Friday, August 20, 2010

Bikes and Buses

By Dennis R. Lieb

Today at five o'clock is the deadline for public responses to the Environmental Assessment report on the Easton Inter-Modal Facility. Below - for those who haven't participated - is a copy of my letter to Amand Greco of LANTA expressing my concerns about the project.

Mr. Armand Greco, Executive Director
Lehigh & Northampton Transportation Authority
1060 Lehigh Street
Allentown, PA 18103
Tel: (610) 435-4052; Fax: (610) 435-6774

August 20, 2010

Dear Armand,

Here are my comments on the Easton Inter-modal project as it was presented Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at the Grand Eastonian. I wasn't able to stay for the formal presentation but did attend the open house to review the design changes and have been present for all previous public meetings on the project. I still have concerns about the
architecture but have decided it isn't worth the energy to pursue further. Just for the record, I was more upset over the public process followed for the final design solution than the actual design itself. I had made clear my wishes to be included in the private meetings with the architects and Planning staff. At an earlier public meeting I asked mayor Panto that the courtesy be extended for me to participate based on my membership on the Easton Planning Commission, my former employment in the architectural profession and as someone devoted to good urban design in Easton.

Design Results and Processes

I participated in the initial redesign meeting at City Hall, which included the parties mentioned above along with representatives of Easton's EAC and HARB. I gave my concerns about the design as did the others present. I thought we were on a path to correct the major urban design issues with the way the building occupied the site but the facade details were still troubling in that the monolithic nature and monumental scale of the wall and fenestration components were overwhelming to pedestrians and out of context with the existing buildings on the opposite side of Third Street. I was looking forward to the follow-up meeting to review changes and give further input and was in fact asked to attend this meeting by one of the Spillman-Farmer architects during a break at the July Planning Commission meeting. I was never contacted about the time and date of this meeting and consequently sent two separate emails to Becky Bradley requesting the information to include on my calendar. Neither message received a response and no further phone call or personal contact was made to me on the issue.

It would only be speculation as to why this occured but the bottom line is a design has now been approved by the HARB that was not reviewed by everyone who had vested interest in the process. I feel that in the future, all transportation, traffic and urban planning projects involving federal funding in Easton need to be truly "context sensitive" in their follow-through. This would mean that public input should be sought before pencil is put to paper and then a consistent criteria is followed throughout the design process that does not drop interested parties out of the loop arbitrarily. A repeat of my situation may only lead to unnecessary hard feelings and mis-information in the future.

I am willing to accept this final facade design as presented because the possible delays fighting it would only hamper the project's completion while only moderately improving the building - this does not mean the building couldn't have looked better. My feeling is that the stark modernism of this building - while artistically impressive in it's own right - lacks any relationship to the materials, scale and detailing of the buildings facing Third Street opposite the project. I do not feel that the allusions made by the designers to materials and details pulled from other Easton buildings will translate to the actual experience of the casual observer on the street and is more of an intellectual exercise by the architects than anything factually concrete. Hopefully, the public will not suffer from the lack of cohesiveness between the academic principals espoused about the building's material choices and the reality of what we end up walking past every day.

Concerns with Inter-modal Facilities

A number of issues drew less attention than I think they deserve during the public meetings and I will discuss them here. First is the issue of public amenities for users - especially LANTA users, who previous to this project's completion are separated from the commuter bus users. I do not feel that this location will detract from the retail business community downtown - as was my concern with the Governor Wolf Building location - or create hardship for LANTA users trying to access retail establishments between boardings. I would however like to set the bar higher for Easton's facility than it has so far been for Bethlehem or Allentown. This is a public facility and, as a place that all of the public will see as an indication of Easton's hospitality to travelers and visitors, I would like to impress the importance of rest room facilities that are of equal quality for all building users. They must be clean, available at no cost and no purchase necessary and be equipped with toilet paper, running water and soap. If these standards are met, it will be the first facility of it's kind for LANTA riders in the Lehigh Valley

Bicycle users are going to interact with this facility regularly. If it is to be a true inter-modal center then the potential for increased bike ridership must be taken seriously, especially in Easton. Easton has one of the most successful bicycle retailers in the county; Genesis Bikes. They sponsor numerous bicycle awareness and riding events throughout the year. The Easton economy is gearing towards tourism and the bicycle trail network is a major part of that with trail extensions being built as part of the Bushkill Creek Corridor project and other potential connections to existing bicycle networks in the planning stages. There is still tremendous potential for growth of this transportation/recreation mode of travel in Easton - especially when coupled with river access activities that will be facilitated by the new Riverfront Park project's completion. Easton has undertaken road diet projects on South Third Street and Larry Holmes Drive and will be doing more in the future. All these things point to a much bigger presence of bicycles in the city and their influence on travel choice and mode will be appreciable.

For these reasons, I would like this facility to go beyond the norm and set the gold standard for true inter-modal facilities in the state. By this I mean state-of-the-art bicycle facilities for the region - not only for travelers/commuters who choose bikes as part of their trip but for expanding the possibilities for tourism, economic development and further mode choice enhancement for the city. Toward those goals I submit the following suggestions:

Offer bicycle parking as part of the parking deck's standard offerings.
These would be specific, inside, secured areas set aside for bikes. There has been talk of continuing the Easton "artist designed" bike rack project at the inter-modal . These may be a nice conversation piece and something visitors remember about the town when they leave but their true value as high volume, easily used utility structures for regular bicyclists is over-rated. We can still have a few of these around the site to continue the "arts" theme but the secured, permanent bike parking should be geared to the regular bike commuter who wants security and simplicity of use.

Provide locker and shower facilities for bike riders.
This has been totally ignored and under-valued in the other LANTA facilities. People who make the choice to ride bikes are taking cars off the road and sacrifice a lot of personal convenience in the process. They have the same right to be treated well as those who choose the convenience of the private car who are parking in the garage or the bus commuter/LANTA rider at the terminal. It has been mentioned by the mayor, in response to my brief comments on bicycle amenities at previous public meetings, that approximately 3000 sq ft of unprogrammed space exists on the ground floor. I would hope this space would be formally set aside for the benefit of creating a hub of bicycle activity in Easton.

Provide liability insurance for a bike rental facility at the center.
The prohibitive cost of such insurance for private entities seems to be the major sticking point for the lack of such rental facilities and contributes to the lack of bike tourism in the Easton area. The inter-modal facility's location at the cross roads of the Lehigh River trail system and the expanding Bushkill Corridor would make this investment in bicycle tourism a coup for the city.

Funding for Above

If the above amenities are to be done well, we must set aside a portion of the budget for initial installation...
and apply for ongoing grants to implement some of the services over time while improving and maintaining what we have. I would greatly encourage a set-aside of $40,000 for the initial investment in bike infrastructure. This amounts to two/tenths of one percent of the $20 million budget and is equal in share to the current percentage of the population who choose to commute to work by bicycle. We can start with the basics of secured bicycle parking (with lockers perhaps) and respectable public bathrooms. We can continue to expand into the areas of bike shower facilities and perhaps other innovations on an ongoing basis via Pennsylvania and Federal Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) grants and other forms of local funding.

I thank you for your attention in these matters. For your information, I will also be posting my comments to the Neighobrs of Easton blog site for those fellow West Ward (and other Easton) citizens whose schedule prevented them from attending meetings and who have not had time to be as involved in the issues of the project as they may have liked.


Dennis R. Lieb


Anonymous said...

This is an excellent suggestion to seriously integrate bike riders into the intermodal plan. This would be another attraction for tourist coming to the city and renting bikes to go on the trails. Hope the Mayors office appreciates that the younger generation that he wants to attract here are serious about bikes.This also allows Easton to claim to be green. It will be attractive to many.

Anonymous said...

You make some good suggestions about bike storage and I believe the meeting I attended this was addressed. Its too bad you couldn't stay to voice your concerns directlty to the mayor. I have made several design suggestions and many are now part of the plan.

The LANTA reps outlined a veryh detailed plan for the terminal and I believe the paper said that the review board asked for clearer deliniation of the terminal entrance.

The design only received preliminarty concept approval.

I suggest you make youer feelings known now before final design. Also, you mentioned that you were invited.Seems to me that you should call and ask to meet with planning officials since you are a member ogf the commission.

Personally, I really like the weay the project has evolved and I love the urban plaza. I don't wnat
Disney in downtown easton. I wantr a city that respects its historic past and provides new buildings thaqt offer a fresh new look.

noel jones said...

I was at an earlier meeting at City Hall on this project and the need to integrate bikes into the intermodal facility was brought up by residents then.

The mayor of Chicago is very pro--bikes (like Bloomberg in New York) and it shows--wide bike lanes and practical simple bike racks on every block--and the police department strictly enforces driver respect for cyclists. The result is hundreds of people who opt to go green and ride bicycles to the museums, cafes, restaurants, their jobs, etc.

With all of our new bike trails ready soon, this intermodal facility is definitely an opportunity for additional tourist business if it provides storage and showers for cyclists, and with a great business like Genesis in town running their bike tours, it would go a long way to helping establish Easton as a city going green.

Anonymous said...

I know the city is planning bike lanes and more elements to be a bike user-friendly city but showers? come on. What next, towels and toiletries?

noel jones said...

Anon 10:28-a lot of people would love to get the regular exercise of biking to and from work, meetings, or even to meet a friend in town at a restaurant, but one big deterrent is getting all sweaty in the process and having to go into work, a meeting, or a restaurant in that condition. We don't scoff at the idea of having shower facilities at gyms, and what are they for, if not to give people a chance to not go to their next destination sweaty? Can you imagine someone just putting a suit on over a sweaty body after working out at the gym? A lot of people work out before going to work--why not get the exercise in the fresh air by biking in while saving gas, reducing pollution and alleviate parking congestion? Most experts agree that a gas crisis is looming and that $5/gal will be a reality in the near future. Why not plan ahead and provide a greener alternative that will promote health and save money for residents and visitors?

Joanne said...

Having the ability to rent bikes would increase tourism.. stay and play. I've been riding the canal path along the Delaware. It's absolutely beautiful.... the river, hills, cliffs, wildlife!, flowers. And it's all in our backyard. The bike path along the Lehigh is just as beautiful.

I have yet to explore how far I can go on either river's bike paths from Easton, but I believe we can go beyond Bethlehem on the Lehigh and beyond New Hope on the Delaware.

Fia said...

In Oregon, the roadside rest stations had public showers, they were coin operated.

noel jones said...

If anyone know how far the bike trails from Easton currently go, please post here--Larry, are you out there? I think you told me once, but I forgot...

I believe that one of the goals of the Scott Park and Riverdale park renovations is to repair and extend the bike trails so that one can bike around more easily...hopefully that also means connecting to the trails that connect us with other communities. I thought someone said it's possible to go all the way to New Hope, PA--can any avid cyclists out there confirm this?

Dennis R. Lieb said...


That's the name of a comic book town isn't it?


noel jones said...

Argh--Riverfront. Riverdale is a neighborhood along the Hudson River in New York where my friend lives...

Anonymous said...

it's called Riverside Park and Scott Park

noel jones said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Sal Panto says:
Once the waterfront park is done this October my vision id to get someone the city would authorize (for a fee) to rent paddle boats on the Lehigh River and also rent bikes.

If you know anyone who may be interested have them call me. I'd love to see them there next spring.

I will also address the itermodal financing over the weekend.

noel jones said...

Thanks, Mayor--re: bikes--have you talked to Genesis?

Re: paddleboats, I will keep my ear to the ground...

Anybody feeling entrepreneurial out there?