5th Square is Philadelphia's urbanist political action committee. Our mission is to achieve a more accessible, sustainable, and equitable Philadelphia for all residents through better mobility, public space, and planning policies.
Learn more about the policy changes we're advocating to state-level candidates and elected officials, and then become a member or sign up to volunteer to help 5th Square win some of these changes in Harrisburg.
Cultural Shift at PennDOT
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. So far PennDOT has been indifferent to calls from safety advocates for engineering changes to these roads that would calm traffic.
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, and negating all the benefits of Governor Wolf’s important climate change initiatives.
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.
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.
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 automobiles on the road.
Automated Speed Enforcement
The PA State legislature recently approved a pilot program of automated speed cameras for use on Roosevelt Boulevard and highway work zones throughout the state. This is a huge win for Philadelphia’s Vision Zero efforts to eliminate road deaths and serious injuries. Roosevelt Boulevard has long been considered Philadelphia’s most dangerous roadway, and even tops national lists of most dangerous highways.
Speed cameras have been shown to reduce the incidence of all crashes, serious injuries, and deaths. Automation also frees police officers to handle criminal investigations and eliminates concerns about racial profiling and bias that can accompany manned traffic enforcement.
Automated speed enforcement has also enjoyed widespread adoption nationwide as nearly two dozen states have legislation authorizing its use. Cities like New York and DC have expanded their programs to school zones and problematic streets and are seeing the benefits from such programs in lowering speeds and injuries.
We advocate for the expansion of automated speed enforcement here in Philadelphia to ensure the safety of all our roadway users.
Allow Local Law Enforcement to Use Radar for Vehicle Speed Enforcement
Pennsylvania is currently the only state in the nation that denies local police the option of adding radar speed guns to their speed enforcement toolbox. Despite perennial attempts by Mayors and state lawmakers to get this bill passed, radar is still limited for use only by the state troopers.
Expanding radar technology to local jurisdictions will slow down drivers and save lives. The technology will also reduce opportunities for human and mechanical error when recording drivers' speeds, and ensure greater accuracy.
At the same time, lawmakers should consider this technology a short-term stop-over on the path to more widespread use of automated enforcement. Any legislation should apply clear rules for its use that leave little to the personal discretion of officers, in order to reduce any potential for misuse and avoid amplifying racist patterns of policing.
Cameras for Congestion-Related Enforcement
As Philadelphia’s population and economic vitality grows, vehicle congestion is worsening as more users compete for our limited road space. Our streets aren’t getting any wider, but we still need them to move more people. This has resulted in an increase in illegal parking and stopping which impedes people on buses and trolleys, and in other vehicles, as well as creating more dangerous walking and biking conditions.
We support state enabling legislation to allow cities like Philadelphia to use cameras for congestion-related enforcement. Areas that should be enforced by camera include bus lanes, corner clearances, crosswalks, delivery zones, and non-curb pickups and drop-offs by ride-hailing drivers. Currently, the law allows for enforcement only upon the observation of an officer. Cameras allow a more cost-efficient alternative and are less subject to human and systemic biases.
Act 89 Funding for Transportation
Act 89, the most recent major transportation funding bill, was signed into law in 2013 by Governor Tom Corbett to fund road projects, bridge repairs, and public transit. But over the past six years, the state has diverted $4.25 billion to the State Police instead of funding many of the transportation infrastructure projects lawmakers promised.
We support Governor Wolf’s proposal to implement a fee on Pennsylvania municipalities that rely solely on State Police, which would allow the state to properly fund transportation projects throughout the Commonwealth. Additionally, money should be prioritized for transit, walking and cycling projects rather than wasted on expensive and environmentally disastrous highway expansion projects that are unlikely to reduce congestion.
Safeguard Funding for SEPTA
Act 44, which transfers $450 million a year from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to public transit agencies, is set to expire in 2022.
SEPTA is an absolutely critical driver of the southeast region, and the state economy—not to mention the state budget. Southeast Pennsylvania generates 41 percent of the state’s total economic activity and is home to 32 percent of its population on just 5 percent of its land. The Philadelphia region has grown by more than 100,000 new residents since 2010. This level of density and economic productivity is only possible with a high‐capacity, efficient network to keep people and goods moving throughout our region. If the Southeast region is going to keep growing, more and better transit is a must.
New York and Washington D.C. to grow and attract new jobs and grow our workforce.
In April 2019, the Southeast Partnership for Mobility issued a report calling on state leaders to address this funding crisis, with measures to raise revenue through ride-hailing service fees, congestion pricing charge, and fees for tire purchase, vehicle lease and vehicle rental.This is a useful menu of options, and we hope candidates for state office will add creative ideas to the list, especially policies that do double-duty encouraging transportation mode shifts to transit and active transportation. We are very concerned about the pending move from dedicated transit funding through Act 44 to more discretionary funding in the budget, especially since SEPTA alone needs much more funding from the state than it currently receives to move on projects like trolley modernization and more frequent regional rail.
Dedicated Transit Lanes and Automated Enforcement
One of the most effective ways to improve transit service is to dedicate road space for the exclusive use of buses and trolleys. These lanes need to be clearly marked, given traffic signal priority, and monitored to ensure they are being used properly.
“Automated transit lane enforcement” with cameras mounted on transit vehicles and on roadsides is a cheap and effective method of ensuring these lanes are clear. New York and San Francisco have implemented bus-only lanes with enforcement mechanisms and Philly needs to follow suit.
Allow Congestion Pricing
Congestion pricing is a fee charged to vehicles traveling into or within the busiest area of a city, typically the central business district, during certain hours of certain days. The purpose is to spread car traffic to less busy times or encourage the use of transit and active transportation. Even a 10% reduction in car traffic could achieve major gains in mobility, especially if paired with dedicated lanes for buses and trolleys.
New York state approved a budget that included permission for New York City to implement congestion pricing in 2021.
5th Square supports congestion pricing for Philadelphia as a way to fight traffic congestion, grow our bus ridership, and improve our air quality, while simultaneously providing a new source of funding for public transportation.
High Frequency Rapid Transit
SEPTA has the capability 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.
Riders who live within SEPTA’s Regional Rail Zone 1 are faced with fares that are double and triple what base fare would be on SEPTA transit (buses, trolleys, and subways). In many instances transit service can take much longer than riding the rail line and might necessitate transfers to get to the same destination.
Additionally, boosting rail frequency to every 15 minutes all day on most branches, people in the inner suburbs, and the city neighborhoods only served by Regional Rail like Germantown, Manayunk, and Fox Chase, could use the trains the way people use the subway and the El.
In addition, SEPTA can make capital investments towards this goal by providing more stations in our city with level boarding platforms.
Comprehensive Bus Network Redesign
SEPTA’s bus ridership has declined for the last four years, and change is needed to win riders back. SEPTA needs to embrace a comprehensive bus network redesign to re-evaluate its routes and implement changes to improve bus speed and reliability. Changes we endorse include all-door boarding, off-board payment, more frequent service with fewer stops, and an end to the $1 transfer fee.
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.
To improve the speed and reliability of this service, SEPTA must invest in new cars that are wheelchair-accessible, stations with raised platforms, enable all-door boarding, and consolidate stops. Additionally, the agency needs to dedicate more street lanes to the exclusive use of these trolleys.
SEPTA Key has made it much easier to pay for transit, but SEPTA has refused to eliminate one of the most inconvenient and counterproductive parts of their fare policy: the $1 transfer penalty.
It's time for SEPTA to give riders a break, and stop charging an extra $1 penalty to transfer between buses, subways, and trolleys. When SEPTA charges an extra $1.00 for transfers, that's an unfair penalty for everyone whose home isn’t on the exact transit line as their job, family, school, grocery store, or place of worship. And it costs SEPTA more to run the system this way!
One SEPTA fare should cover your whole trip. With free transfers, every SEPTA rider would have the opportunity to access the whole city, on equal footing with every other rider.
SEPTA and the City should reexamine SEPTA's fare structure from top to bottom looking for opportunities to reverse inequitable fare policies, institute fare capping, and ensure that their products work for all transit riders and organizations who rely on the transit system, like social service organizations.
Free SEPTA for Kids Under 12
Charging children full freight for transit once they turn five-years-old puts transit out of reach for many families when it should be the cheapest way to get around. Philadelphia should follow the lead of many of our peer cities and increase the age limit for free rides. SEPTA, City Council, and local foundations should work together to pilot free rides for children under 12 for a test period to determine how many youths ride transit and what this policy would cost.
Universalize Student Passes
Older students who live more than a mile and a half from school receive a free monthly transit pass paid for by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but about 33,000 students who live closer to school than that do not. The School District should follow Seattle's lead and universalize these passes for all students, increasing young people's freedom of mobility. They should also make the passes functional on weekends, and raise the weeknight cut-off time from 7 pm to 8 pm as a benefit to older students who may use transit to travel to and from after-school jobs.
University Pass for All Higher-Ed Institutions
Unlimited access to Philadelphia's network of subways, trolleys, and buses should come included with tuition or employment at all of the region’s colleges and universities. Elected officials should work to encourage SEPTA and academic leadership to embrace the model established by the University of Pittsburgh and the Port Authority of Allegheny County, in which heavily discounted transit passes are automatically included in tuition and compensation packages for students and university employees, respectively.
5th Square is working with the SEPTA Youth Advisory Council toward this goal and our coalition made important progress toward this goal with SEPTA's 2017 fare tariff changes, which allowed SEPTA management to enter into bulk fare contracts with all kinds of organizations. This proposal would be revolutionary for student mobility and access to opportunities throughout our region, and provide a substantial new predictable local revenue stream for SEPTA.
More Homes Near Transit
Our local and state governments need to address our region’s rising housing costs, lengthening commute, and job sprawl through legislation that allows for more home construction near high-quality transit. Providing enough housing for all Pennsylvanians is an issue of state concern, not simply a local interest, and the state Municipal Planning Code has been woefully under-used as a legislative tool for affirmatively furthering fair and abundant housing in transit-rich and job-rich areas.
California’s legislature recently introduced a pro-housing bill SB 50, which could serve as a national model for state land-use reform. If enacted, it would preempt local zoning restrictions on dense housing construction near high-quality transit, and in high-opportunity areas with large concentrations of jobs or in-demand school districts. Similar bills have also been introduced by progressive lawmakers in Oregon, Washington, Maryland, and Virginia to preempt local exclusionary zoning policies like apartment bans, parking quotas, and minimum lot size rules from the state level.
Zoning for denser development would allow our region to become greener, more accessible, and more affordable — less centered around car culture, and better able to deliver housing in walkable places not just in Philadelphia, but in many older cities and boroughs throughout Southeast PA with regional rail stations or significant job clusters.
Enacted more than 100 years ago, the Separations Act mandates separate prime contractors for public construction projects in the areas of general construction, electrical, plumbing, heating & air conditioning. This is referred to as a Multiple Prime Delivery System and it requires the state government to bid separate contracts for the general contractor and the main specialty contractors—electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and HVAC—for most public projects. Pennsylvania is one of three remaining states with a Separations Act.
The Separations Act is an outdated law that bogs down public works project delivery at every turn of the design, bid, and management process resulting in broken budgets and inefficient management of public project funds. It’s a dry but important issue that concerns how much public infrastructure our dollars can buy. Funding levels matter, but project delivery costs matter just as much.
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a regional cap-and-trade program for the Northeast U.S. that requires polluters to pay for their emissions. Since 2009, the initiative has run a cap-and-trade program that has cut the annual average CO2 emissions from electric generation in nine participating states.
Pennsylvania is the fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter in the country. It’s also a large producer of coal and natural gas, and a net exporter of electricity. The state’s participation would expand RGGI at a time when the Trump administration has reversed actions to curb emissions.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order directing the Department of Environmental Protection to join the initiative, however it faces opposition within the State Legislature, and even within segments of the Democratic Party.
Joining RGGI would accelerate our state’s transition away from fossil fuel energy, and we support Governor Wolf’s efforts. We have concerns about what the revenue from RGGI will be spent on, however, and call on the legislature to prioritize public transit and multi-modal transportation projects over electric vehicle infrastructure and other car infrastructure.
Eliminate Minimum Parking Requirements
Minimum parking requirements for residential, office, and mixed-use developments are a regressive hidden tax on non-drivers that makes housing more expensive, increases driving and congestion, and only boosts the number of cars in the neighborhood.
About a third of Philadelphians either don’t have the means to own a vehicle or simply don’t want to own one, and this is especially true of the Millennials and Baby Boomers who have been moving here in recent years. If residents want to rent or buy just a house—without an unwanted parking space bundled in—they should have the freedom to do that. City government shouldn't put its thumb on the scale for more parking and driving at a time when our elected officials have rhetorically committed themselves to fighting climate change and improving our air quality.
Help us win a more accessible, sustainable, and equitable Philadelphia: Become a Member to help 5th Square win some of these changes in Harrisburg!