Ask Liz: Can I Park in Front of a Fire Hydrant With the Cap Off?

This month: Risky parking, rushed street crossings, and a touching father-daughter compromise.

Photograph by Claudia Gavin

Photograph by Claudia Gavin

I’ve seen many hydrants with caps off all over the city. Do they not work? And does that mean I can park in front of them?! — Looking for Parking in University City

Well, L for P, I’d like to have better news for you, but I think you probably knew this wasn’t going to go your way. The official city code says it’s prohibited to park “within 15 feet of a fire hydrant.” It doesn’t say “a working fire hydrant” or “a fire hydrant that looks basically functional to the average Philadelphian, who, admittedly, doesn’t know squat about municipal fire protection infrastructure.” And consider what a fire department spokesperson pointed out: “The people who write the parking tickets don’t know if they’re operable, either.” Let’s say, however, that you see a fire hydrant that’s the saddest, most thoroughly crumpled giant baked carrot ever. If you park in front of it and get a ticket, you might be able to successfully contest it in traffic court, but only after you get the water department to certify that the hydrant is indeed nonfunctional. It’s not worth it, if you ask me (and you did).

I was recently in Washington, D.C., and was shocked to see that you get 60 seconds to walk across a street that is maybe eight feet wide. Why do D.C. pedestrians get luxuriously long walk-times while Philadelphians get less than 30 seconds to dash across the entire Ben Franklin Parkway? — Running for My Life in Fishtown

There’s math involved in this answer, and when I hear numbers, my brain screams, “Puppies! Puppies! Puppies!” So I’ll turn the mic over to Philadelphia’s chief traffic engineer, Richard Montanez, who explains that Philadelphia adheres to a federal standard that allots a pedestrian three and a half feet per second to cross the street. “So if your reader is trying to go from one side of the Parkway to the other across all lanes, that’s going to be a little impossible, because we don’t time you to go from the east end all the way to the west end,” says Montanez. The Parkway is a multi-stage crossing. “We time it so that if you’re in the center of the Parkway, for instance, you can go across to the island with the trail in the middle.” As for your comparison with D.C., that city has longer cycle lengths. “We used to be a 60-second-cycle-length city,” Montanez says. “But we found that the longer we made the person wait, either the pedestrian or the motorist, the more likely they were to jump the red.” Why am I not surprised? Montanez says they retime the city about every five years, but adds, “If someone requests that we look at a specific intersection, we do go back out and look at it.”

I’m not much for tradition, but this year, Father’s Day falls on my daughter’s birthday. This coincidence puts me in a delicate situation. Normally on Father’s Day, she treats me to lunch and lies to me about what a great job I did raising her. But since it’s her birthday, I should buy her a present. She won’t have one for me—that’s not our tradition. Since we eat cheaper than any present that’s appropriate, I’m concerned her lack of a gift for me may make her feel guilty, especially when I tell her what a fantastic, thoughtful and successful person she’s become, while here I am on Social Security. I don’t want to mess up our tradition. Can I get a stomach virus and cancel? — No Such Thing as a Free Lunch in Rittenhouse Square

Dad, is that you? Listen, it’s true; my birthday does fall on Father’s Day this year, I know. But it’s also the summer solstice, and Philadelphia always does it up for the first day of summer. There are concerts and festivals and all kinds of nature-related activities—all of which tend to be free. So why don’t we—ahem, you and your daughter—forgo gifts and restaurant meals and plan to spend the day outdoors instead? You’ve never had a stomach virus in your life—if you get one now, I’ll know what’s up.

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 June 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.