PA State Rep 187: Ben Waxman response to 5th Square questionnaire

Ben Waxman, running for State Representative (182nd District)


Called “one of Philadelphia's leading activists” by the Philadelphia City Paper when he was still in high school, Ben Waxman has been fighting for progressive social change for more than two decades. Most recently, he served as Director of Communications for DA Larry Krasner and the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. Waxman lives with his wife Julie in Center City, where they have lived for more than a decade. Waxman worked previously as a reporter for WHYY, the local NPR station in Philadelphia. He also joined the editorial page of the Philadelphia Daily News, writing about such issues as government corruption, the state budget and progressive public policy. Waxman then worked as senior communications staff for the United Food and Commercial Workers on the campaign to unionize Walmart. He returned to Philadelphia to work on the 2012 election, overseeing a statewide voter registration campaign in Planned Parenthood clinics. Waxman was then hired to be the spokesperson for Senator Vincent J. Hughes, one of the top Democrats in the Pennsylvania Senate. During that time, Waxman worked on initiatives to raise the minimum wage, increase funding for public education, and expand access to healthcare. Waxman has previously served on the board of the Center City Residents Association, Jewish Labor Committee, and the 8th Ward Democratic Executive Committee. He and his wife Julie attend Beth Zion-Beth Israel synagogue in Center City.


1 (a). 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 densely-populated parts of Philadelphia. Would you use your position to support safer urban arterials by pushing PennDOT to adopt Vision Zero and complete streets policies? (


1b. What types of legislative and policy changes are needed to correct this problem at PennDOT?

I believe that most of the Vision Zero priorities can be implemented by PennDOT without legislative approval. That means we can pressure a Democratic governor to instruct the agency to take the steps necessary to create safe streets for all.

2 (a). Will you co-sponsor the ‘Vulnerable Road User’ Bill which increases fines for causing death, serious and bodily injury of vulnerable roadway users by careless and reckless driving? (


2 (b). 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 city streets, but not state roads, which are among the busiest and most dangerous for bicyclists. Will you co-sponsor the parking protected bike lane bill? (


3 (a). State lawmakers like Nikil Saval and Brian Sims endorsed the Safer Washington Ave campaign’s demands and played a helpful role in showing support from elected leaders. Will you join these other elected officials in publicly endorsing Safer Washington Ave and future road safety campaigns? (


3 (b). How would you listen and respond to constituents who oppose road safety measures out of fears of traffic congestion and gentrification?

While concerns about congestion and gentrification are certainly understandable, the reality is that safer roads, including Washington Ave, make life better for the neighborhoods around it as well as the pedestrians, drivers, and bicyclists that use them. For constituents concerned about traffic, I would tell them that the only proven way to reduce congestion is to encourage public transit and disincentivize car travel, aims that can be accomplished with road safety measures such as “road-diets”. Gentrification and housing affordability is a serious issue that hits home for many families across the city. However, the solution to gentrification is not to oppose road safety measures and keep the dangerous, outdated infrastructure that exists in so many of our neighborhoods.

4. Pennsylvania passed legislation enabling automated speed enforcement on Roosevelt Blvd and highway work zones. Do you support the expansion of automated speed enforcement to School Zones and on other High Injury Network streets throughout Philadelphia? (




5. Do you support state-enabling legislation for congestion pricing, permitting municipalities and regions to institute tolls on cars entering into the most congested areas, and using the funds for improvements to transit, and for infrastructure for walking and bicycling? (




6. Transportation is the third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Pennsylvania. While many elected officials are relying on people adopting electric vehicles, we would like to see the commonwealth play a more active role in reducing car dependence. What do you see as the solution to combat these emissions, enhancing mobility and improving safety in your district and Pennsylvania more broadly?(

I believe that if we want to truly address the looming climate crisis and the role of transportation in it, we need to apply a Green New Deal framework that includes a commitment to thinking of transportation in a different light. While I encourage the adoption of electric vehicles, the reality is that electricity production is the 2nd highest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. We need to move past the idea that everyone needs a personal car to take part in our society. When it comes to mobility and safety in the 182nd and the state at large, we need accessible and high-quality public transit so we can imagine a safer and cleaner future for future generations.

7. Would you support prioritizing 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? (


8 (a). State gas tax revenue has been decreasing due to improvements in fuel economy and a switch to electric vehicles. Of the options in Gov. Wolf's Transportation Revenue Options Commission Report, which recommendations do you support the most? (

I am a strong believer in bridge tolls, managed lanes, and congestion pricing. We need to disincentivize people driving their cars into our cities and use these funds to support projects that make it easier for everyone, commuters and residents alike, to get around without a car. These initiatives help disincentivize car travel and encourage alternative transportation methods without punishing people who live in areas without alternatives and depend on cars for their livelihoods.

8 (b). Should our commonwealth continue to fund highway expansion projects as a means to combat congestion?

NO - We’ve seen time and time again that building more lanes does not reduce congestion. The “iron law of congestion” is still true, congestion will rise to meet maximum capacity, and building more lanes only induces further demand and makes congestion worse than it was before. We need to invest in our public transit, biking infrastructure, and “road diets” so that people are discouraged from traveling by car and our city and state reap the benefits of reduced congestion

9. What are some of your own ideas for enhancing mobility and improving road safety in your district and Philadelphia more broadly?

I believe that we need to clamp down on out-of-control illegal parking so that everyone can move around the city without putting themselves in danger.


10 (a). Do you support the Transit For All PA funding platform to generate $1.65 billion dollars/year to replace Act 89's funding for transit? (


10 (b). Do you support legislation enabling local governments to implement new transit funding mechanisms, while ensuring that local funds are supplemental and not used to replace a shortfall from the state? (


10 (c). How would you propose raising the necessary funds for Pennsylvania's public transit going forward?

I believe that we need to have dedicated state funding for SEPTA and other mass transit projects based on revenue from an increase in the gas tax and a tax on natural gas drilling.

11 (a). SEPTA is undergoing several projects to reform the way it currently operates including redesigning its bus network, improving its wayfinding, reimagining regional rail, and modernizing its trolley system. Do you support these efforts? (


11 (b). If so, how would your district benefit, and what will you do (or have done) to ensure that SEPTA can advance these changes? If not, how should SEPTA spend its capital budget instead?

The 182nd stands to gain more from these projects than anywhere else in the region. We have lost a sizeable amount of visitors due to folks working from home and because many are not comfortable with the cleanliness and safety of SEPTA stations in their deteriorated states. These SEPTA projects could revitalize the district by increasing foot traffic and safety and making the 182nd a desirable and easily accessible part of the city. That is why I will push for SEPTA to receive increased funding in Harrisburg so that these projects can be seen through to their end and not stymied or delayed due to a lack of funding

12. Do you support dedicated bus and trolley lanes and legislation enabling automated enforcement cameras to deter other vehicles from using these lanes? (




13. What are some of your own ideas for solutions to improve the quality (frequency, speed, and accessibility) of transit service in your district and Philadelphia more broadly?

I am a huge supporter of a Roosevelt Boulevard Subway. It would bring badly needed subway service to a huge portion of the city, and allow those people in the Northeast to easily make their way without a car to the 182nd district to work downtown and enjoy the numerous amenities that the 182nd has to offer. I would fight tooth and nail in Harrisburg to deliver the state funding needed to make this long-overdue project happen.

Land Use

14. The price of a typical home in Philadelphia was increasing at a faster rate than the ability of a typical Philadelphian to pay for it. Do you see a major component of this problem as constrained housing supply due to restrictive zoning laws? (



We currently have outdated zoning codes that incentivize single-family homes that are completely inadequate to deal with the housing crisis Philadelphia is facing. We need to change our zoning laws to allow for more density and keep housing prices affordable for our neighbors both old and new.

15. Would you support state-based efforts to preempt local zoning and land use controls to encourage housing development particularly in affluent and transit-rich areas? (



The 182nd is an incredibly transit-rich area located in the heart of the city and I support any measure that would encourage equitable housing development. We need state preemption to ensure that we encourage affordable housing development across the district and across the state.

16. If elected, what will you do to make housing, both market-rate and subsidized, more affordable?

I will fight in Harrisburg for statewide rent control, while also pushing for increased funding for home repairs and the construction of new affordable housing so we can increase the housing supply and keep prices low. I will also fight to change our outdated zoning codes to allow for more density.

17 (a). An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is a self-contained home with its own kitchen, bathroom and sleeping area on the same lot as the main house. They can be used to keep multi-generational families together, to give homeowners the option to rent part of their property, and to give seniors more options for aging in place. Do you see permitting ADU construction as an important element in increasing housing supply? (


17 (b). What efforts will your office take to ensure seniors can age in place?

We have seen our elders pushed out of their homes at an incredible rate due to rising housing costs. I support rent control at the state level to make sure that seniors and those on fixed incomes who rent are not faced with sudden rent hikes. In a city with housing stock as old as Philadelphia, expensive home repairs are pushing our elders out of their homes; we need to make sure that our elders have the support they need to stay in their homes. That is why I will fight for increased funding for home repairs when in office. Additionally, my office will be committed to extensive community outreach to make sure that our elders can take advantage of current assistance programs like LIHEAP.

18 (a). Philadelphia is currently experiencing over 1,000 overdose deaths annually, a significant public health crisis. Do you see supervised injection sites as an important element in the battle against addiction deaths? (


18 (b). Why or why not?

I absolutely believe that safe injection sites are one of the best tactics we can use to address the addiction and overdose crisis that our city and state are facing. We have seen in other cities how effective safe injection sites are in decreasing overdose rates and providing assistance to those who wish to get clean. I would say that Philadelphia is long overdue for safe injection sites.

19. Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania DEP are moving to participate in a program that would limit harmful carbon pollution from power plants in Pennsylvania. This program is called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), and it would have power companies pay for the pollution they generate while setting caps on future pollution. Different interest groups within the Democratic Party have taken different positions on this, with some building trades unions on one side and environmental groups on the other. If elected, would you support joining RGGI? (



I would absolutely support Pennsylvania joining RGGI, it is shameful that Pennsylvania is the only state in the region that has not signed onto the RGGI. If we want to seriously take on the climate crisis, then we need to take any and every step we can to curb emissions, including this step that’s right in front of us, one that every other state in the region has taken.

20. Tell us more about what you bring to the table as an ally for urbanist politics in Harrisburg. What makes you the right person to advance the urbanist movement's goals politically or substantively at the state level? How would you build support for pro-urbanist policies among your colleagues from outside our region?

I’ve lived in Philadelphia for almost my entire life, and I’ve lived in Center City for well over a decade. SEPTA is how I move around the city and I know personally just how important our public transit is to our city’s future. I also know that if we want to have a livable planet for the next generations then we need to do the work that groups like 5th Square are doing to make our cities sustainable. As a Center City resident, the goals of the urbanist movement would have a direct and unequivocally positive impact on my life and the lives of my neighbors, and that’s why I will fight in Harrisburg to support the movement at every turn. I am the only candidate in the race with experience working in Harrisburg, and I know the mechanisms and avenues we have to actually achieve the goals of the urbanist movement. Besides the fact that the goals of the urbanist movement are positive for people across the state, I know that I’ll be able to garner support from my colleagues outside of the region because I know the funding mechanisms that allow for negotiations in which I can secure funding and support for the urbanist movement’s goals.