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In efforts to decarbonize transportation, LVPC considers residents concerns, needs and opinions

Traffic in Lehigh Valley
Donna S. Fisher
For LehighValleyNews.com
Traffic at right moves north on Rt. 378 over the Hill to Hill Bridge, in Bethlehem, Pa. on February 9, 2023.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission has until March 1 to submit a Priority Climate Action Plan to reduce emissions from transportation, part of a $1 million federally funded initiative.

And it has been using the public to help build it.

Last year, planning commission officials announced they had received a $1 million infusion of federal funds after opting into the Climate Pollution Reduction Grant program, part of the federal Inflation Reduction Act.

Tasked with using those funds to develop a focused priority climate action plan, the planning commission decided to focus on decarbonizing transportation to guide its advising of municipalities in the region.

Having the priority plan will enable the commission to apply for more than $4 billion available in nationwide, competitive grants for the region, LVPC executive director Becky Bradley said in April.

After this effort, the planning commission will broaden its efforts to create a comprehensive climate action plan addressing all emission sectors in the valley, expected for next year.

In addition to climate impacts were health and air quality issues that come from these emissions, and the area's anticipated population growth.

For months now, the planning commission has been hosting intermittent workshop meetings in order to garner opinions, concerns and needs from local residents and officials.

LVPC staff Christian Martinez and Corinne Ruggiero
Jay Bradley
LVPC staff Christian Martinez and Corinne Ruggiero discussing feedback on priorities to pursue

At a public "WorkshopLV: Environment + Transportation" meeting on Wednesday, LVPC staff showed that improvements in air quality, health, alternative transportation and alternative fuel infrastructure were listed as the most important desired outcomes by participants in prior workshops.

The workshop included about two dozen planning commission officials, municipal officials, and interested members of the public.

Six measures established to mark reduction efforts

In October, a similar workshop introduced the initiative and had attendees note which priorities were most important for them in the immediate as opposed to what could be pursued farther into the future. Increasing opportunities and interconnectivity for mixed and alternative transit options were a favorite.

Officials said that after processing the previous four workshops' feedback, the planning commission had developed six measures to work towards addressing.

These were:

  • Implementing priority bicycle community corridors and prioritizing pedestrian networks
  • Increase transit passenger trips
  • Increase deployment of alternative fuel sources
  • Reimagine and retrofit major transportation corridors to include additional green spaces and enhanced native, non-invasive landscaping
  • Increase the number and geographic distribution of alternative fueling stations in the region
  • Implement smart technologies to reduce congestion

The suggestions that made their way into the plan from the public included greater bicycle network connectivity and parking, widening and shading sidewalks, enhancing multimodal access to green spaces, planning for future inclusion of alternative fuel vehicles and e-bikes, considering accessibility to electric vehicles for low income and disadvantaged communities, and emphasizing the need to develop strategies that can increase transit ridership.
A significant portion of greenhouse gases emitted in the Lehigh Valley are attributed to the transportation sector, said Corinne Ruggerio, an environmental planner for the commission.

The commission’s 2021 greenhouse gas inventory showed 75% of emissions came from gasoline-powered vehicles, while 24.5% was contributed by diesel vehicles, she said. Comparing Lehigh and Northampton counties, the former has more vehicle emissions both from highway and off-highway travel.

Prompted by prior feedback, areas of low-income communities were identified and used in the formulation of the measurements. Planning commission staff discussed how pursuing these could result in many health and cost benefits.

Bicycle Corridor Map
Jay Bradley
A maps shown of established and proposed bicycle and pedestrian networks in Lehigh and Northampton County, along with the goal of improving corridors

Susan Myerov, director of Environmental Planning said many of these are reinforcements of priorities the LVPC already has in some of their plans, such as the recently passed long-range transportation plan update.

"Hearing what we heard about the warehousing and the increased development, you're always trying to be proactive," Myerov said. "You want to make sure that we're integrating all of the planning and development and making sure that we're serving our resources. And then we're also helping to provide more resilient infrastructure."

"It's really important for us to get the information, and I really wanted to make sure that we let [attendees] know, we have listened to you, and we're trying to incorporate that."

In attendance were some municipal officials to hear priorities and give feedback, such as Easton City Councilwoman Crystal Rose, Bethlehem Township Commissioner John Gallagher, and North Whitehall Township Code Enforcement Officer Aubrie Miller.

"I think a lot of what the LVPC is working on and promoting for future initiatives, I think it's something that the city can take advantage as we continue our planning efforts," Rose said. "Personally, I think that the micro-mobility solutions will really help the city.

"We have Lafayette College, we have a lot of people moving in the city [into] apartments and as with our parking challenges, we want to reduce the reliance on automobiles, so anything we can do from adding, hopefully in the future, bike sharing programs, more routes with LANTA buses, and also highlighting those options I think will really help our residents and help pull more visitors into the city from our surrounding neighborhood municipalities."

Audience wants action, but notes responsiveness

Some attendees were anxious to move further forward, hoping to see more actionable steps at this point in the process.

"We have to get past the analysis, we have to start showing people what we're going to do - because you're going to lose folks," said Maria Ocasio, Lehigh Valley field coordinator for PennFuture.

Others like Bethlehem resident and sustainability consultant David Willey wished for the impact of and municipal handling of warehouses to be included in the document, given their impact on the region's traffic.

Planning commission meeting
Jay Bradley
Attendees at the meeting gave feedback, as well as heard updates to how feedback has been implemented so far

He noted that the planning commission has been active in integrating workshop contributions to the development of the document, and that while he has a lot of concerns about topics like water quality and warehouse development, Willey says he sees great opportunities for addressing issues in progressive, sustainable ways via planning efforts like this.

"I think they've been really responsive," Willey said. "I think it's first of all, great that they have these meetings where interested members of community can come and make suggestions and listen to the plans that they're developing and react to them. And I definitely noticed in the presentation today, some pretty specific things that were suggested at the last meeting."

Officials said that emissions data related to warehouses would be further separated out and examined under the comprehensive climate action plan.

The next public workshop on the topic is set for February 21 at 11 a.m. virtually, with more information to be found on the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission website.

Officials say the finalized document will be publicly available once completed.