Friday, February 18, 2011

How Green is our Valley?

Ran across this article today:

London Bike Share Program not as "green" as had first been reported.

The article is interesting in that certain statistics and functional activities were ignored in trying to make this project appear to be contributing greatly to reducing emissions and providing alternative transit. China has similar projects that have been in place for less than a year and is struggling with maintaining them. It begs the question: is there a 'perfect green' project short of simply not traveling? We think not.

We had to chuckle the other day when we met an advocate for clean air for the first time and she remarked that it was 'unfortunate' that LANTA was 'part of the problem.' We were taken aback for a moment. Public transit prides itself as being part of the solution to air pollution in that by definition it eliminates so many trips that might otherwise be taken by single occupancy auto. Buses provide such a positive benefit compared to what is exhausted into the air as they operate that the scales are truly weighed in its favor. And technical improvements over the past decade have made 'clean diesel' a good deal more than an oxymoron.

As the advocate continued, it became clear that her focus was on the diesel fuel exhaust from the bus fleet and we have to concur, that is unfortunate. But given current technology and the economics of transit, there isn't really any pure, non-polluting energy alternative to transporting people.

The hybrid electric buses LANTA introduced to the Valley transit system last year go a long way towards minimizing pollutants but they still run somewhat on diesel fuel. And someday, the battery packs that help propel the vehilce will need to be replaced and there is the issue of disposing of batteries and the manufacture of new ones. Both processes have elements of pollution to them.

Obviously, what the world needs is a non-polluting energy alternative to power vehicles. The hydrogen fuel cell is the closest thing we've seen towards that end, but it remains a technology that is considered experimental and not entirely practical for general use.

In the meantime, taking the bus - walking when one can do so practically - is the best alternative for those who want to help the environment. And it's healthier too!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

BRT . . . Is that something to eat?

Government is infamous for throwing around acronyms. In transportation, BRT is shorthand for Bus Rapid Transit, a transportation service that is part of the long term vision for public transportation in the Lehigh Valley laid out in the Moving LANTA Forward. It’s a term applied to public transportation systems using buses to provide a service that is similar to light rail transit without the rails.

It is a form of transportation pioneered in Curitiba, Brazil! Curitiba, one of the fastest growing, most progressive cities in South America. More than 3 decades ago, Curitiba initiated municipal planning that merged transit friendly designed with land use. Starting with one line along a major corridor, the mode proved so effective that today, all of Curitiba’s main arteries have express bus lanes that are dedicated to ‘bus rapid transit’ service.

The features of this service: it is quick, has limited stops at boarding platforms and uses rubber-tired vehicles that function and provide amenities more akin to subway or light rail service.

See here ( for an article with more detail about Curitiba.

See here ( for an excellent video on BRT in Curitiba.

Land use is critical for optimal transit use with higher modes of transportation. LANTA is partnering with Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) to dedicate resources to educate the community and municipalities concerning land use and transit oriented design issues.

The Valley already has much of what is needed for an exceptional BRT in place already, but it is not consistent in key corridors.

The Moving LANTA Forward plan calls for service and capital improvements in the short and intermediate terms along “trunk” corridors which can act as a foundation for a future LANTA BRT network. Short and intermediate term service improvements along these trunks include enhancements to the frequency of service and the hours service is available. Potential capital improvements include passenger amenities, technology and ‘transit first’ improvements.

A couple of years ago, there was discussion about ‘rail’ and light rail alternatives in the Valley. When Congressman Dent responded and explored the concept with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in Washington, given the population density of the Valley, the FTA recommended exploring BRT as a first step. Congressmen Dent obtained a grant to provide LANTA with funds to examine BRT as an alternative and demonstrate its potential.

LANTA Planning staff is working now to begin this alternatives analysis as well as taking steps to define corridors for future BRT projects. Density remains an issue. The Lehigh Valley’s population is 625,000 within Lehigh and Northampton Counties. In urbanized Curitiba, the population is more than twice that: 1.75 million. With the mature BRT system in place today in Curitiba, 90% of this population is served. One of the questions that has to be answered is which comes first: the density or the higher mode of service?