Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Prior to the presentation, LANTA held a series of public meetings, surveyed bus riders and residents of the Lehigh valley, studied demographics, reviewed similar-sized transportation systems throughout the country and obtained input from LANTA staff, drivers, and Board members. In addition, a special survey of community leaders was conducted and, of course, input was gathered through the Regional Plan Advisory Committee meetings.
Based on what LANTA has heard the community is seeking, the Abrams-Cherwony Group consultants, presented the Advisory Committee with a proposal for a phased set of improvements that could guide how LANTA services grow.
It was stressed that the plans presented are potential alternatives and that LANTA needs to evaluate them further. But the proposals set forth are exciting.
Following a complete evaluation of alternatives and costs, the Authority will host additional Advisory Committee and public meetings to gain input on the plan.
The goal of this process is for the LANTA Board to approve an official plan by March, 2009.
Transit Alternatives: A wide range of service improvements
The transit alternatives presented by the Abrams-Cherwony Group include a three-phased program beginning with “improving user friendliness,” “reducing complexity” and increased frequency on designated trunk routes, consultant Owen O’Neal said during the presentation.
Phase I of the project suggests providing mobility for people “to move throughout the region quickly and in an efficient way,” O’Neal said. The alternative essentially would realign bus routes to maximize trip frequency.
The phase centers on “connecting major [traffic] generating routes,” and, in a response to public input, suggests the creation of cross-town services. For example, routes running North and South on Cedar Crest Boulevard and Seventeenth Street without operating to the central business district, O’Neal said were examples of cross-town services.
“We’re making sure the level of service is meeting the changing environment,” O’Neal said, adding that bus service may focus on passengers who commute to work and retail areas, such as the casino underway in Bethlehem and the major retail developments being built in Easton and Allentown.
In the presentation, O’Neal said that Phase I would mean LANTA buses could provide “feeder services” to other long-distance commuter bus services.
Phase II of the suggested transit alternatives calls for a “higher level of service to an expanded area,” O’Neal said.
Suburban hubs, or “rings around the core” LANTA service area, may emerge in areas “depending on expansion and growth,” O’Neal said. The hubs, suggested for areas such as Emmaus, Nazareth and Coopersburg, would connect to the central bus district along higher frequency routes. The phase may even call for “hub-to-hub, peripheral connections,” according to O’Neal.
The third phase of the alternative calls for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). This type of system has buses operating along high-traffic corridors resulting in shorter trip times and more direct service.
There has been “a lot of talk and discussion” about commuter rail service, Walter Cherwony, of the Abrams-Cherwony Group said. If deemed appropriate, existing tracks west of Philipsburg and north of Shelly could be preserved for future commuter rail options. If a commuter rail service were to be implemented, LANTA could provide a feeder bus service to rail stations, Cherwony said.
“Nothing is specific,” O’Neal said of the three-phase timeline, and added that the phases “are not mutually exclusive,” which means that parts of Phase I and Phase II could be completed simultaneously. “Full completion depends on local desire” and sufficient fund resources he said.
Transportation and Land Use: Inextricably Linked
As part of the Regional Development Plan, LANTA is beginning the process of studying land use strategies needed to support potential transit alternatives. The consulting firm of Gannett-Fleming, represented by Susan Gibbon, presented the Board and the Advisory Committee with information on how land use effects transportation.
“LANTA does not control land use or highway infrastructure,” Gibbon said. Land use is determined at a municipal level, while transportation infrastructure – roads and highways - are determined by the state, Gibbon said.
“Land use and transportation are inextricably linked,” Gibbon said, adding that land use policies could improve transit operations and could increase ridership as well as the frequency and destination of trips.
Gibbon suggested that LANTA work closely with local municipalities to determine land use and to keep transit in mind while doing so, Gibbon said. The consultant said that a variety of housing in urban development areas, redeveloping abandoned properties, as well as zoning ordinances and municipal codes could all be used to create a more transit-friendly area.
For a basic transit system, there are a few requirements, Gibbon said. The surrounding areas must have medium population density, “walkability” – which includes things like sidewalks and areas that are safe for pedestrians – a connected roadway network and areas concentrated with residential and employment centers.
Traditional towns and urban areas, like Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton are “easy to serve with transit,” Gibbon said. They have continuous sidewalks, are densely populated, and have a good mix of residential, retail and employment buildings.
Modern suburban and rural developments are difficult to serve with transit since they lack sidewalks, have buildings set back far from the street, have low population density and road configurations that are difficult to serve with transit, Gibbon said. “Buses cannot serve cul-de-sacs,” she said.
Gibbon provided the committee with land use strategies that could advance the three phases of the Regional Development Plan.
In Phase I, Gibbon’s suggested focusing on zoning and ordinances to promote transit in both traditional and new neighborhoods.
A few possible changes to promote transit include distinctive bus-stop signs and poles, bus shelters and routing information in both urban and suburban areas. Gibbon called new bus-stop signs and shelters a “pretty low investment” for providing thorough “information and functionality.”
Phase II of the development plan intends to bring a “higher level of service to an expanded service area” and may include transit hubs in historic centers and typical suburban employment centers.
The population of the Lehigh Valley is not high enough along the main transit routes for higher modes of transit to be warranted or successful as suggested in Phase III of the plan, Gibbon said. However, steps could be taken to make it more likely. If new developments focused on being transit-friendly, Gibbon said, the increase in population density could create the right conditions for higher modes of transit, like Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or light rail.
To implement land use strategies beneficial to transit, Gibbon mentioned that LANTA could assume an active role in promoting appropriate land use planning and development decisions throughout the Lehigh Valley, Gibbon said.
Getting involved with local municipalities and their development proposals and plan approval processes are two more steps toward improving LANTA’s ability to use the land.
The Next Step
After the Authority and the Board evaluates the alternatives and costs completely, LANTA will hold additional committee and public meetings to receive further input on the plan. It is LANTA’s goal to have a Regional Development Plan approved by March 2009.
October 30, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Representatives of Abrams-Cherwony, the lead consultants for this study, presented a power point presentation on the possible improvements to the transit system that could take place over the next 3 to 10 years.
A more detailed review of these alternatives and the feedback from the Committee will be published here shortly.
The future looks bright for public transit in the Lehigh Valley!
Monday, October 6, 2008
Walter Cherwony of Abrams-Cherwony, Inc, the lead consultants for this study, presented a power point presentation on the progress of the effort to date. This included a description of the existing LANTA system of transit service, a comparison of LANTA to 10 ‘peers,’ as well as the ‘outcome’ of the public rider and non-rider survey, an expert panel review of the system and comments from the Advisory Committee from the May 28th meeting. The group was asked then asked to discuss ‘what LANTA should look like’ in the future. The responses are posted here. Click on the link in the navigation column on the right on this page.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Part of the meeting was the requisite 'workshop session' where the committee was invited to respond to these questions:
. Provide opinions and observations as well as identify suggested service and operational improvements for LANTA’s bus service.
. Provide opinions and observations regarding LANTA Metro Plus operations
. Provide a vision of what transportation should look like in the Lehigh Valley 10 to 30 years from now.
Notes were taken of the Committee's collective response and they are online for your reference. Click the Moving LANTA Forward logo on the right of this blog to navigate to the notes.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The last comprehensive examination of public transportation occurred in 1985. At that time, the “Metro” system of service was introduced which responded then to the impact of the loss of major employment centers in the urbanized area and the shift to destinations in the more rural portions of the Valley. Since then, LANTA has made many modifications to the basic system of service based on an ongoing service review process, and experienced significant gains in ridership. Since 1997, LANTA ridership of the public transportation system has grown 67%.
But the Lehigh Valley is continuing to grow and change in terms of both population and jobs. The Authority has determined that it needs to prepare a long range vision for public transportation and a service development program and policies that will guide LANTA efforts in the next 5 to 10 years.
The Authority sought proposals from qualified individuals/firms to develop a regional public transportation development plan for the Valley in the fall of last year. Three firms responded and after an extensive review and interview process, Abrams & Cherwony Inc., a Philadelphia based firm was selected.
The process which started in March, is expected to take a year and will involve an extensive review of the existing transit system, a determination on how best to meet the community’s changing needs for service, and deliver a set of recommendations in order to achieve the most effective and productive transit system possible.
The public input portion of this effort is extremely important. And LANTA would like all those who have an interest in public transportation, to participate in the planning process.
Information will be forthcoming in the next few months as to what format through which this input will be gathered. Most likely, this will involve many meetings with a wide range of participants to gather ideas and input.
LANTA and its consultant are relying heavily on data provided by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission through its elaborate GIS mapping system as well as its computerized transportation model for evaluating route structure and predicting ridership.
The goal is to invest in a public transportation network that meet demands now and well into the future in the Lehigh Valley.
It is expected that recommendations for change will be before the Authority in March/April of 2009.
The Lehigh Valley is one of the fastest growing areas in Pennsylvania. Its change from a manufacturing-based community to a 'service' community over the past 5 decades has dramatically altered the demand for public transit. In addition, the urban sprawl that has taken place has challenged the ability of transit to respond to changes in travel and commute demands.
Nonetheless, demand for transit has been strong over the years. And during the past decade - 1997-2007 - ridership on the local Metro bus system has grown by 67%.
We can talk more about the past here, but this blog is about the future. Where should new investment in public transit take place in the Valley? This is the central question that needs to be answered and we look forward to a lively and productive discussion!