Blog Archives

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.

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Lehigh Valley Vying for PCTI Funds Once More

PennDOT’s Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative is in full swing once again, though the pot of money is much smaller this time around. As some of you may recall (especially if you attended RenewLV’s brown-bag session last year on the topic), PCTI is the effort to fund community-oriented transportation projects throughout the Commonwealth. PCTI is part of PennDOT’s Smart Transportation campaign that aims to link land-use planning with innovative and sustainable transportation solutions. Last year, four Lehigh Valley communities received funding: Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, and Hellertown (listen to RenewLV’s podcast of the Community and Transportation brown-bag session and see the Governor’s press release for more information).

This year, 16 Lehigh Valley applications were submitted, reports the Express-Times. Easton is once again applying, this time with the project of updating Centre Square. Sarah Cassi writes:

Mayor Sal Panto Jr. said the beautification project will include new signs, traffic signals and handicap-accessible sidewalk ramps. It will continue work slated for South Third Street, Panto said.

Panto said the goal is to make traffic “smoother and calmer,” according to information from the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission revealed at its meeting Monday in Hanover Township, Lehigh County.

The city has applied for a $1.5 million grant from the Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative program to help with the work.

The PCTI fund totals only $24 million this time around, less than half of what it was last time around ($60 million). Other local projects that are vying for money are Allentown’s Hamilton Street project and the continued work on the Bethlehem Greenway (this time connecting it to Hellertown).

Lehigh Valley residents: cross your fingers that we see a large chunk of that money come our way. Given our success last time around, I have good feelings for this year.

Once again, listen to our Community and Transportation podcast on this topic. It includes comments from last year’s project representatives, as well as an intro to Smart Transportation by PennDOT spokesman Ron Young.

Charlotte’s Fight For Light Rail

In her recent blog post, Mary Newsom of Cities of the Future writes about Charlotte’s unlikely move to establish a light rail system. The story is interesting since it is well known that the Charlotte Metropolitan area is characterized by an auto-dependent nature. The only other factor that could trump the car-centric culture is Charlotte’s unyielding desire for more development, and it is indeed this reason that fueled the rise of the light rail in the area.

But how did it all begin? Newsom describes the early grassroots efforts:

Back in the 1980s, many of top leaders of both political parties knew regional transit was needed. But any suggestions for taxes to fund it were DOA at the rural-dominated state legislature, whose permission was needed. Two barriers had to fall: Convincing a conservative electorate that transit wasn’t a frill, and finding millions to build it.

Enter Charlotte Trolley, a volunteer group of rail buffs and enlightened developers who decided to restore an antique trolley car (found being used as a rental home outside Charlotte) and run it on an unused railbed near downtown. In 1996, after eight years of fundraisers, Charlotte Trolley launched a 1.8-mile ride, drawing throngs who loved the taste of old-fashioned streetcar travel. Keen-eyed developers built rail-oriented mixed-use projects, betting light rail service would follow.

It’s encouraging to see advocacy efforts like these in other regions. And I believe it’s important to note that such efforts take a long time, as long as the discussion is maintained in a community.

Visit RenewLV’s Sustainable Transportation Initiative page to learn about our work on transportation issues within the region. To keep up to date about local news on transportation, make sure to join our e-mail list.

As a quick reminder, make sure to come out to the Building One PA event this evening at 6pm at Allentown Symphony Hall. We’ll be discussing the different policies and issues (including transportation) that affect the growth of urban cores. For more information, visit our past blog post.

Increased User Fees: Key to Solving State’s Transportation Funding Crisis?

One message kept being echoed at yesterday’s PA House Transportation Committee hearing at DeSales University: the need to find new revenue sources for the gaping hole in the state’s transportation budget.  Though most – if not all – of the testimonies touched on the fact that these are tough economic times (especially for governmental budgets), it was conceded that the state’s transportation system is essential to the well-being of the residents and workers of Pennsylvania. Those who provided testimonies at the hearing made it clear that our transportation network has a direct impact on the economic growth of our state — and many weren’t afraid to publicly support a tax increase (including a gas tax increase).

Armand Greco discussed LANTA’s recent fare increases, needed to ensure that the system can provide its basic level of service. Rep. Steve Samuelson made the appropriate comment that raising fares on public transportation means raising the cost of transportation for those who are most disadvantaged — noting that this notion makes no sense. RenewLV’s Steven Bliss agreed that this inequity in transportation had to be addressed and that RenewLV would keep advocating for a more balanced transportation network within the region.

One of the most salient testimonies came from a former civil engineering student who described her experience of trying to find internships and co-ops within the state’s transportation sector (specifically working on public transportation) and being unsuccessful at doing so. She stated that many of her fellow students found jobs in other states after graduation because Pennsylvania was unwilling to invest in a better transportation network and put these graduates to work. Her story shows that the transportation funding crisis will only further contribute to the already-troubling ‘brain drain’ in Pennsylvania.

Perhaps the most surprising disclosure came from the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has not been known to support tax increases in the past — but yesterday, Chamber representatives Peter Terry and Michelle Griffin-Young both stated that a reasonable increase in user fees might just be the solution to the funding crisis.

As budget deliberations continue in the state legislature, the idea for a gas tax increase will almost certainly remain in the dialogue. Do you support a fuel tax increase? If so, I would strongly suggest contacting your state Representative or Senator to let him or her know so. Or call your legislator to offer your suggestions on what could fill the hole in the transportation budget.

To get more details about yesterday’s hearing, check out the Morning Call’s article about the hearing, as well as WFMZ/Channel 69’s coverage. Also, check out RenewLV’s testimony, delivered by Steven Bliss at yesterday’s hearing.

Reminder: RenewLV Regional Transportation Forum Today

This is a reminder that RenewLV’s Regional Transportation Forum is TODAY, Monday, April 19 at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem (437 Main Street, Bethlehem).

The program begins at 6:30 p.m. with an informal reception at 5:30 p.m.

This community forum is an opportunity to learn about the prospects for restoring passenger rail service in the Lehigh Valley, as well as to discuss how a balanced, multimodal transportation system can help promote economic development, the continued revitalization of the region’s core communities, and sustainable growth in the Lehigh Valley.

The keynote speaker for the forum is David Taylor, Senior Vice-President and National Director for Sustainable Transportation Solutions at HDR. The forum will include a Presentation of Findings from the New NJT/SYSTRA Regional Transportation Study (commissioned by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation and Lehigh and Northampton Counties), followed by a Panel Discussion and Q&A on how the Lehigh Valley Moves Forward on Transportation and Transit-Oriented Development. Moderated by RenewLV Co-Chair Deana Zosky, the panel will include:

  • David Taylor – Senior Vice-President, National Director for Sustainable Transportation Solutions, HDR
  • Bob McNamara – Senior Policy Representative for Smart Growth, National Association of REALTORS
  • Armand Greco – Executive Director, LANTA
  • Joe Gurinko – Chief Transportation Planner, Lehigh Valley Planning Commission
  • Adam Krom – Philadelphia-based Transportation Planner

This event is presented by the National Association of REALTORS and the Lehigh Valley Association of REALTORS (LVAR). Event sponsors also include the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation and the Lehigh Valley Partnership.

The event is free and open to the public. RSVP is suggested, but not required.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Beata Bujalska at bbujalska@renewlv.org or 484.893.1062 (w) or 732.809.8817 (c).

We hope you’ll be able to join us for the informal reception at 5:30 p.m. in the balcony of the Grand Ballroom, followed by the full program in the Grand Ballroom at 6:30 p.m.