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To combat congestion, city officials announce plan for stricter enforcement

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The plan goes into effect next week.

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Several city departments are coming together for a plan to tackle congestion in Center City, with promises to crack down on parking and driving violations.

The anti-congestion plan goes into effect Monday, and it will see members of the parking authority (PPA), the police department, and SEPTA step up their enforcement of traffic and parking laws in Center City, focusing on Market and Chestnut streets, especially.

They’ll target cars using or parked in dedicated bike and bus lanes; illegal driving maneuvers (like U-turns); misuse of right-turn only lanes; parked cars that block a lane of traffic; cars blocking an intersection; and those parked in the median. The plan will initially focus on Market Street between 7th and 13th, and Chestnut Street between 22nd and 10th, according to a statement from the city.

The plan is a result of several departments and officials coming together, including the transit departments, Mayor Jim Kenney’s office, and City Council President Darrell Clarke.

“Congestion in Center City is on the rise,” Kenney said Thursday, adding that the city has grown by 50,000 people in the past eight years, resulting in Center City becoming the second most dense downtown in the country, after Manhattan. “Sometimes it feels like it’s midtown Manhattan.”

But combating congestion doesn’t necessarily require new legislation, Kenney argued. Instead, the city needs to look at enforcing laws that are already on the books.

That likely means increasing the presence of PPA officers on Chestnut and Market streets, PPA Executive Director Scott Petri said. He admitted that PPA officers have been lax in issuing tickets in the area, but said that will change come Monday.

The announcement comes just hours after City Council President Darrell Clarke proposed an amendment at Thursday’s council meeting, which would create a new category of city employees called Public Safety Enforcement Officers. The officers wouldn’t carry weapons or have the ability to arrest people, but they would help regulate traffic and provide help to police during special events. They would also enforce municipal code regulations.

“There’s not nearly enough police to cover [traffic],” Clarke said Thursday of the need for officers who focus on traffic enforcement, specifically. He added that covering traffic violations takes officers away from more serious crimes. Establishing a public safety-specific group of city employees would lessen the police force’s burden.

If it passes council, the amendment will be a question for voters on the May ballot. There’s no clear connection between Clarke’s proposal and the city’s plan for increased enforcement, apart from a desire to reduce congestion in the city.