Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lancaster PA, VMT Champ

I haven't been able to read the Brookings Report that just came out, but an article in the Portland DJC alerts us to something interesting. Lancaster PA is second behind New York in VMT per capita. It seems as if its partially due to its low VMT overall.

I hadn't heard much about Lancaster before the Streetcar issues that have been going on there with the FTA but the little interaction I've had is with Google Earth. The first thing you notice (if you're a nerd like me) is that the major freeways stay relatively far away from the center of town, there is a grided street pattern throughout the city, making walking, biking and transit more likely, and the Amtrak station actually serves fairly frequent trains to Philadelphia.

Eisenhower was freaked out by the idea of freeways going through our cities. It was pushed through anyways as the people who took over the Interstate program showed no mercy in cities. Perhaps this is a case study of what happens when we keep them out.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do horse buggies count as vehicles?

Morgan Wick said...

I read (on the FHWA site no less!) that Eisenhower didn't even know the Interstates were going to be pushed through cities until it was too late. Had he known, he might have been able to do something about it.

As of the 2000 census, Lancaster is the third-largest metro area, by my reckoning, not to have an Interstate highway run through its main town, behind Fresno and (marginally) Bakersfield, both of which have CA 99 running through them, which is practically an Interstate anyway. (The definition of a "metro area" seems to have broadened since then.)

Alon Levy said...

That study is just crap. First, I don't trust any numbers out of Brookings, not since their study about per capita CO2 emissions by metro area that understates the emissions level by a factor of about 5. Second, the data is terrible: the graphs use different scales and different keys when a uniform key would be necessary to establish a trend, the analysis talks about changes in overall VMT per state when some states' populations grew 30% while others' did not grow at all, and the headline graph of VMT in the last fifty years makes it unclear whether the current reduction is permanent or temporary.

Anonymous said...

I spent four years in college near Lancaster (in Elizabethtown), and I drive past it every summer on my way to the Jersey shore. I can attest to the nightmare that is driving around Lancaster. The PA 283/US 30 interchange that you've shown, north of the city, was under construction for nearly a decade, back in the 90s. It's nice that the freeway was kept out of the city, but it's facilitated such massive sprawl north of the city that the highway system just can't keep up.

ian said...

That has got to be the dosh-garndest cutest little town Birds Eye view has ever shown me!

Cavan said...

Washington DC is another excellent case study of what happens when freeways are cut through cities vs. when they aren't. Compare SW DC to NW DC. The SW quadrant got the 1950's "urban renewal" treatment, freeway and all. It is now mostly devoid of streetlife. The NW quadrant had all its freeways cancelled. There is streetlife galore in many different neighborhoods. Driving is no fun. As well it shouldn't be. We have an excellent Metro and a lively city.

M1EK said...

Amish, Mennonites, and lots of other agricultural business == lower VMT.

Dave Murphy said...

I am a little disappointed by those that would think the Amish are keeping VMT down in Lancaster. There is not a significant presence of Almish in the city of Lancaster, they tend to be rural communities. Furthermore, there are Amish communities throughout Maryland, Ohio, and West Virginia (and I'm sure other places). And there's not a huge Amish contingent in New York City. The interstate missing the city and the solid grid pattern can be thanked for the low VMT.

Richard Layman said...

Another interesting thing about this region, because of the Amish also, is the nature of the local economy. Were I to get a PhD in planning, a possible dissertation topic that I would pursue would be the nature of the economy in the Lancaster region, why there is still a great deal of local ownership in most retail categories, and a great deal of small manufacturing. In different ways, this does have to do with the Amish-Mennonites I believe.

I went with a farmer earlier in the year to a small Amish operation that makes tillers and other farm equipment. It was quite interesting.

Anyway, I have only been to Lancaster once, and though the town has great urban design, just like nearby Reading, both cities have suffered greatly from outmigration and loss of downtown department stores, etc.

danielklotz.com said...

Thanks for noticing our humble city! As a downtown resident, I can tell you that the city is great, but we do struggle with the fact that many of the well-paid professionals who work downtown leave every evening for bedroom communities in the suburbs. It seems silly to talk about "suburbs" for such a small town, but a 30-minute commute is average.

Unfortunately, as the Portland DJC points out, most of our suburbs have become exurbs, so people are able to live in housing developments near the office parks where they work.

The idea of a streetcar route downtown has ignited a lot of controversy. It doesn't seem financially sustainable, and many say it will just make traffic worse. Our aging street infrastructure and inadequate parking do make it a better place to live and walk than to commute to via car.

Yeah, the plain sects around here have their buggys, but I assure you that that factor is nearly insignificant in impact on our area's overall VMT.

icelander said...

Anyway, I have only been to Lancaster once, and though the town has great urban design, just like nearby Reading, both cities have suffered greatly from outmigration and loss of downtown department stores, etc.

I'm not sure how long ago this was, but I encourage you to come back. The city government has made turning the downtown into a livable city a key point of their planning strategy. There's also a thriving arts community and many growing small businesses.

jon said...

would this lancaster streetcar be a trolley or a horsecar?

Matt Fisher said...

I believe it would be a streetcar in the case of Lancaster, in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. In Southwestern Ontario, in the Waterloo Region (Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge), they are planning "rapid transit" (which I hope should be light rail, not the BRT crap). In fact, they appear to discuss light rail there, and I think it should be designed using the French model (the area's population is just over 500,000). The Waterloo Region has a lot of Mennonites, and I like to come around there, including to the village of St. Jacobs north of Waterloo. Actually, a lot of these Mennonites are in the rural areas.

When I visit St. Jacobs, one of my favourite things is a restaurant called The Stone Crock. They have the best Oktoberfest sausages EVER, and when we go around there in the summer (I did this year), we buy a bag of Oktoberfest sausages to take home. The Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest is said to be the largest such outside Munich.