Monthly Archives: August 2009
Transportation for America has compiled new fact sheets for each state that detail the very real problems that the nation’s transportation system is facing – poor infrastructure, transit cuts, and lack of long-term planning. For Pennsylvania, some of the facts that stand out are the percentages for roads in poor conditions and the rise in travel delay time for the Philadelphia area. Regarding the conditions of Pennsylvania’s roads, the state is falling behind the nation in keeping up with dilapidated infrastructure. Approximately 11% of the state’s roads are in poor condition, while the number is much lower – 5.8% – for the general nation. And the annual delay time for travelers in Philadelphia went up approximately 40% – from 27 hours to 38 hours.
As perhaps the newest Smart Growth advocate in town, I wanted to introduce myself to the Crossroads readers. My name is Ryan Champlin, and I am the new planner at the Community Action Committee. I just recently graduated from the University of Utah with a Master of Science in Family Ecology, a not-so-aptly name for a degree that focuses on the intersections of sustainable urban planning and social issues. As a new transplant to the Lehigh Valley, I have taken a special interest in my new environment, one that is especially significant for me because I am here without access to an automobile until my wife moves here in December.
My transportation situation, policy interests, and desire to write have combined to prompt me to start a blog: Bethlehem By Foot. I have not done a particularly good job in sticking with issues that are specific to the Lehigh Valley, but I try to relate everything I discuss to either pedestrians in general or larger social, transportation, land use, and infrastructure policies. The main point of the blog is to share my experiences as a pedestrian, raise issues that impact pedestrians, and generate discussion about larger policies that impact the way our cities grow. I hope that my involvement with Crossroads will help me focus more on issues the especially impact the Lehigh Valley, and I hope my perspective can assist RenewLV in furthering their purpose for this blog.
When Steven Bliss, Executive Director of Renew, asked me to contribute to Crossroads, I took some time to think about what my unique contribution could be to the blog. After becoming familiar with Renew’s focus on the interconnected issues of regional health and Smart Growth, I realized that my own academic and personal interest in the relationship between land-use and transportation design and human and environmental health would be something that Crossroads readers might also be interested in. On my own blog, I spent an entire week writing a series about the obesity – design connection, so I thought I would begin my tenure on Crossroads by directing readers to this series.
My posts on Crossroads will be much less frequent than on my own blog, and I intend to make them much more research-based than my usual writings. I not only want the information I present to be factual, but I also want the conclusions reached to be practically applicable. This will be a challenge, but it is one that I look forward to.
Several misconceptions surround the term ‘smart growth,’ not the least of which is the misguided idea that smart growth is really anti-growth (or, as some critics of smart growth argue, anti-development). This is simply not true. Contrary to this belief, smart growth advocates acknowledge that growth will continue, and they support a coordinated and planned approach to the growth that will ensure regional prosperity. Another misconception that often comes up is that of forced choices, in that those who are suspicious of the smart growth movement fear that the advocates are trying to tell them where to live and how to live. Again, not true. In promoting better land use policy, the goal is not to replace one choice with another. Rather, the goal is CHOICE itself – actually having options, both in terms of housing and transportation.
Most current housing developments, especially in the regions surrounding the cities, solely consist of a single type of housing. This type of development is problematic because it fails to account for the different needs of the many residents and families within that region. The unfortunate result that follows is that certain individuals are left out of the equation, finding it impossible to live in that development. Talk about forced choice.
To ameliorate the problem of single-type developments, a municipality can modify its land use patterns, as well as increase housing choices in already-established neighborhoods that have existing infrastructure. By utilizing the resources that are already in place, new developments will have less impact on the entire community (which translates into cost savings) while simultaneously providing choices.
Relatedly, access to a variety transportation choices within a municipality is equally important. I have already mentioned some benefits of transit-oriented development, but it is important to specify that such development focuses on an increase in transportation choices. That is, it is not sufficient to simply keep building developments that make its residents auto-dependent. Rather, the availability of many modes of transportation is essential for strong communities and vibrant neighborhoods. Pedestrian-friendly streets outfitted with wide sidewalks, abundant bike lanes, and close proximity to bus and rail are essential for well-planned communities that account for the needs of ALL its citizens.
The recent availability of federal money for high-speed rail projects has sparked several discussions over feasibility and requirements for these projects. And while these are crucial aspects in the assessment of whether rail should be established, another feature that has been missing from the debate is that of providing choice. Paul Krugman, columnist for the New York Times, expresses his thoughts on this matter in his latest piece, in which he assesses the different types of transportation available to most Americans. He compares the American condition to a part of Europe:
You can fly from Paris to Lyon, you can drive it, and some do. But a lot of people take the TGV [high-speed rail], because for them it’s better. In most of America, we don’t have that option.
Returning to my first point, in the context of smart growth, changes in housing and transportation policy are not about restricting choice – it’s about CREATING choice. The goal is to create livable communities. And, as Krugman states, in much of America, we don’t have the option. I say, let’s make that option.
To become a part of the RenewLV network, become a supporter by visiting our Join Us page or by sending over an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Smart Growth America for highlighting a new EPA guidebook, Growing Smarter, Living Healthier. This publication not only shows how research links community design and public health (for instance, in terms of walkability), but also underscores the importance of older Americans having a strong voice in planning and development decisions. This publication is doubly relevant for communities here in Pennsylania–in light of both the aging of the boomer generation and the Commonwealth’s already sizable population of seniors.
RenewLV is proud to be a long-standing participant in Lehigh University’s Community Fellows program, which places graduate students as key staff in organizations across the Lehigh Valley.
Anyone who has worked with RenewLV over the past year knows how lucky we have been to have our current Community Fellow, Kyle Miller, as part of our team. Sadly, today is the final day of Kyle’s fellowship placement with RenewLV. It is hard to see him leave, not only because of the many skills and insights he has brought to this work, but also because he is a great pleasure to work with.
There are too many ways in which Kyle has been an asset to list them all here. But if I had to highlight a few, I’d have to mention: his great knowledge of (and passion for) Pennsylvania and Lehigh Valley history; his ability to learn just about anything related to online tools, and technology in general; and his top-notch research and analytical skills.
Thanks for a fantastic year, Kyle!
As many of you know, the Lehigh Valley Board of Health is in the process of drafting a staffing and services plan for a bi-county health department that will provide high-quality public health services to the residents of the entire Lehigh Valley. Currently, Allentown and Bethlehem have separate health bureaus that provide services to their respective cities. Some of these services include communicable disease screening, tobacco prevention programs, nutrition and physical activity education, and – a topic that is taking the national spotlight lately – childhood and adult immunizations.
The discussion over the upcoming flu season has many people worrying about how the swine flu will affect the availability of vaccines. Related to this matter, State Representative Bryan Cutler of Southern Lancaster County reported from his Twitter account today about a hearing in Harrisburg on the swine flu. Rep. Cutler stated in his brief messages that Pennsylvania experienced some fatalities due to the flu already this year, and that the state was planning to increase community education efforts and ramp up surveillance measures, in addition to providing vaccinations. But who will receive the funding for these efforts? Counties that have local health departments.
It has been mentioned often that the creation of a bi-county health department would give the Lehigh Valley access to additional resources, such as $3 million per year in state health funding. Add to this the money that could be coming from the state in its effort to provide the flu vaccine to the public, and the reasons continue to add up.
Visit the RenewLV Health Initiative website to learn more about the effort to establish a Lehigh Valley Health Deparment.
Yesterday at the America on Wheels museum in Allentown, Sen. Arlen Specter and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood participated in a roundtable discussion on transportation and the Lehigh Valley, part of a day-long statewide tour.
Local leaders described a number of regional priorities for transportation. Roadway access to the region’s urban core were a big part of these, especially the improvements to Hwy 412 (access to Bethlehem) and–perhaps even more crucially–the completion of the American Parkway project (access from Rt. 22 to downtown Allentown). Paul Marin, LANTA Board member and Chair of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation’s Transportation Committee, gave a brief presentation on the vision for Lehigh Valley passenger rail service that would link to the broader regional and national rail networks. On this latter point, Sen. Specter appeared very interested in the prospects of a rail network connecting communities across eastern Pennsylvania and beyond.
A few of the participants addressed the importance of finding funds to widen the most congested portion of Hwy. 22–the main road route through the Lehigh Valley–in some cases noting the recent (albeit long expected) news that PennDOT was taking the widening of Hwy. 22 off its list. As the Morning Call’s report on yesterday’s roundtable pointed out, Senator Spector and Sec. LaHood understood the calls for help in widening Hwy. 22, but did not promise any funds.
Also on the matter of regional priorities, Mayor Sal Panto of Easton indicated that he will have an announcement on a new $4.1 million intermodal transportation facility sometime in mid-September. He also affirmed Easton’s longstanding support for rail service for the Lehigh Valley. Support for regional rail was also offered by Mayor Callahan of Bethlehem and several other of those in attendance.
Not surprisingly, the predicament of our system for funding transportation–both federally and at the state level–was a topic that pervaded the roundtable. Speaking on behalf of the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Committee, Tom Jebran inquired as to when the federal government would have an answer on Pennsylvania’s application to toll I-80. Rep. Karen Beyer spoke in support of an increase in the state gas tax, though this is a proposal that–according to what I’ve heard repeated in numerous meetings–would face a huge uphill battle at either the state or federal level, at least in the near future. What she and others underscored, however, was the need to do more than just put band-aids on the current fiscal situation around transportation.
On the federal front, both Sen. Specter’s and Sec. LaHood’s remarks suggested that an 18-month extension of the current federal surface transportation bill was a given. This has been a–in fact, the–point of contention between the Administration and House Transportation & Infrastructure Chair Jim Oberstar. We’ll know more about Oberstar’s plans for pushing to get the authorization done sooner rather than later what his committee considers taking up his proposed bill–the Surface Transportation Authorization Act–next month.
Renew Lehigh Valley is serving as the regional point organization for the Transportation for America and Transportation for Pennsylvania coalitons, which are working on creating federal and state transportation policies that promote smart growth, livable communities, and a framework for sustainable transportation infrastructure. To get involved with RenewLV’s regional efforts on transportation advocacy, email us at email@example.com or visit our Join Us page.
The Lehigh Valley Board of Health will meet this afternoon, August 25th, at 4:00 p.m. at the American Red Cross, Lehigh Valley Chapter, 2200 Avenue A, Room 103 in Bethlehem.
The Board will discuss the contracts for the public health consultant and the administrative assistant, after which Gerald Barron, the Board’s newly hired public health consultant,, will be reviewing the six-month timeline for developing the public health services and staffing plan.
The next regular monthly meeting of the Lehigh Valley Board of Health will be on Monday, September 14, at 6:00 p.m. at the Lehigh County Government Center, 17 South Seventh Street in Allentown. For additional information on the effort to establish a bi-county health department for the Lehigh Valley, visit RenewLV’s Health Initiative page.
Over the past few weeks, I have posted various insights on the connections between transportation and development (specifically, housing and land-use planning). The link is inextricable, and any comprehensive transit plan will need to address the dynamic connection between the two. Just as development guides transportation planning, transit choices have a significant impact on where and how development occurs. Under the umbrella of smarter planning, transit-oriented development (or Transit Oriented Design, TOD) is often cited as an efficient means of reducing traffic congestion and increasing accessibility and mobility. Such design creates walkable communities around public transportation, specifically high-speed rail. The benefits of TOD are numerous:
- Overall better public health, due to an increase in pedestrian activity and a decrease in individual stress levels (multiple studies on commuter stress have suggested that individuals who commute by car, especially over long distances, are more likely to experience higher stress levels than those who use public transit)
- Increased savings for governments and taxpayers, due to decrease in car transit costs (the American Society of Civil Engineers reports that congestion alone costs the U.S. $78.2 billion)
- Economic prosperity for local businesses, due to increase in foot traffic (which often creates an influx of consumers)
But how effective is transit oriented development in producing the desired effects? BeyondDC, a smart growth and transportation blog that (as you might have guessed) focuses on the greater Washington, DC region, posted an interesting report about some research findings coming out of the Arlington County Department of Transportation (Virginia). Arlington County has been dedicated to transit oriented development for over two decades, and it seems that this dedication will not stop anytime soon. The latest traffic reports for the county state that congestion levels have stayed the same since 1975, and – this is shocking – that “1,000 units of urban-format TOD housing generates fewer auto trips per day than a single suburban-format McDonalds or 7-11.”
The research results have not been posted yet, but I will attempt to track them down once they become available. In the meantime, post your thoughts on this data, and make sure to subscribe to our RSS feed.
Abandoned industrial sites are common in cities that are experiencing a shift in labor force. Often, these brownfields bring blight to the city that is both costly and unsightly. Given the prevalence of these sites within the older communities, the Revitalizing Older Cities Task Force has classified this issue as a top priority, calling on local regions to engage in brownfield redevelopment campaigns. Nowhere is this campaign more evident than here in the Lehigh Valley, where community leaders in the cities have coordinated major redevelopment efforts.
A former steel powerhouse, Bethlehem will soon see its abandoned steel stacks site converted into a destination for culture, art, and education. The local group ArtsQuest, responsible for planning the yearly Musikfest program, is working with the city to reconstruct the site, turning it into a gathering place for residents and visitors to the Lehigh Valley. Some prominent features of the redevelopment will be a music pavilion, a town square, and a performing arts center. The new musical venues will provide locations for the South Mountain Folk Festival and the River Jazz Festival, while the plazas will host farmer’s markets and artist exchanges. In addition to traditional musical acts, theatre and dance productions will be featured on the stage at the arts center, while an adjacent cinema will show independent features.
The Steel Stacks Project is set for a groundbreaking this Fall, with a scheduled opening for May 2011. Visit the Steel Stacks blog that is being run be ArtsQuest to read the latest news about the project.
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