PA: Options Key to Midstate Transportation Planning

April 27--Local transportation planners say area communities daily discuss bicycle and pedestrian facilities as municipalities work alternative transportation plans into land-use policies.

"There's no question that there's a definite interest," said Tim Smith, transportation planning coordinator with Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, which covers Cumberland, Perry and Dauphin counties. "Of course, everything seems to come with a cost."

Finding the money to pay those costs is the source of some debate.

Multi-modal focus

An increased focus on bicycle and pedestrian networks comes as communities take their cues from the federal government, which encourages the use of all modes of transportation, said Craig Layne, commission spokesman.

Tyce Herrman, project coordinator at the Center for Sustainability Education at Dickinson College, said there were many reasons to encourage cycling, in particular.

"For us (the Dickinson community), we made a commitment to reducing carbon emissions. One of the largest contributors to that is the faculty and staff commute," he said.

Commuting options are especially important for Millennials, said Marilyn Chastek, a member of the advocacy group Bicycle South Central PA. Unlike previous generations, they are coming out of college without a job and end up "floating."

She said it's essential that people have alternatives, such as riding a bike to a park-and-ride location for Capital Area Transit where they can then catch a bus.

Richard Norford, president of Bicycle South Central PA, said companies also are rethinking where they locate because their workers don't want to own a car.

"Nationally, car ownership has peaked, particularly among Millennials," Herrman said. "I don't own a car, and I save so much money by not owning a car."

Because it's important to give people options for their daily commute, it's also important to give them the facilities to make sure it's safe for the to bike or walk, Layne said.

Safety was one of the driving concerns behind the creation of Carlisle's bike and pedestrian trail.

Before establishing that trail, Carlisle Borough had the beginnings of a trail system, but elements of the system weren't connected. That limited residents' ability to use the borough's trails for transportation or recreational purposes, said Andrea Crouse, the borough's director of parks and recreation. The lack of an integrated network presented safety issues.

"One very good example of improving bike and pedestrian safety is with the creation of the Valley Meadows, Forbes Path and the Dickinson trails," Crouse said, noting that residents on the west end of the borough can bike or walk into town without having to travel on Route 11.

Cyclists burn replenishable energy, and cycling itself builds a stronger community, Norford said.

"If a community is a good place to ride a bike, it is a good place to live, a good place to work and a good place to play," he said.

Smith said there's a trend in communities to better support bicycle transportation for "all the reasons you would expect" -- including saving energy, improving health and pleasure.

"They want to make it better, but where do they find the funds to do so?" Smith said.

Finding funding

For the first time, funding designated specifically for multi-modal transportation -- including bicycle and pedestrian facilities -- was included in the transportation bill signed by Gov. Tom Corbett last November. The bill put $144 million into the fund, creating investment grants which will grow with the rate of inflation beginning in 2015.

Bicycle and pedestrian initiatives will have $2 million in grants available in both fiscal year 2014 and 2015.

Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-199, said the funding is law and it will happen, but the best stewardship would be to focus on necessities.

"With transportation dollars being scarce in this commonwealth, I believe we need to focus those dollars on the necessities before the 'nice to have' transportation options," he said. "To me, fixing our bridges and maintaining highway safety should come first."

Norford said the state funding will mostly be used for studies, and the municipalities will have to come up with a local match for the grants. The results of the studies will incur more costs. Still, he's optimistic.

"It's a step in the right direction," he said.

Funding for projects to create or improve bicycle and pedestrian facilities comes from multiple sources including federal funding and grants.

"It's putting pieces of the puzzle together," Layne said.

One such federal program is the transportation alternatives program, which emphasizes providing infrastructure to bicyclists and pedestrians. The funds can only be used for construction, so applicants are expected to cover pre-construction costs should their projects be selected.

One statewide project will be awarded about $26 million, and one project in the area served by the Harrisburg Area Transportation Study will be awarded about $900,000 in the current round of grant funding.

Locally, the Regional Connections Grant Program channels federal funding through PennDOT to studies and plans that foster inter-municipal relationships, link transportation to land use goals and support smart growth principals. Two of the four grant winners this year feature bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

The Regional Bicycle Connections Study will look at bicycle routes and low cost change to improve the connections between Harrisburg and nearby municipalities in Dauphin and Lebanon counties. The $36,000 grant will be matched with $9,000 from local sources.

The Allendale-Beacon Hill Trail project was awarded a $20,000 grant, to be matched by $5,000 locally, to fund the design phase of a trail extension connecting Lower Allen Township and New Cumberland. The design includes environmental assessments and permitting that will result in a shovel-ready construction project.

Copyright 2014 - The Sentinel, Carlisle, Pa.