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Advocating for Sustainable Transportation with Tim Phelps

Podcast published: February 23, 2024

With a growing local population and much upheaval in recent years in how and when people commute to and from work, the transportation needs and goals of Chester County are an important topic for discussion. We meet with Tim Phelps, Executive Director of the Transportation Management Association of Chester County (TMACC), to talk about advocating and collaborating for sustainable transportation practices. We discuss the many travel planning initiatives happening across the region, and explore how locals can get involved with travel programs and initiatives in their specific regions.



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Liam Dempsey:  Join us in person and mingle with the Start Local community. 

Joe Casabona: We have been talking about it for a few months now. So, we are very excited to share the specifics of our first in-person gathering. Folks who subscribe to our emails already have these details, but we are sharing them now with our listeners. 

Erik Gudmundson: Come on out to meet and get to know the wonderful people in our Start Local community. We’ll gather at Stolen Sun in Exton on Wednesday, March 27th from 5:00 – 7:00 PM. Experience engaging conversations, and dynamic people in great food and drink. 

Joe Casabona: Attendance is free, but registration is required. Learn more and register on our website at [startlocal.co /gather].

Erik Gudmundson: Welcome to Start Local, where we talk with business owners, leaders of nonprofits, and other members of our community focused on doing business in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. Each episode will provide insight into the local business scene and tell you about opportunities to connect with and support businesses and nonprofits in your local area.  

Liam Gudmundson: The Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce promotes trade commerce industry and sustainable economic development while supporting a diverse and growing marketplace. The Chamber is proud to partner with the Start Local podcast to raise a profile of businesses and nonprofits throughout Chester County. Learn more about the chamber@sccc.com.

Erik Gudmundson: Welcome to Start Local, where we connect with local leaders to support local businesses and nonprofit organizations in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. I am Erik Gudmundson, and I’m here today with my co-host, Liam Dempsey. Liam, how are you doing today?

Liam Dempsey: I am holding up just fine. Thank you, sir.  

Erik Gudmundson: Very good. Well, today we’re in the podcast studio with Tim Phelps. Tim is the Executive Director of the Transportation Management Association of Chester County, better known as TMACC. Tim has been with TMACC for just over 12 years, so he is intimately familiar with the challenges facing transportation and getting around in and through Chester County. More importantly, he is actively involved in addressing our area’s transportation needs. Tim, welcome to the Start Local Podcast. 

Tim Phelps: Hey, it’s great to be here today.  

Liam Dempsey: Tim, we’re delighted you’re here. Folks, TMACC works to address many of the long-range strategies both and immediate tactical challenges of transportation in the county. It would be difficult to cover everything that TMACC focuses on in just a single episode, but we’re gonna try to give listeners an insight into just some of the programs and a general overview. We’ll encourage you to seek more information on areas that are of interest to you. And just to flag up, we will include lots of LINKs to TMACC and the many’s working on over our website at [startlocal.co]. 

Erik Gudmundson: Yeah. You’re absolutely not kidding, Liam. So I’m gonna really just try to summarize some of what TMACC does and I’m gonna plagiarize a bit of Tim’s Linkedin profile. Tim said, you know, TMACC serves as a liaison between public sector transportation agencies and the private sector on transportation issues affecting the Chester County community.

Chester County is the state’s fastest-growing county. We focus on mobility management and sustainability through education, advocacy, and special programs. We work closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s, Southern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. That is to say, PennDOT works with SEPTA,  the Chester County Planning Commission, and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning or Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC). That’s a big mouthful.

And furthermore, I’m gonna go a little further. We’re viewing the organization’s website. We see nine key areas of improvements that you’re focused on, including train station upgrades, new walking trails, Route 1 corridor enhancements, bridge rehabilitation, healthcare workers, and commuting options. So much stuff. So, we’re gonna get to some of those certainly but let’s start with a service that we regularly see on the roads. the ChesgoBus SCCOOT and the Coatesville LINK. Tell us about those who ride, what population is served and what is the mission?

Tim Phelps: Yeah. SCCOOT and LINK are great additions to the county. We actually help segment some things for SEPTA because SEPTA does not serve fully the western portion of the county nor the southern portion of the county. And we’ve been doing this for over 20 years as an organization. 

I’ll start with Southern Chester County. The SCCOOT bus actually originates in the Oxford area, travels up through Kennett Square, and then on into Westchester. We have a range of folks that ride this bus. I mean, there are folks that need to get to the grocery store, there need to…folks that need to get to employment centers. There are seniors, there’re students from Lincoln University. So that’s, it’s a cross-section of Southern Chester County life. It is a lifeline for many people. Those that do not have a car,  or those who choose not to drive. So we’re able to provide this service to ’em. So it’s extremely important. It really connects people to everyday life. 

So the other service that we continue to provide is the LINK bus service. So the LINK travels from the former Brandywine Hospital through the Coatesville area, and then on to Clarksburg. Again, this is community members, you know, trying to get to employment centers to get to educational institutions and to get to shopping, and to their healthcare appointments. So, you know, again, it’s really exciting that the community is actually using this public service.

Folks on the LINK actually have the ability to connect to the 135, which is the septic service, and that septic service takes them east, into X, and then down into Westchester. So it really, you know, helps complete the lifeline for folks there. Both services, you know, are changing. Since the pandemic, you know, the way people are traveling around the county is changing and so we’ve taken a look at the root service there.   

For the SCCOOT,  we will be moving this fall to what’s called a flexible bus route. That flexible bus route will allow people to make appointments,  and then that bus can deviate off of that route in key zone areas,  in the Oxford area in and around Jenners, and then in the Kennett Square area so people can actually get more of a curb to curb ride in those communities. 

And then in Coatesville with the LINK bus service, in midday, we’re gonna move that service to a new format called Micro transit where people can book their ride. And within the defined zone area, people will be able to make more of a curb-to-curb on-demand ride to get to their doctor’s appointments, to get to shopping, and wherever they need to be. So again, it’s really adding more connectivity for the community. So those are some things that we’re doing with the LINK and SCCOOT bus service here in the county.  

Erik Gudmundson: That’s really, really interesting. And I love hearing about the bus services. Yeah. Because certainly in America, if you’re not in a big city and you don’t have immediate access to a car, getting around is really, really tough. And whether or not you’re trying to get around for work or for family or for play is hard. So I’m delighted to hear more about those services. Tim, you…Oh, go ahead, please. Go ahead.

Tim Phelps: Yeah, no. It becomes, you know, it’s a benefit to the community. I mean, you know, it connects people to real-life things that they have to do. And we should not live in that, this isolation and get people to get to their doctor appointments to be healthy. The bus service also then provides kind of that carbon reduction benefits for communities. So again, if we can reduce the number of single-occupant vehicles on the road because you’re taking a short trip, you know, public transportation becomes very important, has a very important role in this. 

Liam Dempsey: Agreed. You talked about micro-transit, and that was a question that we were gonna get to. So I’m gonna jump to that now. Can you unpack that a little bit more? It sounds like it’s kind of customizing and kind of maybe mixing somewhere between Uber and a bus, but that might not be a great description. Can you walk us through that? 

Tim Phelps: Yeah. No, no. You’re very close to that. So, as we make the transition, you know, it’s a combination of being app-based and then also being, you know, we’ll have a call center for folks and people will be able to call in and book that ride. And it is, you know, with the Uber or the Lyfts of the world, you know, that is a door-to-door service, you may be required to walk down to the corner to catch, to get the SCCOOT or the LINK bus as it comes through. The flex bus service actually kind of works a little bit micro transit when it’s in the communities, but in the Coatesville marketplace, you know, definitely will get more people to that door to that curb-to-curb service that they need, and so that, you know, waiting out at a bus stop during that midday period.  

Erik Gudmundson: We commonly hear from employers that the two biggest workforce challenges here in Chester County are housing and transportation. You do lots of work to help commuters, not including, or I should say, including not only the bus and train and micro transit but also share-a-ride vanpool, park and ride and cycling initiatives. So, how are you doing on these fronts, and how do you help bridge the gap between employers and PennDOT? 

Tim Phelps: Yeah. So it is a real challenge, you know, in workforce development as we talk about, you know, getting folks to where they need to go. I mean, one of the other conversations that gets extended off any one of those conversations is what we call the last-mile connector. So whether it’s by the bus service or if it’s by the train, and now you have a distance to get from point A to point B, how do you do that if it’s not walkable? And so again, that bus, that bus service or, you know, even scooters or bicycling, becomes an option for folks. 

And we also have,  companies in the county that provide called van service so that it’s a shuttle service between the train station and their office so that their employees can get in there because of where they have to recruit from. 

So transportation is, you know, is always that challenge. I mean, it’s, you know, some of the problems that comes with, you know, how we do our land planning and trying to find that in those locations. And we’ve just come through, I don’t know, I’ll say 50 years of being a car-centric society just coming back to transit and everybody wanted to move to the suburbs. And, now, you know, the suburbs have these office parks, and the office parks are going through transition and everybody’s just used to driving to work. 

Well now, with the environment and carbon reduction out there, the cost of vehicles, the cost of service, people’s awareness, they’re, you know, they’re looking for other options. And so, you know, TMACC kind of works with employers to figure out how do you implement those van pools and those carpools.

We actually have a platform that we work with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, DVRPC that helps employers do ride matching so their employees can find other employees that are maybe taking similar routes. And again, that has land planning implications, you know, how many parking spaces do you really need to then that carbon reduction? So you can actually measure how much CO2 you’re saving when you’re doing a two-person carpool, a three-person carpool or a four-person carpool. So, there are other, you know, opportunities that are out there for employers. So, we help connect people to understand where those park and rides are, and what are the benefits of establishing a cycling program. So that’s some of the work that the team does.

Liam Dempsey: You talked a lot about working with employers to address these transportation issues in a number of different ways. I expect, and I’ve been on your website, so I know there are a number of the bigger employers in the area who are actively involved with TMACC, but how about some of the employers that aren’t involved yet? How can they do, so how do they sign up? What does that look like? What does that entail for? 

Tim Phelps: Yeah. It’s really easy. I mean, the bar is low for folks. You know, if people go to our website, which is really easy to remember, it’s [www.tmacc.org], there is a section there that talks about membership and so people can find out about membership benefits and join us that way. And folks can also find, you know, my contact information there and reach out, and make sure that it’s the right match for them when they have their transportation services. We are an association. We’re not a chamber of commerce. We don’t do meet and greets, but we do transportation advocacy work and help, you know, help employers and help small businesses with some of these challenges that they may have so they can think about how they can attract folks. So, we’re slightly different than a chamber, but you know, going to that website you can learn more about TMACC and that’s [tmacc.org]. 

Erik Gudmundson: And we’ll be sure to link to that over on our website. Tim, we appreciate that Covid lockdowns, during the COVID lockdowns, a lot of folks, especially in our area, began working from home, and certainly in our show, we’ve talked a number of times about the remote versus onsite debate in previous episodes. But, really what I want to ask you about is, is there any data available yet about how commuter levels and habits have changed in the wake of the pandemic? And so, you know, how busy are the roads, how busy are the trains, so to speak? And if that data’s available, are you and your colleagues at TMACC and the other transportation planning organizations, government bodies, and the like starting to address any travel planning strategies because of such data?

Tim Phelps: The answer is yes. I mean, you know, and this comes in a couple of different avenues of thought. 

The first part, you know, the easy one to look at is, you know, public transit service. So ridership on public transit service is still down below pre covid. Some of those challenges is that we’ll focus on regional rail. And I don’t have, I don’t memorize the weekly, daily, monthly numbers on that front. But we know that our conversations with SEPTA who does track this very closely and does have the data, the challenge is that, you know, people aren’t boarding the train and going into Center City right now. And I’m one of the advocates of that. We need to be traveling and we’re, you know, back to work. 

Remote work is just one avenue to help reduce congestion and improve air quality issues. But there is something to say about a local economy when people are back in the office. And what does that looks like depends on company culture, but you know, that set the ridership on our local train service is still way down. And it impacts how you look at service planning. And you just can’t reduce the, you know, our train service is now every hour on off-peak, on off-peak times, and that does become a challenge, like when I have to go into Center City to DVRPC for a meeting, you know, I’m planning my schedule around. Well, when do I have to leave DVRPC? When do I have to get on that train? How long is that train ride? Can I make it to another meeting? That leaves, you know,  folks that are using the train service, you know, a little bit of a bind. 

Now, when you’re going in the morning and you’re going, coming back at night, it’s pretty easy to schedule that. But we’re, you know, we do see that, you know, that lower ridership in that nature, we do see that, you know, on our bus numbers too, you know, the SCCOOT service has not rebounded to where it was pre Covid. But again, you know, some of those jobs and some of the people that were using it, those lifestyles have changed for individuals. 

The other piece that, you know, DVRPC collects data about a number of cars on the road, those are the little counters that, you know, those little rubber strips that you see on the road. And they’re gathering more and more data on that. I mean, that significantly has changed, you know, our commuting patterns. So, you know, we’re not, you know, we’re seeing more remote work on Mondays and Fridays. And then, you know, we’re seeing that peak is usually on a Wednesday or a Thursday of people being in the office. And again, that changes, you know, how we look at our road system and what that demand is. You know, usually when roads are improved upon, It’s based upon, you know, the peak hour service, which is, you know, there’s an AM peak and a PM peak. Well, that AM peak has now been extended out, so, you know, it’s two and a half to three hours of people commuting into an office. and that PM peak gets kind of crunched even more with people leaving the office. 

And some of the things that we’re seeing is people are leaving the office sooner. So that rush hour traffic is happening sooner than later, in later in the afternoon. And where our office sits is on 29, You know, we definitely are seeing visually this impact, you know, with traffic lights. And traffic lights themselves, you know, are based upon peaked demand. So, you know, people will go, well, why is this traffic light so long? Well, pre covid, it needed to be long. Now that the traffic isn’t there, it can be shorter. 

Liam Dempsey: Tim, one of the things I really like about your answer is it really reinforces just how complex transportation strategy planning is and how long it can take to affect a change. You can’t just throw more trains on a train truck schedule. You can’t just overnight swap the red light schedule for three-fifths of the county. You can’t just throw an extra lane on 202 or Route 1 or 76 and have that done, or tell everybody good news, everybody we’re flexing schedules. You can now, you should now leave work at seven rather than whenever you want. 

So, I really appreciate you walking through it and helping us understand the complexities of what you and your colleagues, and the other planning agencies are dealing with. Thank you for that.

Tim Phelps: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it becomes really interesting as we walk through it. I mean, you know, where people live and how they commute to locations. I mean, you know, you see the development that’s happening in Southern and Western Chester County. Well, when that happens, everybody’s excited and municipalities are excited that they have this land growth. And then all of a sudden, the traffic creeps in. And then now, well, why is the Route 30 bypass so full? Well, you look at, you know, west of, you know, you pick the point west of Thorndale, how many housing units have gone? That impacts to traffic as it all the way comes through. And the blessing in the curse of the Commonwealth is all land planning is done at the local municipal level. And so, you know, it is folks like DVRPC and the Chester County Planning Commission, you know, are trying to think through what we’ll call the transportation system in order to move people through. And that’s just not, that’s just the commuters. 

Now, on top of that, we have great ag in the county. We have great quarries that are in the county. We move a lot of freight through the county. And now you have that intermix of both. So that needs to be planned into our commuter traffic too.

Erik Gudmundson: And it’s not just commuter traffic, it’s also recreational activities that you’re involved in here in Chester County. So Liam, for example, he’s an avid cyclist and rides his e-bike often, sometimes for work, sometimes for exercise, and sometimes for to go grab some beer out somewhere.  

For me personally, I like to hike and do horseback riding here in the county. And so for me, I was personally disappointed to see some paving along the Schuylkill River trail because I’d rather have, you know, impervious, softer surfaces to ride on and hike on. But I imagine lots of cyclists like Liam are quite happy about that change. So, I’m curious if TMACC was involved in that project and how you work with all the stakeholders to implement changes that will serve the community best.

Tim Phelps: Yeah. That’s always, you know, the challenge. I mean, when you have a multi-use trail, what do you need to do to serve the majority of people? And it and I don’t like to use the word picking winners and losers in the process, but you know, we probably have more bike riders than equestrians in the county.  And so, but you know, in that same nature, you know, we need to continue to think about, you know, what are the equestrian recreational trails that the county does have in its system. And I know that they do have some through the extensive park service that the county actually operates. And so, you know, it is getting the stakeholders together.

And just a little deviation on that. I think it’s really important for community members to participate in public outreach programs. When a municipality is going through a comprehensive plan or they’re going through zoning changes, I think it’s really important that we take our time as citizens to go out and learn about what’s happening within our township. Because too many times though, I see that, you know, somebody is now upset that something’s happening down the street, and how can we let that happen? Well, it was zoned for that. And there was a zoning hearing meeting for that. And it’s just encouraging people to be educated. So when these changes do occur, that folks can understand why they’re occurring and be a part of the process in the beginning, not at the end.  

and so as we go through and looking at, you know, bike-ped facilities within the county, we need to continue to plan for that. I mean, there is this act of transportation folks that we need to continue to add so that people can ride their bicycles to work. Giving people that opportunity, that choice, they don’t have to get into a vehicle. And it’s just not planning that you know, the Chester Valley Trail or whatever it is that the county is working on. But it is also to make sure that how people connect into that is also a safe route so that we don’t have conflicts between cars and vehicles, that it is safe for all users in that nature.  

Liam Dempsey: Tim, can I ask you to unpack a little bit about what getting involved looks like to the average Chester County citizen? So they do care about transportation or following their listening to this great episode, they’re gonna be interested in it in an active way. What does that look like? How do they know when the planning meetings are gonna happen? How do they, do you have some guidance, maybe a website or two that we can point people to like, how do you start to get involved? How do you start to learn more about what’s happening in your area from a planning standpoint?

Tim Phelps: Yeah. So one of the first places is no matter what municipality you’re in, make sure that you sign up for your municipal newsletter, or you have a link saved that goes directly to your municipal website because the municipalities, you know, there is that transparency side that all municipalities have to go through. And all of that information locally is posted on their webpage. You know, each municipality does its best trying to reach its residents. You know, there are so many different avenues that people can get their information. I think it’s part of the citizen’s responsibility to also be reaching out and looking at what the township or the county is doing. 

I also highly encourage folks to look at some of the county’s projects. You know, going to the county website, whether you’re interested in social services, they have a great, you know, great programs that are on the county website. If you are interested in land planning and transportation issues, the Chester County Planning Commission has a great site, that talks about some of their programs, funding opportunities, and some things that they are looking to advance. 

And then, you know, also the Chester County parks and open space board too on that website. It has all the parks listed there and all the amenities that are happening within the parks and programs. And there’s tons of stuff that the county is doing that is, that’s not people aren’t attending because they don’t know where to get that information. So I encourage people to go. There are some newsletters and things that you can sign up for on the county level.  

PennDOT does have some stuff that’s posted on their website. So you go to the PennDOT District 6 Website. And if there are construction projects that are happening within communities, people can get additional information there. We usually highlight local projects in Chester County that may have an impact on your travel time in the county. We put that in our, we have a Monday morning memo that goes out so people can go to our website and sign up for our Monday morning memo. 

And then DVRPC, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, they too have some public outreach that goes on. They actually create the policy for the greater Delaware Valley. So their stuff is a lot bigger, broader, and they kind of, the stuff that we build on at the local level.

Erik Gudmundson: That’s a very comprehensive answer and we’ll follow up with you and make sure we get a bunch of links over how to get involved and the right Links to start looking at on your county site and the like. So thank you very much for that, Tim. 

Tim Phelps: Yeah.

Liam Dempsey: Tim, I want to kind of focus a little bit more on the TMACC ads organization and you as a local leader in our community. You’ve been a leader in the Westchester Cycling Classic, the main line Chamber of Commerce, and the Tri-County area Chamber of Commerce, just to name a few. and you’ve been with TMACC for over 12 years. And Chester County has changed a lot in that 12-year period. So of transportation options, we’ve talked about some of them this afternoon here. How has TMACC’s mission evolved considering new technologies like electric cars and self-driving vehicles and new services like Uber and Lyft? And then the changes to subsequent changes in policy from different government administrations? 

Tim Phelps: Yeah. I mean, that’s a lot to unpack. You know… 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. Can you get that down to about any word answer for us, please?   

Tim Phelps: Yeah. So, you know, my background, you know, I’m originally from this region. I did work in Montgomery County, and my wife and I, we moved to Houston, Texas for her job for a while. When we came back, you know, we settled, you know, here in the eastern part of the county. And I had the opportunity, I did work at the Greater Westchester Chamber of Commerce as the President and CEO there.  And I did have time at the Tri-County Chamber, which is the northern tier of the county, spent time at the mainline chamber before I landed here. 

And so I’ve gotten to see a lot of the business land planning go on. And so, you know, when we look at what those changes are is kind of the land planning process and how we’ve grown as a county in that format, that has led to, you know, some of the transportation changes that we see and the demands that are out there. And so, as we kind of address this, you know, technology has its role. You know, Uber and Lyft, you know, they’re still young and they’re providing that on-demand service, you know, through a mobile app for folks to get there. Some of the work that we’re doing, you know, in the public transit side is to get to that mobile app side so you know, it’s real-time information to know when and where your bus is and make sure that you’re gonna make the bus schedule. And then, you know, with electric cars, you know, here in the county we’ve been blessed with a lot of grant money that’s come in, and many communities that are embracing no electric charging stations. 

We have always taken a role here at TMACC that we are fuel agnostic. And by that means is that you know, we think that there needs to be a blend of fuel. So electric is one of those blends. Hydrogen can be one of those blends. Propane can be one of those bends. Natural gas can be one of those roads. And there are times and places for gas and diesel power, but when we’re making those choices as community members, we need to realize, you know, what are the environmental impacts? So, you know, the way that, so the electric charging stations have been being built out in the county, you know, there is, you know, something to say that maybe every household can start thinking about their second car as being an electric vehicle and just think about the environmental impact that would have.

And you know, ’cause we’re not all traveling 250 miles a day in our travel time, but you know, we still have farm tractors, you know, and they need diesel. We still haul stuff, you know, that needs diesel. That technology is coming, but it is also an investment. So our communities have been doing a great job in investing in electric charging stations. You know, we’re seeing more, more electric cars, more hybrid cars that are on our roads. And that’s just gonna continue to grow. So we need to continue to grow with that and make sure that we have the right network. 

Erik Gudmundson: You mentioned regional rail earlier, and I want to go back to that for a moment ’cause I really enjoy taking regional rail into the city. That makes my life a lot easier. I know that. And, you know, the biggest struggle I have with it is just finding which entrances and septus stations in Philadelphia are gonna be open late at night so I can get back to the regional rails train stations. But that’s, I think that’s outta your department or area of expertise unless you have any great tips for me. The real question I have though is well, SEPTA, it ever bring rail service to Westchester Phoenixville or Kennett Square in our lifetime? 

Tim Phelps: Yeah. So, the answer is it could, if the dollars were there. I mean, one of the biggest frustrations that we have, you know, across the country is, you know, transportation dollars. And we talk about, oh, we passed this IIJA act, you know, and there’s oxygen. Well, there are a lot of other places too that are competing for that money. And so in order to do some of those improvements, you know, it does take that capital cost and that capital planning. I mean, so to spend, you know, a lot of money extending the service out to Wawa, and they did a great job for that. 

There are other challenges, you know, from land planning to, you know, service levels in order to get it to the next stage in that nature. And again, it’s looking at people’s, you know, use. I mean the supply and demand side, you know, the business model. I mean, as much as one may wanna say, bringing, you know, a rail station back out to Ken along the corridor on a daily basis, does that make the financial sense? And that becomes the challenge that any agency has.

With rail going back to Phoenixville, there’s, you know, again, going back to the county website, there is a rail initiative. It is moving through the federal process. It connects the greater reading area into Phoenixville and into Center City, Philadelphia. And that is not necessarily a SEPTA service, and it could be a hybrid of an Amtrak service that goes in, but it becomes a very, you know, positive piece. And again, it’s a limited service, so, you know, it’s not gonna be running every hour. You know, the schedule may be something slightly different, but again, it’s connecting, you know, those urban hubs, you know, into the metro area which is highly needed. 

Westchester’s a really unique project. You know, there is a lot of conversation that’s happening between the borough of Westchester, some private entities, and SEPTA. And so there are some challenges there and there are also some opportunities. And so as folks work through that, you know,  hopefully, people can see some of those opportunities and willing to take some, I will say, this, risk, ’cause any business venture has some level of risk in creating, you know, a connection between the borough of Westchester and say, you know, and the Wawa station. There is some technology there that is really unique, that is functioning. Again, it is figuring out, you know, is there room for that partnership to actually occur? And so that’s a policy decision-making process, you know. And then after that policy is like, okay, where’s the funding coming from and how does that funding not compete with another, you know, already known entity that needs to be funded? So we do have some challenges, but we have some great opportunities that are ahead of us. 

Liam Dempsey: I was heading to just Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce event last month, and I was heading south out of Downingtown on 322. And before I got out of Downingtown, there was a truck stop in the southbound lane manually directing people around it just before the train overpass there. And as I got close enough, a little intimidated as to what might be coming at me at speed, I saw there was all sorts of  stone work that had fallen from the bridge and the truck had rammed into the bridge. And all of this is to lead me to bridge rehabilitation is big work, right? There’s pretty significant engineering going on there. And it seems to me in my state of ignorance that it would be a PennDOT or a Federal highway issue rather than say a county or a downingtown borough issue. If that’s correct, then why is TMACC involved in bridge rehabilitation? Why focus on that? 

Tim Phelps: So, we do more of the public outreach when a bridge goes under construction. So, we don’t get involved in the rehabilitation side. I mean that truly is, again, we have state-owned bridges in the county and we have plenty of county-owned bridges in it. And there are some smaller municipal county bridges, and bridges are bridges, and they’re a separate beast on themselves. Meaning, you know, trying to manage water flow underneath them, traffic underneath them, heavy loads on top of ’em, you know, so bridges are a beast among themselves.  

But you think about the region why a bridge is there that it does have an impact on somebody’s travel. And so when a bridge needs to be rehabilitated, you know, there’s a lot of times that you have to close the bridge. You can’t do a single lane across the bridge. And what does that mean? And so, you know, you look at where our bridges are and where the next crossing is, and usually it’s a little bit down the road. So, we were really heavily involved in the 926 bridge there over the Brandywine. Because, you know, it’s a significant bridge. It carries a lot of traffic over it. And so, you know, part of that outreach is, you know, engaging people to let them know when that bridge is going to happen, what their roots are going to be.

And then, you know, In that case, you know, we did such a great job, and PennDOT was shocked with this, is we did a ribbon cutting for a bridge. How often do you do that? I mean, that was the really cool part about it. We had like 350 people out to do a ribbon cutting over the 926 bridge which was just amazing.

Liam Dempsey: So there were a lot of people excited when that bridge reopened. So, that ribbon cutting was well deserved.

Tim Phelps: It’s key. So, again, you know, bridges are a challenge and bridges need their maintenance. And we get involved in just the communication side of that. So, you know, they are investments and, you know, the top may look different than the underneath. And that’s kind of what the PennDOTs of the world have to look at what’s underneath. 

Erik Gudmundson: Route 1 may not get as much attention as Route 202 or 30, but it is a key corridor through the county.  it connects the towns of Kennett Square and Oxford and links us to Delaware County and the state of Maryland. It includes businesses like hers and Longwood Gardens and Constellation Energy. So, I’m curious what enhancements is TMACC working on for Route 1? It looks like there’s some lane expansion happening down in the Longwood area. And, you know, I’m also curious, what have we learned from the build-outs of Route 202 and 30 that we can use to plan development along Route 1 a little bit better? 

Tim Phelps: So, there’s a couple of pieces that kind of, with Route 1, I mean, again, we look at the age of, you know, say the Route 30 bypass in Route 1 when they were designed. And you look at the population density of those communities at the timeframe, what they were designed. And then you look at, you know, car design and a bunch of stuff. Is that along the route, the Route 1 corridor? Many of those exit ramps and entrance ramps, they’re very short. And that’s a lot of, you know, what PennDOT is looking at is what are those safety improvements that can happen within those ramps to pick up the capacity because of the development that has happened west.

And again, you know, with what’s happening along with gardens is, you know, we all, many of us, I won’t say we all, we, many of us will remember, you know, when that was a single lane or two-lane road that came through, Longwood did their investment to realign the road, widen that road there. And again, ’cause it creates, you know, a time of need, a time of demand that happens in the corridor. And so it is to safely move that traffic through and become car-centric at that point. 

And I know that one of the challenges that we have there in the Marlboro area is, you know, getting people from shopping center to shopping center, you know, now you’re three, six lanes wide. And if you’re somebody who is catching a bus or needs to go from shopping to center, you know, we’re putting them in arm’s way of, you know, you name the dump truck that’s using that section of the road there, or the 18 wheeler that’s delivering stuff through, whether it be hay to a farm, or maybe it’s food demand, Freddy.  You know, there we have all these mixed needs.

And so a lot of what set, what PennDOT is doing on that corridor, our safety improvements, not necessarily capacity building, but to make it a safer thoroughfare. You know, we have again, time of day needs,  but you know, necessarily we don’t need capacity on Route 1 itself. 

Lessons learned: You know, I think it’s, you know, it’s the land planning that goes around the interchanges, you know, what makes sense, what type of land planning we need. You know, Southern Chester County has a lot of ag, you know, a lot of the mushroom farms that butt up against the corridor that we see. So I think it’s really important to kind of think through the land planning side about what is appropriate near that interchange and how does it, you know, how does it also align with the needs, but the quality of life needs. So, you know, do we wanna build more sound barriers just because we’re gonna put a housing unit there, you know, not quite sure. And if you build the housing area, you know, what is it gonna do with the capacity that leads back to that intersection where that on-ramp is? So those are some of the things that kind of learn, you know, from the 202 corridor itself. 

Liam Dempsey: Always complex. Always complex. So TMACC works to connect folks in and around Chester County, and that’s partly what we’re doing here with our show, trying to connect folks in and around Chester County. Can you tell us a little bit about a business or a nonprofit in Chester County that more people should know about?  

Tim Phelps: You know, we work with a lot of social service agencies and we work with a lot of folks that have different types of needs. You know,  some of them are, you know, nonprofit side, you know, it’s locals, chambers of commerce. It’s a Chester County Foodbank. You know, we all have transportation needs. So to pick one from my standpoint is hard. But what one needs to understand is what’s important to their community and why is that engagement important to that community.  it could be even your local church. It could be La Comunidad. So each, you know, we have a lot of different agencies in the county that are doing wonderful work and helping to improve the quality of life for so many different people. And we interface with it because again, it’s like how do people get to La Comunidad? You know, we wanna be able to provide a reliable bus service so that people can get to their medical appointments. I mean, that’s the core of what we need to do. When we work with folks at Chester County Food Bank and all the food banks that they support in and around Southern Chester County, it’s really important to understand how people get their food and where’s the closest bus stop. Because we don’t want somebody to walk a mile carrying a bag of food. We want them to be able to get on an affordable bus service. So, you know, to say there’s one is really hard for me because we interface with so many different ones and there’s a lot of great leaders that are out there in the community that are doing great work to help raise people in Chester County. 

Liam Dempsey: We’ve talked about a lot of big issues today, and Tim, one of the things I really like about your answers is they all come back to people.  And so, to stick with that theme as we begin to wrap up here, I want to know a little bit more about the culture of TMACC. How many people are there? Do you work in the office? And, how closely are the people there tied to all the people in county government? I wanna know, you know, if is, do you have a magic wand? Your folks are there to help with the traffic as you and your colleagues commute to your office in Malvern, and are you hiring?

Tim Phelps: So I’ll answer the last question first there. So unfortunately at this time, I am not hiring. I got a great team. We are, we’re a small team. I say we’re a team of five and a half. So we have,  actually six and a…Hold on one second. I have to count myself into this. We have five and a half folks that are in the mix. And so we have five and a half. 

The half person is a part-time person that does the customer service for us, for our bus service. So, Diane does a wonderful job of reaching out to community members at large.  

John Meisel in my office, he focuses on our bus operations and some special projects. He’s focused on our Route 3, study right now. So again, we’re looking at that bike-ped connection to bus stops along Route 3. So he’s heading up that project. 

Bralyn is one of our newest hires. Braly is from the region, and she’s kind of focusing on some bicycle amenities. 

And then Laura, who I rely heavily on is kind of my office manager, and she does some outreach.

So we have a very small staff that’s, you know, covering the county. We interface with, you know, Chester County Planning Commission. We try to support their work and their efforts. So, yeah. So, we’re small, we are in the office three days a week. I, myself, I’m only less than three miles away. I’m an an in-office guy. I like the separation between my house and my work. And so, you know, even during Covid. It was great being the boss. I could come into the office and be here. But, yeah. So, we lean and mean on the projects that we’re working on. So, but you know, it’s that community engagement that we have that allows us to appear bigger in the county because we’re, you know, we’re always talking to folks about projects. 

Liam Dempsey: Tim, you and your little team of five and a half at TMACC are doing a lot on behalf of the local community, trying to make sure that folks can get where they want, when they want, how they want, as best as you can. How can the local community support TMACC?

Tim Phelps: That’s an interesting question. I mean, you know, we’re, you know, we are a 501 C6 organization. We do have a small nonprofit that’s tied to us. We run some community outreach programs through that nonprofit. You know, the way to, best is, you know, just keep constantly coming back to the TMACC website, seeing what we’re doing, you know, we post on social media. So we have a Facebook, you know, we have a Facebook presence. We’re in transition with another one. We have a Linkedin presence. We do have our Monday morning memo that’s really, you know, yes, I could tell you, and tell you to join TMACC. We’re doing great things, but it’s about the participation.

And I come back to you now how we opened it up. It’s about community participation, how to support TMACC is actually showing up to your local community events that talk about transportation issues, letting your voice be known, like how important this is to you. What are your concerns? What are some of the obstacles to you, or what are some things that we should be thinking about that may not be on the table? And to me, that’s like the greatest benefit of TMACC and how people can be, TMACC is showing up, being present at the local level to talk about transportation issues, and coming back to TMACC to the website that we have so that people can understand what’s out there. 

We’ve started a great community magazine called Chesgo. When you go to the website, you can look at the Chesgo. And we try to highlight projects and people who are making a difference in transportation in and around Chester County. So, you know, please check that out. Circulate that among friends. That’s a, you know, that’s a great benefit to TMACC. So they didn’t get the word out about what’s going on in the community at large. So, yeah. It’s not sales. It’s about participation.  

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. That comes very through, very clearly. Thank you so much.  Tim Phelps, Executive Director of the Transportation Management Association of Chester County, TMACC, so grateful for your time today. Tim, before we officially say goodbye here, let us know where folks can find you online. It sounds like your West website is the best place to start, but can you remind us of your web address? 

Tim Phelps: Tim: Yeah, so it’s, yeah. The best place is that web address, so it’s www.tmacc.org. And you can find all sorts of information about,  transportation projects, in Chester County, connecting back to TMACC and our Chesgo magazine. So [tmaccc.org] is the best place to go. 

Erik Gudmundson: Thank you so much for your time today, Tim. I always enjoy when I do these podcasts and I learn something from our valued guests. So, what a pleasure. Thank you.

Tim Phelps: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you guys today. 

Liam Dempsey: And thanks to you for listening to the conversation today here on the Start Local podcast. We publish every two weeks, a fortnight, if you will, every fortnight. And, don’t forget that you can head over to [startlocal.co] both for the show notes, but also to subscribe for updates. 

We do have that in-person event coming up pretty soon. And the fastest way to hear about that will be an email directly from us.

Thanks again. Take care. Bye for now. 

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