Avoid statistically inevitable outcomes…

We cannot ethically continue to design roads in a way we do not give pedestrians and drivers a fighting chance to avoid tragedies.

Current speed limits in many Lehigh Valley town centers simply do not give folks a fighting chance. That was the case was in Emmaus in May. The 11 year old who lost her life wasn’t the only victim. The elderly driver who has to live with this is also a victim. An investigation ruled correctly the driver was not at fault. The driver was obeying the posted speed limit.

Statistical reality caught up with us in the Borough that day. The same will happen in Macungie as it’s inevitable with the current design of Main St.

In Emmaus, the 11 year girl was an unforeseen variable. Problem is 11 year olds tend to do that. No matter how well raised. So do elderly, the disabled, pets, someone who leaves a restaurant and had a glass of wine with dinner. I can go on and on but you get the point.

By nature and by design town centers are full of unpredictable variables. (that comes with density) They are complex environments. It’s what makes them special places. Within them not everyone behaves in a predictable manner. This is a baseline. It is. You cannot change it. We have to accept it.

What can we change?

We can change the speed limit. We can change the road design to match the speed limit. The “inconvenience” factor relating drivers is negligible to non-existent.  Let’s quantify.

IF Chestnut St. was a straight shot with no stops, driveways, crosswalks etc. and considering the “business district” is 1 mile in length.

1 mile travel time: (roughly the length of Emmaus business district)
35 MPH – 1:45 seconds mile
25 MPH – 2:24 seconds to go 1 mile

Under the best (unlikely) scenario the difference is 39 seconds of travel time. Of course the route isn’t a straight shot. The road has traffic signals, crosswalks and driveways. Statistical reality is that your almost never going to have that “straight shot” through town. Therefore, accelerating to 35 mph for brief periods of time to get from one obstacle to the next won’t get you somewhere 39 seconds faster. Reality is  it’s just a few SECONDS quicker if anything at all. Not to mention the incredibly inefficient waste of gas/wear and tear on your automobile that comes with rapid accelerations/decelerations. And just the plain stupidity of accelerating from red light to the next.

On the flip slide there is an irrefutable and direct correlation between a 10 mph speed reduction and a reduction of both the frequency and severity of accidents. From 25 to 35 mph the death rate DOUBLES. (Triple A foundation for traffic studies) Full stop. Again, from 25 to 35 mph the death rate DOUBLES.
Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 11.06.59 AMGive everyone a fighting chance.
First, it’s my opinion you take the “convenience” of drivers where in measurable terms equals mere seconds of drive time completely out of the equation. It is an asinine argument. It’s also an inflated argument where perception isn’t reality. But let’s say it was. To think seconds of your time is worth putting yourself and everyone around you at higher risk is incredibly selfish and tragic.

Visual perception at different speeds.

Visual perception at different speeds.

Reducing the speed limit on Main St. Macungie (35 to 25) Chestnut street in Emmaus (35 to 25) and Hamilton Boulevard in Lower Macungie (from 40-45 to a consistent 35mph) needs to happen now. Followed by aggressive traffic calming strategies so the physical design matches the posted speeds.

I know for a fact Macungie Borough, Emmaus Borough and Lower Macungie Township have all requested over the years lower speed limits on Chestnut, Main St. and the Boulevard. The problem each time from what I understand is Penndot. Somewhere there is a disconnect. Penndots own smart transpiration guidebook outlines a 25 mph desired operating speed on a “Main Street“. In Lower Mac the catalyst for a request was actually Hamilton Crossings shopping center. Clearly,the developers understand slower speeds are good for business and the economy of the upstart Boulevard.

Common sense dictates lowering the speed limits. Standards reinforce it. Local municipalities who know the roads best have requested it. Residents have demanded it. So what is the issue here? When we set operating speed too high we have a statistical inevitable outcome of tragedy. 

What we know:

  • Slower speeds are safer for everyone
  • The loss of travel time is negligible to non-existent
  • Slower speeds in town centers actually ease congestion
  • Slower speed is better for downtown businesses

You can also sum up this entire argument here. ELIMINATE STROADS! As deadly as a STRAOD designed too fast through a Borough is, a STROAD designed with highway geometry seemingly for 55+ mph but posted artificially at 45mph or containing traffic signals is just as dangerous.

Very few roads should be posted between 35mph and 55mph. That is the tragedy zone. Design it as a road (get people from A-B) or make it a street (multi modal value capture) But please, STOP BUILDING STROADS.

STROADS: Dangerous Expensive Low return on investment

STROADS:
Dangerous
Expensive
Low return on investment

Lumber Street opening soon!

Lumber street will be opening any day now! Today, final touches were being completed in the form of line painting. Great work by Macungie Council getting this done and paid for. Clearly having one of the Boroughs main N-S connections on it’s local grid as a pot hole filled dirt road was a major problem.

I want to also give big compliments to the contractor JC & Son excavating. Having a property adjoining the road project I have to say they were nothing but great.  Yes, road construction is noisy. That’s a fact of life. The crew however was pleasant and helpful answering my many questions. And looks like they will complete the project on time. (early even?)

photo (59)

17 Ft!! Travel lanes. . . This will most certainly lead to excessive speeds. In almost all cases wide roads are fast roads…

This brings me back to the one criticism I had and feel even more strongly about now that the road is finished. And again note, this isn’t a criticism of council or staff. I happen to think Macungie right now has very good proactive council. This is a criticism of a dated SALDO and the outdated thinking it reflects. SALDO is the set of standards that dictate how we build infrastructure. Oftentimes they are boilerplate standards with no regard for the context of a community.

The fact is (I’d be shocked if it wasn’t) we just built THE fastest road in the Borough. 17 ft travel lanes!!!!! is excessive to the extreme. Federal standards for local roads are 9-12. 17 is pretty much insane. Again, it’s probably the result of what was dictated by the Borough’s SALDO. 

This reflects the old bigger is better mentality. One that makes no sense most places but definitely not in a small Borough.

Bigger in terms of streets always means two things:

1. The roads design speed will be much faster than the posted speed
2. More expensive to build and maintain.  

This translates to two things. If this road is say 30% too large, it will cost 30% more to maintain long term. And second, when design speed is too fast, people will drive too fast. This is regardless of what the posted speed is.

How do we fix this? I feel strongly that on-street parking should be allowed on at least one side. This would narrow the road and get more value and ROI for taxpayers. It would also go a long way to fixing the Borough (perceived) parking issues. . .

🙂

Macungie's parking problem?

Macungie’s parking problem?

Now of course I say that tongue in cheek as I honestly believe there is no parking problem in the Borough. Never was, and likely never will be. This is from the standpoint of both a current business owner and also former resident. But as it stands now the Borough now owns ALOT more blacktop. Shouldn’t we get our most bang for the buck out of our new ultra fast ultra big expensive road? (STROAD)

Macungie moves forward Main Street plans

I was one of a dozen business owners who presented a petition last year to Macungie Borough Council urging an update of the proposed traffic calming & walkability improvement plan. The ambitious street scape plan was first proposed as part of the 2010 Main St. revitalization report.

As a Main St. business owner, this very exciting. It’s an important statement for Macungie to retake it’s fate into our own hands. The statement is that Macungie remains a Main St. community open for business. It’s leaders are willing to proactively deal with increased traffic resulting from the reckless deviation from regional planning happening in Lower Macungie.

Small business and entrepreneurs seek traditional town centers. My business partners and I made a decision to locate our business on a traditional Main St. as opposed to a cookie cutter office building or bland strip. We wanted character & walkability. This is the strength and competitive advantage of Macungie. Many strip malls have seen this trend and now seek to emulate town centers with varying levels of success and failure. Macungie is the genuine article.

Our location is walkable to the post office our bank and accountant keeping our dollars hyperlocal “in the neighborhood”. Often when we choose to walk to lunch we have a dozen or so local eateries to choose from. The neighboring community park is a business asset offering a fantastic venue for outdoor meetings.

My next store neighbor on Main is a state farm insurance branch. The owner Tom Bartholomew moved the business from a township strip mall to Main for many of the same reasons. Just behind my new building the new Devine School opened this past year. That’s just my block. There is no denying businesses want to locate and invest in Main St. communities.

For that reason It is fantastic to see the borough also willing to make an investment in itself. This decision makes a bold statement about the Borough and reinforces it’s inherent strengths which will only attract more businesses who seek the same character others have.

Macungie Main Street Macungie Traffic Calming Macungie Streetscape improvements Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 12.01.58 PM Macungie Main Street Traffic Calming Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 12.02.05 PM

 

 

 

Macungie Borough probably doesn’t have a parking problem….

Continuing the parking theme this week. Moving over to Macungie Borough, the other municipality I spend a lot of time in. It’s where my business is located.

Perception is that Macungie has “parking problems”. As someone who parks in the borough daily I disagree. Rarely if ever do I have issues parking close to any destination I want to get to downtown.

How parking requirements hurt small businesses

To demonstrate my point I took a little walk. 11am on a Tuesday. Prime business time right? (NOTE: I’m am going to followup with the same exercise at night. I suspect we’ll be closer to peak parking since we have a lot of Main St. renters, but we’ll still have excess.)

From Park entrance to railroad tracks (what I’d call the business district):

  • 55 open spaces were completely unused. (this did include a loading zone and 30 minute parking spaces)
  • Only 33 spaces were actually utilized by vehicles.

To illustrate that here is what a 50 car parking lot looks like in the suburban model. Basically at 11am on a Tuesday you have this amount of parking in the downtown borough business district completely unused. If a box retailer had this amount of parking available during prime business hours would anyone call it an issue?

Parking for 50 cars is outlined in this photo. (CVS parking lot) This is basically equal to the amount of open parking in the borough of Macungie on any given weekday over lunch.

 Below are photos of the “Parking problem” Dec. 3rd (yes winter, but a nice winter day) at 11am. Like I said, going to try the same exercise tonight. See what we’re dealing with nighttime.

Macungie Borough 11am on a Tuesday. Parking issues?

Parking problems?

Yes, I do think Macungie has some issues with it’s Main St. business district. Tractor Trailer traffic is the biggest. The condition of the streetscape is next. But for some reason I hear parking most often. You don’t have a parking problem, until you have a parking problem. Parking issues are a symptom of a thriving business district. Excessive parking regulations are a barrier to a thriving business district. If a thriving business district is the goal, remove the barriers. Then deal with the by-products after you have success. Otherwise we’re just a place with a whole lotta parking, but not many places to go.

DEVELOPMENT WATCH: Productive discussion last night on Lumber St. new daycare closer to reality.

    

Last night Borough council approved plans to relocate Lumber St. clearing the way for the construction of a daycare center on the Lumber Street property.

This is a great plan for a couple reasons aside from obviously developing a gaping whole in the middle of the downtown streetscape.

1. Upgraded Lumber St. at reduced cost to taxpayer. Lumber St. now is pretty much a gravel road that sees a fairly high volume of traffic. It’s a shortcut for anyone coming into town from Brookside who turn onto Lehigh St. Someday regardless of what happens with the lumber yard the Borough was going to have to address the situation. The potential new owners of the property, Christine and Joseph Devineare essentially contributing 1 dollar for taxpayer dollar to upgrade the street.

This is a winner for the Borough. Instead of the taxpayer coming in and having to pay the lions share of 400,000+ dollars the borough is only on the hook for roughly half. Excellent example of a private/public partnership. Win/Win.

2. The Recreation component. With a land development plan the developer must either contribute land or pay a fee. The Devines have offered to dedicate the bank of the mountain creek as open space and a pathway to the Borough in lieu of paying. This potential dedication will make an excellent addition to the borough path system. Better yet, the borough can wait and decide on whether to accept the dedication after seeing the pathway, gauging usage and value to the community. Again it’s Win/Win.

3. Business people working together. If I have one fault with this plan it’s losing 3-4 spaces on Main due to un-avoidable site line restrictions. However, I’m very happy to see all the players involved working to build more off-street parking behind Main. If there is one commodity that is absolutely invaluable to a suburban Main St. it’s parking spaces adjacent to the downtown. My one comment is I would love to see the Devines or a combination of landowners involved in the deal replace the 3 public spaces being lost with dedication of 3 public spaces on the Main St. end of the project so there isn’t a net loss of public parking.

Macungie Farmers Market should collaborate with LMT

The Macungie Farmers Market is closed tomorrow for another car show. On Thursdays I usually try to take a walk over (my work is across the street) in the evening. Even if I don’t buy anything if it’s nice out I still enjoy the stroll and usually bump into someone I know. (though I usually can’t resist and end up buying something… I never regret it.)

I was thinking this morning. Lower Macungie Township currently does not have a farmers market. Other local communities do. Emmaus for one has a great one. No doubt its a great local asset.

I’m guessing but off the top of my head there are 4-5 weeks during the summer when there is no market due to car shows or other events in the park.

Wouldnt it be great if either LMT or Macungie stepped up and proposed a partnership to co-sponsor the market and for LMT to host it on weekends when Macungie Park is not available? The LMT community center is a stones throw away from Memorial Park.  I have no idea if this is feasible or if it’s something the farmers market association/borough/township would entertain. But if you’ve read my blog you know I’m a huge supporter of cooperation/sharing of resources between the boroughs of Alburtis, Macungie and LMT. (Regional police dept.) It simply geographically makes a ton of sense.

You could very easily split up the contributions made by each municipality by taking the number of weeks in the summer and dividing by the number of weeks LMT would host the market. LMT could contribute that amount for the weeks it hosts. The amount would be very very small. The market could then have a home during the weeks the park is unavailable and it would benefit from co-marketing. LMT would benefit from the co-branding. FYI Macungie borough’s contribution to the market currently is 5,000 dollars a year. A cost of less then 2 bucks per borough resident. The market also accepts donations in the form of sponsorships by local businesses. Well worth it in my opinion.

Just a thought….

 The Macungie Farmers’ Market is a producer/grower market committed to providing locally grown, fresh food; to preserving our agricultural heritage; and to building community.  The Market helps support local agriculture by connecting farmers with consumers.  This means that you buy directly from the farmers and artisans themselves, not from third parties or re-sellers. Since all vendors are producing these products for you, they can often explain best handling and preparation methods and are always willing to offer FREE advice.

Development Watch: Latest on the Macungie Lumber Yard Property

Two weeks ago at Macungie council, a couple came before the board to discuss their vision for the future of the Shelley Lumber Yard. Christine Devine and her husband would like to place adaycare center on a one-acre portion of the parcel closest to Lehigh Street.

The lumber yard property is bounded by Lehigh and Main. Lumber Street runs through the middle. Lumber Street is a public borough road. 

The tract has been vacant since the Lumber facility was demolished years ago. The 2010 downtown revitalization plan identified this tract as high priority for re-development due to it’s centralized location. (URDC facilitated the plan. Note: same firm that is going to tackle the LMT smart growth implementation plan)

Council was receptive to the plan, but had a few concerns. It’s important to note the plan on the table calls for development of only 1 acre of a total 5.5 acres. The reason the applicant is submitting this in steps is because the Devines would like to have the daycare open by August of next year. Questions regarding Lumber Street may be avoided temporarily by only developing 1 acre now.

Concerns centered around Lumber Street and bus access. If you’ve been on Lumber Street, (I am couple times a week) to say it needs some attention is an understatement. It’s basically a loosely defined gravel road. Lumber is the only way trucks can access businesses on Lehigh Street. (for ex. Lehigh Surfaces)

There was discussion on who would be responsible for future upgrades to the street. The 2010 plan suggested relocating Lumber Street to the edge of the property opening up more space and possibilities for the rest of the parcel.

The other concern was bus access to ensure school vehicles do not enter Lehigh St. from Brookside Road. This intersection is dangerous due to poor sitelines.

My take: This could be a great start to re-developing this brownfield.

The couple currently operates two Daycares in the area. Members of the public had nothing but nice things to say about the business and the Devines. If the concerns noted by council can be addressed, then this could be a great start to the re-development of this area.

I do agree that the intersection of Brookside and Lehigh is a concern and that Lumber Street is important to the success of this property as a whole. Council has to be sure they get it’s re-routing right. Meanwhile they must remember it is a public Rd. I think people would be surprised how hard it gets used, even in it’s current condition.

What do you think about the vacant lumber yard and this possible plan submission?

Macungie Borough Explores Historic Preservation Ordinance

Singmaster Home, Macungie PA
Now the Liberty Savings Bank, excellent example of rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings

A zoning amendment limiting the demolition of historical buildings built prior to 1940 is being proposed in the borough.

This is policy I believe is necessary to foster a revitalized downtown area. Historical preservation is proven to make boroughs more attractive to local businesses. Preservation should be a focus to enable a community to remain attractive, compact and walkable.

By fostering these characteristics rather then mimicking suburbia, the town’s uniqueness and charm is preserved allowing it to compete with sprawling suburban retail/commercial.

Macungie’s density, character, walkability and charm are assets that differentiate it from the sprawling void of strip malls in the township.

I get nervous when elected officials cite landowner rights as a catch-all in opposition to useful progressive policies as I heard at the Feb. 6 council meeting.

I’m a fairly conservative guy politically, however, I think the benefits of encouraging a revitalized downtown by protecting historical assets is clear.

It’s common practice to use zoning ordinances to regulate development in the best interest of the community. This amendment does not put an uneccesary burden on property owners and does not limit necessary maintenance and repair. The amendment also accounts for the Zoning Hearing Board to grant special exceptions for extenuating circumstances.

This simply prohibits demolition. Furthermore, it’s meant to “encourage continued use, appropriate rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings.”

A perfect example is the Singmaster home now occupied by Liberty Savings Bank. Certainly if someone were to come in and propose demolition of this building, it would be a tragic loss to the community. The plan is to preserve the home while expanding the back of the property to create a full service bank. This is excellent use of an existing property of historic value focusing on maintaining it’s character. It is my understanding that at one time a developer inquired about the land with the intent to demolish the building. This would have been a tragic loss of a valuable asset and landmark.

I am a resident of LMT. I am also a business owner on Main St. in the borough. I believe in regional planning and consider Macungie the Main Street of the broader community including the township. As a business owner looking to find a permanent home for our studio (we currently rent our space on Main) this is exactly the kind of policy I look for when considering locations, and communities to invest in.

If a borough isn’t interested in investing in itself, why would a business owner invest in it?