LV Spotlight: Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority (LANTA)
By Andrew Kleiner on August 25, 2019
This article originally appeared in the August 22, 2019 issue of “LV Connections,” a quarterly newsletter LVEDC distributes to municipal officials in the Lehigh Valley.
In each issue of “LV Connections,” we feature a Municipal Spotlight column spotlighting local municipalities and entities from across the Lehigh Valley. This quarter, LVEDC is proud to feature an interview with our regional partner, the Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority (LANTA), which has been serving the Lehigh Valley with public transit for over 40 years. The answers below have been provided by LANTA Executive Director Owen O’Neil.
Q: Ideally, how would LANTA like to work with Lehigh Valley municipalities and how would LANTA suggest municipal leaders get involved with their organization?
O’Neil: In recent years, LANTA has established relationships with a number of municipalities in the Lehigh Valley to introduce our transit supportive land use agenda. Such initiatives include getting LANTA on the initial checklist of selected entities to review submitted land development plans to provide comment to the municipal planning commission based on the proposed project and how it relates to our existing service, as well as potential feasibility for future routing. LANTA works in close partnership with LVPC and receives projects of regional significance to review for comment as well. We follow the development growth patterns in the Lehigh Valley, particularly the current and future growth trends of industrial warehouse and distribution centers in suburban and rural municipalities of the Lehigh Valley, primarily outside of LANTA’s traditional urban core service area.
We recommend to all municipalities and the developers and engineers associated with their projects to engage with LANTA early in the design development process. We want municipalities and developers to understand our existing routing, and encourage infill development along our existing routes. We are trying to meet ridership demands as the region grows and develops, but we need their support. We need the support from municipalities who are under the same growth pressures to hear our recommendations for corridor sidewalks and subsequent pedestrian connectivity, bus shelters, bus pull-offs, and other transit amenities to accommodate efficient and safe bus stops. We need frequent communication with municipalities as we need to hear their vision as well. We can only plan our land development reviews accordingly if we know the vision of the hosting municipality.
Q: How could public transportation help ease congestion in high traffic areas?
O’Neil: LANTA has developed a plan for Enhanced Bus Service in the urban core of the region to address the high demand corridors in the transit network. Enhanced Bus is a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) like vision which utilizes aspects of a light rail system along with the cost efficiencies of a bus network to expedite trips and reduce congestion in high traffic corridors. The Enhanced Bus Plan includes two elements – first is a service plan for where, when, and how the service itself would operate. This includes the introduction of limited stop express service under which the bus only stops at designated stops rather than at all marked stops. This helps to reduce travel time on the transit system. The second element is a series of recommendations for roadway improvements that are designed to expedite bus travel speeds including traffic signal prioritization for transit vehicles along key corridors; queue jump lanes for buses at bottleneck intersections; and sidewalk extensions at key intersections to provide additional space for bus stop amenities and to allow buses to stay in travel lanes when boarding or deboarding passengers. While LANTA’s Enhanced Bus Plan lays out an ambitious vision for what such a network could look like in the Lehigh Valley, it is not financially feasible under current funding levels. Funding mechanisms which allow for growth will need to be identified for both the roadway improvements as well as the ongoing operating expenses of the service enhancements.
Q: Could you discuss the role that a strong public transportation system plays in regional economic development?
O’Neil: It is important to note that on any given day, 50% to 55% of riders on LANTA buses are going back and forth to work. Another 10% to 15% are going back and forth to school. These two figures alone show the importance of the regional transit system in allowing households to access employment, education, and training. From the standpoint of employers, the regional transit system allows them to expand their pool of potential employees and reduce employee turnover due to the lack of reliable transportation. An accessible and reliable workforce is a key component in attracting and retaining employers in the region. Also, in the urban core including the downtowns or our cities and boroughs, transit can alleviate the need to dedicate valuable real estate to car parking and put that land to purposes that bring about higher economic yields. A strong public transportation network improves the overall quality of life of a region by expanding affordable mobility for all residents, allowing them to participate in the local economy through either work or by patronizing businesses in the area; and more importantly to enjoy the benefits of life in the Lehigh Valley such as parks, trails, and cultural attractions.
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