Read 177th District Democratic candidate Joe Hohenstein's responses to the 5th Square 2018 Candidate Questionnaire. Visit our 177th District Campaign Page for more candidate questionnaire responses, event listings, and more.
Candidate Name: Joe Hohenstein
My name is Joe Hohenstein and this is my second campaign for the 177th District PA House seat. As in my first run, I am a strong proponent of sensible and balanced approaches to land use and planning in the city of Philadelphia. As a long time user of SEPTA I feel that a more comprehensive public transit system that can be coordinated with greater access for mode of transport that do not rely on fossil fuels is essential. Philadelphia cannot be a world class city without a world class public transport system that incorporates all the different and various ways people and goods move through our society.
I also feel that the creation of public spaces that can be accessed and used in a variety ways is a necessary element of any urban plan. I have been active on a neighborhood level in land use planning for Frankford Friends School (located in the heart of the 177th district). For more than 15 years I have helped development of our properties including new construction of an award winning of middle school building, recovery of a vacant property into an outdoor teaching area, and obtaining and repurposing a large church building into our school gymnasium and performance space. Our work involved coordination of funding and support from state and city government and two separate capital campaigns.
If elected, I would work towards supporting projects like these for organizations and communities throughout the district.
1. Act 89 transportation funds have increasingly been diverted to the state police budget, reducing the funds available to pay for infrastructure projects. What is the best way to safeguard this revenue to ensure that Commonwealth residents see all the transportation improvements they were promised when state lawmakers raised the gas tax?
Act 89 is not the solution to the dual needs of funding infrastructure and paying for the security that state police provide. Although it is unlikely to pass in the legislature as currently constructed, I would support increases in taxes on fossil fuel use. I also believe a larger part of the solution can be found in the untapped income stream of shale extraction fees or a “fracking tax.” Another would be in creating a different revenue stream for the police and infrastructure. It makes no sense that they be lumped together. The incentive to getting these types of provisions approved cannot be environmental de-regulation, as was recently considered. I believe that one way to ‘sell’ the higher taxes is to provide stronger safeguards and accountability to spending on infrastructure. If we can make spending more efficient, then the additional taxes are easier to justify. Again, I do not believe these solutions are attainable in the legislature as currently constructed.
2. U.S. DOT opened the door to state tolling of federal highways at the end of the Obama administration. Would you support expanded road pricing of state and federal highways to fund transportation and infrastructure maintenance?
Yes, this is a structure that makes sense – tying the use of a system to its maintenance. Again, I think additional cost structures can be made more palatable by a commitment to efficient spending and providing some level of assistance or a gradual increase so that economic can be borne more easily by the affected industries.
3. What is your view of the Roosevelt Boulevard bus rapid transit (BRT) project that launched last year? How would you improve the quality of transit service in your district, and Northeast Philadelphia more broadly?
The BRT concept is a good one. It actually covers some of my current district. Similar routes could be put in place on Aramingo and Frankford Avenues, but unlike the Boulevard, there would not be as easy a transition to create dedicated bus lanes. A better solution may be a limited stop bus line along the I-95 corridor. Although not technically within the public transit system, an additional development might be a dedicated bike lane for one northbound and one southbound street on the east side of the city into the Northern Liberties and Fishtown neighborhoods. These are issues that I would need to examine more closely before I could provide direct ideas.
4. In Pennsylvania, traditional taxi companies and Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) alike are not required to provide Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAVs), and the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s recent efforts to incentivize more WAVs have fallen flat. Meanwhile, SEPTA’s paratransit service is notoriously limited, requiring waits of more than a day. What should be done to create more accessible on-demand transportation options for residents who rely on paratransit services?
I honestly don’t know what can solve these issues other than an increase in resources. I know a former paratransit driver who grew disillusioned with the way the service treated its passengers. Recognizing that this is a service-based issue, I would ask riders, who are the ultimate consumers, and take my cue from their suggestions.
5. In 2017, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called on states to implement automated enforcement measures to reduce speed-induced deaths and injuries. If elected, will you introduce or co-sponsor state enabling legislation to allow municipalities to pilot photo-enforcement speed cameras in School Zones and on High Injury Network streets?
I would support photo speeding cameras, but I have concerns. I would want to make certain that any enforcement system properly balances individual rights and also provides an efficient and effective mechanism of accountability for the use of the funds. In particular, the balance between state and local control over the funds will be a sticky question.
6. Do you support the legislation HB1187, introduced by Rep. John Taylor, to pilot speed enforcement cameras along Roosevelt Boulevard? What else would you do to make the Boulevard a less dangerous street for drivers and pedestrians?
See my answer to the above question. On the Boulevard in particular, the increased number of traffic lights have made the road marginally safer. However, I believe more pedestrian bridges, like the one at Oxford Circle, are needed. Also, the current red light program has flaws in the accountability for the use of funds obtained from fines. Too much goes back to Harrisburg and not enough to Philadelphia.
7. Pennsylvania is the only state in the U.S. that bans local law enforcement from using radar for vehicle speed enforcement. Recently a Mayor's Radar Coalition has formed to support lifting the state ban. Will you co-sponsor legislation to lift the ban?
I would have to study this issue more closely. I am encouraged that the proposed legislation contains limits on how much money a municipality can raise through fines. I believe the answer lies somewhere less than the 20% referenced in Sen. Vulakolvich’s bill.
8. How do you resolve the tension between regional planning goals and local zoning powers in cases where local sentiment is out of sync with sustainable planning objectives like sprawl containment, desegregation, or concentrating housing development near transit? Does state policy strike the right balance, or are changes needed?
My sentiments on this issue are that it is predominantly one of adequate communication. Too often, local resistance to any type of change that is perceived as coming from ‘outside’ or ‘up top’ has its source in a failure to communicate. While I might tend to side with a regional planning commission that has reviewed a particular location or system with an eye towards the most efficient result, those commissions’ recommendations will fall flat – and thus not be as effective as planned – if the people who will eventually walk through the streets, bike in the parks and ride the trains and buses do not share the vision. For this reason, I think the key element of any planning is making certain that as early and often as possible effective communication – public meetings, charrettes, and similar vehicles – are used when developing larger projects. Another way to address these issues is a focused revision of local zoning and licensing structures.
9. Do you support amending the state's Municipal Planning Code to encourage transit-oriented development near state-funded transit and commuter rail stations similar to California's recent pro-transit bill SB-827, which removes most zoning restrictions on dense housing construction near high-quality transit?
I would support these initiatives with the caveat I express above that any individual project will fail if communication is ineffective.
10. Due to a Corbett-era rule change, Pennsylvania’s building code is no longer automatically updated to reflect the international building code, causing us to fall years behind on code updates. This has hard harmful effects on building sustainability, public safety, and insurance costs. State lawmakers recently passed a one-time carve-out for the city of Philadelphia, allowing us to update our building code, but only for commercial development. Will you support or introduce legislation to allow Philadelphia to continually update our building code for both commercial and residential development?
Yes. Upgrades to building codes allow us to not only create safer buildings, it also provides a space for innovation.
11. The century-old Separations Act requires multiple bids for all different parts of public construction projects in Pennsylvania, making public works projects unnecessarily expensive and inefficient, and precluding Design-Build firms from bidding on public construction projects. Will you support and advocate for repeal of the Separations Act?
I would seek a compromise position that provides the state flexibility in sourcing contract bids but also protects union workers in the trades. I will have to study this issue further.
12. 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?
I am intimately familiar with the neighborhoods of this district. I am a lifelong resident and my family has roots in the Frankford area for at least the past four generations. I have been a SEPTA rider on a daily basis both as a student in middle school and as an adult. I have been involved in the direct work of establishing and executing a development plan for a key institution in my neighborhood. As a Quaker, stewardship is an essential element of my faith-based life. I see the sustainable development model advocated by 5th Square as a natural fit for how I have lived my life thus far and how I seek to lead if I am elected to office. I believe we share characteristics of a clear, coherent vision, with a recognition that effective execution of that vision requires a mix of diplomatic communication and persuasion with implementation of concrete policies and programs.