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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bethlehem's City Council Prez - Highways? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Highways

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingJ. Michael Schweder, President of Bethlehem's City Council, is leading a press conference 3:00 PM today at Bethlehem City Hall to announce his public opposition to LVPC's proposal to expand Route 22. The LVPC and Lehigh Valley Partnership have been clamoring to add more lanes to Route 22, although this will simply invite more driving, congestion and traffic deaths. Instead of encouraging us to conserve fuel (and increase safety) by reducing our speed, officials have increased speed limits to 65 mph along Route 33.

Maybe it's an attempt at population control.

LVPC's transportation study deals with peak oil and global warming by ignoring them. In a lengthy discussion of factors affecting travel demand, these very real problems don't merit a whisper. The report blissfully and mistakenly assumes we will remain the beneficiaries of a bountiful oil supply. As a result, light rail and other alternative transportations options are peremptorily dismissed.

This type of thinking comes from the mistaken belief that our diminishing oil supplies and increasing temperatures are "political questions" or "global issues." But as local light rail advocate Pratima Agrawal asks, "Is the Lehigh Valley not part of the world?"

The Lehigh Valley's three mayors think so. Mayors Ed Pawlowski of Allentown, John Callahan of Bethlehem and Phil Mitman of Easton have all endorsed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. And the Lehigh Valley's two county execs, John Stoffa and Don Cunningham, recently followed suit, committing to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, greener building operations, reduced urban sprawl and the use of cleaner, alternative energy. They apparently think the Lehigh Valley is part of the world.

Other Lehigh Valley officials are expected to join Schweder today when he condemns LVPC's myopic plan, but we'll have to wait and see.
Update: I've just been informed today's press conference will be at Bethlehem's Public Library, 2nd Floor, Family Place (instead of City Hall). Schweder will be joined by Easton City Council Prez Sandra Volcano and Allentown City Council Prez Dave Howells.

17 comments:

SPIKE_ROGAN said...

Bernie
We need a 65 MPH speedlimit on 33. This ways I can get the fuck out of Monroe County faster when I visit my folks.

Monroe county is like the Iraq of PA. The army occupies the RED Zone (Tobyhanna) where insurgents (gangs) have taken over. And the media glazes over the overwhelimg poor being of the region.

Oh and the selections of supermarkets and resturants SUCKS up there. As do the sports programs (mainly football) in most of the county occupied by Pocono Mountain.

Many folks there play the song "We gotta get out of this place, if its the last thing we ever do". And they need that extra speed to bolt away.

LVDem said...

fair enough... but I'm not paying for it!

Bernie, I'm not shocked that a city official would oppose the 22 expansion (my guess is that you aren't shocked either). What shocks me is that it appears that Callahan and the president appear to agree on something! Even though they are Democrats, that's an accomplishment.

LVDem said...

Oh, and for those people who like the idea of expanding route 22, ask the following: what will the impact be on the exit roads. Think about the extra traffic on route 33, 191, Wilson, Schoenersville Road/378, Airport Road, Fullerton Ave, 145, 15th Street, Cedar Crest Blvd, 309, etc. Traffic is already bad on those roads. To get to 22, you have to go through these roads to get there.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Hey Spike, If Monroe is thaT bad, you and Jim should team up and blog it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LVDem, I'm not shocked Schweder opposes this. He said so this summer. But I never expected him to announce so publicly. I don't recall a single instance in which an elected public official anywhere in the LV has specifically told the LVPC it is wrong. I'll be curious to see who joins Schweder.

ORLY? said...

Someone please hand the LVPC a copy of The Power Broker. Robert Moses existed so we can all learn from his mistakes.

LSTresidentPIA said...

Instead of building I-78 years ago, they should have widen route 22 then, when land prices where less and there was not so much development along it. I do not see how they can widen it now.

I am also leary of the light rail system that been proposed. I have been told that if I thought the LV was unaffordable now, just wait until a rail system is put in. It will only encourage more transplants becauase it will be cheaper for them to communte out of state.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LST, Some light rail proposals are just an added help for commuters in jersey, as you note. But LVBO is proposing more than that. They propose a light rail system to connect the thrtee cities in the LV.

Cypher said...

In consideration it's going to take forever to widen a road, I can't imagine light rail EVER happening. Connecting the three cities? It's irrelevant. The majority live in the Townships. I see buses every day go empty or with two people on them between the cities.

Where does LVBO think it's going to get the money?

Anonymous said...

We're in the bottom 10 in the country in air quality.

That's because 50,000 people per day commute to either NY or Philadelphia from the Valley - and a sizable number commute in. To say nothing of the fact that until something convinces Detroit to build more and better hybrids, the cost of a daily commute just from Easton to Allentown really squeezes working folks. Throw in the cost of your kid's asthma medication from breathing the most polluted air anywhere and most folks would probably profit from a light rail project.

People don't ride LANTA because it's horribly slow and, sad to say, because they don't like the people they sit next to when they do. Heck, Bernie bikes every day instead.

Executed properly, a rail system should be quicker, connect our key areas (city centers-LVI-IronPig Stadium - dumbest name ever - and bus stations) and improve connectivity to Philly and New York.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Cypher, I appreciate your observations, and the succinct way in which you made them.

Let's start off on this premise. Our fuel supply from oil is limited. Some of us, like me, think we have already peaked and are on the downward slide. Others think we may have 100 yrs of oil left. But everyone agrees that we are running out.

So we spend the next 50 yrs widening Route 22 and for what? For a way of life that will soon be a thing of the past. That does not strike me as a wise use of public dollars.

Now you make a point about empty buses. They weren't so empty last summer when we were first hit w/ a fuel crunch. Remember that? If my memory serves, many of those buses were near capacity. That's going to happen again when oil prices go up now that the election is over.

Start up costs for light rail in the LV would be very high. There's no getting around that. I haven't seen the latest numbers but they are well in excess of the billion or so planned for widening Route 22. But light rail, unlike highways, have much cheaper maintenance. And they reduce the amount of HC in the atmosphere and that in turn will reduce our riding global temperature.

You point out that many people live in the suburbs and would not benefit from light rail connecting the cities. That is partially true. But expanding a highway will just encourage us to increase our sprawl until we have no farmland or woodland left in the LV. Once again, that will increase our global temp and will also put these new suburb dwellers at a disadvantage as the fuel crunch is felt.

That's why the state and federal gov't is encouraging residential development in our cities and older boroughs. It makes more sense to be close to everything when fuel is at a premium.

Light rail will not solve the peak oil problem, but will certainly help. Other alternative fuels, from hydrogen to biofuel, should be considered.

Despite my critical comments about the LVPC, they do a fine job at many things. But from an engineering standpoint, their latest transportation is seriously flawed because they failed to consider peak oil or global warming as factors affecting travel demand. They concluded these were political or global questions. But as Pratima Agrawal, a very level-headed member of LVBO has pointed out, the LV is part of the globe. Those considerations definitely will have an impact on us and should have been considered.

Thanks for your comments.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:26, LVPC is required to monitor air quality every 2 or 3 yrs just for vehicle emissions. That's how bad air quality is here, much worse than other areas of the country. Thanks for your observations.

Cypher said...

I just don't see the practical execution of a light rail system in the Lehigh Valley. I realize the goals mentioned, and no one is going to argue with them.

However, I see little point in pitching a project that has no financially feasible way of being implemented. The federal government will not have the capital via TEA-21. The state government can barely pay for the existing road network, and the plan would face opposition from the Turnpike Commission and the Bridge Commission. Locally, townships won't want to fund someting that only helps the cities. The only taxpayers that would support it would be those....in the cities.

If it's the environment that is of concern, I think the support of the gasificiation and ethanol concepts, along with hydrogen, makes more sense.

Mr. Damien Brown said...

" The only taxpayers that would support it would be those....in the cities."

And what is the problem with that? Do taxpayers in the city not count? Why should we be forced to subsidize our own demise.

The last time I check approx 220,000 people live in the the valley's cities, nearly half of the valley's population. This does not include some of the boroughs or urban townships that may as well be considered part of the cities such as Wilson, Fountain Hill, or the Fullerton Section of Whitehall.

It would not be difficult for a half-decent engineer to design a two line system with stops within a 5-10 minute walk of most neighborhoods in these communities plus attractive park N ride lots in the burbs, industrial parks, and at the airport.

There is nothing unreasonable or irrisponsible about this proposal.

Anonymous said...

>Locally, townships won't want to fund something that only helps the cities.

Hmmm, might you be able to take that statement and spin it convincingly another way?

I wonder if the people in Lower Macungie (and even Lower Saucon) could be coopted to assist in making cities more attractive for selfish reasons.

Yeah! That's it! Attract people to go there and not to "their" suburbs that are now being overrun - and destroying what initially made them an attractive place to live in the first place!

Of course, by the time any rail line became operative, the peaceful suburbs will have already been lost to mass colonization.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Cypher & Damien, You both make great points. Cypher, correct me if I'm wrong, but you're concerned about cost. You believe this is financially unfeasible, and point out there is no funding for it in TEA-21. That's a very complex piece of legislation and you may be right. But it does provide for up to $3.5 billion in RR Rehab and Improvement financing. Start upStart up costs for light rail amount to $10-30 million per track mile. These costs need to be defined in accordance with a feasibility study but a funding mechanism exists. And the cost could also be underwritten by floating a bond payable from the fares imposed.

Historically, these light rail ventures have been a failure, but that is not the case in recent history. They've actually run at a profit. And the maintenance for these light rail systems is lower in cost than that for highways.

I believe that if you look harshly at the reality of peak oil and global warming, you'll be forced to agree that population trends will soon favor the cities. In a few years, most residents will be back in the cities and boroughs. In that event light rail makes even more sense.

I'm not suggesting that you go out tonight and start laying down tracks. I think your concerns are very legitimate. What I suggest is a true feasibility study that considers the actual cost of such a venture, the funding mechanisms available, and the likelihood that it will be used. I'm suggesting a study that also recognizes and factors in the reality of peak oil and global warming.

After that, if it is determined it's not worth it, then it's not worth it. But I think it needs to be seriously explored instead of dismissed out of hand. Don't forget that light rail served the LV quite well for many years before the auto industry started buying up the companies and putting them out of business.

100 years ago, I could hop on a trolley ever half hour in Nazareth and be in downtown Easton in 25 minutes. And from there I could go anywhere I wanted. This is a system that once worked quite well. There's no reason it could not work again, but the devil is always in the details. I agree cost is an important consideration, but it should be considered instead of dismissed.

I also agree with your suggestions re the development of hydrogen, and Air Products has made advances in that area. I blogged that subject a few weeks ago.

Light rail is not THE answer, but it might be one of several answers.

And the burbs have not been subsidizing the cities, although it certainly appears that way. A recent Brookings report reveals that Pa's economic development program, funding by ALL of us, have primarily helped projects in the 'burbs. Rendell has tried to change that, and he should.

My thanks to both of you.

SPIKE_ROGAN said...

LIGHT RAIL:

Well it may or may not raise real estate value to bring in light rail. (Reading is cheap so consider that angle!)

But light rail would lower the demand for GAS! And with that it would play into (low supply high demand.) The demand would lower supply grow and the prices would drop.

Now on the other hand the backbone less animals of the world of Petrolium Pimps aka Gas Companies, could just close 25% of the gas stations to rasie demand. (ie NJ! where in the early 90's many service stations were simply abandond and still sit unoccupied a decade later.)

But those could be the advantages of light rail. Plus as even reported in a essay printed in The american conservative of all places! Getto folks take the bus. (LANTA has many riders to prove this. Middle class white collar Americans ride rail. Its romantic old school and cheap.)

(Where would you rather live Reading, PA, or King of Prussia?)

Just buy before the rail is built and you can cash out vegas style as a senior and escape to barbadeos to avoid expadition. Just make sure the send lawyers guns and money!