By Ed Pawlowski, Mayor of Allentown
With summer fast approaching, I am delighted to share with you the many improvements planned for Allentown's bicycle and pedestrian transportation systems. In 2010, our city adopted Connecting Our Community -- our plan for linking Allentown's parks and people through an interconnected network of bicycle and pedestrian trails. Our goal is to encourage active transportation in Allentown by allowing people to access parks and other popular destinations located along a new network of on- and off-street trails.
Encouraging active transportation in Allentown is of vital importance. Increased rates of walking and bicycling are linked to reduced pollution and lower rates of obesity, cancer, stroke, diabetes, asthma, and mortality. Currently, more than 40% of Allentown youth are overweight or obese. In addition, only 0.3% of commuters in Allentown regularly get around by bicycle (a tiny fraction of the rate found in numerous other US cities).
The reality is that many people -- even confident and enthusiastic cyclists -- do not feel safe riding with cars on city streets without designated space for bicycles. In fact, where cities have implemented modern bicycle trail and lane networks, cycling rates have skyrocketed. Consequently, there is a need for new biking and walking facilities, especially on-street facilities, that will encourage more people to bike or walk to their jobs, to schools, the library, or other destinations, as well as providing a means of exercise.
Streets with pedestrian improvements and bike trails and lanes don't just make people feel safer--they actually are safer. A recent Harvard School of Public Health study of on-street physically separated bike lanes found a reduced risk of injury and 2½ times as many cyclists on streets with such bicycle lanes compared to streets without them. In addition, these projects also reduce the rates of cyclist and pedestrian crashes by encouraging more people to bike and walk thus motorists become more accustomed to watching for these vulnerable users.
In addition to the obvious health, safety, and environmental benefits, the traffic calming effect of on-street pedestrian and bicycle facilities has been shown to result in economic benefits such as increased property values, reduced vacancy rates, and new customers for businesses. Our new trail network will offer us the same economic, ecological, and health-related benefits enjoyed by many of our nation's most progressive cities.
Funding for the project has been secured through grants from the Harry C. Trexler Trust, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the federal government.
Whether you walk, bike, or drive, all of Allentown stands to benefit from implementing the city's new Connecting Our Community plan. By creating a comprehensive and interconnected network of trails that serves all user groups, the city will foster a culture of active living and promote Allentown as a recreational destination.
I want to especially thank Allentown City Council, city staff, the Connecting Our Community Committee, and the several hundred city residents contributing to the city's up-and-coming trail projects. In addition, I encourage everyone to attend one of the public meetings on the project being held on Wednesday, April 27, at 7:00PM, at Central Elementary School, or October 26 at the Public Library.
For more information regarding the Connecting Our Community plan, please visit: www.allentownpa.gov/parks.