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.