Policy Assessment

Natural Asset Protection

FutureLV: The Regional Plan, Lehigh County Livable Landscapes, Northampton County Livable Landscapes

Protecting important natural assets such as open space, wetlands and forests, is essential because they enhance long-term resilience to climate change impacts and serve as “carbon sinks” to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. FutureLV: The Regional Plan holds a ‘conservation first’ perspective that values High Conservation Priority Natural Resource Areas over other land use recommendations. Lehigh and Northampton counties’ Livable Landscapes plans recognize the many benefits of an open space network and promote the protection of natural areas, working farms, scenic resources, and vibrant communities interconnected with parks, greenways and trails.  Ideas or recommendations related to natural asset protection were the most identified throughout FutureLV and reinforced in 27 of its Policies, Actions or Land Use Plans.  Policies1.3 and 3.1 of FutureLV reinforce the Lehigh Valley’s commitment to conserving and preserving priority natural, historic, cultural, scenic, and agricultural assets for environmental and recreational benefits. Goal 1 in both Lehigh and Northampton counties’ Livable Landscapes plans specifically aims to conserve, restore and enhance natural resources, and include policies that implement Lehigh and Northampton counties’ commitment to preserving and protecting high conservation priority natural resource areas, wetlands, woodlands, core habitats and waterways.

Compact Development Form

FutureLV: The Regional Plan, Lehigh County Livable Landscapes, Northampton County Livable Landscapes

Through sustainability, smart growth and the promotion of walkable neighborhoods, planners have recognized the many advantages of a more compact development form. Increased density helps lower greenhouse gas emissions associated with buildings and transportation networks by reducing vehicle miles traveled. The increased density of a compact development form helps preserve land for agricultural, forestry and environmental uses. FutureLV includes 16 Policies, Actions or Special Sections related to the idea of creating a more compact development form. At the heart of FutureLV is a “Center and Corridors” concept that directs virtually all new development to the 57 activity Centers where people live, work and shop in the Lehigh Valley, and the transportation Corridors that connect them. An increased density in Centers and Corridors will increase activity and vibrancy within the communities, while also enhancing the region’s resiliency to climate change. For example, under Lehigh and Northampton counties’ Livable Landscapes Goal 6, implementation strategies include ensuring land acquired for open space is not converted to other uses.

FutureLV: The Regional Plan Historic Corridor Revitalization Concept of Hanover Avenue, Allentown.

Agricultural Land Uses and Practices

FutureLV: The Regional Plan, Lehigh County Livable Landscapes, Northampton County Livable Landscapes

With the Lehigh Valley’s extensive agricultural economy, farming is key to the region’s identity and environment. Agricultural land uses and associated practices, such as conservation tillage, managing livestock waste and forest preservation, represent important carbon sequestration opportunities. Additionally, agricultural land creates a strong market for local foods and products that reduce how far food must be transported to the dining table, which consequently reduces greenhouse gas emissions. FutureLV includes 19 Policies, Actions or Special Sections related to agricultural land uses and practices, and eight are related to local food climate initiatives. The actions in FutureLV Policies 3.3 and 4.4 encourage the preservation of farmland to provide open space and support agriculture as an essential component of the regional economy and rural character. Lehigh and Northampton Counties’ Livable Landscapes Plan Goal 4 is to preserve farmland and farming to meet food production, economic and open space needs. Its policies encourage the purchase of agricultural easements in areas recommended for farmland preservation and the implementation of best management practices on farms.

Lehigh County Farmland.

The Protection of Agricultural Lands from Urban/Suburban Encroachment

FutureLV: The Regional Plan, Lehigh County Livable Landscapes, Northampton County Livable Landscapes

Protecting agricultural lands from urban and suburban encroachment by development will minimize the conversion of farmland and woodland, increases carbon sequestration opportunities, supports the local economy and retains rural character. In total, ideas of protecting agricultural lands from urban/suburban encroachment were found in Lehigh and Northampton counties’ Livable Landscapes plans Goals, Policies or Actions.  Specific policies in Goal 5 aim to reduce impacts of development in rural communities to retain the rural character of the Counties, as well as Goal 4, which includes protecting agricultural uses from residential development and non-farm activities that interfere with normal farming practices. Within FutureLV, Policy 1.1 aims to preserve natural areas and farmland by managing growth and development to enhance and strengthen cities, boroughs, suburbs and rural communities.

Northampton County Farmland.

Green Infrastructure

FutureLV: The Regional Plan, Lehigh County Livable Landscapes, Northampton County Livable Landscapes

Green infrastructure refers to an interconnected network of open spaces and natural areas, often used to manage stormwater and improve water quality. Examples include urban forests, parks, green roofs, natural drainage systems and low impact development. When communities utilize and enhance their natural environmental assets as an integral part of their infrastructure, they can reduce their impact on climate change and increase their ability to adapt to changes that may occur. Lehigh and Northampton counties’ Livable Landscapes includes many Goals, Policies and Actions that emphasize green infrastructure improvements throughout Lehigh and Northampton counties. Specifically, Goal 3 promotes the conservation, restoration and enhancement of a greenways and blueways network, and Policies under Goal 1 emphasize the preservation of floodplains and riparian buffers to maintain their environmental value. Within FutureLV, the Canal Trail Concept specifically employs green infrastructure as an important part of reducing environmental impacts from stormwater and development. For example, constructing wetlands and rain gardens will help to clean and manage future stormwater, creating new habitats and improving the beauty of communities.

FutureLV: The Regional Plan Canal Trail Concept of Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Trail - Eastside.

Integration of Land Use Planning and Transportation

FutureLV: The Regional Plan, Lehigh County Livable Landscapes, Northampton County Livable Landscapes, Walk/RollLV

Incorporating planning for transit, bicycle and pedestrian networks within local and regional comprehensive planning can encourage development patterns that support multimodal transportation networks, complete streets and reduced trip lengths, as well as preserving open space, agricultural land and providing convenient trail networks. Through supportive land use-transportation decisions, the ability for residents to choose non-automobile travel modes for their trips reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. By closely integrating the planning for land uses and all forms of transportation, communities can make these transportation choices more realistic and desirable for residents. Within the APA Transportation and Land Use sectors, ideas relating to the integration of transportation with land use planning were found in many Walk/RollLV Recommendations and Strategies. Specifically, the recommendation within Walk/RollLV of Pedestrian-Supportive Land Use Regulation and Development Review includes how land use regulation and the development review processes strongly influence the pedestrian-friendliness of the region. In Lehigh and Northampton Counties’ Livable Landscapes Plan, Goal 2 specifically aims to provide and maintain an exemplary park, trail and recreation system. Goal 2 includes policies that support using existing linear corridors for bicycle and pedestrian facilities, as well as encouraging trail linkage to create a network connecting residential areas, schools, parks, town centers, employment areas and other transportation facilities. Within FutureLV, Policy 2.1 supports the development of a mixed-transportation network that supports a more compact development pattern, optimizes roadway capacity and encourages alternative travel options. A mixed-transportation network and the creation of a compact development form coordinate land use and transportation decisions.

Local Street Network and Design

FutureLV: The Regional Plan, Walk/RollLV

Local street networks and complete streets encourage active transportation and provide easy connections to a variety of destinations that enable transportation choice, increased mobility, and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Mixed-transportation corridors are designed to accommodate all users and multiple transportation modes, including walking and biking. Street design that includes right-of-way for existing or future transit options, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, bicycle lanes and appropriate bike and pedestrian accommodation, plus safe pedestrian and bicycle crossings, encourage the reduced use of vehicles for short and long trips, and increase multimodal traffic capacity. By reducing the number and length of automobile trips, greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced. Climate action concepts related to local street networks were the most identified throughout Walk/Roll LV and reinforced in forty-two of its Strategies or Recommendations. A specific Recommendation within Chapter 6 of Walk/Roll LV supports complete streets and context-sensitive bicycle and pedestrian supportive design. Within FutureLV, Policy 2.3 encourages enhanced transit connections to improve mobility, and its Actions aim to enhance public transit service and pedestrian and bicycle facilities along corridors.

Transportation Demand Management and Systems Strategies

FutureLV: The Regional Plan, Walk/RollLV

For more efficient use of transportation resources and the reduction in vehicle miles traveled, transportation demand management strategies can be implemented locally and regionally. Transportation demand management strategies focus on changing travel behavior, including trip length, travel mode, time of day, etc. to reduce the number of vehicle trips and increase mobility options. Walk/RollLV includes 13 Strategies or Recommendations that focus on transportation demand management. A specific Policy and Program Recommendation within Walk/RollLV establishes a regional transportation demand management (TDM) program aimed at reducing single-occupancy vehicle travel and encouraging sustainable modes. Within FutureLV, an Action with Policy 2.2 aims to enhance incident management strategies, along with an action within Policy 5.1 that supports the implementation of complete streets and traffic-calming measures.

Transportation Facility Siting and Community Design

FutureLV: The Regional Plan, Walk/RollLV

For the region to benefit from complete and highly connected streets, it is essential for community design and development review processes to secure rights-of-way and require transportation facilities that support public transit, bicycle and pedestrian networks in neighborhoods, communities and regions. Without transit, bicycle and pedestrian routes from a resident’s neighborhood to a desired destination, travel will almost certainly involve a vehicle and therefore increase greenhouse gas emissions. Walk/RollLV includes 34 Strategies or Recommendations related to pedestrian facility design and transportation infrastructure siting that support highly connected streets. Specifically, Pedestrian Network Recommendations include design recommendations such as Connected, Accessible and Comfortable Sidewalks, Safe and Frequent Crossings and Pedestrian-Supportive Roadway Operations. In FutureLV, an Action under Policy 4.4 supports the connection of regional trails to Centers, Corridors and historic assets.

Image from Walk/RollLV.

Creation of Multimodal Transportation Corridors

FutureLV: The Regional Plan

Centers and Corridors are great places for the region to grow because they can support a variety of land uses, housing types and transportation options in one space. Multimodal transportation Corridors connect residential neighborhoods to social, cultural, and economic opportunities. Mixed-transportation corridor concepts within FutureLV support vehicles, walkers, rollers, bicyclists and public transit in one safe, quality space. Establishing and strengthening these routes can reduce vehicle congestion and create alternatives for travelers that lower greenhouse gas emissions as residents are encouraged to use alternatives to personal vehicles. FutureLV includes 13 Policies, Actions or Special Sections that emphasize multimodal transportation corridor improvements. Specifically, Policy 2.1 encourages development of a mixed-transportation network to support a more compact development pattern, optimize roadway capacity and encourage alternative travel options.

FutureLV: The Regional Plan MacArthur Road Concept in Whitehall Township.

Infill Development and Redevelopment

FutureLV: The Regional Plan

A land use policy that promotes infill development and redevelopment of existing neighborhoods accommodates new residents and expanding businesses within current infrastructure. The preservation of historic structures and the adaptive reuse of buildings preserves open spaces and carbon sinks, while reducing sprawl. In total, ideas of infill and redevelopment were found in 16 FutureLV Policies, Actions, or Special Sections. Policy 5.4’s Actions emphasize these ideas and promote development that complements the unique history, environment, culture and needs of the Valley. When paired with good design, the creation of a compact development form, through the usage of infill development and redevelopment, can be a key tool that adds value to existing assets and protects the region’s quality of life, while alleviating development pressure on farmlands and natural resource areas.

FutureLV: The Regional Plan Shopping Mall Redevelopment Concept of Whitehall Mall at MacArthur Road and Grape Street in Whitehall Township.

CONCLUSION