Thursday, January 3, 2019

Bethlehem for the win!


Congrats to the movers and shakers of Bethlehem for winning the 2018 “Commonwealth Awards” for Smart Growth development in Pennsylvania.  The Awards, given out annually by 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania (full disclosure: they have been a client of mine), showcase the best development in the state. 
Bethlehem is a real success story.  Stuck with the largest brownfield in the US in the aftermath of Bethlehem Steel’s closure, they have built on their strengths and turned around their weaknesses, now calling Bethlehem – with some justification – “the coolest small city in America.”
Some keys to their success: casino money (Sands) carefully targeted for redevelopment, a transformative mayor (John Callahan, one of the honorees), active colleges (Lehigh, Moravian), supportive business and civic groups.  As Callahan pointed out, there was no guarantee of success and many cities with similar challenges have failed to overcome then.
The old Bethlehem Steel brownfield site is now home to the Artsquest Center (website here), the Christkindlmarkt Christmas market, concerts, and more.  The impressive old Bethlehem blast furnace complex (“SteelStacks”) has been kept as a monument to the past and a focal point for the future.
Some of my favorite new projects:
·      Southside Commons – A new apartment complex for Lehigh upperclassmen and grad students, linking the university to the Southside business district (link here)
·      Five10Flats - Another new apartment complex on the Southside, this one offering “upscale urban living,” complete with a Starbucks, fitness center, rooftop terrace, and an indoor dog wash (here).
·      South Bethlehem Greenway – A rails-to-trails multi-use greenway connecting many of the Southside activity centers (here).
Congrats to the civic leaders of  Bethlehem for their efforts and congrats also to 10,000 Friends for their continued leadership for Smart Growth in Pennsylvania.



Friday, December 7, 2018

Méi gutt Noriicht (more good news) from Luxembourg!


About 11 months ago I wrote about Luxembourg’s cool new tram system (here).  Now an even better story from that small but impressive country: they are going to try no-fare public transportation (story here).
Will it work?  Hard to say.  But it’s delightful to see a bold experiment in transitioning to an environmentally friendly 21st-century transportation system.  Especially as in the US we are boldly moving toward the 19th century!


Thursday, November 15, 2018

My favorite bridge defends itself in court


My favorite bridge – the Headquarters Road Bridge in Upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania – has to defend itself in court.  The Delaware Riverkeeper (my client in this affair) is suing FHWA and PennDOT to prevent them from demolishing this 200-year-old one-lane bridge, which sits at the heart of a rural historical district, to replace it with a modern, two-lane structure.  It’s sad to think that the future of this beloved little bridge couldn’t be determined through real collaborative planning.  Or at least it hasn’t happened yet.
My thoughts are summed up in the quote I did for the press release:
“This is a land of narrow, winding, country roads and one-lane bridges that are well-suited to the scenic, rural character of the place.  A two-lane bridge here – at the heart of the Ridge Valley Rural Historic District – is both unnecessary and out of place.  I’m also concerned that building a two-lane bridge here will cause new safety problems by encouraging higher speeds and more truck traffic in an area where you don’t want to see those things.”
Press account here.

(Photo courtesy of the Delaware Riverkeeper)

Thursday, November 8, 2018

How to speed up the delivery of bike-ped projects


People outside the transportation agency world often think that bike-ped projects (sidewalks, bikeways, bike lanes, etc.) should be quick and easy to design and build.  But it ain’t necessarily so.  These projects often have problems and issues just like other, larger projects, including competition for funding, lack of expertise, controversy within agencies, controversy with the local community, and – wait for it – challenges from environmental agencies.
There are ways of speeding up these projects, and I’m happy to have been part of a great team that has put together a workbook filled with tips for doing just that.  Sponsored by FHWA, the workbook is entitled “Strategies for Accelerating Multimodal Project Delivery” and is available here.  Also available on that webpage are a related slideshow and access to a webinar (including my dulcet tones).  The document is based not only on the pooled expertise of the authors but also on extensive conversations with many practitioners, who shared their experience with us.  All this information has been distilled into easy-to-use text, with case studies and links to other sources.
If you are involved in any step in the project development pipeline for bike-ped projects, I think you will find this workbook very useful.



Thursday, November 1, 2018

BBC story on German “hydrogen train”


A few weeks ago I commented on the new hydrogen fuel cell train now in revenue service on a commuter line in Germany (here).  This promises to be transformative technology and bears following.  The BBC has now done a story (here) which gives another (video) look at the new train.



Friday, October 12, 2018

New climate report: What we need to do to stave off disaster


So the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has published a new report (here) focusing on what sounds like a very technical question, but one that turns out to be very important.  The issue is what the difference would be in letting the world warm by 2°C over pre-industrial times (the most widely shared goal) as opposed to 1.5°C (a more aggressive target) and what are the policy “pathways” that would get us to one target or another.  It turns out that that half a degree extra means a whole lot of bad things happening by the end of this century.  Unfortunately, holding global warming to 1.5°C will be much more difficult than holding it to 2°C.  In the words of the press release:  “The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require ‘rapid and far-reaching’ transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.”  Reviewers have seized on the 2030 date as a sort of deadline for staving off disaster, although I think it’s probably more accurate to say that the report writers are saying that the data shows we need to be on a very steep trajectory for decarbonizing to avoid a rapidly worsening situation.
With respect to transportation, the report discusses strategies for achieving this target for the various modes.  For instance, electric cars are already spreading rapidly, while technical solutions for rail and aviation are more problematic.  In the case of freight, operational improvements may do more than technical breakthroughs in the short run.  The conclusion: “Deep emissions reductions in the transport sector would be achieved by several means…Since there is no silver bullet for this deep decarbonisation, every possible measure would be required to meet this stringent emissions outcome.”  In other words, the “all of the above” strategy.
The report doesn’t really break any new ground on transportation issues, although it is solidly grounded in current research.  What it does do is underscore the urgency of action.  My own takeaway is that we should concentrate on those areas that we know how to advance – notably phasing out internal combustion engines for light duty vehicles.  (If anything, I find the report too conservative on this point.)
The report has so far had limited impact – certainly in the U.S.  (One commentator noted: “You may have not seen the IPCC climate change report because the mainstream-media focus quickly shifted to the fight between Donald Trump and Taylor Swift.”)  I think part of the problem is that the report itself is not only highly technical, but is poorly written.  (The “Summary for Policymakers” would fail the attention span test of any policymaker I have ever worked with!)  Hopefully, however, the report will percolate through climate change and transportation professionals and push us a few steps forward toward the urgent action we need to take.



Thursday, October 4, 2018

DVRPC long-range plan video tells the story


Anyone who’s ever been responsible for a long-range transportation plan (been there, done that, no t-shirt) will appreciate the difficulty of gaining stakeholder and public involvement and ensuring that the “message” of the plan is communicated back through those stakeholders and (to at least some extent) the broader public.  Communication is vital to effectiveness.
One of the agencies that does this best is the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, the MPO for the greater Philadelphia area (full disclosure: I am a long-time partner of DVRPC, wearing various hats, and currently serve on the Futures Group). 
I recommend you watch their new 5-minute video (here), which does a great job of telling the story of the region’s long-range plan in a simple narrative with vivid images.  Note particularly how the video involves key local elected officials, agency heads, and stakeholders as storytellers, often speaking to the parts of the story that are most salient to their constituencies or expertise (e.g., PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards speaks to funding challenges, including the future of the gas tax; Montgomery county commission chair Valerie Arkoosh, who is a doctor by profession, speaks to healthy communities; Camden mayor Frank Moran, whose city has a major poverty problem, speaks to the need for inclusive economic development). 
Well done, DVRPC.
Oh, the other challenge for long-range planners:  now that the 2045 long-range plan is in the can, it’s time to start working on 2050!