Joseph Hohenstein, running for State Representative PA HD177
My name is Joe Hohenstein and I am running for re-election as the State Representative of the 177th District. My motivations remain the same as when I first ran: this district is my home and I want to see it flourish. I know these neighborhoods intimately because I have lived here for the bulk of my life. I grew up here, my wife and I have raised our children here, and my family goes back 5 generations in the neighborhoods that I now serve. I am seeking another term because I want to continue giving back to my community and helping my neighbors, and I believe the sum of my life experiences, my personal familiarity with the district, and the knowledge I’ve acquired as a legislator make me the most qualified candidate to do so.
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? (https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/commentary/philadelphia-traffic-fatalities-penndot-20190208.html)
1b. What types of legislative and policy changes are needed to correct this problem at PennDOT?
First and foremost, HB140 needs to be passed. We need to make it easier for protected bike lanes and pedestrian walkways to be constructed to allow for more equitable access to our roads.
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? (https://bicyclecoalition.org/vulnerable-road-user-bill-introduced-in-pa-state-house/)
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? (https://www.inquirer.com/transportation/parking-protected-bike-lane-cycling-philadelphia-pennsylvania-legislation-20190430.html)
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? (https://whyy.org/articles/city-facing-criticism-says-washington-ave-pivot-was-a-matter-of-equity/)
3 (b). How would you listen and respond to constituents who oppose road safety measures out of fears of traffic congestion and gentrification?
It is no secret that many of our community members fear changes like road safety measures and equate them to gentrification. I believe that communities across our Commonwealth, regardless of median income or home values, can benefit tremendously from safety improvements on our roadways. I believe that implementing these safety measures throughout the city, like in some of the middle neighborhoods in my district, can help normalize safety improvements and end the stigma that associates them with gentrifying neighborhoods. Simply put, if everyone gets the same improvements and the focus is safety for all pedestrians, all cyclists, all motorists, and all transit riders, that is appropriate development and planning, not gentrification.
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? (https://whyy.org/articles/roosevelt-boulevard-speed-cameras-represent-rare-bipartisan-win/)
While I believe that other traffic-calming solutions should always be explored first, I support automated speed enforcement where it makes sense. In places like Roosevelt boulevard and on I-95 in work zones, it is absolutely necessary. I would support expanding it in certain targeted areas after traffic studies have determined its efficacy. We want the ultimate goal to be reducing pedestrian crashes without the perception that we are just installing another revenue generator. For example, in my district, we have a problem on Bridge street at The Arsenal, a complex where two schools are housed along a busy thoroughfare. School speed limits are seldom heeded, which has resulted in several crashes. I would consider looking at automated speed enforcement as a potential piece of the overall solution that would include other traffic calming modalities as well.
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? (https://www.inquirer.com/transportation/congestion-pricing-new-york-philadelphia-traffic-20190402.html)
Yes, I am generally supportive if it is done thoughtfully and with careful consideration with regard to the communities they will affect. I am much more amenable to alternative methods such as road diets and installing protected bike lanes to deter car usage more organically and equitably.
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?(https://www.dep.pa.gov/Citizens/climate/Pages/GHG-Inventory.aspx)
Improving our mass transit system should be at the forefront of every discussion surrounding climate change as it relates to transportation. While electric cars are certainly more energy efficient, they are still cars on the road that lead to congestion and crashes. We also must be concerned with how the electricity used to charge them is generated. As we increase density across Philadelphia and beyond, we need our mass transit to reflect that. Making access to mass transit more convenient and more efficient will encourage people to drive their personal cars less frequently, if at all. I support the Transit For All PA initiatives.
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? (https://www.greenway.org/faqs)
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? (https://www.penndot.pa.gov/about-us/funding/Pages/Gap.aspx)
There are arguments for both approaches, because mileage based fees would be easier to implement with existing infrastructure, but in the long run I believe congestion pricing will provide the strongest connection between funding and road usage. Based on Gov. Wolf’s Transportation Revenue Options Commission Report, I believe implementing congestion pricing makes the most sense as it will best address the specific wear and tear from heavy traffic on particular roads and bridges. Such a policy will also help dissuade drivers from adding to traffic in the most congested areas.
8 (b). Should our commonwealth continue to fund highway expansion projects as a means to combat congestion?
Studies have shown that building more roads and adding more lanes may temporarily speed up traffic, but any added capacity is quickly filled up with more cars. It also comes at the high cost of encouraging sprawl which spreads out stores, houses, and jobs. This creates more reasons to drive to more places and expands many people’s commutes. Yes, some highway expansion will be necessary, but the focus of funding to reduce congestion and to improve commuting experiences should be to develop and expand transit options. Improving services and access to specific destinations will not only reduce traffic congestion and the greenhouse gasses associated with it, it will also help development for commercial opportunities at those stations and destinations.
9. What are some of your own ideas for enhancing mobility and improving road safety in your district and Philadelphia more broadly?
I was a participant and steering committee member in the Frankford Avenue Multimodal Study conducted in 2019. We explored solutions to a variety of traffic issues on the Frankford Avenue corridor in Holmesburg, Mayfair, Tacony, and Wissinoming. In certain places, it was determined that road diets coupled with angular back-in parking would slow traffic down, increase parking, and encourage more walkability on the corridor. We want our commercial corridor to feel less like a strip mall where someone may only visit one destination and then leave, but rather a vibrant Main Street where people want to visit several destinations along the avenue in a single outing.
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? (https://www.transitforallpa.org/platform/)
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? (https://www.transitforallpa.org/platform/)
10 (c). How would you propose raising the necessary funds for Pennsylvania's public transit going forward?
Federal infrastructure and ARPA funds would be a start. Sustainable funding has to come from a committed investment from the Commonwealth’s General Fund. Such a commitment will only come from non-urban areas if they see the value of transit infrastructure in their own communities. This can be as simple as showing the value of job-producing contracts between SEPTA and rural counties. It will require a fundamental shift in the Harrisburg culture to change the incorrect perception of Philadelphia and its transit system as a drag on the economy, rather than its engine.
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? (https://planning.septa.org/projects/)
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?
I want to first work to get the Wissinoming train station reopened and operational again, along with increased trains on the entire line at local stations like Bridesburg and Holmesburg Junction. The Trenton Line is the fastest way to get to Center City from my district, and we need to increase the accessibility and equitability of that line. Better, more reliable access to the regional rail would encourage more transit-oriented housing, adding to our already diverse and robust housing stock, which would give people a wider array of neighborhoods to choose from when deciding where to live.
12. Do you support dedicated bus and trolley lanes and legislation enabling automated enforcement cameras to deter other vehicles from using these lanes? (https://mobilitylab.org/2018/09/17/automated-bus-lane-enforcement-is-more-effective-than-police-among-other-findings/)
This may be necessary in some spaces, but as I stated before, I think that we may be able to avoid needing automated enforcement cameras in most areas by utilizing physical solutions like proper signage, color-coded lanes, and raised medians.
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?
See my comments above about increasing access to the Regional Rail that goes through my district. In general, our Regional Rail is underutilized throughout the system. In addition, improved focus on safety and cleanliness on the Frankford El and Broad Street Subway are needed. I applaud SEPTA for instituting creative solutions like staff trained in intervention to address the plight of people living with addiction who often gravitate to those systems. More policies that focus on the value of long term recovery to provide housing security and real treatment for people living with addiction are needed and our transit agencies can be a part of that.
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? (https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/commentary/housing-affordability-philadelphia-covid-20211206.html)
Zoning is one component of the crisis of affordable housing, but another is the motivation of developers placing profits over people. My district is plagued by shoddy new construction that was overpriced. That is why I have introduced legislation that aims to ensure development is responsible and accountable: https://www.pahouse.com/Hohenstein/News/?id=121084
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? (https://www.planetizen.com/definition/state-preemption)
In situations where state-based preemption is required to empower municipalities to shape their zoning code to fit their evolving landscape, this makes sense. However, I believe that, in most cases, the nuances of zoning are best kept at the local level. I am skeptical of any such efforts given the current makeup of the state legislature, however if said efforts were made in good faith and with careful consideration to the affected communities, I would be open to the possibility of state-based efforts to preempt local zoning and land use controls to encourage housing development. I am wary of the profit motive of many developers in my district that focus on the return on their investment before the good of the people.
16. If elected, what will you do to make housing, both market-rate and subsidized, more affordable?
Philadelphia has among the highest number of vacant properties of the big U.S. cities with an estimated 12,000 vacant properties and an additional 30,000 vacant lots. We should be constructing more affordable, low-carbon housing units here and across Pennsylvania through use of Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Redevelopment Assistance Capitalization Program (RACP) grants, and New Market Tax Credits, among other funding sources. Identifying existing vacant properties for adaptive reuse can also diversify the housing stock and lead to the creation of more affordable units. This will increase the supply of houses and help bring down the market-rate, expand the tax-base, and create jobs.
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? (https://local.aarp.org/news/adus-provide-unique-housing-solution-to-todays-challenges-pa-2021-06-17.html)
17 (b). What efforts will your office take to ensure seniors can age in place?
A major concern for our aging population is accessibility to health care. I am supportive of a Medicare for All, single-payer, national health insurance program to provide everyone in America with comprehensive health care coverage that is free at the point of service — especially our aging population. By expanding health care coverage to include dental, hearing, vision, home- and community-based long-term care, in-patient and out-patient services, mental health and substance abuse treatment, reproductive and maternity care, prescription drugs, etc., we can ensure seniors have the medical treatment they need to remain in their own homes or with their family members.
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? (https://whyy.org/articles/time-for-safehouse-to-ask-forgiveness-not-permission-on-philly-supervised-injection-site-experts-say/)
18 (b). Why or why not?
Harm reduction is a necessary component to address the opioid and other addiction epidemics. However, harm reduction is not a complete or final solution, rather it is an entry into a complete treatment system, focused on long term treatment with social and mental health support systems that are still years away from implementation. The problem for current proposals with supervised injection sites is that they are predominantly placed in the neighborhoods that are most affected, but that placement does not come with expanded services either for those living with addiction or the communities themselves. Unless and until there is a broader commitment to a real recovery system that respects the humanity of people living with addiction and the neighborhoods where they reside, I cannot ask any of my neighbors to have a supervised injection site near them.
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? (https://www.inquirer.com/science/pennsylvania-house-rggi-climate-change-gov-wolf-20211216.html)
We must take immediate action on the climate crisis. We must immediately begin transitioning to better and cleaner modes of electricity generation. Pennsylvania is the nation’s leading exporter of electricity and third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, and so we have a responsibility to lead the nation on climate. I have been a consistent vote and voice supporting RGGI on the floor and in the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. I asked for assignment to this committee specifically to address this issue.
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 always tell people that to know me, you have to know where I come from and my family. I am from a 5th generation Frankford family. My father was a PFT teacher. My mother was a DC47 social worker with the City. My sister is a union organizer with SEIU 32BJ. My brother is a DEP Engineer/Program Manager. My other brother is Director/Chief Economist of the Climate Change Office for the US Dept. of Agriculture. My other sister is a nutritionist in rural North Carolina. My other other brother is a nurse (and a potter). Finally, my youngest brother is a software engineer. We all took SEPTA to school during our childhood. I was a regular transit commuter for years into my adult life. I grew up singing “You Can’t Get to Heaven on the Frankford El.” I will walk the walk and talk the talk. Also, I know that the best way to another legislator’s heart is to visit their district and find out what makes it tick, what issues are important to them, and to find things in common to show how we are connected.