Monthly Archives: July 2010

Selling Carbon Credits (Way to go, Bethlehem)

As printed in today’s Express-Times, the City of Bethlehem is looking to bring in some revenue from its open space through the sale of carbon credits. This is significant as it presents a valuable way for a municipality to reap benefits from open space that go beyond the obvious. How would this work? The paper reports:

According to Mayor John Callahan and Bethlehem Authority director Steve Repasch, the city’s water resources and surrounding lands in the Poconos hold the potential for significant revenue streams in sellable carbon credits and timber stock.

Repasch said at current rates, the lands might be worth $100,000 a year in sellable carbon credits, or offsets that businesses and other entities can buy as credit toward their own carbon footprint.

This is an exciting development, one that other local municipalities might follow (if they can).

Lower Density Contributes to Real Estate Bubbles?

So alleges recent research on the issue. Matthew Yglesias reports on the latest findings by Haifang Huang and Yao Tang (PDF) “Residential Land Use Regulation and the US Housing Price Cycle Between 2000 and 2009″ on his blog. He cites this from the research —

In a sample covering more than 300 cities in the US between January 2000 and July 2009, we find that more restrictive residential land use regulations and geographic land constraints are linked to larger booms and busts in housing prices.

This provides some food for thought about the way land-use planning is regulated within our nation. Standard planning — one that relies on outdated zoning laws  — favors low-density design. Yet, as is suggested here, this may not be good for the economy.

Transportation Funding — Where Do We Go?

Update: Change in location for the Governor’s bus tour visit. The new location is now the Tilghman St. bridge in Allentown.

To move the discussion forward on why we need to fully fund our state’s transportation needs, Governor Rendell has planned a state-wide bus tour that will kick off in the Lehigh Valley. The event will be on Tuesday, August 3 at 10AM at the Tilghman St bridge in Allentown [approx. address: 688 N. Brick St.]. Come out to hear the Governor talk about the state’s transportation crisis and what needs to be done.

Related to the funding crisis, StreetsBlog linked to an excellent post on the East Subway Blog last week. The post considered the possibility of halting all transportation funding — both transit and road/highway. (This was meant to point out that halting public transit funding would only be fair if road funding was also stopped.) Local government would be tasked with maintaining local roads and bridges — and many of these governments would likely turn to private companies.

What if all roads in PA were like Colorado’s E-470, which is maintained  by a private company? Here’s how the tolling scenario works out:

As of 2009 the average toll is 31 cents per mile for a two axle vehicle. The toll is higher if it is a tandem axle vehicle.  The road was built and financed through private bonds and cost approx. $ 1.23 Billion dollars or about $25,751,072.96 per mile ($1.2 billion/46.6 miles).

If we take that $.31 per mile and say we drive five miles back and forth (a total of 10) each day to work.  The total per day would be $3.10.  Driving the route 5 times a week would cost us $ 15.50.  Driving 50 weeks out of the year would cost $775.

The blogger points out that taking non-tolled, side roads might be a way around paying this cost — but it wouldn’t be so if ALL of the roads in Pennsylvania were tolled. Now that’s expensive.


BRT on the Rise Across the Nation

Cities across the United States are beginning to experiment with bus-rapid transit, a high speed bus service that works much like a light rail. Many cities are beginning to embrace this mode of transportation because it tends to be an easier upgrade in an urban public transit system than other modes (such as subway, rail, etc.).

Bus improvements are on the agenda in Chicago, as a blogger on the Metropolitan Planning Council mentions on its blog recently:

Before the days of bus tracker, I remember bearing the elements (for what seemed like a lifetime!), waiting for a bus to arrive at my stop. Now I not only know whether I’ll catch a bus in time to get to work, but I can wait in a safe, comfortable place and build in a few minutes to pick up the daily paper before my bus arrives. So I welcome the news that the city of Chicago recently received a $35 million federal grant to continue to improve CTA bus service. In the next couple of years, we’ll see Bus Tracker digital kiosks at bus stops so that all riders can anticipate the next bus. Some buses will operate in dedicated lanes to dash past traffic congestion.

Bus-rapid transit is one of the long-term recommendations in the Moving LANTA Forward plan that was unveiled last year. Having a faster and super-efficient bus network around the Valley would bring us a step closer to a more balanced and robust public transportation system. But is it feasible here? The first step would involve working toward better land-use planning in the region. To find out more about RenewLV’s work on transportation, visit our Sustainable Transportation Initiative page.

The Balancing Act of Passenger and Freight Rail

The City Block posted some weekend reading that I did not get to read until today — but it’s worth sharing since it provides a briefing on one of the biggest challenges of establishing new passenger rail systems: working with freight rail companies.

The blog post discusses the tension between freight rail and passenger rail in America. Many freight companies have been cautious about allowing passenger rail on their lines, for fear of slowing down business deliveries (due to the frequent stops that passenger rail usually has to make). Here’s an excerpt that gets at the core of the matter:

One core issue is defining the best balance between public and private interests.  America’s railroads are private enterprises, and back in the day where they dominated all travel and enjoyed de facto monopolies on various markets, they were regulated accordingly.  As transportation infrastructure financing shifted towards public funding (such as the interstate highway system), the regulatory structure did not evolve to meet the new realities. The current debate is essentially one of re-defining the proper roles for each of the partners in this mother of all public-private partnerships.

How can passenger rail and freight rail come together to be effective and efficient? What sort of incentives might convince freight rail companies to share its lines with passenger rail? Let me know your thoughts.

Longer Commutes Due to Recession?

Think your daily commute is bad? Wait until you hear this.

A recent story on MSNBC reports that more and more Americans are being forced to drive longer distances for work because of the recession. Many individuals have taken jobs that are far away from their homes in order to care for their families and finances.

The story discusses Joshua Cassidy who works in Maryland and has a three-hour round-trip daily commute — which is still shorter than his actual eight-hour commute to see his family in West Virginia every other weekend.

The article describes why some people have to choose such long commutes:

These days, it is the tight job market that is turning some workers into supercommuters as they accept a job far from home because it’s better than no job at all.

Although it is too early to get hard statistics on how many people are making that trade, there is anecdotal evidence that the nation’s high unemployment rate is forcing people to lengthen the commute time that they consider acceptable, says transportation consultant and commuting expert Alan Pisarksi.

The weak housing market, which has left many Americans owing more to the bank than their house is worth, has likely exacerbated the problem because people can’t simply sell their house and go to where the jobs are.

“People are frozen in place,” Pisarski said.

I cannot imagine having to drive a three-hour daily commute — but it seems that, in our tough times, some may not have a choice in this.


Second Harvest Food Bank Needs Your Online Support

A fantastic opportunity has come up for our local food bank — but your help is needed with online voting to help make this happen!

Second Harvest of Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania’s summer nutrition education pilot program, Food for Thought, is one of 15 featured ideas on the Shoprite and Pepsi Refresh Everything Project. The top five vote-getting food banks will each receive $10,000 to support their project. Voting is open to anyone 13 years of age or older until August 16 (and you can vote daily).

Food for Thought: Healthy Meals for Families, a pilot program co-sponsored by Second Harvest and Community Services for Children (CSC), consists of 6 cooking classes covering a range of topics, from general nutrition, to basic cooking skills, to meal planning and budgeting, to the importance of eating together as a family.  Kati Fosselius, a dietitian with the Allentown Health Bureau, and Todd Saylor, Executive Chef at Sodexo, have volunteered to teach the program. Participants also receive information about the many food assistance programs available to low-income people and can sign up for those programs for which they are eligible. The program is offered to women and families who are currently enrolled in Community Services for Children’s Early Head Start Program, a free educational program for low-income pregnant women and families with children from birth to three years of age.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bring a large corporate grant for an important Lehigh Valley program, but we need strong community participation to bring this program into the top 5. Personally, I think the Lehigh Valley’s committed residents can push this to the number 1 spot.

Visit the Pepsi Refresh/Shoprite project online and VOTE NOW. Yes, you read it right earlier — you can vote daily!! Go. Now.

Moving Forward on Regional Collaboration

At last week’s Building One Pennsylvania summit in Lancaster, many organizations — both large and small — came out and preached the message of regionalism. As numerous older communities across Pennsylvania are struggling, newer developments are receiving federal and state subsidies and focus government assistance away from the urban cores.

Leaders from Pennsylvania’s communities, advocacy groups, and the urban planning field discussed the need to change state and federal policies that encourage cheap developments in greenfields. If history has anything to teach us, it is that such developments are unsustainable in the long-term. Many of our older communities were also the recipients of such government assistance many decades ago — and now these municipalities are struggling to keep up with rising costs of fixing crumbling infrastructure and taking care of students in the school districts.

What can we do moving forward? The message I took away from the summit was to keep working on regional collaboration and keep spreading the message of regionalism within our respective communities. With enough outreach, legislation and policies will begin to materialize that promote better and more coordinated planning that encourages new development in places that already have existing infrastructure (preferably, in brownfields).

RenewLV will keep working on regional collaboration issues within the Lehigh Valley. While the Lehigh Valley Health Department did not pass the Health Commission meeting last night, there are still many opportunities for moving forward with regionalism here within the Lehigh Valley and we will continue partnering with regional entities on various initiatives.

Come Show Support for Regional Health Tonight, 6:30pm in Easton

This is a reminder that the important meeting of the Lehigh Valley Health Commission — at which county legislators from Lehigh and Northampton Counties will be voting to move forward on the bi-county health department — is TONIGHT (July 19) at 6:30 p.m. in County Council Chambers at the Northampton County Courthouse, 669 Washington Street in Easton [map].

Community support for this effort is strong, as evidenced by the recently-approved $500,000 grant from the Two Rivers Health & Wellness Foundation for the proposed regional health department. This grant is contingent on the approval of the plan and budget for the department by the counties’ legislators. A Morning Call op-ed by Dr. David Lyon and Ilene Prokup of the Lehigh Valley Board of Health focuses on the details of the proposed budget, including the fact that, as it stands, the counties’ investment will be only 10% of the full health department budget, with private grants and state funds leveraged for the remaining 90%.

It is important for community members to attend and show their support. Show up tonight to offer brief remarks (during Public Comment) as to why the elected officials should approve the Lehigh Valley Health Department.

If you are unable to attend, we ask that you contact your county representatives to urge them to support the Lehigh Valley Health Department. Visit our Contact Your Elected Official page.

This department will provide many essential services that are not available uniformly throughout the Lehigh Valley — services such as timely and frequent restaurant inspections, access to flu vaccines, inspections of public pools and child-care facilities, and education regarding nutrition and exercise. For more information, visit RenewLV’s Regional Health Initiative page.

Resource for Understanding Regional Collaboration (Summit on July 16)

The Building One Pennsylvania summit is only days away (it’s not too late to register!) and in preparation of this event, I wanted to share with you a great resource related to the July 16th summit.

As many of you know, the summit will focus on regional opportunities — how to foster them and how to make them available. The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has a number of resources on its Regional Collaboration page — including charts that clarify concepts related to regional collaboration (such as land-use planning, sprawl, and conservation), tools for applying regional collaboration principles, and even case studies (salient examples are always most effective).

Hope to see Lehigh Valley community members at the July 16th summit in Lancaster! We’ll be discussing policies, challenges, and brainstorming way to work together across the state.