Broad Street Median Parking Spotlighted on ESPN

McQuade: A brief history of Philly's most Philly parking practice.

ESPN - Broad Street median parking

A screengrab of ESPN’s shot of parking in the middle of South Broad Street during last night’s Giants-Eagles game.

Three years ago, I wrote about the establishing shots that are always used during national sports broadcasts played in Philly: LOVE Park, the Rocky statue and the Art Museum Steps, cheesesteaks, the Liberty Bell. Most national TV games set in Philadelphia show these locations and no others.

Last night, the Eagles played on national (cable) TV against the New York Giants. Things worked out pretty well. While Sam Bradford threw three interceptions, the Eagles’ defense absolutely plastered the Giants. The Eagles won, 27-7, and are now in first place in the NFC East. Birds 24/7 has more.

But another great thing happened during the game last night: ESPN showed b-roll of cars illegally parked in the middle of South Broad Street! Right before halftime, there was an establishing shot looking north from Broad just south of Federal. Congratulations to JNA Culinary Institute of Arts for making it on to Monday Night Football.

Sure, it was a shot of Philadelphia City Hall from the center of Broad Street, another occasional TV bumper. But no matter! It also showcased the cars in the middle of Broad. Whether you like or hate this practice — and, yes, the people who hate it are generally the most vocal — this is a Philadelphia tradition. Parking in the Broad Street median is probably more relevant to Philadelphia today than anything usually shown during national sports broadcasts, with the possible exception of cheesesteaks.

How long have people been parking in the center of Broad Street? Our own Liz Spikol wrote earlier this year that Philadelphia magazine wrote about it as early as 1992. 1st District Police Captain Lou Campione told her it was an issue when his father came back from World War II.

And check this out: A case heard before the Pennsylvania Superior Court in 1916 contains this finding of fact about an car crash the year before: “They waited on the west side of Broad street until that portion of the street was clear of traffic and reached the center line of Broad street where several automobiles were parked.” Yes, cars were parking in the middle of Broad Street literally 100 years ago. The entire country had about 8,000 cars at the turn of the century. The Model T was introduced in 1908 and began assembly-line production in 1913. And cars were already parking in the middle of Broad Street. Former Inquirer journalist Murray Dubin surmised it began with funeral homes in the early 20th century; mourners needed a place to park, and chose the center median.

An issue of Automobile Trade News from 1917 said the city began enforcing parking regulations for the middle of Broad Street on August 8th of that year, but only between Race and Spruce. “Below Spruce on Broad, just out of the way of the hotels and theatres, motor cars were allowed to park for virtually an unlimited time,” the trade journal wrote.

1917 Automobile Trade News - Broad Street median parking

A photo from a 1917 edition of Automobile Trade News, showing cars parked in the center of Broad Street.

That 1915 incident was over a man who sued a driver who ran over him in the middle of Broad Street (at Melon, just south of Ridge). Per the Superior Court, the defendant testified that “the plaintiff suddenly appeared from among the automobiles parkedin the central part of Broad street in front of his automobile and he could not avoid the accident.”

Jim Kenney is against illegal median street parking in the center of Broad Street, but he isn’t going to make it a priority. So even with a new mayor, the practice is likely to continue.

It may not be a tradition we necessarily like, but it was nice of ESPN to show a bit of real Philadelphia last night. Next time, I hope they come back from a commercial break showing two neighbors arguing over whose dog crapped on the pavement.