Will parking return beneath the Ben Franklin bridge?

COURTNEY MARABELLA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Parking under the Ben Franklin Bridge is being discussed by the Delaware River Port Authority.
COURTNEY MARABELLA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Parking under the Ben Franklin Bridge is being discussed by the Delaware River Port Authority.
Posted: April 09, 2013

AFTER 9/11, cities across the country banned under-bridge parking, worried a bomb- or bazooka-wielding zealot would take one out.

Nearly 12 years later, such fears have eased enough that some cities - including Philly - have mulled reopening the areas for public access. Delaware River Port Authority officials met a few months ago to consider allowing commuters to park under the Ben Franklin Bridge, as they did before 9/11.

Now, a DRPA spokesman says parking under the bridge is unlikely - but not abandoned altogether - because of liability, security and financial concerns.

"We never say never," said DRPA spokesman Timothy Ireland, adding that the agency considered under-bridge parking as a way to generate revenue to delay raising tolls. "But if anyone's waiting with bated breath to park under that bridge, I would urge them to inhale."

Still, until they renounce any plan for parking altogether, Old City residents will remain anxious: They fear a parking company, to maximize profits, would woo the noisy nightclub crowd and keep them awake all night.

"Try sleeping on a Thursday night, when the patrons leave the bars at 2:30 a.m., and then the nightclub employees leave an hour later," said Richard Thom, chairman of the Old City Civic Association's developments committee. "We would support parking [under the bridge] - just not late-night, in-and-out parking. We can see this becoming like a Disney World environment."

In the 1980s, the Old City Civic Association made money by running a public monthly parking lot under the bridge, with the DRPA's approval, Thom said. But the authority ended that arrangement to accommodate labor crews for bridge painting and other maintenance, he added.

After the 9/11 attacks, the authority put up a cyclone fence to bar under-bridge parking, and it's been banned ever since. Still, parking companies eager to cash in on the congested area frequently float plans for parking there; three areas under the bridge between 2nd and 4th streets could accommodate about 500 cars, Thom said.

The authority first reconsidered parking under the bridge last year, along with other ideas like selling advertisements on PATCO tickets and selling naming rights to stations, as it brainstormed ways to milk more money out of its "underused assets," Ireland said.

"But this is all speculative," Ireland said. "We haven't studied traffic or security concerns. We haven't examined engineering or bridge-maintenance issues. We haven't performed a market study and we haven't conducted a cost/benefit analysis. Right now, we're just asking neighbors, 'What if?' "


On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo

 

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