2024 Statewide Issue Platform

5th Square is Philadelphia's urbanist political action committee. 

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

Roadway Safety & Highways

Philadelphia currently gives far too much space to cars and prioritizes the convenience of drivers over the health and safety of everyone else. We therefore advocate for the following policies so that our streets and other public spaces are designed for people, not cars, and are safe and accessible to all residents, regardless of race, age, gender, disability, or any other identity.

1. Reduce Traffic Deaths & Reform PennDOT

We believe roads need to be designed to move people and not just automobiles, giving priority to the safety of the most vulnerable road users.

Reexamining our deadly car-centric engineering practices would have immense benefits in so many areas. Our transportation dollars could be put to better use creating jobs in walkable locations, making people’s daily journeys easier and greener, and saving lives by reducing crashes. Every trip taken on foot, bike, or public transit means fewer cars on the road.

Some of Philadelphia’s most dangerous streets for pedestrians and cyclists based on injury statistics are PennDOT-owned arterials, many of which are major downtown streets and commercial corridors running through very urban parts of the city.

PennDOT has not yet embraced Vision Zero’s goal of eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries and are monomaniacally focused on moving as many vehicles as possible. At the same time, PennDOT officials are on autopilot spending billions on expanding and widening highways.

Along with a shift in the state transportation budget toward greener and cleaner ways of getting around, we also need a cultural shift in the agency and a rebalancing of priorities, especially in PennDOT’s District 6 office serving the Philadelphia region. Its location amid the sea of highways out in King of Prussia, inaccessible by good transit, is a perfect symbol of the current state of the agency’s thinking.

2. Support Parking-Protected Bike Lanes & Pedestrian Plazas

We seek candidates who support parking-protected bike lanes & pedestrian plazas.

HB 1283 amends the Pennsylvania’s Vehicle Code to allow PennDOT to design and build parking protected bike lanes on state roads. Currently, the Vehicle Code requires motor vehicle tires to be within 12 inches of a curb. A parking protected bike lane positions motor vehicles several feet away from the curb to allow a bike lane to be positioned in between the curb and a lane of parked cars.

Cities that build protected lanes for cyclists end up with safer roads for cyclists, but also drivers and pedestrians. Protected bike lanes reduce fatal collisions by discouraging driver speeding and improves pedestrian safety by shortening the crossing distance. study of parking protected bicycle lanes in Philadelphia found crashes decreased by nearly 20% with cycling increasing 96% in those roadways.

Besides the safety benefits, a network of protected bike lanes will encourage more Philadelphians to travel by bike -- reducing congestion, lowering carbon emissions, and burning calories. Furthermore, this will provide low-income residents with greater economic opportunities and free them, along with other residents, of the financial burdens of car-ownership.

Our city government must prioritize safe, accessible, and sustainable active transportation over the convenience of motorists in addition to equal consideration in transportation planning processes - oftentimes, non-motorists are viewed as an afterthought. 

3. We oppose highway widening and ramp expansions

PennDOT's proposed highway widening and ramp expansion of I-95 through Center City and South Philly threatens the well-being of our neighborhoods by worsening air quality, increasing noise pollution, and harming our access to the waterfront. This project also induces demand for car travel which will result in more traffic pouring into neighborhood streets.

We seek candidates who urge PennDOT to prioritize sustainable, equitable solutions that enhance public transportation, pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure, and green spaces.

4. Implement Congestion Pricing

We seek candidates who support congestion pricing - a toll for vehicles entering Center City and University City during peak travel times - with funding used for improving public transportation.

Congestion pricing is a fee charged to vehicles traveling into or within a predetermined area of a city at certain hours of certain days. The goal is to discourage people from driving into a city’s busiest areas so they turn to public transit instead. Funds from this program must be used to improve public transportation and provide a viable alternative to driving.

Congestion pricing will have benefits for communities across the city and region, by 

  • reducing traffic congestion and improve air quality.
  • raising ridership and revenue for public transit.
  • making the transportation system more equitable.
  • boosting economic output by cutting down on wasted hours in traffic.

Philadelphia roads recently ranked as the 4th most congested in the nation, and elected officials need to study and enact congestion pricing. 

5. Reduce Pennsylvania's Dependence on Cars

Philadelphia roads recently ranked as the 4th most congested in the nation.  Philadelphia needs to consider sustainable and equitable solutions today to combat our congestion and mobility problem. We oppose adding vehicle travel lanes on major freeways and streets due these measures inducing more demand for the use of motor vehicles.

We seek candidates who support solutions to increase walking, biking, and riding public transit:

  • Design safer streets to encourage walking and cycling
  • Make cycling safe and easy by building a network of protected bike lanes
  • Encourage walking by ensuring well-maintained sidewalks and curb cuts
  • Implement congestion pricing to discourage driving and fund transit
  • Incentivize transit ridership through improved funding and discounted pass programs
  • Build bus-only lanes and expand access to rail lines
  • Implement dynamic-priced parking, basing meter rates on demand
  • Enforce parking and loading regulations to discourage blocked sidewalks and travel lanes
  • Expand micro-mobility access through bike and scooter share programs
  • Support an e-bike rebate program
  • Permit more housing near frequent transit

Public Transportation

We advocate for transit improvements that benefit all Philadelphians and better connect the Greater Philadelphia region. Our mission is to amplify the voices of SEPTA riders and residents within Greater Philadelphia in support of a safe, accessible, and sustainable transit network.

6. Fund Public Transportation

The five southeast counties of Pennsylvania generate 41% of the state's economic activity with 32% of its population. This degree of economic productivity and density is not possible without transit to efficiently move people throughout the region. From 2018-2022, SEPTA issued over $1.15 billion in contracts to PA companies in 41 different counties.

We seek candidates who support increasing funding for transit.

The funding shortfall for SEPTA is two-fold -- both Operating and Capital Budgets are in jeopardy. 

Operating Budget

Without legislative action on new state funding - SEPTA will need to implement fare increases, service cuts & job reductions. Federal COVID relief funds will be exhausted in April 2024, before ridership and farebox revenues fully return.

SEPTA will face a recurring deficit of $240 million per year starting July 2024.  This funding shortfall could require a fare increase up to 31% and service reductions as high as 20%. With legislative approval of the Governor's plan to increase transit funding plus local match, additional belt-tightening and other fiscal measures, SEPTA can avoid service cuts, fare increases, and close $240 million funding gap.

Capital Budget

New state and local matching funds are necessary to be competitive for federal IIJA grant opportunities. SEPTA's state of good repair backlog has grown to $5.1 billion and projects of significance, such as Trolley Modernization, ADA upgrades and critical vehicle replacements, are not fully funded

Boston, Washington D.C. and New York spend 52% - 186% more per capita on transit annually to leverage significant federal investment. Local and regional funding in Washington, Chicago and Atlanta has helped these regions win large federal competitive grants to advance projects of local and regional significance. Seattle is spending over $50 billion to build a system that is one quarter of the size of SEPTA.

Increased local funding will secure additional state investment and new local funding options will unlock federal grants that can fund up to one half of local project costs.

State & local funding for public transit is essential not just for urban areas but for communities across PA. It ensures everyone has access to work, healthcare, and education, bridging the gap between rural and urban opportunities.

HB 1307 and HB 902 each seek to remedy this, allowing local governments to assess new fees or taxes to fund transportation.

Philadelphia can look to Denver, which adopted a transit-dedicated 0.4% sales tax, or Seattle, which has created a transit benefit district. While introducing new taxes is never a pleasant experience for politicians, transit referendums have seen success in communities across the country as taxpayers recognize them as a worthwhile investment.

7. Support a Subway for Roosevelt Blvd

We seek candidates who support a subway/metro line for Roosevelt Boulevard.

Roosevelt Boulevard is a wide, often congested, urban highway that has earned the nickname “the corridor of death due to the exorbitant rate of pedestrian and motorist fatalities. The design of Roosevelt Blvd and the land use surrounding it prioritizes moving a high-volume of vehicles over safety and livability.

Boulevard Subway would improve the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians by:

  • Providing affordable and direct connections to jobs in Center City and Northeast Philly
  • Improving equity by closing the gap in transit access across race and income
  • Relieving traffic congestion and shorten commute times
  • Enhancing pedestrian safety through a safer roadway design with buried lanes of traffic
  • Fighting climate change and improving local air quality
  • Growing the economic impact of the region through transit-oriented commercial and residential development
  • Creating local construction jobs

8. Support for SEPTA strategic initiatives

SEPTA is transforming its system to serve the region through the 21st century and build towards a long-term vision of a unified lifestyle network. One that can be easily used for any sort of trip – whether that be commuting, everyday errands, or leisure activities. Transit does the most good when it is convenient and reliable enough to be relied upon for a variety of needs, connecting more people to more jobs, reducing carbon emissions, making car ownership unnecessary, and improving quality of life.

We seek candidates who support these initiatives.

Bus Revolution: Buses are a vital lifeline for getting folks around Philly, with many neighborhoods completely reliant on this service being fast, frequent, and reliable. Unfortunately, our buses are increasingly unreliable, among the slowest in the country, and frequently leave riders stranded across our region. This is why we support SEPTA’s Bus Revolution – making buses more useful for more people by redesigning its entire bus network.

Wayfinding: SEPTA’s signage is infamous for being heavily inconsistent, full of jargon, and overall confusing and unclear, especially at major hubs like City Hall. In addition, foreign-language and low English proficiency speakers can hardly utilize any signage or wayfinding, and even social media communications and the SEPTA website remain fragmented and outdated. We support SEPTA’s initiative to completely overhaul its signage and wayfinding program on rail transit, with a renewed focus on clear transfer directions and maps as well as service frequency.

Reimagining Regional Rail: We call on SEPTA to expand its rapid transit service by simply running its commuter rail lines more frequently and integrating its fares with subways and buses. The current commuter rail line structure caters largely to professional-class suburban commuters, while ignoring those who rely on transit within the city.

Trolley Modernization: SEPTA’s trolley lines desperately need an overhaul to improve and modernize the service, while increasing freedom of mobility for people with disabilities. We support SEPTA’s trolley modernization efforts and urge the agency to prioritize this initiative in its capital program. The modernization project is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide equitable, sustainable, and efficient transportation. Riders deserve a modern system that is:

  • Accessible to people of all ages and abilities with near-level boarding
  • Integrated with the streetscape and surrounding neighborhoods with pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly facilities
  • Fast and reliable with all-door boarding, wider stop spacing, off-board fare payment, dedicated lanes, and signal priority.

9. Support Automated Enforcement of Bus and Trolley Lanes

Bus lanes dedicate a portion of the roadway for buses. When implemented well, they enable buses to travel freely through congested areas. Bus lanes are being increasingly employed throughout the United States.

Philadelphia currently only has bus lanes on 3 streets in Center City. The Philadelphia Transit Plan has identified several additional corridors suitable for bus-only lanes throughout the city, which would improve bus speeds and reliability.

Existing bus lanes are frequently used by motorists as travel lanes or for parking, delaying thousands of bus riders daily. Bus lane camera enforcement would improve bus service by using cameras to ticket non-compliant vehicles.

We seek candidates who support expanding bus-only lanes throughout Philadelphia and camera technology to enforce bus-only lanes.


Housing & Land Use

Our goal is to promote the most efficient use of land in our city, fostering accessible, walkable communities in which all Philadelphians can reside, regardless of economic status. We believe in building more housing, reducing costs, increasing the vitality of our commercial corridors, and facilitating transit-oriented development.

10. Address Housing affordability 

Our primary housing advocacy goals are aligned with Up For Growth, of which 5th Square is a member organization.

More housing in high opportunity areas is key to a healthy environment

Outmoded zoning codes and land use policies severely constrain housing supply. A preponderance of single- detached zoning consumes land at unwarranted levels. This results in a "drive 'til you qualify" effect, forcing Americans to commute long distances from places where homes are affordable, to areas with jobs, transportation, and infrastructure. This effect leads to significant increases in traffic congestion and carbon emissions, causing air quality to worsen. To mitigate negative societal and environmental effects, policymakers must reform zoning codes and land use policies to enable more homes to be built in the places rich in jobs, transportation, and infrastructure.

More housing is essential to creating race and class equity

Unjust policies continue to drive working families, people with low incomes and people of color out of high opportunity neighborhoods— areas that are rich in jobs, transportation and infrastructure. To create access to opportunity and a housing system that serves everyone, policymakers must prioritize racial and economic equity outcomes and actively reverse the nation’s history of exclusionary policies.

More housing is essential to a robust and durable economy

From cities to suburbs to rural America, the cost of housing and demand for it has drastically outpaced salaries and supply. Today, far too many Americans cannot afford to live well where they work, play and gather. Economic mobility is most profound where there is sufficient housing in areas rich in jobs, transportation and infrastructure.

Record low housing supply and financialization has pushed up home prices, closing off the possibility of home ownership to many first-time homebuyers. The median home value in the Philadelphia metropolitan area has reached $320,000, increasing $100,000 from 5 years ago.

Stability of tenure in one’s home and neighborhood is about recognizing the dignity of housing—that it’s more than an investment vehicle and a means of creating personal wealth, as it is often treated today. 

  • Increase funding for legal services, expanding Right to Counsel to additional at-risk zip codes.
  • Increase access to free and low-cost estate planning to reduce “tangled title” issues that threaten the ownership rights of individuals who inherited a property from a family member who left no will.
  • Increase place-based investments and basic services in developing and higher poverty areas to improve quality of life through Philadelphia and decrease strain on quickly-gentrifying neighborhoods.
  • Utilize Housing Trust Funds and Whole Home Repair funding for landlords to repair rental homes in exchange for maintaining affordability through capped annual rent increases for 5 years.
  • Allow homeowners to create accessory dwelling units within their homes by right to encourage multigenerational living. Provide forgiveness and an easy process to bring current illegal ADUs into compliance.

11. Support state-wide zoning changes to allow more housing

We seek candidates who will champion changes to state law to update our zoning and land use.

Such changes would combat the affordable housing crisis by encouraging a variety of housing types and in-fill development of affordable housing. Three recently introduced bills are aiming to make this possible: HB 1975, HB 1976, and HB 1988.

Pennsylvanians are struggling to find affordable housing. As the housing crisis drags on, our legislators needs to do more to help families find a place they can afford to call home. These bills propose changes to our status quo and will use methods used in other states and countries to ensure the Commonwealth has quality, affordable housing.

HB 1975: This legislation would revise the Municipalities Planning Code to require cities, boroughs, towns and townships with more than 5,000 in population to permit the use of duplex, triplex and quadplex housing in areas currently zoned for single-family residences only. This would increase the number of multi-family residential units available in Pennsylvania. Housing needs can only be met when we are able to increase the supply to meet the demands of the housing marketplace.

HB 1976: Many buildings that are zoned for office space are sitting empty or are being drastically underutilized. Most of the time, this is because this area of the municipality is zoned for office space or commercial use and businesses do not need as much office space due to teleworking. Often, these spaces already have parking, accessibility, and other infrastructure that can be easily adapted for residential use. This legislation would revise zoning laws to allow multi-family housing and mixed-use development in urban areas zoned for office, retail and parking with existing water and sewer systems. Based on a recently enacted Montana bill, by thinking outside the box, we can help provide options that can help alleviate the housing crisis.

HB 1988: Single-exit stairwells allow better use of interior space, allowing additional, more open units to be constructed with spacious corridors and better light throughout. Intelligently planned spaces allow residents to gather more easily, creating an improved sense of interaction and community. In addition, these types of building designs have been used in Europe and parts of Asia.

12. Legalize Accessory Dwelling Units

We seek candidates who will work towards legalizing ADUs on the local and state level.

Now, more than ever, we need innovative housing solutions to meet the needs for today’s families – and tomorrow's. The high cost and lack of available new space presents unique housing challenges.

An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is a fully self-contained home with its own kitchen, bathroom(s) and sleeping area on the same lot as the main house. They’re a smart match for smaller households and can be created through basement or garage conversions, additions, or new construction of back yard ‘tiny homes.' Typically, most residential zones and requires that they be discreetly located to fit in well with the surrounding neighborhood.  Oftentimes, they’re invisible from the street. 

ADUs provide a unique housing solution to today’s challenges. They can be used to keep multi-generational families together, to give homeowners the option to rent part of their property in order to make their mortgages or property taxes more affordable, and to give seniors more options for aging in place.

13. Allow Harm Reduction Efforts

We seek candidates who see harm reduction efforts such as safe injection sites as an important element in the battle against addiction deaths

Philadelphia sees over 1,000 overdose deaths annually, however Philadelphia City Councilmembers have used their land use authority and councilmanic prerogative to block safe injection sites from opening within Philadelphia. Allowing even one preventable death from an overdose, much like those deaths happening in many of our dangerously-designed streets, is morally wrong.

There will never be enough outreach to satiate community members determined to keep their landscape the same. Paradoxically, the harder people hold onto the status quo, the worse the outcomes of the inevitable changes. If we sit back while opiate use skyrockets, our backyards will fill with discarded needles and the dead bodies of our neighbors. Intervention through a safe injection site may be the thing that keeps our neighborhoods from that fate. Safe injection site may not do everything we hope, but the cost of saying Not In My Backyard is too great to risk it.

South Philadelphia is currently experiencing the ravages of the opioid crisis and needs this today. Blocking the resources necessary to address it even one day more only continues to expose neighbors, including children and seniors, to the risks of open drug use. Government agencies are doing the work and it is incumbent upon our leaders to prioritize communications with these actors and responsibly address their constituents and neighbors. The political risk in this action's popularity requires leaders to step up to the task and explain why the priorities of their office positively affect the lives of their constituents.



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