Read 2nd District Democratic candidate Lauren Vidas' responses to the 5th Square 2019 City Council Candidate Questionnaire. Visit our 2019 City Council Campaign page for more candidate questionnaire responses.
Candidate Name: Lauren Vidas
I'm an attorney, community activist and municipal finance expert running because I believe that a 26% poverty rate is morally unacceptable, that the City must focus on both the quality and quantity of jobs, and that your zip code shouldn’t determine whether you receive a quality education or have clean or safe streets. I believe it’s time that we expect more and demand better from our leadership on these and many other issues.
My approach to urban land use and transportation issues is to first and foremost recognize how intrinsically linked they are to broader issues of affordability, poverty and economic opportunity. Unfortunately, I believe our current leaders often focus on these issues in a vacuum and fail to appreciate the unintended consequences of their policies. For example, some councilmembers have proposed blanket downzoning and parking minimums as a tool to combat the negative impacts of gentrification on communities. Unfortunately, these policies likely will further drive up prices and costs of housing - not help with affordability. This is the opposite result than was intended.
I also believe that transportation policy can't just be about how to move someone from A to B. It’s bigger than that. A robust transportation and bicycle infrastructure systems are two of our biggest tools in reducing climate change and congestion. An affordable and reliable transportation system is an economic development tool by ensuring people get to work cheaply and efficiently.
In sum, my approach to these issues is to recognize that these issues are important in and of themselves, but that they are also critical tools in our efforts around affordability, job creation and health and public safety.
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?
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?
As a member of the Kenney policy team, I strongly advocated for the adoption of the Vision Zero street safety initiative as a part his mayoral platform. Unfortunately, the current progress of implementation of a Vision Zero strategy is unacceptable. Earlier this year, the Mayor’s office released a status report for the initiative that had us on track to hit Vision Zero by 2030. Philadelphia lost 78 people in traffic crashes in 2017 - that number is unacceptably high and puts us well-behind our peer cities in terms of deaths per capita.
While larger infrastructure improvements will take time to implement, my primary frustration is with the city’s inability to go after low-hanging fruit. Enforcing existing traffic laws that ensure crosswalks are not blocked by parked cars and intersections have enough daylight. Converting some of our existing bike lanes into protected bike lanes is a critical first step. As a recent study demonstrates, sharrows are no better than nothing at all at protecting riders.
As a Council candidate, I believe that community input is critical, but we must never put people’s convenience ahead of people’s lives. As a Council person, I would work with the communities and Otis to implement street infrastructure and policies that make our roads safer for all users, rather than allow the deadly status quo to persist.
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: https://www.streetfilms.org/daylighting-make-your-crosswalks-safer/
As noted above, yes. This is an issue that I helped work on for intersection near my local public school, E.M. Stanton and one that I’ve advocated on over the years through the South of South Neighborhood Association’s Walkability plan. I think curb bump outs can be important for intersection daylighting, but also because they help shorten crossing distances for the city’s notoriously short pedestrian crossing signals. In terms of numbers, I think as many intersections as possible should be daylighted as the budget for this initiative would allow. The key is to let the data and context of the intersection drive the prioritization of the process.
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?
Yes, I will advocate for a larger Streets Department budget. However, I would need additional information and assurances from the department that an increase in the repaving budget would in fact result in the much-needed design changes necessary to achieve Vision Zero before committing to advocating for a larger 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?
Yes, yes and yes. Sweep the dang streets already. I would commit to a street sweeping program but am open to conversations about the appropriate frequency of the program. In some neighborhoods, more frequent street sweeping may be appropriate than in other neighborhoods (based on road detritus / leaves / bike lanes, etc.). With limited funding for a program I would want to make sure we are maximizing our impact for our dollars spent.
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?
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, with a caveat. I agree wholeheartedly with increasing funding to SEPTA. We should be aggressively investing in our public transportation system. My concern is the regional nature of the board and its funding sources. I would not want to increase Philadelphia's funding commitment without a similar commitment from the other counties, and I would want to ensure that the operational changes made possible as a result of Phialdelphia's increased commitment benefit the Philadelphia users of the system.
The city should increase its surcharge on ride-share and dedicate this revenue back directly to funding public transportation. Currently the surcharge is pennies on the dollar (e.g., I had an $8.50 ride share and the city surcharge was $0.12). As ride share is one of the main drivers of falling ridership, we should use proceeds from that surcharge to reinvest into our public transportation system.
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 No
- All-door boarding with off-board fare payment Yes
- Free transfers between buses, trolleys, and subways, funded by the City Yes
- Stop consolidation to speed up buses Yes
Other: Bus rapid transit
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 No
- 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 Yes
- Employer permits for commercial corridor workers near residential permit zones Yes
Other: Parking permits for teachers in neighborhood schools good for during the school day.
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?
Councilmembers should be helping facilitate a conversation with the various communities that will be impacted by this. Working with the City and SEPTA, the Councilmembers should hold community meetings to give residents an opportunity to understand the proposal and to solicit feedback from the community regarding the proposal. In general, the Councilmember should be supportive of efforts to improve service and work with SEPTA to mitigate the negative impacts of trade offs.
7. Do you support Council President Darrell Clarke's Charter change proposal to create a new class of unarmed officers to enforce traffic violations?
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?
No. I'm not sure there is a "right" number per se, but we must be more open to allowing multi-family housing throughout the city if we truly want to help increase affordability in our neighborhoods. Multi-family doesn't have to mean giant massing or huge unit numbers to have an impact on helping create additional affordable units.
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?
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 believe the city needs to be more aggressive in creating and maintaining affordable housing opportunities. This is not an issue the City itself can build its way out of - it's simply too expensive and the need to great.
First, we need to do a better job at preserving existing affordable housing. This includes keeping people in their existing affordable homes - whether owners or renters. For owners, we must do a better job marketing the existing programs the city has on its books. There are so many residents out there that don't know about the Homestead exemption or LOOP or the state's Senior tax freeze program. We need an aggressive campaign to everyone who may qualify. We must also make sure that individuals who are enrolled in these tax programs know about the Basic Repair Program. Too often owners in rapidly developing areas sell their homes and leave because they don't have the funds to repair their roofs or heating systems. They feel pressure to prematurely cash out on their homes which are quickly gaining value because they don't have the money to make these repairs.
As to renters, I fully support the creation of a tenant ombudsman to provide tenants with legal representation in landlord/tenant court. A recent study contended that an annual investment of $3.5 million to cover the costs of legal representation "would ultimately save the city $45.2 million in public costs associated with increased homelessnesses and displacement." This is both morally and financially the right thing to do.
We need to do a better job at incentivizing the creation of additional affordable housing opportunities. In Philadelphia, 2/3rds of our landlords won't accept federal housing vouchers. This leaves many renters receiving federal support unable to take advantage of that support. HUD is working with landlords to address some of the bureaucratic roadblocks that prevent participation in the program, but the City should explore ways to further incentivize the program whether through unit construction bonuses, tax credits or other tools available at the city-level.
Lastly, I would like to see the city take a bolder path forward at encouraging more experimentation and non-traditional affordable housing models. Community Land Trusts could be a great tool if used more widely because they not only provide people with affordable housing opportunities, but under certain models allow them to build equity and grow wealth. Additionally, the City should explore ways to encourage more social impact development projects with the goal of putting more affordable units on the market. In short, we have to figure out a way to better leverage private dollars for this important public benefit - the city cannot only rely solely on public dollars - the costs are too high and the need too great.