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 firstname.lastname@example.org.