Monthly Archives: October 2008
I know…It sounds too far fetched to be true, but recent research from Portland, OR and New York, NY demonstrate that the numbers suggest that people are more inclined to ride bicycles for transportation when bike friendly “infrastructure” (i.e. a couple of white lines on the side of the road delineating a bike lane) is in place. Here’s a brief excerpt from a related post from Planetizen:
In short, a clear relationship exists between the expansion of bikeway infrastructure, daily ridership and safety. As demand rises, American cities are doing more to accomodate this squeaky clean mode of transport. In turn, more people are bicycling while bicycle related injuries are not rising proportionately–a so-called ‘virtuous cycle.’
My car has not moved more than a handful of times since I moved to Philadelphia for school and I can’t really say that I miss driving (and parking in particular). The trip to school is about a 25-30 minute walk or a 10 minute bike ride. Unfortunately, only about a third of the ride home is in a designated bike lane. The rest is on the street and half of the total ride each way is on Market Street heading over the Schuylkill River, past 30th Street Station and into University City. It’s a pretty busy stretch of road with plenty of bus and cab traffic, so it’s can be a harrowing ride. If the traffic is too heavy, I end up riding slowly along the sidewalk (not the best for pedestrians, I know). Generally, Philadelphia seems to be a pretty bike-friendly city (as long as you have a sturdy lock) but the difference between riding on a street with a bike-lane and one without is like night and day. Spiked gas prices during the warmer months surely had an impact on the increase in the number of cyclists, but the bike lanes surely don’t hurt.
I do not anticipate many Friday night posts, but with a 9 a.m. exam tomorrow morning, it’s a good diversion.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of appearing as a guest on Business Matters, arguing in favor of bringing rail to the Lehigh Valley. It was an incredibly lively show that will air on November 24, 7:30 on WFMZ-TV.
I do strongly favor light rail, as long as its light rail done right. Right now, a transportation study is in the works to determine the feasibility of linking the NJ-Transit line to the Lehigh Valley and how much that would cost to construct. As proposed, the study would cost $250,000 – Lehigh and Northampton Counties are budgeting $75,000 each, with LVEDC picking up the remaining $100,000. Thus far, the study has been endorsed by Renew Lehigh Valley and the Lehigh Valley Association of Realtors, among others.
There are many reasons as to why we need rail. First, it will control development and reduce (if not eliminate) the need to widen Route 22. Where roads go, development and suburban sprawl follows. If you reduce the amount of roads built, you reduce the amount of suburban sprawl. This will create more incentives to redevelop our urban cores, not further develop and destroy our greenspace. Further, if rail stations are placed throughout a city (not just in the affluent areas, but downtown near office, retail and major tourist attractions like Coca Cola Stadium), you create more incentive for offices, retail and restaurants to move near those stations. If you do rail the right way, you can create major incentives for businesses to move to cities.
Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Lancaster are just some of the major regional areas that already have rail networks in the area. The United States is the only major developed country that does not have a rail system, and we are at risk of being left behind. The national average for gas is currently just under $3.00 per gallon, and that is going to rise once this economic crises ends. The cost of building new roads and the materials related to those roads has skyrocketed, with the cost of some items (such as asphalt) doubling. Pennsylvania is one of the national leaders in structurally deficient bridges. Pennsylvania needs an estimated $1.6 billion to repair our roads and bridges. Nationwide, that need is over $1.6 trillion in the next five years. We can, quite literally, no longer afford our current transportation system.
Rail will help more than just urban residents. Ron Angle asked a very good question on our show: what will this do for the retired couple that lives in Pen Argyl, Hellertown or Lower Macungie? How will rail help them?
Well, does this retired couple pay taxes? Because they will benefit from reduced taxes thanks to controlled sprawl and less funding for road and bridge construction and maintenance. They will benefit from the improved quality of life that comes with more open space. And they will be able to travel anywhere in the East Coast via rail, thanks to being connected to the regional rail network.
As far as I can tell, rail is the future of the Lehigh Valley. It is best for our cities, suburbs and the entire region. Of course, what we need more than anything else is the data to back up the theory. I am eagerly awaiting the results of the upcoming transportation study.
For more information on bringing rail to the Valley, visit Lehigh Valley Trains.
PLEASE NOTE: I am speaking here only in my capacity as someone who works with urban communities, not on behalf of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. The GLVCC has not taken an official position on bringing rail to the Valley.
Next American City is a quarterly magazine covering a wide range of city-related issues (politics, policy, art and culture, etc.). Next American City is based in Philadelphia, but gets content contributions from across the country.
Here’s the link to the video of a public transportation symposium held in Milwaukee. The stats and other info are tailored to Milwaukee but it illustrates some of the issues and challenges facing public transportation policy decisions generally.
Check out “This Walk to the Doctor is Unhealty” by the Morning Call’s Dan Hartzell for an example of auto-focussed street design that excludes pedestrians.
The article concludes: “Think of the irony — being injured on your way to the doctor.”
I can think of another ironic scenario here. Think of the irony — a patient driving to the doctor only to have him/her say that some regular, moderate physical activity really would do you a world of good. Then, maybe, the patient drives over to the gym/health club to walk on the treadmill. Now, that’s ironic.
Hartzel points out that installing sidewalks costs money. This should come as no surprise. More importantly, he notes that it would cost more to retrofit the area with sidewalks.
What we choose to include in transportation design (and then spend money constructing) says something about public policy priorities.
Hartzel suggests maybe higher gas prices will change our priorities, but that the change in behavior will not occur quickly.
Rather than argue that American’s will change their driving patterns more or less quickly, I’d rather focus on the fact that as gas prices rise (or incomes fall as the result of, say, a recession) people will reduce the amount they drive and/or look for alternative means of transportation. Some people will be fortunate enough to have access to alternatives or to be able to reduce the amount they drive fairly easily. Others who must commute to work and do not have access to reliable, frequent public transportation will be in a more difficult position. To accommodate new preferences for pedestrian and bicycle accessibility, we will be facing the more expensive proposition of retrofitting designs that ignored pedestrians and cyclists. It would appear more cost-effective in the long run to include pedestrian and bicycle accommodations from the get-go through more comprehensive design considerations.
In “Act Now to Protect Lehigh Township” Commissioner Christopher Amato highlights the townships numerous natural assets and notes that they are being threatened by suburban sprawl.
It may seem like the issue of sprawl is, well, not really an issue anymore because of the current state of the economy, and particularly the housing market. To the extent that the “slumping” (enter your own euphamism for “tanking” if you like) housing market, places like Lehigh Township are on reprieve from the problematic development that Amato highlights. While the subdivisions aren’t springing up left and right like they were during the first half of the decade, the it seems a stretch to suggest that growth will not pick back up again.
Kudos to Lehigh Township for taking proactive steps to prepare to deal with future growth and the associated challenges.
In “Under Strain, Cities are Cutting Back Projects,” Mary Williams Walsh of the NY Times reports on the impact of the credit crunch on municipal bond markets. As you might guess…the impact has not been positive.
The article concludes with an analogy from Thomas G. Doe, president of Municipal Market Advisors. Doe says that while there won’t be widespread default on municipal bonds, local government budgets will tighten up because of credit scarcity.
“It’s no different from a family budget,” he said. “We’re not going to go out to dinner any more. We’re not going to buy a new car. That’s the similarity.”
What does this mean for local municipalities?
It increases the importance of prioritizing projects, choosing those that will yield the highest return. Sewers, bridges, rail lines, and roads are all investments for a local government. Even more than usual, local municipalities will be forced to choose wisely between competing priorities in the face of increasingly scarce funds.
California recently enacted a noteworthy piece of legislation to promote smart growth and reduce carbon emissions. The Governator gets some pretty good press related to his environmental record. A profile in the most recent issue of Time magazine portrays his relationship with so-called “traditional environmentalists” as the awkward product of political necessity.
On one hand…
“[The Governator is] spreading the message that you don’t have to be a girly-man to help save the planet. He ridicules traditional environmentalists as prohibitionist scolds who want us to drive wimpy cars and live like monks…He’s had one Hummer tricked out to run on biofuels, and another on hydrogen. He won’t apologize for living large.”
On the other…
“This you-can-have-it-all message has not always endeared him to greens of longer standing. They believe Americans must adjust their lifestyles to reduce emissions, not only by installing solar panels in their mansions and driving electric cars but by living in smaller houses and — California blasphemy! — driving less. They grouse that Schwarzenegger acquired his green tint through political necessity in a green state with a Democratic-controlled legislature.”
BUT LET’S IGNORE THIS DISPUTE AND FOCUS ON THE RESULT OF THIS ODD/POLITICALLY NECESSARY UNION…GOOD LEGISLATION:
The Governator recently signed a new law, CA SB 375, that will require land use planning to meet greenhouse-gas reduction goals. Transportation and other public investments will be tied to the plans.
This is a good idea. Appropriate design and zoning policies can facillitate compact, mixed-use development that produces much less emission than the standard, sprawl alternative. More on that topic at a later date. If you’re curious about design/zoning and the reduction of emissions, do some Googling of “Atlantic Station” and “emissions.”
Kaid Benfield’s posting at NRDC’s Switchboard once again proved a great resource.