Fix It: The Old, Forgotten Police Barricades Littering Philly Streets

Police don't always remove them. So they stick around for weeks — even months — on end.
Police barricades strewn about Center City and Fairmount Park. | Photos courtesy of X

Police barricades blighting Center City and Fairmount Park. | Photos courtesy of Keith Cox

Look, we’re Philadelphians, so we get it: Messy sidewalks are just another part of daily life, like paying taxes or cleaning up dog crap. Would we like to see the deformities that riddle our city walkways smoothed? Sure. Would we welcome a reduction in our booming population of garbage jellyfish (read: plastic bags)? Yep.

For sanity’s sake, though, most of us just see this stuff and let it go. We trip over the piece of sidewalk that juts out like a concrete middle finger, and we shrug. We get smacked in the face by a piece of litter, and we heave a laugh-sigh at the universe’s indifference to man, and man’s indifference to the planet.

But another, crazier breed of sidewalk detritus — obstructions so colossal that a single unit alone could viably comprise a child’s seesaw — well, they really stick in Citified’s craw. So we decided it was time to investigate.

The objects in question are disassembled police barricades, left behind long after they’ve served their purpose.

According to Citified reader and 58-year-old Rittenhouse Square resident Keith Cox, who is as frustrated with these abandoned eyesores as we are, the last few months have seen a number of them springing up on ostensibly random blocks around Philly — pairs of yellow wooden planks that take up yards of sidewalk space, their corresponding end-pieces tilting haphazardly off to the side like misplaced letters from a giant’s alphabet. 

We, too, have seen many abandoned barricades around town. So we contacted Mayor Jim Kenney’s office, where spokeswoman Lauren Hitt told us that the city’s Community Life Improvement Programs told her that the barricades are the Philadelphia Police Department’s responsibility.

Then we called Lieutenant John Stanford at the PPD, who cleared up most of our confusion, but left other elements of this particular nuisance mired in mystery.

Here’s what Stanford said: The barricades are used to curb pedestrian and/or vehicular traffic in a given area. They can be deployed in any number of contexts, including events (protests, the Philadelphia Marathon, the Mummers Parade) and “incidents” (that’s police lingo for a potentially dangerous disturbance, like a fire).

“Normally, the barriers are removed within a short time frame after the incident or event,” the lieutenant added.

When asked what exactly he meant by a “short time frame,” Stanford declined to clarify — insisting instead that the time it takes to remove them depends on both the location in question and the kind of event or incident that has passed. But he did intimate that delays can stem from belated communication between the PPD and the other city departments that facilitate events and incidents, like the Licenses and Inspections department and the fire department.

“We may not be immediately notified after something’s fixed,” he said. “It may be up to commanders to make sure that they have someone checking on those areas, and then making sure that those barricades are removed.”

Stanford recommends that anyone beset by the barricade blues call his or her local police district. “They’ll get somebody out there to get those barricades removed,” he said. “The last thing we would want is to leave barricades up that would impede the flow of pedestrian traffic.”

Cox says that he called Philly 311 back in August, and was told to call his police district. So he rang up the 9th Police District, was assured that a specific set of barricades would be removed shortly, and then proceeded to wait as those barricades lingered — untouched — for three months, he says.

As of publication, the PPD and Philly311 didn’t respond to our requests to confirm Cox’s calls.

It should be noted that Mayor Kenney was just sworn in on Jan. 4. The photos above show police barricades that were left behind when Kenney’s predecessor, Michael Nutter, was in office. Nutter’s administration is to blame for any barricades that languished between 2008 and 2015.

But they’re Kenney’s responsibility now. The new mayor has repeatedly told his constituents that he cares about improving quality-of-life issues for pedestrians: His agenda includes reinstating regular street cleaning and increasing fees for contractors who unnecessarily block swaths of sidewalk. Hopefully, Kenney will add ridding the streets of barricade blight to that list.

Is there a problem in Philly that’s keeping you up at night? Send your nominations for urban nuisances that need fixing to citified@phillymag.com or tweet them to @CitifiedPHL. While you’re at it, read our other “Fix It” columns.