At-Large: Helen Gym Response to 5th Square Questionnaire

Read At-Large Democratic candidate Helen Gym's responses to the 5th Square 2019 City Council Candidate Questionnaire. Visit our 2019 City Council Campaign page for more candidate questionnaire responses.


Candidate Name: Helen Gym

Candidate Introduction

I came to City Council after an organizing career centered on funding public schools and promoting equitable development in immigrant communities. I fought against casinos and stadiums in Chinatown and the closure of public schools because I believe in the promise of public spaces and dense, livable communities.

As an At-Large councilmember, I’ve pushed for a citywide vision that promotes housing as a human right and a connected city encouraging ease of mobility within communities. I was a vocal proponent of Rebuild’s investment in public parks, libraries and schools, and continue to support the development of public play spaces such as school playgrounds. My pedestrian safety bill promotes stricter standards for sidewalk safety around construction sites. I will continue to push for increased fines for illegal closures and permit violations. I believe zoning can be used as a tool for fair housing and integrated neighborhoods, and I support increasing multifamily zoning to help expand inclusionary housing.

I have fought for transit policy that makes Vision Zero a reality and challenges poverty and inequity in our city. I pushed for an equity agenda during the development of the CONNECT plan. I believe in income-based fares, fare capping, the elimination of transfer fees, a transit program for university students, and free transit for vulnerable classes, in particular youth. As a neighborhood cyclist myself, I believe in the expansion of protected bike lanes and rigorous attention to their evolution and improvement.

I will continue to organize alongside transit advocates who see their work aligned with a broader equity agenda for our city.


The below questions are related to policies that reflect use of the streets are used by all Philadelphians including pedestrians, as well as bicycle, bus, car riders and drivers. A priority of 5th Square is placing front-and-center the concerns of the elderly, children, and residents utilizing mobility assistance.

1. Many curb cuts and sidewalks in the city are blocked by parked cars, resulting in inadequate and unsafe crossings for seniors, residents utilizing mobility assistance, and parents with small children. In your view, what should City Council do about this problem?

#NotaParkingSpot is Philly Twitter at its finest. I believe the advocacy of groups like 5th Square and Feet First Philly have brought significant attention to the pervasiveness of blocked sidewalks and curb cuts across our City. I am working to improve my pedestrian safety bill with stronger fines and penalties. I helped win safer pedestrian crossing at Frankford Avenue. I have aggressively addressed enforcement with our Streets Department, winning a publicly accessible website to track blocked sidewalks and construction permits. I will continue to be a loud advocate on behalf of all pedestrians and sidewalk users.

2. What is your opinion of the Kenney administration's progress on their Vision Zero street safety initiative? Is the current pace of progress acceptable to you? If not, what would you do differently? How would you use your Council position to accomplish this?

One death is one too many. As a result, Vision Zero remains a work in progress. Like many of you, I want this work to move faster. I have mourned with many members of the 5th Square family the horrible losses and deaths across our city. I am deeply committed to Vision Zero’s plan to end accidents near schools and for youth who are travelling to and from school. As a member of the CONNECT advisory committee, I challenged the limited goals of the City’s strategic innovation plan, pressing the Administration to commit to ambitious deliverables that I believe are attainable with meaningful energy and investment. And I will continue to ensure that a diverse cross-section of communities across Philadelphia are engaged in the planning and execution of Vision Zero, and that goals are completed as quickly as possible.

3. Will you support “daylighting” intersections to restore clear lines of sight near crossings for drivers and pedestrians through the use of plastic bollards and curb bumpouts, with prioritization for school zones, intersections with high pedestrian volume, and high crash intersections? How many intersections should be "daylighted" each year?

Further reading on daylighting:

Yes. Daylighting is an essential strategy for improving pedestrian, cyclist, and driver safety alike. I believe this needs to happen at a meaningful scale and would prioritize intersections surrounding schools.

4. Philadelphia has some of the lowest per-capita spending among our peer cities on basic street maintenance, slowing down the rollout of life-saving design changes that are part of Mayor Kenney's Vision Zero initiative. If elected, will you advocate for a larger Streets Department repaving budget?


5. Will you support a Mayoral initiative to create a municipal street sweeping program, even if it means motorists will need to move their vehicles a few times a month?


6. Will you vote to repeal Council's 2012 legislation requiring a Council ordinance to remove travel or parking lanes, and once again empower Streets Department safety professionals to make these decisions administratively?

Further reading:



Our goal is to shift the city's overall transportation mode share radically toward transit and active mobility, and away from single occupancy vehicles, for the benefit of public health as well as the environment.

1. Philadelphia currently only funds around 11 percent of SEPTA's budget, with the state and federal governments funding the majority of the operating and capital budgets. This is one of the lowest local contributions in the country, per-capita. If elected, will you advocate for increasing dedicated local transit funding? If so, what revenue source is best?

Yes to dedicated local funding, but we can’t do this alone. Philadelphia has one of the most expensive transit systems in the nation while being the nation’s poorest large city. We can and should do more but we require significant state and federal support especially when it comes to infrastructure improvement or expansion. Additionally Philadelphia holds only two seats on the SEPTA board and there is no guarantee that dedicated local funding would go toward solely local improvements. When I had the chance to appoint someone to the SEPTA Community Advisory Board, I appointed a single mother of three who relies on and uses public transportation exclusively, and I think this perspective needs to be more significantly represented on SEPTA’s board. I’m open to a range of revenue options, including dedicating a portion of the parking tax towards public transit. I would like to see common sense revenues like red light cameras fines go toward either Vision Zero or transit funding rather than being claimed by the state as well.

2. The City Bus system works to improve air quality as well as reduce traffic congestion. Unfortunately, city bus ridership has fallen dramatically over the past few years, and route performance has become increasingly unreliable. Which of the following measures would you be willing to advocate for to increase bus ridership?

  • Bus-only lanes on more major streets Yes
  • Automated photo enforcement of bus-only lanes and bus/trolley stopping zones Yes
  • All-door boarding with off-board fare paymentYes
  • Free transfers between buses, trolleys, and subways, funded by the City Yes
  • Stop consolidation to speed up buses No

Other: More rigorous feedback and public engagement sessions on improving bus ridership. Free fares for children to promote lifelong ridership

3. Will you support funding a City pilot program to provide free SEPTA transit to all children under 12 years of age?

The current cut-off is 4-years-old, after which children are required to pay the full fare


4. Over 30,000 Philadelphia public school students are currently ineligible for subsidized TransPasses, because the School District does not provide passes to students living within 1.5 miles of their local school. Do you support universalizing student TransPasses so all students can use them?


5. Residential permit parking needs an overhaul. The current cost for an annual parking permit for car owners to store their private vehicles on public streets is just $35, and many streets do not require a permit. Which reforms to permit parking would you be willing to consider, if elected?

  • Capping permits at the number of available spaces in each parking district Yes
  • Neighborhood-wide opt-in for permit parking, as opposed to block-by-block petitions Yes
  • Blacklisting addresses of new buildings with no parking from eligibility for street permits No
  • Employer permits for commercial corridor workers near residential permit zones Yes


6. SEPTA and the City are exploring a bus network redesign that could greatly improve bus service frequency and usability at little additional cost. Improving service will involve some trade-offs, however, like more stop consolidation and transfers. How should Councilmembers be approaching this initiative?

Further reading:

The city needs a bus network redesign that improves efficiency and connectivity while enhancing equity. Any redesign plan must eliminate transfer fees, and I support stop consolidation that is conscious of the barriers that those living with disabilities face. In the poorest big city in the nation, our difficulty lies in a redesign that enhances connectivity within communities that have faced historic disinvestment. A plan for equity must specifically consider those who live in neighborhoods with high concentrations of low-income households, residents of color, residents with disabilities, and households without personal automobiles. A bus redesign plan, while improving efficiency, must explicitly improve opportunity, quality of life, and mobility for these residents.

7. Do you support Council President Darrell Clarke's Charter change proposal to create a new class of unarmed officers to enforce traffic violations?

Further reading:


Land Use and Zoning

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. Philadelphia made great strides toward this vision with the 2012 Zoning Reform package, and the next City Council should defend and expand on that progress.

1. Only 13% of land in Philadelphia is covered by the multifamily zoning categories eligible for City Council’s new Mixed-Income Housing program. Do you believe 13% is the appropriate percentage? If not, what is the right number?

Housing is a human right, and I have gone on record supporting inclusionary zoning and expanding multifamily zoning as a means to get there. Clearly 13% is not sufficient, and I support expanding in areas around transit and in areas of high opportunity. This is just one tool but a meaningful one in helping fulfill our commitment to fair housing and neighborhood desegregation, and to help ensure that more Philadelphians have a chance to live in communities well serviced by transit and connected to jobs and public amenities.

2. In 2012, City Council voted to eliminate or reduce minimum parking requirements for many zoning districts, because parking minimums increase housing prices, driving, and traffic congestion. Will you vote to eliminate the last of the minimum parking requirements still remaining in the zoning code, which would mainly affect Center City, University City, and areas near the subways?


3. The same 2012 zoning reform bill contained language legalizing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which allow property owners to have an additional rental unit on their property. City Council unfortunately never finished the job, and didn't write in which zoning districts should permit ADUs. Where would you allow ADUs?

ADUs are an important part of ensuring that we can achieve autonomy for people with disabilities and allow for aging in place. I believe that we should revisit ADUs in our zoning code and personally believe that they should be mapped widely throughout the city.

4. In 2017, City Council revamped the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Overlay ordinance, which would allow greater density and less parking within 500 feet of designated transit stations. Will you support a citywide bill designating TOD overlays for all city transit and regional rail stations?


5. What should be Philadelphia's strategy for keeping neighborhoods affordable as they see more growth and development? Is City policy striking the right balance now, following City Council's recent affordable housing package? If not, what is left to do, in your opinion?

I have worked towards an agenda that brings forward a Housing as a Human Right mandate. I led a campaign that created a historic legal defense fund for renters facing eviction and an anti-eviction task force initiative that spurred reforms throughout city government and the courts. This includes a rule change in the courts that require landlords to be licensed for a year in order to file for an eviction and prevent landlords from evicting people from properties with open code violations. I co-sponsored Good Cause legislation and have championed the provision of local rent subsidies into the City’s housing plans for the first time. I believe radically restructuring the tax abatement will ensure that our growth is equitable and have introduced a comprehensive package of bills to reform the abatement for Council's consideration. I believe in fair housing and inclusionary zoning, and support prioritizing the creation of truly (and permanently) affordable housing whenever we sell public property.