Car Dependence in the Lehigh Valley

A number of smart transportation advocates and organizations have used the data compiled by The American Community Survey in determining rankings for the best cities for commuters, bikers, and pedestrians. I decided to look over the Lehigh Valley data today after reading a Wash Cycle post on bike sharing, which susbequently brought my attention to a 2007 Commuting Trends entry on the Bike Pittsburgh blog.

I compared the statistics for the 15th Congressional District, which encompasses Northampton County and a majority of Lehigh County (it also includes small parts of Berks and Montgomery Counties), to the data in the greater Philadelphia County region, as well as the region around the city of Pittsburgh. Specifically, I focused on the Means of Transportation to Work by Selected Characteristics, and measured up the Vehicles Available percentages between the three regions. The comparison wasn’t too surprising, as I expected the car-dependence to be higher in the Lehigh Valley than in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh (two regions with comprehensive rail networks). Nevertheless, the results were still significant.

In the greater Lehigh Valley region, most workers have access to more than two vehicles (over 43% of workers), while less than 3% of workers do not have any vehicle available. Compare this last statistic to the Pittsburgh area, where more than 11% of workers do not have access to a car, and, additionally, to the greater Philadelphia area, where a whopping 22% of workers do not have a car, and it becomes clear that the Lehigh Valley is very much a car-dependent region.

Given this data comparison, I want to ask: Would a more robust public transportation in the Lehigh Valley translate into less car dependence? How does land-use planning impact these statistics?

About Beata Bujalska

Beata Bujalska is the former Campaign Coordinator for Renew Lehigh Valley. She currently lives in Panama, a place that fascinates her due to (among other reasons) its recent development boom.

Posted on October 6, 2009, in Public Infrastructure, Regions, Transportation, Trends, Urbanism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. The one thing I think is stopping bus transit from catching on is that its ghettoized for a lot of people. If there was more public outreach from LANTA and a way to make the buses seem more aesthetically appealing, more people might go for it. I wonder what the tipping point is as far as time-spacing of trips that would make people more likely to ride. For instance, I might be more likely to think of buses as an option if I knew I could catch one every half hour. Maybe not so if they were once an hour. At a certain point, it seems more like planning a trip than just casually getting in the car and going somewhere. Does that make sense? Frequency, reliability, rebranding are all important. Maybe someone could get LANTA’s data into an iPhone app or something?

  2. From what I’ve read, there are two things that LANTA and other transit systems could do to increase their ridership. First, they need to give riders a unique and enjoyable experience that they cannot get from a car. This is why streetcars, while slow, are insanely popular. If LANTA could do something completely out of the ordinary, such as install cafes on their buses, I am sure people would start leaving their cars behind. The second thing, which Jon was just discussing, is the frequency of service. Even a half hour (as my bus runs) is just way too long. And cutting off service after 5:30pm is just too impractical. I’ve read studies in which people surveyed said that they would start taking public transit if they didn’t have to wait more than 5-10 minutes. There’s our tipping point; unless oil prices go through the roof or we get smart and hyper-tax gasoline, in which case transit frequency could be much lower in order to tip.

  1. Pingback: A Brief Cost and Benefit Analysis of Cycling « Crossroads

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