Lower Mac Truck Adventures

So when I see errant trucks on residential roads in our township I tend to (time permitting) follow them. I do this fairly often (since it happens very often) in an effort to try to figure out where they are coming from or heading to and why they end up in the wrong places (often dangerous places) so frequently.

Here is an example from last week where I happened to have someone in the car with me to take photos. My intention here is not to call out the individual driver (though in this case he exhibited some pretty egregious decision making) but rather continue to shine a light on the issue in an effort to try to find the solution. Not a bandaid, but the solution.

Variations of what you see below have become a common occurrence on the townships road network. On a daily basis. 

So first, this is what it’s like staring down an oncoming truck on Willow Ln. The worst part happens just before this when the truck forces your right wheels almost entirely off the road and into someones front yard. *Note we actually got word today that PennDOT is honoring the townships request to post signs restricting trucks on Willow Ln. This of course is only part of the battle. As now the inevitable need to enforce the signs is the next step.

Staring down an 18 wheeler on Willow Ln.

Clearly lost, a little further along still on Willow Lane (after a couple more encroachments at the S turns after the bridge) The truck pulled over for a good 5 minutes. Blocking the crosswalk. Probably I would guess seeking directions. Those directions (as evidenced in the following photos) did not help. . .

Pulled over on the shoulder… blocking a crosswalk

You would think the truck is heading to Rt. 100. And you’d be correct. But not before an inexplicable detour around Willow Lane Elementary/Fire Station. Next the truck took a right onto Millcreek Rd. making a big circle around the fire dept. WLES. Here in this photo it is turning onto Sauerkraut Ln. Blatantly ignoring that Sauerkraut is restricted “no trucks”.

Right hand turn onto road posted “no trucks”

Finally making it out to Rt. 100, here the truck lines up to make the right hand turn taking up the entire left turn lane of Willow. Any car that gets into the right lane will be in a blind spot.

Taking up entire left turn lane to go right.

So now we got a straight shot to the trucks destination on Industrial Blvd.? (Pratt Industries) You would think, but not quite yet. Some more inexplicable decision making and subsequent havoc to cause first. Next our truck adventure takes a detour onto Gehman Rd. Here is where the fun really begins.

Next maneuver takes two pictures. Upon approaching Scenic View the truck sees and apparently decides to obey the signs prohibiting trucks from heading further up to Mountain Rd. This is good. As a ton of property damage has been done up that way. So instead of taking Scenic View (which I have argued in the past should be restricted as it ends up being the “turnaround”) The truck executes a jack-knifed u-turn.

Truck pulls into oncoming traffic lane preparing to pull a u-turn.

The U-turn. Stopped traffic in all directions for a few minutes. Moments after this photo the truck completely jack-knifed it’s trailers pushing it sideways through the mud.

The rest of the story is comparatively un-eventful. Just your standard multiple oncoming traffic encroachments but the driver managed to finally and thankfully without an accident make it to the destination (Pratt) on Industrial Blvd via Rt. 100 to Alburtis Rd.

Almost a half hour later, thankfully the truck finally arrives at Pratt Industries completely it’s harrowing Lower Mac adventure through the residential heart of our township.



Roundabout FAQ’s

Roundabout FAQ’s in Lower Macungie:

Why are roundabouts being discussed now: Penndot policy is that at intersections where roundabouts could be built on state roads municipalities must now prove why a roundabout won’t work before constructing a traffic signal. The driver is safety. Roundabouts are statistically safer for both pedestrians and automobiles. There currently is no township plan for a roundabout. Just a discussion. The driver of the conversation at Willow and Sauerkraut is the planned Allen Organ supermarket and apartment complex which will add 200+ more units at Willow & Rt. 100. Developers are required to study all intersections that will be impacted by new projects. In this case Willow/Sauerkraut is one.

Federal Safety Statistics:
This is the key statistic: By converting from a signalized intersection to a roundabout, a location can experience a 78 percent reduction in severe (injury/fatal) crashes and a 48 percent  reduction in overall crashes. (FHWA safe roads for safer future)

There are literally volumes of research on the internet. But the generally accepted bottoms lines are this:
1. Accidents are reduced over time
2. Catastrophic accidents (fatalities) for both pedestrians and automobiles are drastically reduced.
3. In some cases the frequency of “fender benders” increases immediately after construction. This is the “learning curve”. This is rare, but could happen. Critics often point to this (while ignoring all other data). Almost every time it levels off and decreases to below pre-roundabout levels.

The same is for pedestrians. Pedestrians and cyclists have far less risk navigating roundabouts vs. typical intersections primarily because of the lower speeds. A pedestrian has an 85% chance of being killed by a vehicle traveling at 35MPH. This drops to 15% when the vehicle is traveling at 20MPH. There are also less conflict points (see below) the crossing distance is shorter, and there is oftentimes a refuge spot in a splitter island.

Roundabouts are not traffic circles: Nor are they rotaries (New England) or neighborhood circles. Immediately as an almost knee jerk and hysteric reaction folks claim “Jersey is removing their roundabouts”. Not true. Jersey primarily has had traffic circles. These are not roundabouts. The two have almost nothing in common. At one point New Jersey had over 100 traffic circles. Many circles have been removed or slated to be. These are not roundabouts. According to the Penndot presentation last night NJ has 4 actual roundabouts and is considering more. In fact most states are.

Roundabouts are NOT Traffic circles.

Roundabouts are NOT Traffic circles. Traffic circles and Roundabouts are not the same thing. A traffic circle is not a Roundabout. 🙂

These are are examples of Traffic Circles:

Marlton Circle: Traffic Circles are massive high speed mechanisms employed on arterials or interchanges.

Marlton Circle: Traffic Circles are massive high speed mechanisms employed on arterials or interchanges.

The former Brielle Circle Wall Township, New Jersey, Formally located where Route 34, Route 35, and Route 70 meet. Replaced in 2001 with an at-grade intersection with jughandles

New Jersey is removing circles not roundabouts. Here is the the former Brielle Circle Wall Township, New Jersey, Formally located where Route 34, Route 35, and Route 70 meet. Replaced in 2001 with an at-grade intersection with jughandles.

Below is a small single lane Roundabout: (This would likely be a proposal in Lower Mac) A roundabout is a compact one-way, circular intersection in which traffic flows counterclockwise around a center island. They DO NOT utilize signals in any way. (The Easton Traffic circle is not a roundabout, it is a large traffic circle with signals). The purpose of the design is to slow the speed of vehicles, keep traffic moving and drastically reduce conflict points. (see below)

Small low speed single lane roundabout in a suburban setting.

Small low speed single lane roundabout in a suburban setting.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 11.26.49 AM

Roundabout not only statistically see crash data drop for cars, but also pedestrians.

Conflict points reduced drastically for automobiles: (FHWA)

One of the indisputable advantages of roundabouts is the drastic reduction in conflict points. Roundabouts have ZERO vehicle crossing conflict points as opposed to the 16 vehicle crossing conflict points at signalized intersection. This is where most of the safety benefits arise from. Accidents are A. reduced in number over the long term and B. accidents that do happen are fender benders not fatalities.

One of the indisputable advantages of roundabouts is the drastic reduction in conflict points. Roundabouts have ZERO vehicle crossing conflict points as opposed to the 16 vehicle crossing conflict points at signalized intersection. This is where most of the safety benefits arise from.
Accidents are A. reduced in number over the long term and B. accidents that do happen are fender benders not fatalities.

But also for pedestrians: (FHWA)

Pedestrians are faced with simpler decisions at a time and they travel shorter distances.

Pedestrians are faced with simpler decisions at a time and they travel shorter distances.

COST: Roundabouts are the same cost to install and cheaper to operate long term. Frequently, roundabouts save money over the long term because they do not require signal equipment to install, power, and ongoing re-timing. Smaller roundabouts may require less right-of-way than traditional intersections and often less pavement is needed because additional pavement width is not needed for turn lanes. (FWHA) The advantages come long term, but the cost to install is roughly the same. This varies location to location according to PENNDOT.

Why do people oppose them? Public attitude: Roundabouts are almost always resisted. Oftentimes the resistance is almost hysteric. The public usually has an initial fear or negative opinion of roundabouts, but almost always after installation that opinion changes rapidly. This is after they’ve experienced the benefits.

Dark green is before. Light green is after. This is a compilation of before and after sentiment surveys conducted by the FHWA. People oppose roundabouts before they are installed, but after installation opinion rapidly shifts.

Dark green is before. Light green is after. This is a compilation of before and after sentiment surveys conducted by the FHWA. People oppose roundabouts before they are installed, but after installation opinion rapidly shifts.

Please note: I tend to have a favorable opinion about roundabouts since I am a data driven person. Therefore I can’t ignore the safety benefits. But I am very interested in how Lower Mac residents feel. In roundabouts I see a way to statistically reduce accidents. I also love the notion of keeping traffic moving as opposed to ANOTHER traffic signal.

I rank my preference for Willow/Sauerkraut as follows:
1. *Status quo (4-way stop) 2. Roundabout. 3. Traffic signal.
*To change anything on a state road we need to meet warrants. This can only be determined after a study.

Corporate Welfare

Last night at the township BOC meeting one colleague fellow Commissioner Ryan Conrad asserted that participating in the TIF is not “corporate welfare”.

It’s important residents understand where Commissioners stand on issues. This issue in particular outlines stark philosophical differences and approaches to land development, development subsidies and who should shoulder the costs of impacts both immediate and projected. Therefore it’s crucial residents understand very clearly without semantic interference where each Commissioner stands. Every four years we receive a job review in the form of an election. Therefore, I would be remiss if I didn’t clearly state that I fundamentally disagree with Mr. Conrads assertion in the strongest of terms. 

“Corporate welfare” in this instance has been used as a rallying cry for residents who by and large support the project but without the 20 year tax forfeiture. Some institutional supporters have tried to use semantics and word games to insist this doesn’t qualify as corporate welfare or that the townships decision on participating in the TIF could somehow derail the project. This is a disingenuous game and unfair to residents.

The facts remain:

1. If Lower Macungie participates in the TIF 50% of the developers incremental taxes will be siphoned away from the township.

2. The money instead is siphoned back to the developer and other private interests through LCIDA where it would be used to pay back construction bonds for basic improvements that are required of all developers seeking to do business in the township.

3. With this TIF, tax money is forfeited and instead used to pay for what otherwise would be the responsibility of the developer. In other words the normal costs of doing business. Infrastructure costs every other developer has to pay for themselves. In this case it is the bare minimum infrastructure improvements required by Penndot to build a shopping center of this magnitude.

4. The bottom line is that this mechanism pads the developers bottom line. TIF will increase profits of private business interests and decrease the return received by taxpayers. It is preferential treatment for one chosen business. It is a subsidy of both of the sellers flawed piece of land and of the buyer. It is a distortion of the market that will hurt other local businesses.

5. While you can argue that creating the TIF district could pull the plug on the entire TIF, (including the school district) the townships participation (remember they are 2 separate ordinances and two separate votes) is purely symbolic and will have absolutely zero impact on the developer building the project. In other words, with or without the township participating in the TIF this shopping center is coming. This is a certainty. I can’t be anymore clear about that. There have been attempts to blur this line. 

Lower Macungie’s participation in the TIF is giving one developer receiving special treatment for purely symbolic reasons. We are a relatively affluent township with a healthy and robust economic climate, therefore TIF is unnecessary and borderline egregious to even consider.

A vote for the TIF is a vote to take money out of the pocket of Lower Macungie residents and funnel it to private interests over a 20 year period. This is compounded by the fact some Commissioners seated on this board just recently voted to raise taxes.

If any Commissioner believes this is the right thing to do, then they should stand by that decision and not try to rationalize it by making statements like “The developer still pays 100% of it’s taxes” while ignoring the fact that half those taxes are siphoned away from the township back to the developer by padding their bottom line through the Lehigh County Industrial Authority. The other misleading notion I’ve heard is no “corporation is receiving a direct subsidy. Last time I checked TCH development and The Goldenberg group are in this to make money. They are indeed both private businesses who will benefit from TIF subsidy in terms of increased profits. No, the “nameplates” Costco and Target aren’t the direct beneficiaries but they are indirect beneficiaries. No matter how to slice it private interests are the gov’t sponsored winners in this shell game and taxpayers and other local businesses are the losers.


Thoughts on East Penn School District and Hamilton Crossings TIF

I attended the School Board meeting last night as an interested taxpayer and watched the debate about TIF. The decision was disappointing but I felt the debate was moreso. Important points were completely missed. The board by and large failed to look at the situation from a big picture standpoint. Some compartmentalized the decision and limited the thought process to a single parcel instead of evaluating the economics of the decision regionally. End of the day the board voted 5-4 to remain a part of the Hamilton Crossings TIF. Earnshaw, Bacher, Ballard, Fuller and Rhoads voted for the TIF. Vinovskis, Munson, Donches and Heid voted against it. (for the motion which was a vote against the TIF)

The bottom line is Lower Macungie isn’t just growing an industrial and commercial base our base is pretty much about to explode. At the same time single family home construction the primary driver for school age kids has ground to a halt. Certain school directors seemed oblivious to that. I found it a bit alarming. How do you make a decision about the application of an economic development tool meant for distressed communities without considering the bigger economic picture? How can you make an economic development calculation when compartmentalizing the districts forecast to one parcel seemingly oblivious to what’s going on around it? This decision shouldn’t have been made considering one parcel in isolation. It should have been made considering the whole picture.

I’ve written here before about the objective criteria I apply when considering a TIF. For me it centers around the ‘but for’ test. The name comes from the expression, “Development in a community would not occur but for the use of TIF.”

To evaluate this criteria you have to look at the big picture of Lower Mac and ask without TIF do we have economic development in the East Penn School District? The answer is absolutely. Therefore by using a TIF when it’s not necessary we skew the market. By applying TIF in a healthy growing local economy we’ve hurt the development potential of other commercial sites. This matters for the school district because these other sites would have paid 100% of there tax burden. The mistake is compounded by the fact that millions of dollars in new assessed value is coming to the districts coffers from industrial projects immediately in the next 5 years. This isn’t speculation. We’re talking approved or nearly approved projects.

Bad decision. Plain and simple. I always felt this was a bad deal for the township but at first I actually thought it was at least an understandable decision for the school board. The more I thought about it my opinion changed over the last 6 months. Why? Because I started looking at the big picture.

Where I sit today as a taxpayer of 2 school district properties (my home and my business) I’m going to resent last night’s decision to leave money on the table the day directors vote to raise my taxes. This will unfortunately happen sooner rather then later. Big picture we never address underlying issues. We just chase development and bury our heads in the sand.

GET INVOLVED: Do you live in Lower Macungie? Township Commissioners will consider TIF next. The public hearing is this Thursday. Consideration of this topic will start no later then 8pm at the township building. More information here.

Thoughts from Lehigh Valley Developer Symposium

Nice event today at Desales. Great work by the organizers. 3 presentations of note. First on economic forecasting, another about the large projects going on in the valley, (Criz, Niz & Chrin) and lastly what I was really interested in was current real estate development trends. #LVBRES

#LowerMacungie was mentioned in the final 1 hour presentation no less then a dozen times due to our explosive growth in the area of Industrial distribution warehouses. One of the panelists was Mr. David Jaindl of the Jaindl Land Development Co. The panel was moderated by Don Cunningham of LVEDC.

Continue reading

Lower Macungie Commissioners Agenda Preview 2/6/14

FYI –  In these previews I may indicate thoughts on an issue, but it in no way means my mind is set. During a critical hearing for the Jaindl issue, a Commissioner spoke before public comment outlining he was voting to move forward the project regardless of what people said during public comment. That was wrong. Public debate was circumvented when the Commissioner indicated his mind was made up.

My hope is by blogging I open the door for conversations. One of my biggest issues with the Jaindl debacle was folks didn’t truly understand what was happening until it was “too late”. I plan on doing everything I can to make sure residents have background information on issues. This is one mechanism to do that. I hope people find it useful. Please contact me at ronbeitler@gmail.com if you have any questions or concerns about any issues.

Another light agenda this week. Most committees are meeting for the first time since reorganization last week, this week and next week. The next meeting will likely be a beefier one.

Announcements & Presentations – None

Hearings & Approvals – None

Public Comment on non-agenda items
-Two statements of interest for Zoning Hearing Board. (What is zoning hearing board?) Folks interested can still apply. Apply here.

-Two statements of interest for Audit Advisory Board and one for Public Safety Commission.

-LMT Planning Commission – Recommendation for BOC approval to create a steering committee to establish a Capital Planning roadmap modeled after Penndot’s 12 year plan. A capital improvement plan is a tool used to assess the long term capital project requirements of a government entity. The purpose for LMT is to evaluate requests for capital items such as maintenance of parks, trails, sanitary sewer, storm water management, open space preservation, public works and fire equipment. The written plan would hopefully identify and describe capital projects requests,rank priority, forecast the years in which funding each project is to occur and methods of funding. I support this initiative. Without a long term capital projects roadmap smart growth planning is incomplete. At it’s core, smart growth is important because it lays out a sustainable financial roadmap for our township. Planning ahead for capital needs is critical.

There are 3 letters dealing with snow removal this week. 1 suggestion, 1 complimentary and 1 complaint.

1 request for installation of walking path at Church Lane Park. (see above capital improvements planning!)

Lastly, we have a letter from a resident concerned with tractor trailers turning right onto East Texas Rd. off of Brookside. This is a major concern. One of the biggest priorities over the next 4 years is establishing how we’re going to proactively deal with Tractor Trailer traffic in the township. With the proliferation of warehousing in the township due to the unfortunate tragic rezoning of 100’s of acres of farmland to industrial we face no bigger safety and quality of life issue. I consider this a planning, public works and public safety issue.

Appointments to Boards – None

Planning: Approved MS4 Permit OVERVIEW: The federal Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants into waterways without the appropriate permits. Pennsylvania’s Stormwater Management Act MS4 Program, Chapter 102, and NPDES Permit Program for Stormwater Discharges Associated with Construction Activities are amongst the Commonwealth’s methods for meeting the runoff-related requirements of the Clean Water Act. For all practical purposes, though, implementation of stormwater management efforts in Pennsylvania occurs at the community level because individual municipalities are ultimately responsible for adopting zoning ordinances, subdivision and land development regulations, and other programs that keep their locality’s runoff under control. Note: this is an area I am familiar with but need more information about. I will hopefully be meeting with staff tomorrow for a primer on this subject prior to the BOC meeting.

There will be a joint workshop of the Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners on Feb 18th. I will post the agenda when it is set.

Committees:  Here is a link to a list of committees & corresponding responsibilities.

At first meetings of the year the Committees will be establishing goals for the year. This was a request by President Conrad. I will outline these goals in a future blog post.

Planning & Zoning – The planning and zoning committee will meet Feb 12th.

The planning commission has nominated Barry Isett and Associates to conduct the East Texas comprehensive planning. We rec’d a 10,000 matching grant from the county to pay for this. The purpose of this study is to explore zoning and planning options for the East Texas area of the township.

We will explore adopting a new Village Zoning District for East Texas that allows a mix of lower-intensity commercial and residential uses. The idea is to use Traditional Neighborhood Development principles as part of infill construction or any redevelopment of parts of any portion of Day-Timers not utilized by a future tenant.  Zoning should help preserve and enhance the historic character and walkability of the village.

These concepts as they relate to LMT are also outlined in the townships draft smart growth plan.

Authorize to advertise: Ordinance prohibiting trucks beyond scenic view on Gehman Rd. I want to see where the signs will be placed. I believe it’s important to avoid signage placed in a way that we encourage trucks to use Scenic View (through a residential neighborhood) as an “out” when they realize they cannot proceed further towards Mountain Rd.

Approval of Street Sweeper and Truck Bid: This is to replace public works equipment. This was reviewed by the prior board as a part of the 2014 budget process.

Work order process for engineering projects: This came out of a recommendation by the Audit Advisory Board to review internal policies for engineering projects.

Review Board/Commission appointment policy regarding the need to interview incumbents. I feel strongly that incumbents should interview each time they are up for re-appointment. Some boards (such as zoning hearing board and planning commission) have people turned away due to lack of open spots. Appointments can sometimes be for up to 4 year terms. I absolutely think incumbents should re-apply for open positions and be interviewed in person at a public meeting.