Monthly Archives: February 2010

Underground Storage Tank Story in MCall

The Morning Call’s story “What Lies Beneath” (CLICK FOR FULL STORY) highlights the “out of sight, out of mind” problem of underground storage tanks used for petroleum products.

It’s disconcerting to read about inspection and cleanup backlogs around the Lehigh Valley and across the Commonwealth when the state regulatory agency with monitoring and enforcement jurisdiction over such issues was hit with among the steepest cuts in last years budget battle.

[T]he deal that ended the state’s budget crisis this month slashed funding for the Department of Environmental Protection by 27 percent. The cut, one of the largest among state agencies, leaves the DEP with significantly fewer inflation-adjusted dollars than it had well over a decade ago. Politics PA 10/24/2009)

The MCall article also highlights the communication challenges posed by fragmented local government units.  As the story points out, “pollution knows no boundaries,” but East Allen Township didn’t share relevant information with neighboring Upper Nazareth, whose resident’s were experiencing firsthand effects of leaky tanks in East Allen.

”We didn’t contact anybody,” Deborah Seiple, East Allen’s manager, said in a recent interview. ”As far as I’m concerned and the zoning office is concerned, until DEP gives a final determination as to what’s going on there, it’s in their hands.” (What Lies Beneath)

The state is required to notify the municipality, but public notification is not mandated.

When the EPA approved Pennsylvania’s underground storage tank program in 2003, it required the state to notify municipalities of spills. EPA assumed municipalities would then tell the public.

. . .

Gerald Gasda, South Whitehall manager, said the pollution is a state issue. . . .”Frankly, I’m not aware of any requirement that we notify anybody,” Gasda said. He added he would be willing to create a policy to notify adjacent property owners of tank pollution if residents asked.

. . .

DEP has no plan to revise its notification procedures, meaning it will continue to tell only municipalities and property owners directly affected by leaks. Unless municipalities share that information, residents will have to rely on their own vigilance. (What Lies Beneath)

Residents directly effected can expect notification from DEP.  However, residents of municipality in which the leak occurs but not directly effected must rely on municipal officials for discretionary disclosure.  Residents of neighboring municipalities must hope that officials from their municipality receive notification from the municipality where the leak occurred and that the leaders in their municipality choose to share that information.  Greater intermunicipal cooperation would likely increase the chances that leak information will be shared across the same municipal boundaries that the contamination does not respect.


Allentown Plan Looking to Adopt Complete Streets Policy

Last week, I met with Greg Weitzel, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Allentown. Greg was a presenter at the 9th Annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference in Seattle, WA, earlier this month, where he was part of a workshop discussion regarding Complete Streets policy. I caught up with him, because I wanted to get his take on what Allentown was doing in terms of implementing Complete Streets.

As many of you are aware, Complete Streets allow residents to safely walk and bicycle, so that daily commutes and errands provide healthy exercise, save money, and reduce traffic and pollution. Complete Streets offers an alternative to unsafe, high-speed roadways, and goes a long way in combating a pattern of sprawl.

A plan is being put together in Allentown to connect the city’s park system through a network of bike and pedestrian trails, with the city’s Parks and Recreation department spearheading the project. Among other organizations, the study was prepared by Greenways, Inc., a firm known for innovative planning and design of open space and parks. At last week’s meeting of the Allentown City Council, Charles Flint, the president of Greenways, Inc., stated that, if enacted, the plan would ”change the culture of the city, attract investment and transform the city.”

Greg discussed with me the effort to implement the plan in Allentown.

Why the addition of a Complete Streets policy to the Allentown trail plan?

Greg: For many reasons. It will help with securing funding, especially with federal grants. But it also makes sense when looking at what we are trying to achieve with a trails plan. Our plan aims to connect pedestrians and bicyclists to Allentown’s parks and trails, and that aspect – of these connections – is a significant portion of Complete Streets policy.

Greg walked me through the Connecting Our Community Executive Summary, and I took note of the specific policy wording for Allentown:

The future design and reconstruction of streets and intersections in the City of Allentown should aim to serve all types of users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists, and should be inclusive of all levels of ability, such as those in wheelchairs, the elderly, and the young.

The Executive Summary provides additional insight into why Complete Streets policy should be a part of this effort:

While Allentown’s Comprehensive Plan (Allentown 2020) and zoning codes address non-motorized transportation in a number of important ways, some policy updates are recommended to ensure future development provides pedestrian and bicycle facilities and improves bicycle/pedestrian friendliness.

Hence, Complete Streets.

What are some of the challenges in implementing such a comprehensive trails plan and a Complete Streets policy within Allentown?

Greg: Finding funding is always a challenge. We are applying again for a grant through the Department of Transportation, because we asked for too little last time. Philadelphia just received a large grant for a bike and pedestrian program, so this project has much potential for receiving federal money. There is also the Green Future Fund in Lehigh County, which could be helpful for us.

Besides the funding aspect, there are some regional viewpoints that also need to change; there’s a certain culture ingrained that favors auto transportation. When I present the plan for a network of trails in Allentown, some people ask me whether it will encourage more people into the street and what the plan will mean for car travel. They sometimes ask, “What am I supposed to do if a kid is playing in the street?” It’s a matter of doing community education and encouraging livable, walkable neighborhoods.

Do you see this as a potential transit option for daily commuting?

Greg: Absolutely. We are working with adjacent municipalities on this plan, and they were all involved in the study for the trails network. We are also involving alternative transportation advocates in the process. This will bring us closer to marketing the trails as a viable option for commuters.

One of the hurdles up ahead is the adoption of the plan by Allentown City Council. Greg mentioned that doing so would position the city well for receiving a large federal grant for the project. But concerns over costs have been raised by some City Council members. Council will consider adopting it at their March 3rd meeting.

If you’re interested in knowing more about this comprehensive plan and if you want to get involved in moving the plan along, contact Capri Roth, Director of Communications at Friends of the Allentown Parks, by calling 610-437-7750 or e-mailing rothc@allentowncity.org.

No Plans to Fill Budget Hole?

Yesterday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the dire state of transportation funding within Pennsylvania. As many of you know, Act 44, the Commonwealth’s law that determines transportation funding, is expected to fall short $450 million if the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) denies the application once again. And, unfortunately, it seems that the state has no back-up plan if the application is rejected.

The Chairman of the State House Transportation Committee, Rep. Joseph Markosek, likened this matter to a looming armageddon, claiming, “It will be infrastructure nuclear winter.” Scared yet? You should be. It means that basic funding for road and highway repairs will be severely affected. But, of course, the biggest loser in funding-shortages is always public transportation, and that seems to be the case this time as well, with SEPTA general manager Joseph Casey stating that “major products, such as such as automated fare collection on trains and buses, will have to be pushed back.”

It is unclear how soon we will know the decision by the FHWA, but what you can do right now is contact the below legislators in support of tolling I-80. We posted the information last week, but here it is again:

Senator Arlen Specter
Ph: 202-224-4254
Fax: 202-228-1229
Contact Form: http://specter.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.ContactForm

Congressman Robert Brady
Ph: 202-225-4731
Fax: 202-225-0088
Contact Form: http://www.brady.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=112&sectiontree=112

Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz
Ph: 202-225-6111
Fax: 202-226-0611
Contact Form: http://schwartz.house.gov/issue_subscribe.shtml

Congressman Chaka Fattah
Ph: 202-225-4001
Fax: 202-225-5392

Congressman Patrick Murphy
Ph: 202-225-4276
Fax: 202-225-9511

To Rail or Not to Rail?

After three decades, there is consensus — more (see A) or less (see B) — on the principles that define “smart growth.”  However, debate continues about what precise policies should appropriately be labeled “smart growth” and which are most effective at promoting the principles that define smart growth.

ONE THING WE CAN AGREE ON??? —

Providing alternatives transportation choices and reducing overall reliance on the automobile for mobility are principles all smart growth advocates would agree with.  Consensus breaks down somewhat once the discussion moves beyond principles and begins to address the specifics of alternative transportation models – What is the right mix of modes? What land-use reforms will be needed to complement the new transportation model? How will the projects be funded? And so on . . .

Pittsburgh's public transit system is a mix of traditional bus lines that run on public streets and BRT lines with designated bus-only rights of way. On my only two visits to Pittsburg, I stayed with friends living in the Shadyside Neighborhood not far from Carnegie Mellon University, but needed to be in Downtown Pittsburgh both days. The BRT stop was 3 blocks from their apartment, the bus was on time, and the ride was wholly uneventful.

One key question that is raised in the discussion about how to implement smart transportation reform is whether a particular region would be best served by rail ( a fixed-guideway system) or  Bus-Rapid Transit (aka “BRT” – a model that relies primarily on existing roadway infrastructure, but which might have some designated exclusive rights of way).

Light Rail Car in Phoenix, Az.

Journalist Diane DeRubertis poses this question and offers a thoughtful discussion at Plantizen:

When faced with the costs and logistics of rail, planners and city officials increasingly seem to favor Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a trend likely to continue through the current recession.  But even with the many persuasive arguments for BRT, the nagging question remains:  why not rail? (CLICK HERE FOR FULL POST)

There is no simple answer to this question, nor an answer that applies uniformily across different regions of the country.  Nonetheless, it is a question that the Lehigh Valley will have to grapple with when determining how best to shape the region’s transportation system for the 21st century.

NOTE (per comment from Bill): Pittsburgh has a light rail network as well.  The map is below.  Most of the coverage is south of Downtown.  Light rail and BRT can clearly complement one another as well as complement traditional bus service.

Pittsburgh Light Rail Map: CLICK IMAGE to view Port Authority of Allegheny County Website

Contact Your Legislator in Support of Tolling I-80

Just received this notice in my mailbox. I urge all of you to please contact your US Legislators today.

**************

Call to Action

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pennsylvania Act 44 of 2007 is in grave trouble and that means the economic future and vitality of the Commonwealth is in jeopardy unless immediate action is taken to toll Interstate 80.

Without these resources, we can anticipate a permanent annual loss in funding — $350 million for Highways and $150 million for Transit – statewide.

This is a $500 million LOSS that will translate into fewer permanent jobs and significantly reduced opportunities for contractors and engineers who support public transit and highway construction and revitalization initiatives.

The Commonwealth cannot afford to sustain such job losses or reduced capital investment in vital mobility infrastructure.

Please contact these legislators today and tell them that the tolling of Interstate 80 is essential to keep Pennsylvania working and growing.

Senator Arlen Specter

Ph: 202-224-4254

Fax: 202-228-1229

Contact Form: http://specter.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.ContactForm

Congressman Robert Brady

Ph: 202-225-4731

Fax: 202-225-0088

Contact Form: http://www.brady.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=112&sectiontree=112

Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz

Ph: 202-225-6111

Fax: 202-226-0611

Contact Form: http://schwartz.house.gov/issue_subscribe.shtml

Congressman Chaka Fattah Congressman Patrick Murphy

Ph: 202-225-4001                                           Ph: 202-225-4276

Fax: 202-225-5392                                          Fax: 202-225-9511

TIGER Grant Awarded to Philadelphia

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant awards were announced yesterday, and, locally, Philadelphia received $17.2 million out of the $1.5 billion pot.

Philadelphia submitted a regional application with surrounding counties, though the projects in the other counties have not been funded. The Philly-specific proposal is the completion of a regional trail network, one which will, presumably, alleviate some traffic congestion within the city and promote more multi-modal travel.

Philadelphia’s Deputy Mayor of Transportation and Utilities said that the funding will “fill in critical gaps in the city’s bike trail network.” Perhaps the Lehigh Valley is next…

My Dad, the Rail Enthusiast

You could say that my father, Bob Dietrich, was born with a love for rail. Originally hailing from Omaha, NE, he relocated to the New Tripoli-Kempton area with his parents at a young age. He traveled to his Slatington-based school by train, and when it came time for him to serve in the army, he arrived at his departure “stop” by train as well.

He made sure to spend his vacations on a passenger railcar, taking trips in the coal region and up the White Mountains in New England. But he always returned to the Berks-Lehigh Valley area to make sure that the local trains were running and alive.

At times, this involved a great deal of work and advocacy on his part. He organized dinners and fundraisers, and assisted in track work (which was in dire need of repair). But his determination and focus on local rail often paid off, and he was able to witness the arrival of the diesel electric Whitcomb locomotive in Kempton during his lifetime (the same kind that was used in Europe during World War II, and then worked in two Gulf Oil refineries).

Train in Kempton

His love for trains flooded over to his home life, where he had an affinity for model railroading.  He collected all sorts of model railways, too many to list all here (just to name a few: HO scale, N Scale, double-door boxcars, and  steam generator, among others).

Just a peek at model railroading

Every Christmas included his model railroads running underneath the tree, and he continued this tradition even until he was 83 years old.  The entire basement was turned into a wonderland of trains running through the alps and cities in Europe, with a intricate network of tunnels, multiple rails, turn-tables and the like.   And, of course, the bookshelves held multiple books on the topic of rail.

Can you guess what this is? It's a snow plow!

Politically and socially aware, he was disappointed when his beloved President (and Army-Chief) Eisenhower chose to fund a nationwide network of roads and highways instead of rail. He really saw this moment as the catalyst for America’s love affair with driving. Moreover, he was very put off by the strong lobbying of the rubber industry that pushed rubber for tires of cars, and thought that rail was placed at a disadvantage within national politics. His support for rail was unyielding.

Bob loved all rail, from the trains in the mid-west to the high-speed rail in Germany and Austria. It was this passion that made him adamant about keeping rail in the Lehigh Valley alive! It is for this reason that I have made a donation to RenewLV in honor of my Dad’s memory, as a way of continuing his dream that passenger rail would remain within the region. If he were still here today, he would applaud the work RenewLV is doing and would proudly encourage them to continue working on bringing rail back to the Valley.

Second Meeting for Proposed Easton Garage/Bus Depot

Given the passionate responses brought on by the last meeting notice, I wanted to make sure that our readers were aware of the next public meeting for the proposed parking garage and bus depot in Easton on South Third Street.

In case you need a low-down on the purpose of the meeting, here is the following excerpt from the Express Times:

Easton is partnering with the Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority to build a two- or three-story parking deck atop a local and regional bus terminal. LANTA will bring Federal Transit Administration grants to the project, triggering an environmental review. LANTA Executive Director Armand Greco said the hearing is designed to gather input and identify possible environmental issues. A final environmental assessment should be available in April ahead of another public meeting in May, he said.

The details for the meeting are as follows:

Date: Thursday, February 18, 2010

Time: 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Location: 5th floor of Easton City Hall (City Council Chambers), 1 South Third St.

Cul-de-sacs on the way out?

From NY Times Magazine’s 9th Annual Year in Ideas:

Nothing divides suburban developers and “smart growth” advocates as much as the lowly cul-de-sac. The real estate community loves the meandering, dead-end streets; lots on them sell quickly and at a premium, thanks to their low traffic and perceived safety benefits. But critics complain that cul-de-sacs are a poor use of land; they funnel cars onto clogged arterial routes and restrict access to neighborhoods when emergency vehicles need to respond . . .

For decades the developers have been winning this battle. But this fall, Virginia, under the leadership of Gov. Tim Kaine, became the first state to severely limit cul-de-sacs from future developments . . . (Full Story)

Proposed Budgets (Yep, It’s That Time Again)

Budget discussions are underway, both at the state and federal levels. In Pennsylvania, among other suggestions, Governor Rendell is proposing a lift on some sales-tax exemptions coupled with a plan for a lower sales tax (4%, rather than the current 6% rate). The Lehigh Valley’s leaders chimed in their thoughts on the Governor’s budget proposal in today’s Morning Call.

Nationally, Obama’s proposal includes a plan for a National Infrastructure Bank, that would support both national and regional projects. The New Republic reported on this plan, though with slight disappointment that the proposal only focuses on transportation proposals.

Other noteworthy aspects of the national budget: increased funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water Revolving Funds and more funding for high-speed rail projects. As Pennsylvania moves forward on plans for an integrated state rail plan, the hope remains that the Commonwealth will have several projects eligible for this funding.

Thoughts on these budgets?

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