in 2013 that sidewalk parking can be considered negligence if someone is injured while walking by.
The City of Pittsburgh has made strides in prioritizing people traffic alongside vehicle traffic on many of its roadways, and the city ranks high in pedestrian and cyclist safety as a result — although advocates say it could rank higher.
And while much of the city’s push has logically focused on the thoroughfares, Bricker said more can and needs to be done on the back and side streets, including curbing sidewalk parking (apologies for that pun) where it persists.
Bricker suggests traffic calming measures and the reconfiguration of some streets and traffic lines to create “enough space on the street for parking and thus free the sidewalk and give it back to those who need it most.”
He added, “Third, of course, is good ol’ enforcement…”
Where the sidewalk ends
This map identifies lettered residential parking districts on the list by name. Note: There is some overlap between the lettered districts and the neighborhoods listed below.
|Residential Permit Parking District||Ticket count - 2015 to 2017||Neighborhood||Ticket count - 2015 to 2017|
|Area CC||18||Central Lawrenceville||3|
|Area DD||7||East Liberty||19|
|Area F||23||Mt. Washington||16|
|Area II||6||Squirrel Hill||12|
|Area KK||9||Strip District||106|
|Area M||4||West End||1|
Also keep in mind that these are numbers for a combined two-year period, leaving some convinced of the law’s obscurity and others, mostly frustrated pedestrians and cyclists like Bricker, looking to city officials: