Blog Archives

Transit Disoriented in the Lehigh Valley

Transit oriented development (TOD) promotes building, developing and redeveloping community resources and employment centers around transit centers, whether those are bus or train. We don’t have that here in the Lehigh Valley.

Here’s the official definition:

“Development concentrated around and oriented to transit stations in a manner
that promotes transit riding or passenger rail use. The term does not refer to a
single real estate project, but represents a collection of projects, usually mixed use,
at a neighborhood scale that are oriented to a transit node.”

TOD doesn’t mean the construction of a bus stop near an office park, but a holistic approach to making communities accessible for those who don’t have or choose not to use a personal vehicle. This promotes equitable access to resources and employment, but also has positive environmental consequences. If fewer individuals are taking personal cars and opting to take the bus or train, carbon emissions will decrease.

In their 2012 report, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission outlines the requirements for TODs:

TOD charts

The Planning Commission even produced a map of potential TODs in the Lehigh Valley:

TOD map

Making it easier for people to get where they want to go is an idea that’s hard to argue with, but new development and providing the infrastructure and support for public transit can become expensive. DC Streets Blog examines this problem and offers suggestions for convincing developers to invest in TOD. These recommendations include:

  • Public subsidies, like transit oriented development promotional grants or tax incentives
  • Educating developers about the costs to them in automobile dominated communities
  • Reform land use policies, for example loosening or eliminating single-use designations
  • Educate and engage employers
  • A new approach to looking at costs. While a building in a TOD community may cost more, it may also provide more affordable housing and increase the efficiency of workers.
  • Walkability is also TOD. Land use policies that encourage walkability are also likely to improve TOD in communities.
  • Connect the suburbs to TOD. This increases the size of the potential workforce for any given company, which increases the value of TOD to them.

It takes Lehigh Valley residents an average of 25 minutes to get to work and The Lehigh Valley Transportation Study (LVTS) long range plan estimates a $1.7 billion shortfall for funding needed through 2030. As part of the Envision Lehigh Valley project, LANta is producing a study on Transit Oriented Development and Bus Rapid Transit. Stay tuned for more information on that report as it is expected to be unveiled very soon!

The Future of Cars

Owning and driving a car, once deemed a core aspect of any American’s life, is now on the decline in this country.

A recent New York Times article titled, “The End of Car Culture” examines how Americans are “buying fewer cars, driving less and getting fewer licenses.” The hypothesis is that the country has passed its peak driving period and that different modes of transportation are now edging their way into the transportation market that had previously been inundated with personal cars. Even the percentage of individuals that have a drivers license in their teens, 20s and 30s has declined significantly since 1983.

The data that the article used was adjusted for population and found that the quantity of miles driven by Americans peaked in 2005 and has declined since. While some have speculated that the decline in cars purchased and miles driven was a cause of the recession, those declines actually began two to three years prior. There are also other theories to the cause of this trend.

“Different things are converging which suggest that we are witnessing a long-term cultural shift,” said Mimi Sheller, a sociology professor at Drexel University and director of its Mobilities Research and Policy Center. She cites various factors: the Internet makes telecommuting possible and allows people to feel more connected without driving to meet friends. The renewal of center cities has made the suburbs less appealing and has drawn empty nesters back in. Likewise the rise in cellphones and car-pooling apps has facilitated more flexible commuting arrangements, including the evolution of shared van services for getting to work.

Reduced use of personal vehicles has positive results for the environment and carbon emissions. Transportation is the second leading source of carbon emissions (power plants are first). New York’s bike sharing program is growing in popularity as tolls increase and funding that promotes car ownership decreases.

To further support the idea that this trend is more than economic, the age group of those most likely to purchase a car and to have a license is increasingly the elderly. The youth are expressing less interest in cars and more interest in living in communities where a car is unnecessary and the public transit is satisfactory.

The article mentions Bay Area Rapid Transit, a transportation system in San Francisco that optimizes bus routes by looking at frequency of use and land use in the area. Our very own LANta is in the process of studying Bus Rapid Transit for the Lehigh Valley. Their report is part of the Envision Lehigh Valley project and will be released soon. The trend across the country points to the need for multimodal transportation options and this is an important step by LANta. As our population increases in city centers, there is less need for a personal car but short bus routes and safe biking paths are still important transit developments. All of these options are environmentally promising and are sustainable alternatives to individuals relying solely on their personal car.

High Speed Rail Still on Obama’s Agenda

Recently, Transportation Weekly acquired a draft of President Obama’s transportation bill. Streetsblog comments on the bill’s focus on high speed rail:

Although high-speed rail was completely de-funded in the last budget battle, the president’s bill still provides $53 billion over six years to the program, with $37.6 billion of it for network development and the rest for system preservation and renewal.

RenewLV is a partner in the Transportation for America coalition and supports investing in public transit, high-speed trains, places to bike and walk, and green innovation.

Building America’s Future Comments on Nat’l Infrastructure Bank & American Investment

The three co-chairs of Building America’s Future — CA Governor Schwarzenegger, PA Governor Rendell, and New York City Mayor Bloomberg — published their thoughts on improving our nation’s infrastructure in the most recent Politico. The three leaders commented on the newly-released report by the Treasury Department and Council of Economic Advisers on the economic benefits of transportation investments.

They note:

Whenever we travel to other nations to promote U.S. industry and enterprise – like Gov. Schwarzenegger’s recent trip to Asia – we see the tremendous progress being made overseas. We worry that our nation could fall behind the rest of the world if we don’t start doing more to invest in our future.

We owe it to our children – and our country – to build infrastructure that could allow us to remain the world’s economic superpower in the 21st century. Equally important, large infrastructure projects would put many Americans to work during this time of high unemployment.

The post ends with an urging to continue with discussions around a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB), which was the focus of yesterday’s Crossroads post. The NIB would provide the necessary dedicated funding for our country’s infrastructure (and would provide the means to fund new, much needed public transit projects — such as high-speed rail).

To learn more about how federal transportation policy affects local regions such as the Lehigh Valley, visit our Sustainable Transportation Initiative web page.

ARC Tunnel on Life-Support after Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood Intervened

Last week’s news that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was killing the ARC Tunnel rail project made the sustainable transportation blogosphere collectively boo and hiss — so much that US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood hopped on the next train to Trenton to meet with the Guv. Sec. LaHood was quoted in the Record on October 8th:

“Governor Christie and I had a good discussion this afternoon, during which I presented a number of options for continuing the ARC tunnel project,” LaHood said in a statement issued after that meeting.

“We agreed to put together a small working group from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the office of NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein that will review these options and provide a report to Governor Christie within two weeks.”

If you live in New Jersey, I urge you to contact the Governor and let him know that this project is a much-needed connection.

ARC Project Cancelled; Many Miffed

Sure enough, NJ Governor Christie canceled the ARC project yesterday and economist Paul Krugman has some strong thoughts on this:

It was a destructive and incredibly foolish decision on multiple levels. But it shouldn’t have been all that surprising. We are no longer the nation that used to amaze the world with its visionary projects. We have become, instead, a nation whose politicians seem to compete over who can show the least vision, the least concern about the future and the greatest willingness to pander to short-term, narrow-minded selfishness.

It certainly is disappointing. With only one, very old tunnel connecting the two states, commuters can’t catch a break here. We can’t all drive into the city.

Amtrak Looking to Reduce Travel Time Between East Coast Cities

If you’ve ever taken rail from Washington, DC to Boston (or from Philly or New York to these destinations), you already know how convenient it is. I remember taking this trip a few years ago; I ended up falling asleep in DC on the train and when I woke up, I was almost in Boston. I couldn’t believe how quickly I arrived at my destination.

It looks like Amtrak is aiming to make this trip even shorter by establishing the nation’s first high-speed rail line. Margaret Rhodes writes

The proposed rail line would be completed by 2040, with a launch for some sections as early as 2015. Funding has yet to be finalized, but Amtrak has already requested $2.5 billion from Congress for 2011, and earlier this year Obama earmarked $8 billion of the 2009 stimulus package for high-speed rail service. The rest would come from private investment, according to CEO Joseph Boardman.

With the Next-Generation High-Speed Rail a trip between New York City and Boston would take only 84 minutes, a trek that currently takes over 2.5 hours by Amtrak’s Acela train, or four hours by bus.

Does this mean I could get to DC from Philly in 20 minutes???

LA’s Regional Approach to Transportation Funding is Winning Fans

Blueprint America reports on Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plan to pay for 30 years worth of infrastructure and transportation projects in 10 years. The Mayor is doing this through a half-cent increase of the sales tax that was passed by a two-thirds majority in the greater Los Angeles area. How did Mayor Villaraigosa convince the public to vote in favor of this? Well, by making it a regional, county-wide proposal —

The vote showed that Angelenos, tired of bottlenecks, recognize the need for transportation improvements and are willing to tax themselves for transit, not roads, to get there – no small feat in the region known as the car capital of the world.

Among the dozen projects that would be on the fast track include light rail extensions to Los Angeles International Airport; a long-envisioned subway extension to the city’s Westside providing a high-capacity, high-speed alternative for the 300,000 people who travel to the L.A.’s “second downtown” every day from throughout the county; the Crenshaw Corridor light rail line; a Metro Green Line extension in the South Bay; an Eastside extension of the Metro Gold Line from East Los Angeles; and transit projects serving the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valley.

Seems like LA is making strides in improving its public transportation system. Who knew it would come to this? Maybe the Lehigh Valley is next. Perhaps a half-cent sales tax increase for new regional public transit projects is the key.

Local Media Urges Lawmakers to Take Action on Transportation

As the special session on Pennsylvania’s transportation funding crisis continues, it is seeming more and more unlikely that anything will happen in terms of passing meaningful legislation that will fill the gap. But local media outlets are not accepting this approach; just today the Express Times published its opinion on the matter, urging legislators to take action.

And rightfully so. Businesses depend on the state of our essential infrastructure. As we continue working on reviving the economy, we must take care of our transportation network to ensure that commerce continues successfully and workers are able to travel to their jobs. According to the article, “As difficult as this economy is for everyone, waiting until roads and bridges become unusable will be a heavy, heavy anchor on any recovery, creating giant replacement costs.”

But what solution should be implemented? The Times suggests that “[a]ll ideas should be on the table; a minimal raise in fuel taxes (four cents per gallon is Rendell’s suggestion) would at least get bridge and highway rehab work going on some level.” Surprisingly, the tax-averse Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce has even gone on record as a supporter of a gas-tax raise. Maybe it’s time to start looking into this option…


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.