Perspectives: Sidewalk Parking Is Illegal — But, on Many Pittsburgh Streets, Necessary

As some Pittsburghers get up in arms about wheels on the sidewalk, the city seems content to let parking be a street-by-street battle between neighbors.


There’s a guy on my block who really, really doesn’t want you to park on his sidewalk.

He’s taken the unusual step of printing and laminating a series of signs to this effect, lining the fence in front of his house with yellow placards instructing spot-searching motorists that putting two wheels on the curb is prohibited. These signs go so far as to list the city ordinance — on the books, if rarely enforced — that makes such lopsided parking illegal.

While our neighborhood signmaker may be the only one who has taken such thorough measures, he’s hardly alone. In a neighborhood Facebook group, I’ve seen at least a half-dozen posts discussing sidewalk parking, particularly when it’s so extreme that it prevents pedestrian passage.

These posts — both virtual and physical — aren’t incorrect. It’s not legal to park on a sidewalk in Pittsburgh. (Really, it’s not. Anywhere.) Putting your car up on the curb can damage both public and private property and make it difficult for pedestrians (not to mention those using wheelchairs or other mobility aids) to get around. Plus, it generally makes your street look like the lawn outside the Big Butler County Fair.

Here’s the thing, though.

Many streets — mine, for instance — are, on the books, utterly ridiculous. Officially, my small block (and the side street that gives access to it) are two-way roads, with legal parking.

Let’s take the parking first: If two cars parked on opposite sides of my street, and neither were on the curb, they would block the street. Not in a two-way sense; in either direction. There are spots on my street where two legally parked cars — particularly in the case of the absurdly large pickup that has become a daily obstacle — would make passing in anything wider than a Scoobi impossible.

Then there’s the absurd notion that I live on a two-way street. When two cars approach one another, one has to get out of the way, ducking into an available gap in the parked cars (often onto the sidewalk) just to allow the other to pass.

If you’ve lived in any number of older Pittsburgh neighborhoods, you’re familiar with this uncomfortable reality. On many residential roads, the officially sanctioned methods of driving and parking are fanciful at best. Yet these designations persist for decades, as the city is apparently disinclined to re-evaluate how passable its roads are in a post-horse era.

Yet somehow, they manage to ticket everyone if we forget that it’s street sweeping day. Anyway.

Yes: The city probably should actually enforce its laws and make it clear that there’s no parking on the sidewalk. But only if, first, there’s an honest and thorough review of where parked cars should and should not be — and which roads should stop masquerading as two-way streets.

I’m not holding my breath for that to happen. (It’s hard to get elected on a “we’re gonna think about which roads are good” platform.) So, until such time as a better solution presents itself: Just be thoughtful. Try to park your cars in ways that aren’t going to ruin anyone’s day (or curb). If you aren’t carrying grocery bags and are feeling spry, park a bit farther away, if it means using a less-divisive patch of territory.

And — if your street really is too narrow to allow safe passage without parking on the sidewalk— maybe look the other way if your neighbors need to poke a wheel up.

I hope we eventually figure this one out. And, as much as I decry the rampant over-fining and ridiculous nature of parking enforcement, I hope the city can figure out our bizarre streets — and which rules actually need to be enforced.

One thing to keep in mind, though, if you’re thinking of making better parking enforcement your personal cause: It’s a double-edged sword. If we manage to actually keep the sidewalks free of leaning tires, another Pittsburgh tradition might be next.

You know what else is, technically, illegal?

Parking chairs.

Be careful what you wish for.

Categories: Collier’s Weekly