As noted by Philadelphia Magazine, #BetterMobility2015 was trending on Twitter in Philadelphia on Thursday night. It happened because of the 250 people who were able to come and listen to where our mayoral candidates stand on transit issues at the Friends Center, and those who followed along from their desktop computers or mobile devices.
The Better Mobility Working Group—consisting of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the Clean Air Council, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Feet First Philly, Bike Share Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Parks Alliance, 10 Thousand Friends of Pennsylvania, PenTrans, Penn Future, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society—hosted the Better Mobility 2015 forum on Thursday, in which candidates spoke to bike, pedestrian and transit issues around the city.
If you were there, know this: Your presence made a huge difference in helping get these issues to the candidates and the public. Your presence makes our voice that much louder.
If you weren’t able to make it, no worries. Lots of Philly media made it out and provided summaries we’re sharing here—everything from the candidates’ dedication to Vision Zero, their (sometimes reserved) openness to protected bike lanes and—yep—Milton Street’s now-infamous “fat” quote.
The forum, which was organized by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and moderated by Citified, featured all of the mayoral candidates except State Senator Tony Williams, who was ably represented by surrogate Omar Woodard, policy director for the Williams campaign. Though there were important distinctions between the candidates, all were eager to proclaim their interest and commitment to cycling and transit, all said they supported “Vision Zero” (the Swedish-born notion that traffic fatalities can be eliminated through better planning and infrastructure design), and all said that improved conditions for cyclists and pedestrians were important concerns for a diverse array of Philadelphians, in spite of some public perception to the contrary.
That’s a major political evolution over a relatively short period of time, particularly given that this mayoral field isn’t exactly replete with cutting-edge thinkers and urbanists. Long story short: bike lanes have gone mainstream.
All the candidates made opening statements where they briefly addressed some mobility issues around the city and talked about their own experiences with transportation. Diaz, Street and Oliver were the only candidates who talked about their own biking. Diaz likes to bike on the trails around his home in Chestnut Hill, Oliver has a Trek and Street bikes around Fairmount Park (where he says he’s worried for his safety because of crime).
Later, the candidates were asked how they usually got around town. Here are the responses:
Abraham: Walking and the bus for around Center City and driving for different campaign events
Diaz: SEPTA. He also showed transit cards from Amtrak and the Metro in D.C. and the subway in New York City. He’s trains all the way.
Kenney: Walking and some SEPTA
Murray Bailey: SEPTA
Woodard: Walking or SEPTA. Didn’t say what Williams usually did.
On the question of bike lanes, Bailey lamented the levels of bureaucracy in the city and said that city council shouldn’t interfere in areas where the administration might have technical expertise. “We need to trust the experts,” she said.
Bailey wasn’t the evening’s only surprisingly polished-sounding participant. Williams couldn’t make the forum due to a scheduling conflict, but he sent his Policy Director, Omar Woodard, to speak for him. And speak he did. The man put on a master class in excellent sounding non-answers to the debate’s questions, demonstrating an obvious understanding of the issues being discussed without actually taking a concrete stance on nearly any issue. Baryshnikov could have learned a thing or two about pirouetting by watching Woodard artfully dance around Kerkstra’s questions.
One notable exception was when Kerkstra asked the field whether they would make increasing the street repaving budget a priority. While the candidates all gave varying answers of “not really, and here’s my stump speech” to platitudes about holding city paving contractors responsible, Woodward noted Williams proposal to increase vehicle registration fees by $5 to create a new, continual revenue stream for the Streets Department. Williams has pointed to the city’s plentiful potholes as evidence for the need for new funding.
Let’s start with a brief recap of impressions left after Thursday night’s “Better Mobility” forum, which was held at the Friends Center in Center City.
Jim Kenney will be an animal fighting against sidewalk construction occupation.
Lynne Abraham is concerned about senior-citizens’ mobility.
Milton Street finds most fat people in cars are angry.
Nelson Diaz has transit cards for every city on the east coast in his wallet.
Anthony Williams wants to raise the Streets Department budget.
Melissa Murray Bailey sounds like every other parent in Philadelphia trying to get kids around by foot or public transportation.
Doug Oliver, who was excited about the city’s bike-share prospects, hopes everybody can learn from accidents caused by reckless cyclists.
Hosted by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and other partner agencies, the forum featured all of the mayoral candidates including the Republican candidate, Murray Bailey.
All of the participants at the forum embraced Vision Zero. (Republican Melissa Murray Bailey went out of her way to note that she works for a Swedish company.) Candidate Anthony Williams’ representative, policy director Omar Woodard, promised “an interagency task force that will create an action plan that will reduce traffic-related mobility fatalities by half by 2020.” That’s the same target the Bicycle Coalition is pushing. (He also noted, correctly, that most pedestrian deaths occur in low-income neighborhoods.) No other candidate committed to such a concrete date, but all endorsed the concept.
One of the main discussions was centered around adopting a Vision Zero policy. Plan Philly, a news project of WHYY and Newsworks.org, calls Vision Zero “the hottest political issue you didn’t know you care about yet, which is headed straight for this year’s 2015 Mayor and Council campaigns.”
It is a multi-national road safety initiative that began in Sweden and aims to eliminate all fatalities and serious injuries caused by road traffic. Enacted by the Swedish parliament in 1997, the idea has gained traction recently in the United States with cities like San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Portland, Ore. adopting similar plans.
“I think Vision Zero is something to take hold of,” Melissa Murray Bailey said.
Thanks to all our sponsors who helped make the event a reality. They include Parsons Brinkerhoff, People for Bikes, the Alliance for Walking and Biking, and the William Penn Foundation; Philadelphia Magazine’s Patrick Kerkstra for hosting, and all our supporters for all the work that you do.