Introducing … Ask Liz: Your Philly Conundrums Solved

This month: Taxi accidents, that empty lot at 19th and Walnut, and letting dogs off the leash in the Wissahickon.


If the taxi I’m in gets into a fender-bender, do I still have to pay the fare? — D.W., Northern Liberties

The Public Utilities Commission, which regulates taxis in Philadelphia, doesn’t have a rule for this particular situation. But assuming you’re unhurt, you’re governed by the same rules you always are in a taxi. In other words, has the driver taken you to your intended destination? If so, pay the fare. If you’re five blocks away and the two drivers are still swapping insurance info, dust yourself off, pay what you owe, and get another taxi — or just walk, for God’s sake. Not that I do, mind you, but I hear it’s good exercise.

What’s the deal with that empty lot on 19th and Walnut right off of Rittenhouse Square? — H.L., Center City

I know. It’s ridiculous. Believe it or not, that lot has been vacant for more than two decades, since the Eric Rittenhouse movie theater burned down in 1994. There have been two strong proposals for the site — a late-’90s pitch for a Ritz movie theater, and a condo/hotel tower in 2007 — that were both shot down due to community concerns. But some believe there’s new hope: The space’s current owner, the Irish company Castleway Properties (it bought the site for $36 million in ’07), began discussing plans for a luxury condo/boutique hotel tower with the Center City Residents Association as recently as November 2014. Now CCRA’s president says he thinks Castleway is looking to partner with another entity. I’ll be honest. In my native-Philadelphian brain, that translates to: “The lot will be vacant for another two decades.”

Is it okay to let my dog go off-leash in the Wissahickon? — M.B., Chestnut Hill

First, let me say that I’m a dog owner myself — the kind whose evening revolves around giving my little three-legged chihuahua quality time in front of the space heater with her favorite steer-pizzle rawhide before we climb into bed together for cuddles and a lullaby. So I understand the desire to make a dog happy. But no, it’s not okay to let your dog off-leash in the Wissahickon, for a number of reasons.

To begin with, it’s illegal according to both state and city ordinances, though many fine, upstanding people violate laws they don’t agree with (I’ve been known to jaywalk myself), so let’s move beyond blind compliance. Instead, think about environmental issues, like poop in your water. If a dog is off-leash, you can’t always see what it’s doing, and any unbagged dog poop “goes right into the watershed,” says Friends of the Wissahickon’s executive director Maura McCarthy, who notes that the Wissahickon Creek contributes to the water supply of 350,000 Philadelphia residents. Ick. In addition, the Wissahickon is a designated “Important Bird Area,” a migratory corridor with 167 species of birds arriving in a given year. Dogs off-leash disrupt the habitat of nesting birds (not to mention get bit by rabid raccoons).

Then think about the dense multi-use in the Wissahickon, from equestrians to cyclists to people still trying to master rollerblades they bought in 1998 (guilty). Besides, there are plenty of people who are afraid of dogs, and it ruins their park experience every time a dog bounds up to them off-leash. Who wants a panic attack during a lovely stroll in the park? “These are all good dogs with bad owners,” McCarthy says, but I’d put it a bit differently: These are all good dogs with owners who might not know better. Now you do.

Liz Spikol has lived in Philadelphia nearly all her life, which means she knows stuff. Got a question? Email it to

Originally published in the February 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.