Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Advisory Committee looks to Move LANTA Forward

The Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority (LANTA) is in the process of developing a new regional plan for transit. The Board held a workshop meeting on October 14 and the third meeting of the Regional Development Plan Advisory Committee took place on October 22. At both meetings, the Authority’s consultants provided a glimpse at the potential future of transportation in the Valley.

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

Regional Advisory Committee Meets Oct 22

A Regional Transportation Development Program Advisory Committee Meeting took place on Wednesday, October 22, 2008 at the Fowler Family Southside Campus, NCC in Bethlehem.

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

Regional Advisory Committee meets August 20

The Regional Transportation Development Program Advisory Committee Meeting took place on Wednesday, August 20th, 2008 at the Fowler Family Southside Campus, NCC in Bethlehem.

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.