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Parking proposal a slap to visitors

| Thursday, April 10, 2008

Although short of digging out a 12-foot-deep trough around the perimeter of our city and filling it with a concoction of equal parts burning jet fuel and toxic waste, City Council has come up with another great idea for making Pittsburgh a less desirable place to visit.

Efforts are afoot to raise the already frightful cost of parking violations, which should have roughly the same effect on outside perceptions of the city as the phrase "roving gangs of armed black youths."

If a proposal introduced by Councilman Patrick Dowd is approved, the cost of parking illegally in a permit-only city neighborhood would rise from the current $25 to $35. Although that isn't enough of an increase to send anyone to the poor house, it is indicative of local attitudes about on-street parking, which anyone who has traveled to bigger cities will recognize as one of our weirdest civic quirks.

Unlike, say, New York, where residents accept the fact that they do not, in fact, purchase a slab of asphalt along with a house or apartment space, many Pittsburghers are convinced that claiming a piece of a public street as their own is a birthright.

This strange assumption at first manifested itself in people placing lawn chairs in front of their houses, deploying porch furniture as a sort of battle flag against motorists. It was always one of those local habits that embarrassed me as a Pittsburgher, much the same way as off-key Steelers fight songs and our collective inability to say "Iron City" instead of "Ahrn Ciddy."

City officials acquiesced to constituents willing to lope outside to brawl with strangers, commuters and shoppers who came to town with the audacity to think that lawn furniture belonged on lawns. Thus, the Residential Parking Permit Program was born, enabling folks in some of our visitor-friendly neighborhoods to pay for the privilege of parking near their homes.

That worked so well that permit-only parking is the norm -- if you can call it that -- in several local neighborhoods, with residents of several others hoping to be included in this bureaucratic take on the parking chair. Residents pay $20 for an annual pass, and if Dowd gets his way, they will pay $10 -- up from the current $1 -- for temporary passes they can extend to deserving visitors.

What this plan has in mind for commuters, day-trippers or anyone seeking on-street parking near a neighborhood doctor's office or other business is another of our local mysteries.

Dowd said he was moved to draft the legislation because of residents who resent having to compete with commuters for on-street parking. As an elected representative, it's his duty to respond to their needs.

But what's needed most here is someone willing to remind us that even though we live on a street, we don't live in a street -- any more than people in other cities do.

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