Blog Archives

Good Stewards of Our Resources on Earth Day

Earth Day first started on April 22, 1970 through the efforts of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin.  Since that day over 30 years ago, the Earth Day movement has grown to become an international effort to protect the planet and appreciate the resources it provides.  In other words, we are being called to be good stewards of our resources in order to have a sustainable future.  Good stewardship doesn’t just mean celebrating the Earth once every year.  It requires action every day of the year to appreciate the resources we have and protect them for future generations.

So what does this mean to you, the average citizen?  Consider how much waste you throw out every day at lunch.  That’s what Broughal Middle School students in Bethlehem did on March 21 with the help of Community Fellow, Christina DeSalva.  As the students finished their lunches, they brought their trays to Christina and other volunteers to weigh their waste.  The total amount of food waste weighed approximately 120 pounds!  Imagine the impact we could have if we reduced the amount of waste we produced!

Good stewardship also means preserving the open space and farmland we have.  Did you know that since 1950 Pennsylvania has lost farmland equal to the combined size of Connecticut and Rhode Island?  The sprawling nature of development rapidly eats away at the farmland and open space we have.  It is our responsibility to preserve these areas for sustainable food production and for our future generations.  According to Greater Lehigh Valley Buy Fresh, Buy Local, “Lehigh Valley consumers spend $1.6 billion on food annually. If 10% of this were spent on locally-grown food, this would generate $160 million in income for our farmers and an extra $72 million to circulate in our community and create new jobs.”  If we keep sprawling outward, what green spaces will be left and what resources will be around for our children and grandchildren?

Earth Day is a chance to educate our communities about our environment and what we can do to protect it.  But these efforts should go far beyond April 22.  Smart growth development sustains our natural resources while allowing for growth and revitalization in the core communities that already have the infrastructure in place.  We need to protect our green spaces and preserve the resources we have for a more sustainable future.

For more information about Earth Day activities in the Lehigh Valley, go to the Lehigh Valley Events Calendar at http://www.discoverlehighvalley.com/events/.  Want to learn more about smart growth initiatives?  Visit our website or contact us directly to get involved!

Leaders Discuss the Future of Infrastructure at PA Event

At yesterday’s American Infrastructure at a Crossroads event, held at Central Pennsylvania College, the discussion focused not only on the kind of infrastructure we typically think of — roads and bridges, rail, water/wastewater — but also on the slightly atypical — web infrastructure. It was all with an eye toward encouraging state and federal legislators to prioritize infrastructure spending. The panel was made up of experts from various fields, including engineering, labor, and environment. And — surprise, surprise — the Director of Google Pittburgh was there representing the web infrastructure perspective.

US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood delivered his message via satellite, as he had a meeting in Washington that day also on the topic of infrastructure.  Sec. LaHood stressed that the American public’s desire to see high-speed rail lines established across the nation will be fueling the administration’s agenda to bring rail to all major cities over the next decade. When the discussion turned to the establishement of regional passenger rail networks within Pennsylvania, Sec. LaHood stressed the public to keep contacting their legislators in order to encourage them to make passenger rail a top priority.

Though a majority of the discussion centered on transportation infrastructure, some mention was made on the importance of upgrading our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure. Dick Gephardt, speaking on the panel, acknowledged that much of our water infrastructure had not been upgraded for decades and that the systems are reaching the end of, or are exceeding, their life expectancy. This is not new information to those that have been working on this issue or following it closely in the news. It is almost on a weekly basis now that we hear about a pipe bursting or about contamination of a local stream by wastewater overflow.

Overall, the mood was hopeful, with leaders and experts encouraging the audience to continue contacting state and federal legislators and telling them that infrastructure spending should be a priority. This is especially important in Pennsylvania, as we are looking at a significant gap in our transportation funding (as part of Act 44). Governor Rendell warned that the funding gap would have a crippling effect on the Commonwealth’s essential transportation network, and that the state’s economy depended on this network.

The only disappointment I took away from the event was the insufficient coverage that sustainable design received in the discussions. Livable communities were briefly mentioned by Sec. LaHood at the beginning, but there was little or no talk of walking or bicycling infrastructure throughout the entire session. As Matt Zieger poignantly stated on his Twitter, “It’s a simple equation…if people live more closely together, infrastructure costs are lower! (less miles of road/pipe/wire/fiber).”

Make sure to follow us on Twitter @renewlv to catch up on all of our coverage of yesterday’s event.

LVEDC Receives Major Brownfield Redevelopment Grant

We found out yesterday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Department (EPA) awarded a $1 million grant toward brownfield redevelopment, through the Lehigh Valley Land Recycling Initiative (LVLRI) of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC). The grant will be used for site assessment, and will include testing of soil and groundwater and cleanup planning.

The Express Times reports:

There are several high-profile sites being eyed for such testing.

“Possible sites to receive assessment support include Neuweiler Brewery on the waterfront in Allentown or the Black Diamond Building in (South Side) Easton or the former municipal incinerator site in Bangor and the Thomas Iron Works in Hellertown,” LVLRI coordinator Holly Edinger said in the statement.

LVEDC has been awarded EPA assessment grants on four previous occasions in the amount of $200,000 each. Nationally it is one of only six agencies to receive EPA Coalition Grants in the amount of $1 million, the LVEDC release states.

The projects funded by this grant will make these sites viable for private development and for “new businesses, new homes and new jobs for American workers,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

A big congratulations to LVEDC and the LVLRI.

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 www.fta.dot.gov/livability/mitod. Thoughts on this new guide?

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?

Gender and Transportation

I love reading TheCityFix blog. The insightful posts always teach me something new about sustainable transportation. Today is no different. In honor of International Women’s Day, they posted some excerpts from past blog posts about the intersection of gender and transportation. Since I feel a personal connection to International Women’s Day (it is a celebrated national holiday in Poland, where I grew up), I wanted to share this blog post with all of you.

Here are some excerpts:

Regarding Mexico City launching women-only transit: Following the lead of Tokyo, where the subway has implemented female-only cars so that women can avoid the unwanted gaze or grope of overly-aggressive men, Mexico City has now introduced buses reserved exclusively for women.

Live from the Clinton Global Initiative: Although not explicitly stated in the panel, ["Investing and Girls and Women,"] gender inequality permeates the transportation world. The problems female transit users face in cities around the world may not be entirely equivalent to the global atrocities of war, rape, or torture, but there are numerous studies that show women’s fear of victimization in transportation settings, like bus stops, and other public spaces. Also, transport policies often marginalize or ignore women, who have different travel patterns and behaviors than men but do not have access to adequate transit routes. And gender workforce segregation in the transit industry has also shown to be a detrimental factor to a city’s economy.

Gender and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance: There’s been an absolutely fantastic debate going on online today about the gender gap in urban cycling. This NYT City Room post started off the debate. It notes that in the U.S., men make 3x as many trips by bike than women do and provides two reasons for this. The first is that women are more concerned about safety and suggests that a better bike infrastructure would solve the problem. The second reason the Times provides is that women are more concerned about fashion than men are, though the article does point out that women in Copenhagen don’t seem to have any trouble being stylish and biking.

Do you think the rules are different for men and women regarding transportation? Post your thoughts below.

Jurisdictional Issues Place Us at Risk for Water Contamination

Continuing their coverage of drinking water pollution in the United States, the New York Times published the latest story in their Toxic Waters series, Rulings Restrict Clean Water Act. The Times reports that many of the nation’s largest polluters are escaping regulation because jurisdictional limitations prevent enforcement of the Clean Water Act. It remains uncertain which waterways are protected by the law. Charles Duhigg and Janet Roberts write:

The Clean Water Act was intended to end dangerous water pollution by regulating every major polluter. But today, regulators may be unable to prosecute as many as half of the nation’s largest known polluters because officials lack jurisdiction or because proving jurisdiction would be overwhelmingly difficult or time consuming, according to midlevel officials.

The court rulings causing these problems focused on language in the Clean Water Act that limited it to “the discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters” of the United States. For decades, “navigable waters” was broadly interpreted by regulators to include many large wetlands and streams that connected to major rivers.

But the two decisions suggested that waterways that are entirely within one state, creeks that sometimes go dry, and lakes unconnected to larger water systems may not be “navigable waters” and are therefore not covered by the act — even though pollution from such waterways can make its way into sources of drinking water.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been placed in a disadvantageous position because of these court rulings. In many instances, the agency is restricted from doing its job – protecting the environment and protecting the public.

Post your thoughts below. If you would like to know more about RenewLV’s work on regional water issues, e-mail us at smartgrowth@renewlv.org, or sign-up as a supporter on our Join Us page.

RenewLV Brown Bag Session with Rep. Bob Freeman: Friday, Jan. 22

RenewLV’s next brown-bag session will be held this Friday, January 22, 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. at the Victory Fire House, 205 Webster St, Bethlehem.

This brown-bag session will feature State Representative Robert Freeman providing a preview of what’s coming up in 2010 in Harrisburg, with regard to legislation on urban revitalization, smart growth, open space preservation, and related issues. Among other items, Rep. Freeman will touch upon these bills and topics:

I hope you’ll bring a lunch (perhaps from one of Bethlehem’s establishments) and join us on the 22nd. If you would like additional information, or have any questions about the event, feel free to contact smartgrowth@renewlv.org or 484-893-1062.

Back from Panama

I had the pleasure of spending the last two weeks in Panama, the majority of that time in the city of Panama. Panama City has not only established itself as a financial powerhouse within Latin America (and the Western Hemisphere for that matter), but is currently going through a large urban development boom, with tall skyscrapers lining the skyline. While driving into the city from the airport, one can get overwhelmed by the amount of construction that is visible in the urban core. Of course, being a city enthusiast, I was completely in my element. It did make me think about the extent to which the development is affecting the residents of the city, as well as the residents in the outlying areas.

A few months back, I came across a brief story by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy highlighting Panama’s development patterns, which, up to this point, have been a bit uncoordinated. Alvaro Uribe of Panama’s International Center for Sustainable Development was cited in this story, stating “The city is going everywhere…it’s completely horizontal, formal and informal, with very low densities. Barbed wire has become the boundary of the neighborhood, and down the middle, a road.” Anyone driving near Punta Paitilla will see that this is the case.

But a planning movement is emerging, with a new Urban Law going into affect in 2006 and some new regulations will be able to better justify some of the massing and height, and allow for the creation of new boulevards (one of which is a new oceanfront boulevard that just opened. Yep, it is incredibly beautiful). I also heard some rumors through the grapevine that a more robust public transportation system will be put into place in the upcoming years. Progress indeed. Currently, the only mode of public transportation within the urban core is the system of painted school buses, endearingly called diablos rojos – red devils. With congestion levels becoming almost unbearable during rush hour, new solutions will need to be looked at, hopefully with the goal of taking some cars off the road.

I hope to have some pictures to share with the blog’s readers soon. Stay tuned…

Transportation for America Meets with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

After releasing their latest report, Dangerous by Design, last week, Transportation for America (of which RenewLV is a coalition partner) has been gearing up to meet with the US Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood. Representatives from T4A had their meeting yesterday. The following is a report back, posted on the coaltion’s blog:

During the meeting yesterday, we delivered a petition with thousands of signatures urging him to make pedestrian safety and complete streets a USDOT priority.He responded with resounding support, telling T4 America, “the right of way doesn’t just belong to cars — it belongs to pedestrians and bicyclists as well.”

He added, “the DOT Safety Council is going to look at this report and work with advocacy groups to ensure our streets are as safe as possible.”

He stressed that safety is the top consideration for everything they do at USDOT and urged T4 America to take the report directly to Congress as they continue discussions on the full six-year transportation bill.

What are your thoughts on this report? What is the best way to have Congressional leaders take notice of this report? Post your comments below.

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