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With up to five colors, nearly 60 words and a healthy dose of small print, many of Philadelphia’s downtown parking signs are complicated enough to confuse even the most astute motorist.

The Parking Authority did not answer our many questions regarding its parking signs, and cited federal privacy laws in denying our Right to Know inquiry requesting specific information about tickets issued last year. But in a 2011 blog post on its website that includes song lyrics from Five Man Electrical Band (yes, seriously), the Parking Authority wrote:

“A lot of people find parking signs confusing, confounding, contemptible, and what they consider conductive [sic] to creating chaos. This is especially true if there are multiple signs on a given pole. Don’t make the mistake of reading just one of the signs where multiple signs are posted. You must adhere to all the edicts on all the signs on a particular pole.”

Here’s the problem: Some Philadelphia parking signs contain so many edicts that drivers find them impossible to understand. The signs could be redesigned, as New York’s were several years ago, but the Parking Authority, which received $232 million in cash from customers and others in the fiscal year ending March 2012, is doing just fine with the signs as they are. Drivers, unfortunately, are not.

The Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation, which markets the Philadelphia region as a tourist destination, was concerned enough about the issue that it posted a YouTube video explaining Philly parking.  The responses were not kind.

A YouTube user named jdh428 wrote:

“I was visiting the city this past Thursday (I’m from Pittsburgh) and I received a $75 ticket for parking in a ‘Tow Away Zone.’ On the left side of the sign it had hours of parking and on the right it said [Tow] Away, so I figured that as long as I was within the times on the left I was good. The sign is perpendicular to the curb, NOT parallel. If it was parallel, I would [have] clearly understood that the left side applied to the spot in front, and the tow away to the spot where I was. UGH!”

Jdh428 is never coming back.

A YouTube user named Da Xue was equally critical.

“They have tons of poor signs such as No Stopping 12-6AM written in the tiny corner to catch people on Sunday morning. If you request that they make the No Stopping on the left side bigger, they will laugh in your face. The no stopping on Sunday between the hours of 12-6AM should not take 12.5% of the space on the sign. No stopping should take at least 25% if not more of a small sign like that. It’s like adding fine print.”

We asked Michael Bierut, of the design firm Pentagram, which redesigned Manhattan’s confusing parking signs, to take a look at a Philadelphia parking sign and tell us what he would do to improve the design.

“I have nothing against serif typography,” Bierut said, referring to the typeface on Philly’s signs, “but reversing it out of blue and red makes it really hard to read. Also, I find that it’s easy to miss the arrows, which are pretty important.

“Philadelphia is interesting, particular Center City, because it has so many colorful signs that are directed to tourists. These should probably [be] considered not just on their own, but as part of the larger ensemble.”

Therefore we’ve decided to turn to our readers. If PPA won’t give us the information we need to protect drivers from confusing parking signs, we’ll get it straight from the people, and we’ll use it to build a map. In order to do so, we’ll need your participation.

Crowdsourcing Philly’s Worst Parking Areas

To compile the data we’ll need to draw a parking sign map, AxisPhilly is asking every reader, every Tweeter, every Facebooker, and every Instagram user to help us gather the information.

The process is simple. Take a picture of a confusing parking sign with your camera or phone and post it to Twitter, Instagram, Flickr or Facebook. Include the exact location of the sign. We’ll combine your parking sign data with what we receive from other Philadelphians and use it to produce an unofficial map of the worst parking areas in the city, and post the map on AxisPhilly.org.

And we won’t stop there, because we want to know how the parking signs have affected you. Videotape your Parking Authority horror stories. Tell us about the ticket you got when you parked in a space and got a ticket because the sign was confusing. Tell us about the Parking Enforcement Officer who wrote you a ticket while you were sitting in your car. Don’t be afraid to be creative, either. The best videos and stories will be posted on AxisPhilly.org.

Parking signs

Parking signs along Market Street in Old City compete with banners and other signs. (Neil Budde photo for AxisPhilly)