Monthly Archives: June 2010

New Skatepark in Bethlehem

If you follow the news in the Lehigh Valley closely, you’re aware of the uphill battle that has been the Bethlehem Skate Park. The project has hit so many snags along the way — including a possible cut in funding by the Bethlehem City Council, a move that didn’t happen thanks to the successful rallying of local skateboarders via social media (what a great organizing tool, no?) — but all of that is in the past as opening day of the park draws near.

The blog for Homebase, a local skateboard shop, has pictures of the park, as well as some details regarding the grand opening on July 16th. Here are some teaser pictures:

This park has tremendous potential for attracting tourism into the region and the city. And it will be a great recreational area for the young people in the region. Visit their blog to see the rest of the pictures and get full details on opening day.

Sadly, I will be out of town at the Building One Pennsylvania summit on the 16th and will have to miss the grand opening, but if any of you are unable to attend the summit in Lancaster, I suggest you head over to this event at 4pm.

Building One PA event: Regional Solutions Key to Urban Revitalization

The mood at last night’s Building One PA event in Allentown was hopeful. Community members gathered to watch “The New Metropolis” documentary, which, among other things, highlighted the crucial link between urban revitalization and comprehensive regional planning. The discussion that followed also focused on the need to plan better on a regional level.

The documentary recounted the history of urban sprawl, starting with government policies put into place after World War II. These policies encouraged new developments on cheap farmlands with the aid of state and federal subsidies. Now, many decades later, these original communities are struggling with keeping up with finances, as new developments keep popping up in the outlying areas. Urban planning leaders in the film called for a better, more coordinated approach to planning, with Myron Orefield stating that “regional land-use policies–tied to infrastructure planning– are the key to smart growth.”

The discussion that followed among the panelists and audience members brought out some good commentary about what needs to be done to encourage reinvestment in our older communities. Mayor Pawlowski of Allentown stressed that policy changes have to be implemented on the statewide level. Current policies tend to favor new developments over efforts to rebuild aging infrastructure in older communities, which places an unfair burden on these communities. The panel encouraged community members to organize in their respective municipalities and keep working with RenewLV to find effective solutions to these issues.

This discussion will continue at the greater Building One Pennsylvania summit, taking place in Lancaster on July 16th. We encourage any interested residents and workers of the Lehigh Valley to attend this event on the 16th. Click here to register. To keep up to date on matters related to regional collaboration and urban revitalization, make sure to sign up for RenewLV’s e-mail list on our Join Us page.

Charlotte’s Fight For Light Rail

In her recent blog post, Mary Newsom of Cities of the Future writes about Charlotte’s unlikely move to establish a light rail system. The story is interesting since it is well known that the Charlotte Metropolitan area is characterized by an auto-dependent nature. The only other factor that could trump the car-centric culture is Charlotte’s unyielding desire for more development, and it is indeed this reason that fueled the rise of the light rail in the area.

But how did it all begin? Newsom describes the early grassroots efforts:

Back in the 1980s, many of top leaders of both political parties knew regional transit was needed. But any suggestions for taxes to fund it were DOA at the rural-dominated state legislature, whose permission was needed. Two barriers had to fall: Convincing a conservative electorate that transit wasn’t a frill, and finding millions to build it.

Enter Charlotte Trolley, a volunteer group of rail buffs and enlightened developers who decided to restore an antique trolley car (found being used as a rental home outside Charlotte) and run it on an unused railbed near downtown. In 1996, after eight years of fundraisers, Charlotte Trolley launched a 1.8-mile ride, drawing throngs who loved the taste of old-fashioned streetcar travel. Keen-eyed developers built rail-oriented mixed-use projects, betting light rail service would follow.

It’s encouraging to see advocacy efforts like these in other regions. And I believe it’s important to note that such efforts take a long time, as long as the discussion is maintained in a community.

Visit RenewLV’s Sustainable Transportation Initiative page to learn about our work on transportation issues within the region. To keep up to date about local news on transportation, make sure to join our e-mail list.

As a quick reminder, make sure to come out to the Building One PA event this evening at 6pm at Allentown Symphony Hall. We’ll be discussing the different policies and issues (including transportation) that affect the growth of urban cores. For more information, visit our past blog post.

Are We Past the Suburban Century?

A colleague recently sent me an interesting article and I wanted to make sure to share it with our readers. John McIlwain, Senior Fellow at the Urban Land Institute (ULI), claimed that the “suburban century is over” when he made his remarks at a meeting of ULI: Minnesota recently. McIlwain gave his take on the recent housing and real estate market, predicting that difficult economic times will encourage more individuals and families to move closer to work, resources, and amenities.

This is good news to hear for advocates of urban revitalization and redevelopment. The claim is not entirely unexpected, as economic pressures will be pushing more people toward efficient living situations: housing close to work and recreation. There is a hope that some of these pressures will give way to better state and federal policy that favor revitalizing older communities (and make it easier for developers to build more housing in the urban cores).

This is surely a topic that will be covered during the Building One PA event in Allentown this upcoming Monday. The event starts at 6 p.m. at Allentown Symphony Hall (23 N. 6th St.). After a film viewing the documentary “New Metropolis,” community leaders will participate on the panel immediately following the film, and will answer questions and discuss ways in which we can address problems facing our inner cities. View the event flyer for additional information. Hope to see you there!

Highway Projects and Bridge Replacements in the Lehigh Valley — Public Input Needed

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) released its list of road projects coming up in the Lehigh Valley for the next four years. As we all expected, there are no new big projects coming down the pipe, as the state is still figuring out how to deal with the transportation funding crisis.

But the expected projects are included in the report — improvements on Rt. 412 in Bethlehem (which I am grateful for, since I take this road into work), improvements of interchanges on Rt. 22 and completion of Allentown’s American Parkway. It’s encouraging to see this last project remained on the list, as it has the potential for attracting transit-oriented development into the area.

The Morning Call reports:

There were few comments about the plan, with which study members are familiar at this point. However, member Becky Bradley, also the planning director for Easton, lamented the fact the draft plan includes no road-improvement projects in the city. Citing the reconfiguration of the MacArthur Road and Fullerton Avenue interchanges of Route 22 in Whitehall as an example, she noted Easton’s Fourth Street and 13th Street interchanges are similarly outdated and pose similar safety problems for motorists. She suggested the interchanges be considered for improvements.

Public input is needed on this plan. The document is available for review on the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission website (www.lvpc.org). Public comments will be accepted through July 16 by telephone, mail, e-mail, fax or in person during business hours at the commission office. Visit the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s website for more information.

Stronger Investment Needed in Our Water System

Peter Gleick, a long-time expert on environmental safety, provides a great take on the need to invest funds into our nation’s aging water infrastructure system. Gleick praises the US water system for being one of the most advanced in the world, and he traces its history back to the industrial age and the effect that clean tap water had on the economy of the nation and the health of the general population. But we are beginning to fall behind now, with infrastructure beginning to decay and the public losing trust in the water system. Gleick gives the prescription for this:

If local water agencies priced their water properly — remember, Americans pay fractions of a penny per gallon of tap water, compared with $4 or more for a gallon of bottled water — they could reinvest those revenues in community water systems to upgrade, expand and operate the best water purification and treatment systems that technology and money can buy. Old distribution systems can be upgraded and replaced, including old connections that leach lead and other contaminants into otherwise safe water. People like to complain about their utility rates. But most of us pay far, far less for our water than we do for electricity, cellphones, Internet service or cable television, and experience shows that when customers have confidence in the services they are getting, they are willing to pay for them.

Are you willing to pay more than you currently are for your tap water?

Make sure to check out the full Washington Post article. And stay up to date on all regional water news by signing up for our e-mail updates on RenewLV’s Join Us page. (For more information on regional water issues, make sure to visit RenewLV’s Regional Water Initiative page.)

Federal Safe Routes to School Program in Jeopardy

We received notice today from Walk and Bike Berks and the League of American Bicyclists that the Federal Safe Routes to School Program might be on the federal funding chopping block. The two groups sent the following message:

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) has targeted the federal Safe Routes to School program established under the 2005 Federal Surface Transportation Bill (SAFETEA-LU) as wasteful government spending in his weekly “YouCut program”.
Each week representative Cantor asks people to vote for which of five options they would cut from the federal budget. Republicans then hold a floor vote in the House of Representatives to try to eliminate the program that gets the most votes.
This week, the federal Safe Routes to School program is one of Rep. Cantor’s targets. He argues that SRTS duplicates other bicycling and walking programs, and that bicycling and walking infrastructure is a local government responsibility.
As you may know, the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program aims to make walking and bicycling to school safer and more accessible for children, including those with disabilities, and to increase the number of children who choose to walk and bicycle. On a broader level, SRTS programs can enhance children’s health and well-being, ease traffic congestion near the school and improve air quality and improve community members’ overall quality of life.

You may visit the Action Center for the League of American Cyclists to get in touch with your Congressional representative and let him or her know that you support Safe Routes to School in your community.

Federal comprehensive transportation legislation still on back-burner

As the regional lead for Transportation for America (T4A), we want to make sure that we keep you all up-to-date on the current situation of national legislation efforts around transportation policy.

As you may know, every six years, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure must pass a transportation bill laying the groundwork for transportation spending for the following six years. Last year, Committee Chair Oberstar, advocated for The Surface Transportation Authorization Act: “A Blueprint for Investment and Reform,” a bill which would invest $500 billion in road and rail. For more on the specifics of the bill check out the executive summary.

Despite Oberstar’s efforts, the bill was tabled as a  result of other national efforts: health care reform, anti-tax sentiments, and more recently the oil spill in the Gulf. Whatever the reason, efforts to create a comprehensive transportation bill that will promote investment in transportation projects which are both economically and environmentally sustainable, have been pushed to the back-burner. A Politico article from May better outlines the details of the delay and the tension between Oberstar and the administration.

The most recent development, in an otherwise slow moving process, is the proposal of the Emergency Transit Funding bill, as discussed on T4A’s blog. This bill represents one of the piecemeal efforts attempting to keep transportation legislation on the mind of legislators. The bill would authorize $2 Billion intended to close the funding gap in areas dealing with transit crises (T4A transit crisis map).

While the current situation of the comprehensive transportation bill is rather stagnant, it is never a bad time to write to your legislators to remind them of the importance of passing a comprehensive transportation bill which addresses the breadth of transportation needs that our country faces– including both transit and roads. Here is a list of our legislators contact information (Contact Info LV Legislators).

Also check out T4A’s website to view The Route to Reform: Blueprint for a 21st Century Federal Transportation Program, T4A’s recommended transportation reforms.

We will continue to update you on the happenings in Washington around transportation reform. If you hear anything comment below and we’ll do our best to follow-up. Thanks!

Strong Turnout, Many Perspectives at LCA Water Forum

Last night (June 10), the Lehigh County Authority (LCA) held its first community forum to discuss the future of wastewater capacity within central and western Lehigh County. On the forum’s website, LCA sums up why there is a need for more capacity:

The wastewater treatment plant owned and operated by the City of Allentown has no additional capacity available to allocate for future needs. That is, the plant can treat up to 40 million gallons of wastewater a day, on average, and all of that capacity has already been sold to the municipalities served by the plant, or is held by Allentown for its needs. Based on economic growth projections for this region, additional capacity will be required in 3 to 5 years to meet the needs of existing and future customers.

Judging by the strong attendance at last night’s forum, this issue is attracting stakeholders from diverse backgrounds: members of environmental/watershed groups, engineers, and municipal and county officials, among others. LCA hopes to bring together these stakeholders to discuss the available options for increasing capacity, which range from expanding the current facility at Kline’s Island to upgrading a pre-treatment plant in Fogelsville to full treatment.

Following LCA’s presentation of its options, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski gave a very informative overview of options for expanding the Kline’s Island plant that have the potential of lowering costs for the project.

Deana Zosky, RenewLV’s co-chair, talked with reporter Sarah Fulton yesterday (covering for the Morning Call) and stated that it will be important to closely examine the impact of each option on planning in the Lehigh Valley (in particular, the effects on the growth of the region).

In regard to the effect of this decision on planning and growth in the Lehigh Valley, it will be crucial to keep in mind the long-term (as well as short-term) costs associated with each option. While some of the options may seem less expensive at this time, I wonder about their implications for future costs (associated, for example, with new infrastructure being built to accommodate developments in outlying areas). At this time, it is unknown what these future costs might look like, but, hopefully, the steering committee will examine this matter in more detail.

Anyone interested in serving on the committee should contact input@lvwaterforum.net to inquire. To learn more about the options for upgrading capacity, visit the forum’s website.

For more information on RenewLV’s work on water and wastewater issues within the region, visit our Regional Water Initiative page.

Upcoming Events: Energy-saving in Allentown 6/17 and 6/22!

Here is a great opportunity (Event Poster) to learn about how you can save energy! Saving energy means saving money and there are a number of organizations in the Lehigh Valley who want to help you do just that.

Learn how to get funding and other assistance for energy-saving building improvements in the city of Allentown.  Save money by saving energy.  Learn about low-interest loans, rebates, energy audits, weatherization programs, and more.

The City of Allentown’s Sustainability Office is teaming with the Sustainable Energy Fund, AFC First Financial Corporation/Keystone HELP, PPL Electric Utility’s E-POWER Program, and the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV) to provide considerable help to city residents, commercial property and small business owners, and small not-for-profit organizations.

Each of these partners is offering programs that can help property owners make energy-saving (which means money-saving) building improvements.  No reservations needed.

Event information:

Thursday June 17th-Trumbower Building at Muhlenberg College (#4 on map)
7:30am- Session for contractors
10:00am- Session for commercial property owners
7:00pm- Session for city residents

Tuesday June 22nd- Dieruff High School’s Freshman Auditorium
7:00pm- Session for residential property owners but everyone is invited to attend

Refreshments will be served at all events.

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