A linearapolis case study – Northeast Pennsylvania

Source: backroadsproject.com

In my March 24th post about linearapoli (linear urban areas), a number of examples were provided from the United States and Canada. Several others have been identified since then by readers and myself. Of these examples, none more aptly depicts my definition of a linearapolis when seen from a satellite image than the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metropolitan region of Northeast Pennsylvania. Even the southwest to northeast angle of the urbanized area eerily resembles a huge linear regression line graphed onto the underlying Pennsylvania topography.

Source: maps.google.com

Source: maps.google.com

Extending more than 50 miles from southwest (south of Nanticoke) to northeast (past Carbondale) along the Susquehanna and Lackawanna river valleys, the Northeast Pennsylvania Linearapolis rarely exceeds 15  miles in width. The linearapolis is hemmed in by Bell Mountain, Bald Mountain, Bunker Hill, and Larksville Mountain on the west side of these rivers and by the Moosic and Wilkes-Barre mountains on the east side.

Scranton and Wilkes-Barre are the two principal urban nodes within the linearapolis, but many smaller cities, towns, villages, and townships form the imaginary dotted regression line created by the built environment.  It was almost like a statistician founded and created this urban area as a living test of their mathematical theorems.

Many key components of the larger metropolitan area are situated within the linearapolis, including the international airport, rail lines, river harbor facilities, and major streets. However, most expressways were constructed laterally along the adjacent mountains or in some instances bisect the linearapolis in a 90 degree fashion.  Otherwise, large portions of the linearapolis would have been severely disrupted by the expressways. A by-product of the expressways avoiding the denser areas is that it has opened up hillside areas for greenfield developments, particularly those projects which require large amounts of acreage or are regional in nature. Examples include Lackawanna Stadium (PNC Field), the Wyoming Valley Mall, Mohegan Sun Arena, and several medical centers.

During more recent decades, some portions of the Northeast Pennsylvania Linearapolis have begun to spill out beyond the original confined valley. However, despite these forays to higher ground, the overall continuity of the linearapolis has remained quite sound. Whether this continuity remains will depend on a number of factors.

As one respondent to the original post noted, linearapoli are perfectly suited to mass transit due to their inherently narrow development pattern and great potential for a denser spatial form.  Personally, one would have to believe that some sort of commuter rail, light rail, or dedicated BRT route running lengthwise through this 50 mile long linearapolis at regular intervals would be quite successful.

As an avid bike commuter, I believe a full-lengthwise paved, off-road bicycling route would be a sure success. The recent spike in gasoline prices could be another factor to work in favor of solidifying the Northeast Pennsylvania Linearapolis, as drivers try to reduce their commuting time and expenses. New urbanism, placemaking, walkability, and successful third places could each play a positive role as well. Meanwhile, overemphasizing new highway construction or building more large-scale greenfield projects on the periphery of the linearapolis could have the exact opposite effect.

A review of the mass transit options in Northeast Pennsylvania shows that discussions have been held to link and coordinate the two predominant systems – COLTS (gotta love that name when you are from Indy like me) in Scranton and Luzerne County Transitin Wilkes-Barre. COLTS stands for County of Lackawanna Transit System. This should improve and encourage alternative/energy-efficient transportation choices along the urban corridor.

Source: railroad.net

Sadly, as with so many cities in the United States, following World War II, Scranton’s long-successful electric trolley (interurban) system was abandoned for buses and new highways in December of 1954.  Today, the Electric City Trolley Museum standards as a testament to the impressive interurban system that once operated here. Hopefully, the ongoing cooperation between the mass transit systems will further re-knit together the social and economic fabric of this elongated urban area, allowing for nearly seamless connections throughout the valley. Personally, I would love to see modern streetcars brought back to the streets Scranton and surrounding areas. As the cost of driving continues to rise, such alternatives would be nice to have available once more.

A direct commuter rail link to Hoboken, New Jersey is also in the planning and financing stages. If funded and built, the rail route running from Scranton east through the Pocono Mountain resort and retirement areas to Hoboken, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, may spur new growth in that direction, which is largely located outside the region’s existing narrow linearapolis corridor.

Some discussion was found about the potential for light rail and/or bus rapid transit along the Northeast Pennsylvania Linearapolis, but it primarily appears to be a long-range goal versus a project pending at this time. In regards to non-motorized transportation, currently under development is the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail (LRHT). When fully completed, the multi-purpose trail will provide a 40 mile long linear route from Pittston, which is the approximate midpoint of the linearapolis on the south, to Union Dale where it meets the Delaware & Hudson Trail at the north end. The D & H Rail Trail continues all the way to the New York state line, thus creating an approximate 70 mile continuous non-motorized option for recreation and commuting purposes.

Source: //www.wvwellnesstrails.org/map_trails.html

In the southern portion of the linearapolis, a number of  trail projects are planned and/or already open, including one which parallels an active freight line for nearly 10 miles. Linking and coordinating the northern and southern parts of the linearapolis by means other than streets and highways are two key components to placemaking a vibrant region that is competitive in attracting both talent and new employers.

In the end, it will be up the residents of Northeast Pennsylvania Linearapolis as to what direction they want to take their metropolitan region and whether they wish to further emphasize cooperation and coordination. As an urban and regional planner, I believe it would be to the region’s great benefit to do so. It was surprising to discover the area has two separate convention and visitors authorities – a unified approach would seem to be more practical, effective, and efficient. As a planner who is fascinated by the elements of urban/spatial form, I am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for the Scranton/Wilke-Barre region and wishes all of those in the Northeast Pennsylvania Linearapolis the very best.

This entry was posted in architecture, bicycling, cities, density, economic development, history, land use, placemaking, planning, rail, spatial design, sprawl, tourism, trails, transit, transportation, urban planning, walking and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A linearapolis case study – Northeast Pennsylvania

  1. Mike Mrozinski says:

    I’m curious as to the author’s previous experience with this particular region. If he had little or none, I’m intrigued as to his graphically falling into this. Beyond this, what is the anticipated reception for prescriptions coming from the outside? Thanks.


    • Rick Brown says:

      Fair question. While I have not lived there, I have visited NE PA several times. Most of the ideas suggested are already being employed in some manner or are under consideration. The main exception is combining their convention and visitor efforts. Having seen the ill effects of such a format elsewhere, it seems to be a fair suggestion. In the end I clearly state the choice as to their future direction is theirs and I wish them only the best.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.