Monthly Archives: March 2010

New Tool for Mixed-Income, TODs

The Federal Transit Administration rolled out its new Mixed-Income Transit-Oriented Development Action Guide. Created by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development, FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff states,

The goal of this guide is to help communities start an inclusive mixed-income TOD planning process in their jurisdiction and help stakeholders be better equipped to know the right questions to ask, where they can find the answers, and what tools and strategies might be available to address their community needs.

A joint venture between the FTA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the guide aims to better coordinate transportation and housing programs to promote affordable housing near transit. While the guide was written for practitioners, other stakeholders might find it useful in advocacy and outreach campaigns.

The website can be accessed at Thoughts on this new guide?

New Poll Shows Strong Support for Public Transportation

Transportation for American has just released a new poll that shows that Americans strongly support public transportation. Some of the key findings show that the vast majority of voters support an expanded and improved transportation system:

–          82% say the United States would benefit from an expanded and improved transportation system, such as rail and buses (79% of rural voters agree with this)
–          59% favor improving multimodal transit options vs. 38% who support new roads and expansion of existing roads

Other findings indicate that people feel forced to drive, without alternative options for getting around. Further, 58% of voters expressed support for increasing the per dollar ratio of federal transportation spending for public transportation. Currently,

This a very important and timely poll, especially leading up to the drafting of a new long-term transportation bill by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, expected this year.

Check out all of the details on Transportation for America’s poll website.

It is often the case that discussions about transportation funding, especially with regard to public transit funding, become discussions about taking money from rural residents to fund transit development in the cities. This poll helps to illustrate the widespread support for a multimodal transportation system, and acknowledgement that such a system will have a positive impact on Americans, regardless of where they live.

This poll should help to frame the issue less as a ‘us vs. them’ issue,  and more around what is economically and environmentally sustainable for all of us.

What are some of the potential implications of this poll? Would the Lehigh Valley reflect a similar sentiment?

Urban Redevelopment Booming

Gabriel Nelson of Greenwire reported last week on an EPA study suggesting that redevelopment in the urban core continues steadily, while development in the suburbs has stalled. Of course, the booming redevelopment movement has been strongest in areas with strict regional land-use policies – but the pattern is also evident in areas known for sprawl, like Chicago and Los Angeles.

The report states:

This acceleration of residential construction in urban neighborhoods reflects a fundamental shift in the real estate market. The market fundamentals are shifting toward redevelopment even in the absence of formal policies and programs at the regional level.

Having the full support of the White House administration for transit-oriented, dense urban development has helped, but Nelson suggests that the market was already heading in this direction (with the government support one step ahead). It seems that more and more people are inclined to live in urban areas (partly for improved quality of life that comes from not being stuck in a car all the time, and partly for environmental concerns).

Is smart growth taking hold in U.S. cities, as the report suggests?

This is Public Health

Through my role as a public health educator, I have learned that many individuals do not know what is covered under this broad term of ‘public health.’ Some time ago, I had a chance to work with young people in Bethlehem on a “This is Public Health” project. My goal with the project was to educate others on the ‘hidden’ ways that public health affects all of us. The photos below illustrate some of these:

As you can see, public health services affect everyone, everywhere (regardless of race, class, gender, or location). A Lehigh Valley Health Department would ensure that all residents of the Lehigh Valley have access to essential services (such as information about better nutrition and physical activity, immunizations, restaurant inspections, and monitoring of air & water quality).

Do you know what public health is? Where have you seen public health?

Wastewater Fee Increases

Last week, I provided a link to the New York Times story on the rising costs of water infrastructure maintenance. While that story touches upon drinking water, it very much applies to the matter of sewage, or wastewater. Costs for maintaining sewage infrastructure will also keep rising over the next decade, and a local municipality is learning the hardship of raising fees. The Express Times reported today that many Bethlehem Township residents were surprised to see a hike in their wastewater bill.

Patrick Kolis was shocked when he received his first-quarter sewer bill two weeks ago. His usual $125 bill was nearly $190, more than 50 percent higher.
The township resident called the municipal building to find out why. Kolis learned that, in December, township commissioners voted to raise the sewer rates by 40 percent.

“That’s a huge increase, especially in this economic time,” he said.

The township contracts sewer service with both the city of Bethlehem and the Easton Suburban Water Authority, which dictate much of the township’s sewer costs, officials said.

Last year, Bethlehem raised its consumption rate by almost 27 percent, which contributed to Bethlehem Township’s increased costs both last year and this year, township Finance Director Andy Freda said. Township sewer rates also increased 25 percent from 2008 to 2009.

As mentioned in the Times article, this is a necessary cost. All infrastructure has a shelf life, and unfortunately, much of the underground piping has reached its expiration date. What are your thoughts on the fee increases?

Stricter Drinking Water Standards

The New York Times reported on the recent EPA announcement that would tighten regulations for drinking water. As reported in the Times’ series Toxic Waters, the public’s health and safety has been at risk through the years because of lack of strict regulation of the drinking water supply. Charles Duhigg reported: “More than 20 percent of the nation’s water treatment systems have violated key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act over the last five years, according to an analysis of federal data by The New York Times. And the other major water law — the Clean Water Act — has been violated more than half a million times, though few polluters were ever punished”

The EPA is currently drafting stricter standards and better regulation practices. The Times reports:

[T]he E.P.A. intends to reform agency policies that essentially require regulators to examine pollutants one at a time. Those adjustments will allow government scientists to evaluate large groups of similar contaminants at the same time and to issue new rules that apply to dozens of chemicals.

“This is a dramatic change in how we think about regulation,” said Cynthia C. Dougherty, the director of the agency’s office of ground water and drinking water. “We’ll be able to move much faster and issue stronger rules.” The agency previously announced it was developing plans to crack down on polluters and force water systems to abide by cleanliness laws.

How can the EPA better regulate the safety of our drinking water? What sort of barriers will it continue running into?

Government Planning and Sprawl: One View

The American Conservative has an interesting blog post up by Austin Bramwell about the role of government in promoting sprawl. It seems that his claim that “government planning makes sprawl ubiquitous” was challenged by libertarian Randal O’Toole, who claims that “developers generally have no trouble getting zones reclassified…Euclidean zoning operates in practice as a licensing regime rather than a flat prohibition on varying land uses.” In other words, O’Toole is arguing that one method of government planning – Euclidean zoning, which segregates by residential, commerical, and industrial uses – is not actually prohibitive, but merely limiting.

Bramwell responds:

Let’s concede the Euclidean zoning does not cause sprawl; let’s even concede (as seems unlikely) that it has no actual effect on land use whatsoever.  Euclidean zoning is still just one set of strands in the vast network of laws mandating sprawl.  To produce the opposite of sprawl — that is, the walkable neighborhood — the government needs to let developers do a lot more than just mix uses.

Bramwell concludes that his position against sprawl comes to the simple matter of providing choices for people.

Check out the full post here for the in-depth back and forth in this debate. Post your thoughts below.

Maria Rodale on “The Organic Manifesto”: March 29 at Lehigh

The blog of Bethlehem’s Southside Community Gardens project has the details on a special lunchtime forum taking place on the Lehigh University campus next Monday, March 29. Maria Rodale will be leading a discussion on organic food and its importance to the health of individuals, communities and the environment. Maria will be speaking from her new book, The Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe. The forum runs from 11:30am to 1:30 p.m. in  Room 200, Linderman Library, on Lehigh University’s lower campus.

You can get all the information on Monday’s event at the Southside Community Gardens blog. And for more on Maria and her newly released book, check out this profile from last week’s Morning Call.

The Transportation Issue

In last week’s Planetizen post, Todd Litman expressed his frustrations with inefficient transportation policies, stating that, while many local governments are attempting to decrease energy consumption through LEED certifications, a significant barrier to reaching their energy goals is the issue of parking. He states that true sustainable design includes LEED certification along with smart parking guidelines. Unfortunately, many governments are unwilling to pass better parking policies. He cites the case of Vancouver rental apartment:

This building is located in a very walkable area with abundant local services, close to five major bus lines. It is an ideal location to encourage car-free living. However, the building also has 78 underground parking stalls (0.8 spaces per unit). These parking spaces are unbundled (rented separately from housing units), but priced at just $35 per month, although the cost-recovery price would be about $250, so residents’ parking, and therefore vehicle ownership are still subsidized by about $215 per month. If parking were efficiently priced, apartment rents could be reduced about $200 per month, greatly increasing housing affordability in a city with a severe housing unaffordability problem.

Litman states that city governments are usually fearful of the burden of increased enforcement that comes with public parking – as well as fearful of the public backlash from motorists.

Should parking be a significant factor in considerations for sustainable design? What is the role of local government in all of this?

The Equity Case for I-80 Tolling

As many of you know, we have been following the decision to toll Interstate 80 (I-80) closely, as the future of transportation funding in PA seems to depend largely on the outcome of the decision.

I came across an interesting op-ed today related to this topic.

Christopher Borton, President of the Wilkes-Barre based Engineering and Architecture firm of Borton-Lawson, provides a compelling argument in Citizens’ Voice for why I-80 should be tolled. A regular user of a toll road (the Turnpike), Borton rejects the claim that tolling the interstate would be unfair to the residents of the corridor. stating:

After all, a good portion of our Turnpike tolls are helping to improve transportation in all of the 67 counties in our states – yes, even in I-80 counties. We who travel the Northeastern Extension have been paying higher tolls for more than a year now. Tolls on the Turnpike increased 25 percent in January, 2009 and went up another three percent this past January. Nearly all the revenues from those increases have gone to help the Turnpike Commission meet its financial obligations to the state under Act 44 of 2007, the law that calls for the tolling of I-80. I wonder if other Turnpike users realize their tolls are paying for non-Turnpike bridge and highway improvements across the state?

Borton provides other good reasons for why tolling I-80 might make sense: improved transportation facilities, safer roads and bridges, and maintenance of important infrastructure. He concludes, “Without new revenues to fund our aging infrastructure, our economy would falter and eventually could fail.”

What are your thoughts on this matter? Do you think tolling I-80 would be fair? How else can the state fill the funding gap?