Seven of Philadelphia’s mayoral candidates gathered at the Howard Gittis Student Center Friday afternoon for the American Association of Retired Persons and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia’s 2023 Better Mobility Mayoral Forum ahead of the May 17 primary election.
Candidates Rebecca Rhynhart, Helen Gym, Allan Domb, Amen Brown, James DeLeon, Warren Bloom and Derek Green shared their views on transit in Philadelphia. Some key topics included accessible sidewalks and Vision Zero, a project introduced by Mayor Jim Kenney in 2016 dedicated to eliminating traffic deaths in Philadelphia by 2030.
Daniel Pearson, a member of The Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board and moderator of the event, first asked the candidates how they would ensure equitable access to safe streets and transportation for the city. In response, candidates emphasized improved sidewalks, handicap accessibility and expansion of the Indego bike system.
“My office looked at trash collection and found that on-time trash collection was much better in Center City and Northeast Philadelphia than North, West and South Philly, and that’s not right, and as mayor I will be strategic and intentional to make sure that services are delivered in an equitable fashion,” said Rhynhart, former Philadelphia city controller.
Each candidate supported or considered supporting the creation of a Department of Transportation that would include the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability, Complete Streets and the transportation division of the Department of Streets.
Former councilmembers Gym and Derek Green and Pastor Warren Bloom express support for funneling permit funds directly back into the Department of Streets budget. Candidates who were not in favor of the proposal, like Domb, vowed to properly fund the Department of Streets through the general budget.
“I, too, will make sure that I fund [the Department of Streets] properly through the general budget but not through a separate line,” said Domb, a former city councilmember.
Gym proposed splitting the Department of Streets into a department of transit and a department of sanitation and waste management to allow for more attention to each of the proposed divisions.
“I started my campaign in 2015 when I first ran for City Council on this big idea of the connected city, the idea that we have to bring all parts of our city together that the pathways to do it were through our trans our public transit system, our pedestrian walkways, through bike lanes and multimodal transit that met the needs of families,” Gym said.
Each candidate agreed to continue Kenney’s Vision Zero project and offered methods for expanding the initiative.
State Rep. Amen Brown, Rhynhart, Gym and Domb committed to expanding the Vision Zero project’s budget from $2.5 million to $10 million, but most were opposed to codifying the project in the City Charter
Each candidate said they would support cameras on buses to enforce parking violations, the modernization of the SEPTA trolley system, code changes that would change how citizens can improve traffic conditions and the addition of 40 miles of bike lanes and 20 miles of trails.
Four candidates would oppose state legislation allowing for counties to create a separate tax fund for public transportation if elected as mayor.
Candidates were then permitted two minutes each for their closing remarks.
Deborah LiCalzi, 63, a retiree who attended the event, felt that Gym performed best during the panel.
“[Gym] seemed to have the most information about the most questions, she did she she didn’t not answer any of the questions like some of the other candidates had talking points that they were determined to get out,” LiCalzi said.
LiCalzi feels that transit is an important issue in this election because she has issues with mobility.
“As a seasoned citizen walking around, lighted streets are not just important to feel safe, they’re also important for safety so that I can take a step and not hit a crack or a hole and fall down,” she said.
Joan Alexander, 59, a leasing agent, believes that Philadelphia currently has a sound transit system and that safety issues must be addressed.
“I think we need to work on our schools and the violence, maybe cleaning up streets a little bit, get rid of some of these areas where there’s people are just throwing trash everywhere,” Alexander said.
Alexander also believed that Gym had the best performance during Friday’s forum.
The candidates will meet again at a mayoral debate on April 11 at the Temple Performing Arts Center. The primaries for Philadelphia’s 100th mayor will be held on May 17 and the general election will be held on Nov. 7.