Photo by Charl Folscher
5th Square is Philadelphia's urbanist political action committee. 

We organize for policy change in the areas of transportation, housing and land use, and public space, for a more accessible, sustainable, efficient, and equitable Philadelphia and Pennsylvania for all residents.

Our top 3 state-wide legislative priorities in 2022

  1. Allowing parking-protected bike lanes on state roads. Parking-protected bike lanes have a row of street parking between vehicle traffic and the bike lane. These kinds of lanes are allowed now on Philadelphia city streets, but not state roads, which are among the busiest and most dangerous for bicyclists. Pass an unamended version of HB140.

  2. Introduce binding state housing production targets enforceable by state government. Require county governments to plan around state-issued housing production targets in the 10-year comprehensive plan updates required by the Municipalities Planning Code

  3. Legislation enabling local governments to implement new transit funding mechanisms. Such legislation should also ensure that local funds are supplemental and not used to replace a shortfall from the state.


We need more equitable, accessible, safe, and sustainable systems of transportation throughout Pennsylvania. As a result, we advocate for public transit and active modes of transportation like walking and cycling.


Statewide, there is a gap between the funding that transit agencies like SEPTA have, and what they need. The General Assembly took the first step in addressing this issue in the FY 2022-2023 state budget Governor Wolf signed in June that transferred the state’s public transportation funding obligation from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to the state’s motor vehicle sales tax. This allows transit agencies, like SEPTA, to borrow money for the first time to advance major projects.  New sources of dedicated funding are still needed to adequately fund public transportation:

  • Legislation enabling local governments to implement new transit funding mechanisms. SEPTA’s current Capital budget does not allow for service extensions or capacity enhancements, which will be needed to support our growing, transit-dependent region. Legislative action is needed to authorize new local funding options to leverage additional federal funds to expand SEPTA’s capital budget and advance critical fleet replacements, infrastructure rehabilitation, and projects of regional significance.
  • Legislation enabling congestion pricing, permitting municipalities and regions to institute tolls on cars entering into the most congested areas while raising funds for improvements to transit, and for infrastructure for walking and bicycling.

  • Explore and implement other revenue sources: ride-hailing service fees; fees for tire purchase, vehicle lease and vehicle rental; a fee on Pennsylvania municipalities that rely solely on State Police; bridge tolling and other options in Gov. Wolf's Transportation Revenue Options Commission Report.

Other policies to support public transit include:

  • Direct federal infrastructure dollars to support SEPTA’s Projects of Regional Significance.With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), SEPTA has an historic opportunity to advance transformational projects including bus network redesign, wayfinding improvements, reimagining regional rail, trolley modernization, and procuring new vehicles for regional rail and city transit lines to increase service reliability and frequency. The IIJA provides billions of federal dollars that can support these priorities. However, SEPTA needs strong local, regional and state funding commitments to be competitive and qualify for federal aid.

  • Expedite study and construction of the Roosevelt Boulevard Subway. Following the Route for Change 2040 Next Steps implementation outline.

  • Subsidize fares for low income riders.

  • State-level assistance for hiring drivers and other transit workers to address the ongoing staff shortages.

🚲 Incentivize active and non-automotive transportation

  • Pass HB140Allowing parking-protected bike lanes on state roads. Parking-protected bike lanes have a row of street parking between vehicle traffic and the bike lane. These kinds of lanes are allowed now on Philadelphia city streets, but not state roads, which are among the busiest and most dangerous for bicyclists. 

  • Support the ‘Vulnerable Road User’ Bill which increases fines for reckless drivers who cause death or serious injury of vulnerable roadway users. See more from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

  • “Fix it first”: Prioritize road/highway maintenance over expansion. More and wider roads and highways will shift mode share to cars when we should be shifting in the other direction.

  • Provide tax credits for electric motor bikes (e-bikes). A similar program in Denver, Colorado has been wildly popular (and is being scaled-up statewide), and is reducing vehicle miles traveled by car.

  • Provide tax credits for households with 1 or 0 cars. This would shift mode share away from cars and towards transit and active transportation, while also supporting our most economically vulnerable residents, who tend to have fewer cars. The California legislature passed a similar bill that could be used as a model.

🚦 Allow automated traffic enforcement

  • Make permanent current automated enforcement pilot programs. Automated enforcement is more effective than police-based enforcement, and has reduced speeding by 90% on Roosevelt Boulevard, one of the most dangerous roads in Pennsylvania. 
  • Authorize the expansion of automated enforcement to include: bus and trolley lanes, roads in school zones, red lights and stop signs, corner clearances, crosswalks, delivery zones, and non-curb pickups and drop-offs by ride-hailing drivers.

🛣️ Reform PennDOT

Currently, PennDOT seems to view its mission as maximizing the flow of cars through our streets and highways. We believe that Pennsylvanians would be better served by a transportation agency that prioritized people, and safer, cleaner, and more accessible modes of transporting them. We therefore think a deep cultural shift is needed at PennDOT. The following policies can help engender this shift:

  • Consider former and current Pittsburgh DOMI employees as potential administration employees. Under the Bill Peduto administration, Pittsburgh made great strides in multimodal connectivity.

  • Push PennDOT to embrace Vision Zero’s goal of eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries. This can be facilitated in at least two ways. First, implement features of the Safe Systems Approach. Second, designate a PennDOT champion and enforcer of Vision Zero policies and processes, to ensure districts follow them (see, e.g., the PennDOT Intersection Control Evaluation). See this Philly Inquirer opinion piece for more.

  • Prioritize sidewalks as a necessary transportation system, not a luxury amenity. Currently, if a sidewalk/shared use path is a preferred option, or needed based on crashes or pedestrian generators, municipalities need to agree to maintenance for design and construction to occur. If they don't, a sidewalk gets deleted. Sidewalk construction should not be dependent on one decision maker in a township.

  • Use standardized formulae, like Virginia’s SMART SCALE, to allocate transportation dollars. SMART SCALE evaluates potential transportation projects based on key factors like how they improve safety, reduce congestion, increase accessibility, contribute to economic development, promote efficient land use, and affect the environment. Using a formula like this ensures limited funds have maximum impact.

  • Create a separate PennDOT region with an office within Philadelphia. This should attract PennDOT employees who use and value public transit and active transportation.

  • Hire a dedicated bicycle/pedestrian coordinator for the Philadelphia region. Put coordinators in the chain of project approval. Currently, coordinators’ advice can be acknowledged but ultimately ignored. Coordinators need to be within the direct approval authority chain / advisor to the District Executive to ensure that their recommendations will be implemented into design.

Housing & Land Use

We believe that Philadelphia and Pennsylvania need more dense housing in transit-accessible, walkable, high-opportunity areas. We believe that (1) more housing in such areas is key to a healthy environment, (2) more housing is essential to creating race and class equity, and (3) more housing will lead to a robust, durable, and growing economy.

🏗️ Allow the construction of more housing

  • Introduce binding state housing production targets enforceable by state government. Require county governments to plan around state-issued housing production targets in the 10-year comprehensive plan updates required by the Municipalities Planning CodeMunicipal comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances are required by law to be “generally consistent” with county plans, so housing targets could be an effective way to make county plans accommodate housing growth, which in turn would require the same of municipal plans and zoning codes. Failure to meet targets could entail penalties like suspension of a county’s state highway funding.
  • Set state-level guardrails on exclusionary local rules. Local exclusionary rules are one of the biggest barriers to the construction of dense, affordable, transit-accessible housing in high-opportunity areas. Studies suggest that such restrictions even cost US earners $9,000 to $16,000 per yearWe support state-level guardrails to minimize local government’s ability to enact the following barriers:

    • Minimum lot sizes
    • Minimum parking requirements
    • Minimum setbacks
    • Maximum building heights
    • Bans on housing units other than Single-Family Homes (SFH)
    • Bans on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) and Single Resident Occupancies (SRO)

🛡️ Create robust tenant protections

  • Seal eviction records. An eviction filing can seriously jeopardize a renter’s ability to find new housing, even if the case is settled or the landlord loses the case. Sealing eviction filings would prevent a single filing from following a renter indefinitely, and prevent cycles of housing instability caused by eviction filings.

  • Establish and fund eviction diversion programs. HEMAP, a diversion program for foreclosures, has been extremely effective at preventing homeowners from losing their homes. However, no similar programs exist statewide for renter eviction, despite eviction being a statewide issue. Local eviction diversion programs (such as Philadelphia’s Eviction Diversion Program, Montgomery County’s EPIC program, and Chester County’s Eviction Prevention Court) have been successful in helping to divert eviction cases, but varying court rules and uncertain funding makes expansion of these programs difficult. State government should step in to make diversion programs (which marry legal representation, rental assistance, social services, and mediation) the default in eviction court.

  • Ban income-based discrimination. Pittsburgh tried to enact an ordinance banning housing discrimination based on one’s status as a voucher holder, but the state supreme court struck the ordinance down. A ban on such discrimination therefore needs to be enacted with state-wide legislation. Such legislation should include robust enforcement mechanisms to ensure that fair housing laws are consistently enforced.

🏢 Increase resources for affordable housing

  • Increase funding for PHARE, the state affordable housing trust fund. PHARE is an invaluable tool for local communities to increase affordable housing opportunities. PHARE is especially valuable because it is more flexible than most other housing programs, and supports grassroots affordable housing efforts across all of PA’s 67 counties. PHARE is largely funded through the Realty Transfer Tax, but this amount is capped and in recent years has lost millions of dollars of potential funding because of this limitation. A measure to increase the funding cap has wide bipartisan support in the General Assembly, but was stripped out during the budget process in 2022. With housing costs growing so quickly, this cap should be lifted as soon as possible.

  • Support Whole Home Repairs. The Whole Home Repairs program has garnered national-level praise, and has great potential to not only help homeowners and renters improve their housing conditions, but also enable energy efficiency, support neighborhood stability, and create good jobs. While the recent budget included funding for the program, the state should make funding for the program not a one-off but a recurring resource, as well as create good procedures and guidelines that makes implementation of the program effective.


We believe public space in our cities and towns ought to be designed for people, not cars, and safe and accessible to all residents, regardless of race, age, gender, disability, or any other identity. These public spaces ought to include ample natural, green recreational opportunities as well. In particular:

  • Create new and better maintain existing public spaces, such as parks and squares, circuit trails, public restrooms, libraries, and public pools. Allocate more consistent, long-term funding for public spaces.

  • Support the East Coast Greenway multi-use trail system by accelerating the completion of gaps in its network, improving safe walking and biking connections to underserved neighborhoods, and creating a dedicated maintenance funding source to upgrade existing trails in need of repairs.

  • Convert space for cars into space for people. Accelerate the capping of highways like the Vine street Expressway or I-95 in Philadelphia, and/or convert road space into public squares, as was done to 23rd and South Streets in Philadelphia.


Help us win a more accessible, sustainable, and equitable Philadelphia: Become a Member to help 5th Square win some of these changes!