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More SEPTA trains and buses, elitist cyclists and “fat people”: The mayoral field talks transit

Thursday night, the mayoral candidates talked about the future of getting around Philadelphia, emphasizing the importance of non-car transportation. In front of a crowd of about 100 people for the Better Mobility Working Group’s Better Mobility Forum, they addressed issues like bike lanes, SEPTA, walkability and relationships between drivers and cyclists, the latter topic leading to an unforgettable Milton Street answer about “fat people.”

All of the Democratic candidates showed up except for Tony Williams, who was represented by his staffer Omar Woodard. They were joined by Republican candidate Melissa Murray Bailey. Here are eight highlights from the forum.

1. The real cyclists are Milton Street, Doug Oliver and Nelson Diaz, and nobody claims to be a major driver

All the candidates made opening statements where they briefly addressed some mobility issues around the city and talked about their own experiences with transportation. Diaz, Street and Oliver were the only candidates who talked about their own biking. Diaz likes to bike on the trails around his home in Chestnut Hill, Oliver has a Trek and Street bikes around Fairmount Park (where he says he’s worried for his safety because of crime).

Later, the candidates were asked how they usually got around town. Here are the responses:

Abraham: Walking and the bus for around Center City and driving for different campaign events

Diaz: SEPTA. He also showed transit cards from Amtrak and the Metro in D.C. and the subway in New York City. He’s trains all the way.

Kenney: Walking and some SEPTA

Murray Bailey: SEPTA

Oliver: SEPTA

Street: Cycling

Woodard: Walking or SEPTA. Didn’t say what Williams usually did.

2. Street talks about the divisiveness of “fat people”

Street hasn’t attended all of the mayoral forums so far, but he made up for it Thursday night, with two comments that were as crowd-pleasing as they were head-scratching. First, Street tackled the question about how to precipitate civility between cyclists and drivers by saying it would be tough. Why? Well, he said, there’s a particular group that tends to get angry at cyclists, and “they always seem to be fat people.”

A few minutes later, the candidates were asked about parking on the City Hall apron. Street said the city should take away the cars of public officials who park there.

3. Oliver calls cycling elitist

Some of the most interesting responses of the night came from Oliver, who seemed to be answering many of the questions directly rather than using the prompts to transition back to his priorities. The second question of the night was about whether cycling is elitist.

“Yes it is elitist,” Oliver said. “This is not a diverse room. As much as we like the concept of one city the fact is we don’t have one city. We have people worrying about getting shot and getting jobs.”

Street was the only other candidate to call it elitist. Oliver went on to say that Bike Share needed to be expanded deeper into the neighborhoods to help make cycling less elitist and a form of transportation more familiar to all.

4. No matter what, Lynne Abraham sticks to senior citizen issues

Senior citizens are one of Abraham’s core constituencies, and she acted like it even though the crowd at the Better Mobility Forum was almost entirely under 40. Asked about issues for addressing at SEPTA, she said bus drivers needed to pull all the way to curb at bus stops so as not to make a tough situation for people stepping on. Asked whether JFK Boulevard between 15th and 30th Streets would be a good place to add a protected bike lane, she said no — unlike the majority of the other candidates — because she thought it would be a hazard for the many retirees who have places in the area.

5. City planning wonks stump the mayoral candidates

Look, nobody understands transit issues like urbanists who read every scholarly article or study on city life. This fact was on display when Kerkstra read an audience member’s question about reducing congestion through an increase of bus travel and a decrease in private car usage. He had to rephrase the question twice before Kenney finally jumped in and tried his best to give a response about getting signals for emergency vehicles to change lights as they drive down streets.

6. How each candidate would change SEPTA if elected

Abraham: In addition to directing buses to always get as close to the curb as possible, she would extend the BSL to the Navy Yard and require better surveillance and lighting for less populated or dark areas of stations.

Diaz: More security and extending the BSL to the Navy Yard.

Kenney: Have more natural gas, electric and smaller buses at night and when there are fewer riders.

Murray Bailey: Keep the buses and trains running on a tighter schedule.

Oliver: Expand service to later times during the week in hopes of keeping Philly open later and creating jobs.

Street: Get the buses and trains to run on time better during the weekends and find a way to corral unruly kids who flood the transit system after school.

Woodard: Fix up and improve the underground concourse.

7. Murray Bailey knows what she is up against

A Republican is probably not going to win this election. Murray Bailey is the lone Republican. After introducing herself, she jokingly asked people to be sure to pay attention to the race all the way until November.

8. Kenney takes a (sort of) shot at Abraham

Abraham answered a question about civility between the mayor and City Council regarding bike lanes by saying Council was trying to usurp too much power from the mayor and was turning the city into 10 fiefdoms. Kenney, a longtime Council member just a few weeks ago, responded to an entirely different question a few moments later by commenting about the need for unity between the Council and the mayor.

 

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