The cell-phone lot labyrinth Signs near the airport are putting drivers on the road to confusion.

Posted: September 01, 2009

State police replaced their "move-it-along" enforcement with a wallop to the checkbook yesterday for motorists caught parking or idling along I-95 and the ramps leading to Philadelphia International Airport while they wait to pick up air travelers.

Highway patrol officers started issuing tickets of up to $147 on the same day PennDot crews began installing 33 red-and-white warning signs along highways leading to the airport.

They say: "No stopping or standing. Use Bartram Ave Park & Ride lot to wait for arriving flights."

Just as fast came a declaration by AAA Mid-Atlantic that the signs - which do not tell how to get to the park-and-ride lot - were inadequate.

Until that is addressed, "I would challenge motorists to take their tickets to court," AAA spokeswoman Catherine L. Rossi said. "AAA today wants better signage for motorists so they don't get unnecessary tickets. The problem is they're not directed in an obvious way with signage where to go."

And that, Rossi said, is no way to run an airport the caliber of which PHL portrays itself.

"This is supposed to be a world-class airport with world-class amenities," Rossi said. She said AAA was willing to help pay the tab for improved signage.

What followed the rest of the day was a litany of finger-pointing by state and city agencies that could have used its own set of directional signs.

The airport said PennDot was in charge of the signs in question. PennDot said the size and wording on its I-95 signs were governed by the Federal Highway Administration.

All of it had City Councilman Frank Rizzo, who has been working on the issue since 2002, sputtering mad yesterday afternoon.

"This really revs me up," he said. "This is why people lose confidence in government - that we can't figure out a simple solution to a problem."

He also expressed incredulity that PennDot was able to put up signs along I-95 "to tell people to move" but could not "attach to those signs the informational signs that send people to the cell-phone lot."

That the Bartram Avenue lot is referred to as a "cell-phone" lot - which, in other cities, are typically on airport property and outfitted with digital message boards that enable those waiting to keep track of the status of arriving flights - was a point of irritation yesterday to PennDot spokeswoman Jenny Robinson.

"It was never built as a cell-phone lot," she said of the 3.3-acre lighted facility of 59 spaces, created in 2003 with $1 million in federal and state funds. "It's a lot designed to promote car pooling." The lot also is used for truck-safety inspections.

By putting up signs near the airport alerting motorists to the lot, Robinson said, "we're trying the best we can to coordinate and cooperate" with state police to help eliminate what all involved with the issue agreed yesterday was a safety hazard: cars parked on the shoulder of one of the nation's busiest highways.

Safety was the point State Police Capt. David Young wanted to drive home yesterday morning when he convened a news conference on the southbound shoulder of I-95, just before the off-ramp for the airport - where so many drivers sit and wait for that "I'm here" call or text message from arriving passengers.

Section 3353 of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code, Young said, prohibits the parking, standing, or stopping of any vehicle at a place where official signs are posted. It also prohibits such activity on a limited-access highway even without the existence of signs specifically forbidding it, Young said.

Until now, police have been simply telling drivers caught waiting where they shouldn't be for arriving airline passengers to keep moving. They've also handed out directions to the Bartram Avenue park-and-ride lot downloaded from the airport Web site. Yesterday they added citations to their handouts, which carry a base fee of $97 plus a fine of up to $50.

The free park-and-ride lot, and even the short-term parking lot at the airport - which charges $3 for up to the first half hour, $5 for an hour - are better deals financially, Young noted.

While not wanting to wade too far into the debate on the adequacy of the signs, Young instead put the onus on "the motoring public . . . to do research before they come down to the airport."

Airport spokeswoman Phyllis VanIstendal acknowledged that even though the airport in 2005 installed 128 signs noting the existence of the Bartram Avenue lot, "it may be something that we need to look at again."

Establishing a cell-phone lot on airport property "would be an initiative that might be looked at in the future," she added, though the airport is "very constrained in terms of acreage."

In the meantime, at least one defense attorney adept in Traffic Court is not convinced that motorists would emerge victorious if they heeded the call of AAA's Rossi and tried to fight a ticket based on a defense that signs to the park-and-ride lot were inadequate.

"The signage issue . . . is a separate issue from idling where you're not supposed to be," said Louis Schwartz.

As odd as it sounds from an attorney who usually spends his time in Traffic Court trying to get tickets reduced or thrown out, Schwartz called the stepped-up enforcement on the roads around the airport "the right thing."

"People idling on the ramp is a bad idea," he said. "We all read about the people who park on the side of a road to change a tire and wind up dead."

Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466 or

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