Last night was the Better Mobility 2015 Mayoral Forum, hosted by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. All seven candidates for mayor (six Democrats, one Republican), save for State Sen. Anthony Williams, who was represented by his campaign’s policy director, spent the evening pledging fealty to Vision Zero in particular, and to the idea that Cars Don’t Rule Philadelphia in general. Which is all very hopeful, and a good sign, since at least none of the candidates were brave or foolhardy enough to contradict the pro-bike, pro-transit crowd in attendance at the Friends Center to their faces. In fact, it was eerie how much the candidates sounded alike, until you realized that a lot of the talking points were lifted straight from the election platforms of the Bicycle Coalition and The 5th Square. How much those documents drove the candidates’ positions was made crystal clear on the last question of the night, when moderator Patrick Kerkstra asked, “What would you do to limit the impact of traffic congestion for SEPTA buses?”
Despite my best efforts, bus lanes and Transit Signal Priority have yet to make it onto an election platform this year. (No, I was not the source of the question last night; that was somebody else in the audience.) This was the one question where the candidates hadn’t been spoon-fed the “right” answer. Every single participant sat in befuddled silence. Kerkstra tried prompting the candidates “this is about bus lanes. And bus rapid transit.” No dice. Eventually former Councillor Jim Kenney improvised a weak but passable answer about Transit Signal Priority.
Let me make this as clear as I possibly can: Bus lanes are the one thing a Mayor of Philadelphia can do to unilaterally assist transit riders. Everything else requires the approval of Council, or competing with other priorities at SEPTA. If you are running for Mayor, and you don’t have an agenda that includes bus lanes, transit signal priority, and bus shelters, (which are all things the City does, and not SEPTA) then you have no plan for helping public transit riders in this city, and you should be fucking ashamed of yourself.
Now, to be perfectly clear, there were six very intelligent people up on that stage, and if Lynne Abraham hadn’t left early, there would have been seven. Snarky pictures aside, I am not saying they had nothing because they were stupid. I am saying that they are smart, and their failure hurts more because they are smart. Our politicians, top to bottom, have to shape the hell up. Or we’re in for a very, very long eight years.
η: As I knew he would, Jim Saksa has his own, better-written, more comprehensive writeup of the forum up at PlanPhilly. (It is only marred by my ugly, scowling mug in the photograph at the bottom.) He sounds almost as disappointed as I am.
I must say, from your description, while it didn’t go well, it actually sounds like it went better than I would have expected. All of the campaigns are pretending to care about us! I’m pretty sure that’s a step in the right direction. Before, I would have assumed they all had nothing but disdain for us.
The next step, I think, is for them to propose spending money on ferries, and/or trolleys. (Not extra money, of course – it would come right out of the SEPTA bus budget.) And I expect they will talk about somehow getting the federal and state governments to send more money to SEPTA. (Because previous mayors never tried that.) Maybe even advocate another subway line (assuming we don’t have to pay for it). Anything to avoid actually making tradeoffs in favor of transit.
Maybe some time in the future (years? decades?), someone with the power to do something will actually seriously propose reallocating street space/time for transit over cars. Having come here from New York, where the majority of people do not have a car, and yet transportation policy is almost as oriented towards cars as any other American city… I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen here.
Anyway, I guess I’m voting for Kenney, but it’s entirely because everyone else seems to be worse. I don’t have high hopes for him. The other day, he was talking about how he saved Phil’s Crabs on Oregon Avenue from going out of business. I live right on Oregon Avenue, and all I can think is: that damn crab truck is always — ALWAYS — blocking the bike lane with their barrels of crabs. Of course there are usually about half a dozen vehicles parked in the bike lane besides (only one or two of which are parking in the bike lane so they can buy crabs), so the lane is basically useless with or without Phil’s Crabs there. But still…
I really do think there’s real momentum on the citywide level for transit and urbanism issues, and the part where the mayoral race seems to be a jump ball between Abraham’s name rec, Williams’s charter money, and Kenney’s institutional and progressive backing, only helps. (No sane candidate can afford to overtly go against us.) But we’ve had 7+ years of Nutter Administration semi-progressivism, and that’s managed to generate more hunger for more than backlash. (Council, where more than half of the District Councillors are running unopposed, is another question.)
If anything, we’re 10+ years ahead of New York, with our politically-motivated weird transit idea (restoration of 15 trolley service) having come out of the early Street Administration. And thank goodness, the only remotely viable ferry proposal we have is Navy Yard-Jersey, which is 1) DRPA’s jurisdiction and nobody else will pay for it ever, because DRPA, and 2) not PIDC’s top priority, that being a Broad Street Line extension.
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