LANTA’s Walkability Report Focusing on All the Wrong Places

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Through the Envision Lehigh Valley process, LANTA – the Lehigh Valley’s transit authority – did a study on walkable and transit-oriented development (called transit-supportive land use) that is just really weak sauce.

The TOD study was still quite auto-oriented, and totally copped out of mentioning the two most important factors that make a development transit-oriented: zoning supporting higher average building densities, and intentional scarcity of parking. Instead, they focused entirely on the site plans. This is what they think counts as TOD:

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Here’s what TOD actually looks like:

Working backwards, the point is that you can move way more people with a bus than if all those bus passengers drove cars, so you can orient your land use planning to be less accommodating to cars, and more accommodating to transit. You’re orienting your land use around transit (and conveniently pedestrians and bikes, etc.)

I brought this up to LANTA’s policy people and the response I got was that they understand it’s not really TOD or smart growth, but developers are going to keep building on greenfields in the exurban townships anyway so their goal is to make sure those places aren’t entirely inaccessible by bus. They want sidewalks in new developments, they want the road surfaces capable of supporting the weight of buses, and they don’t want people who work in the suburban shopping centers to have to run across huge wide roads like frightened deer.

And I get all that, but the report actually has no mention of what urban areas are supposed to do with this. And that is where the real walkablility challenges and opportunities are. Those are the places most able to tip toward a higher walking and biking equilibrium.

The current state of walkable planning in the Lehigh Valley features sidewalks to nowhere in the townships, and mostly stingy narrow sidewalks and some big wide roads in the cities. Over time the LV cities (except for downtown Easton) have intentionally made their core downtown areas less walkable, in order to give over more of the public space to cars.

The LANTA walkability study we actually needed would have told us that West Broad St and 3rd Street in Bethlehem, Hanover Avenue and Tilghman Street in Allentown, and Northampton Street (around the West Ward) in Easton badly need road diets and need to make other land use changes to encourage walkable infill development. Jeff Speck did a great report on what Bethlehem needs to do to be more walkable, and nobody at the city seems to have touched this since he presented it (though I know that newly-seated young City Councilman Adam Waldron loves this report.)

This doesn’t apply to all the roads mentioned but it involves widening sidewalks, narrowing travel lanes, eliminating turning lanes, putting a curb parking buffer between the street and sidewalk, banning street-facing surface parking lots and requiring buildings to abut the sidewalk, adding dedicated bike or bus lanes (key on Broad and Hanover Ave), and generally upzoning along these roads to encourage some taller buildings that can support walkable retail and restaurants, etc.

Walkability is basically just business density, or, how much interesting stuff there is to look at on your walk. If you have a boring or treacherous walk between home and work or other destinations, you’ll be more likely to drive.

LANTA didn’t touch any of the main factors that would get more people walking in the areas closest to the tipping point, perhaps not wanting to overstep into contentious areas like zoning and parking outside their jurisdiction, and it’s a real missed opportunity. People probably aren’t going to do any of this stuff anyway, so you might as well advocate for the correct understanding of the issues.

This entry was posted in Land Use, Transportation.