You can now receive
our news and information via e-mail. Click the 'Join List' button:
Rural Is . . . A New Definition
After conducting more than a half dozen statewide meetings
and talking with more than 150 data users, grant writers, administrators,
and local and state government officials, the Center for Rural
Pennsylvania's Board of Directors has issued its new rural definition,
which will be used by the Center for policy research and data
analysis. State agencies, local government officials, nonprofit
organizations, hospital administrators, school districts and others
may also use the definition for policy and program decisions and
A quick look back to the 90s
During the 1990s, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania used a modified
U.S. Census Bureau definition to identify rural and urban areas.
The definition read that when more than 50 percent of the population
in a county, school district, or municipality is identified as
"rural" by the Census Bureau, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania
considers the entity to be predominantly rural. Entities less
than 50 percent rural are identified as predominantly urban.
Welcome to the new millennium
With the release of the Census 2000 data, however, the Census
Bureau developed a new definition of rural and urban. The definition
first focused on urban areas, which included substantial changes
to the former definitions, and which now consist of two components:
urbanized areas (UAs) and urban clusters (UCs).
An urbanized area consists of a densely settled core and adjacent
densely settled Census blocks. The entire area must encompass
a population of at least 50,000 people.
Urban clusters are similar, only smaller. Clusters, however,
encompass a population of at least 2,500 people but fewer than
The core of both urbanized areas and urban clusters is essentially
an initial core made up of contiguous Census blocks or block groups
with a population density of at least 1,000 people per square
mile. Added to this core are adjacent blocks or block groups with
a population density of at least 500 people per square mile.
All territory, population, and housing units in either type of
urban area are considered urban, and the remainder is rural.
Making sense of it all
After the Census Bureau issued its new rural/urban definition,
the Center applied its 1990 classification system to Pennsylvania
but noticed some strange things: some counties with very small
populations, such as Elk and Cameron, were being flagged as urban
since most of their populations lived in a small town that was
classified as an urban cluster. Oddities like these and others
are what encouraged the Center for Rural Pennsylvania's Board
of Directors to consider formulating a rural definition for Pennsylvania
that would no longer be based on the Census Bureau's definition.
Since many state and local government agencies and private and
nonprofit organizations use Center data or rely on the data for
their programs and projects, the Center's board held forums across
the state in October 2002 to get input from users. At the forums,
the new Census definition was discussed and other definitions
were examined. Overall, participants at the sessions agreed that
using the Center's 1990 classification system with the Census
Bureau's 2000 rural/urban definition would be too broad since
it classified many areas with rural characteristics as urban.
Also, forum input concluded that the definition should be applicable
to counties, municipalities, and school districts, be easy to
understand, and be based on population density or the number of
people per square mile.
After the statewide meetings, the Center's board formed a committee,
made up of Dr. C. Shannon Stokes, Dr. Stephan Goetz and Jody Bruckner,
to review the forum findings and to make a recommendation for
a rural/urban definition for Pennsylvania. The committee focused
some of its review on the following terms:
The committee concluded that the definition of rural counties,
school districts and municipalities should be based on population
density, with modifications at the municipal level. The definition
reads: "A county or school district is considered rural when
the population density within the county or school district is
less than the statewide density of 274 persons per square mile.
Counties and school districts that have 274 persons per square
mile or more are considered urban. A municipality is considered
rural when the population density within the municipality is less
than 274 persons per square mile or the municipality's total population
is less than 2,500 unless more than 50 percent of the population
lives in an urbanized area, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.
All other municipalities are considered urban."
The board accepted the committee's recommendations and the definition
will now be used by the Center for its research and data gathering
For more information about the Center's rural definition, contact
the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or email:
If someone were to ask you to name all of the rural counties in
Pennsylvania, would you be able to get them right? If not, don't
feel badly, because you're not alone. Figuring out which counties
are rural depends, in large part, on whose definition you're using.
We all have an idea of what we think constitutes a rural county.
Some of us think of fertile farmland and small villages nestled
comfortably between fields and forests. Others think of sparsely
populated regions of the commonwealth where the white-tailed deer
outnumber the two-legged inhabitants.
It's a fairly safe bet that the areas I just described would
meet the definition of rural most of the time. However, based
on analyses by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania of rural counties
using the new 2000 Census Bureau definition, some of our "absolutely
rural" areas were falling into the federal government's urban
Why does it matter how "rural" is defined? In many
cases, it matters when federal or state government agencies or
private foundations are considering an applicant's grant request
or determining funding eligibility for programs.
During the 1990s, the Center used a modified version of the Census
Bureau's definition to provide some standard for a uniform interpretation
of what is "rural." Because of substantial changes to
the Census Bureau's 2000 definition of urban, the Center for Rural
Pennsylvania decided that it should take a long, hard look at
the definition and how it applies to Pennsylvania.
For several months in late 2002, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania's
Board of Directors and staff held public meetings across the state
and met with more than 150 individuals representing a variety
of private and public organizations to talk about a rural definition.
Our goal was to develop a definition that would be easy to understand
and would best represent Pennsylvania's rural counties, down to
the municipal and school district levels. Through this process,
the Center's board developed and approved a new definition, which
is explained in the feature article on page 1. As we roll out
our new definition, we encourage other state agencies, local officials,
administrators, grant writers, and data gatherers to use the definition
and to call the Center with any questions.
This month, the Center also rolls out a report and manual on
acid mine drainage remediation. The report, which combines the
results of two research projects, focuses on the effectiveness
of passive treatment systems and the use of Geographic Information
Systems, or GIS, to prioritize sites for acid mine remediation.
The manual is for volunteer groups that are looking to develop
a comprehensive remediation plan by using GIS. For more on the
report and manual, see the related article below.
The board welcomes Dr. Nancy Falvo, director of Clarion University's
Health Science Education Center at Clarion University, as our
newest member. We look forward to working with Dr. Falvo, who
has a wide range of experience and expertise in the area of rural
Be sure to read the second installation of our new Trends in Rural
Pennsylvania series, which takes a look at transportation in rural
Pennsylvania. It's no surprise to learn that the road rules in
That's where many of us will be over the next few months as we
attend a wide variety of conferences, like those featured on the
Upcoming Events page.
If you're on the road over the next few months, enjoy the beauty
and the opportunities that our rural areas offer. May your trips
always be safe ones.
Representative Sheila Miller
Trends in Rural Pennsylvania Transportation: The
"Trends in Rural Pennsylvania" is a series of articles
that examine nine major areas of interest in rural Pennsylvania.
The areas of interest are based on the mandates outlined in the
Center for Rural Pennsylvania's enabling legislation (Act 16 of
1987), and include: agriculture; economic development; local government
capacity and fiscal stress indicators; transportation; sociodemographics;
health care and human services; environment and natural resources;
education; and the condition of existing local infrastructure.
We will examine the trends in each interest area from 1990
to 2000, or the best time period according to data availability,
and will make comparisons between the rural and urban areas of
A more detailed fact sheet on each featured topic will also
be available upon request by calling or emailing the Center for
Rural Pennsylvania at the contact information listed at the bottom
of page 2.
This is the second article in the series. The first examined
health care access and affordability.
It's no surprise that the dominant means of transportation in
rural Pennsylvania is the automobile. In 2000, the state's 42
predominantly rural counties encompassed more than 57,000 miles
of highway, an increase of more than 100 miles since 1990. These
same rural counties are home to 1.9 million licensed drivers and
2.4 million registered vehicles.
Driving is becoming increasingly important to rural Pennsylvanians.
While the general population of those aged 16 and older increased
by 7 percent between 1990 and 2000, the number of licensed drivers
increased by 8 percent and the number of registered vehicles increased
by 21 percent. At the same time, highway miles grew by a fraction
of 1 percent but daily vehicle miles of travel (DVMT) climbed
22 percent. These changes are much more significant than in urban
Owning the roads
Ownership of rural Pennsylvania's more than 57,000 linear miles
of highway is divided primarily between the Pennsylvania Department
of Transportation (PennDOT) and local municipalities with turnpike,
toll bridge, and other agencies in the mix. The majority is locally
owned and maintained but PennDOT controls more than one-third
of all roads.
In 2000, highways in the commonwealth's rural counties supported
76.7 million daily vehicle miles of travel. This amounts to about
1,344 vehicles daily per mile of highway. About 80 percent of
these miles are traveled on PennDOT highways.
Of course not all road miles are improved highways. Nearly 2,000
miles of rural roadway owned by municipalities and PennDOT are
unpaved or dirt roads. This does not include dirt roads owned
by other agencies such as the Bureau of Forestry in the Department
of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Municipal governments are responsible for maintaining local roads,
and they spend varying amounts on this endeavor. In 2000, municipalities
in rural counties spent $226.6 million on streets and roads, which
accounts for nearly 10 percent of total municipal expenditures.
A license to drive
A full 90 percent of rural residents aged 16 and older have a
driver's license. This compares to 83 percent of urban residents.
Both rural and urban percentages increased slightly since 1990.
Not only are a greater percentage of qualified residents licensed
in rural areas, but they drive more as well. The average licensed
driver in rural Pennsylvania drove more than 41 miles a day in
2000 compared to 32 miles for urban drivers.
What we drive
Although automobiles are the most common type of vehicle for rural
residents (93 percent of licenses were to operate an automobile),
they are not the only type. Of the 1.8 million rural licensed
drivers, nearly 20 percent had multiple types of licenses. This
could include motorcycle, commercial vehicle, or even school bus
Trucks are popular in rural counties. There were 2.4 million
vehicles registered in rural counties in 2000: 62 percent were
passenger vehicles and 34 percent were trucks and trailers.
Vehicle ownership is on the rise in rural Pennsylvania. In 1990,
there were 1.17 vehicles per licensed driver. Throughout the decade,
that number grew to reach 1.31 vehicles per driver in 2000. Census
data from 2000 shows that only 8 percent of rural households had
no vehicle while 41 percent had two and 19 percent had three or
more. A decade earlier, 10 percent had no vehicle while 40 percent
had two and 12 percent had three or more.
All of these factors add up to an increased demand on rural roadways.
The driving age population is increasing and the number of drivers
is growing even faster. Meanwhile, drivers have more vehicles
and drive more miles.
A look at commuting patterns derived from 2000 Census data show
that, in 1990, fewer than 74 percent of rural workers drove alone
to work; in 2000, the percent of lone drivers rose to 80. Accordingly,
carpooling dropped from 15 to 11 percent and walking to work fell
from 6 to 4 percent. In both Censuses, between 3 and 4 percent
worked from home and fewer than 2 percent took public transportation
or other means such as bicycles or motorcycles.
The average rural Pennsylvania resident commuted 25 minutes to
work in 2000, up from 20 minutes in 1990.
With all this driving come accidents. Crash statistics from PennDOT
show 32,433 crashes in rural counties for the year 2000 and nearly
500 traffic related fatalities. Crashes have increased since 1990
when there were just over 30,000 crashes. However, since more
people are driving, there are approximately the same number of
crashes per licensed driver or about 17.5 crashes per 1,000 licensed
Although crashes increased during this 10-year period, fewer
were fatal with a decrease of 14 percent. Fatalities per 1,000
crashes decreased from about 19 to 15 during those 10 years.
Buses, planes and trains
Buses, planes and trains are also important modes of transportation
in rural Pennsylvania.
Two types of public bus systems run in rural Pennsylvania and
both are funded in part by PennDOT. Twenty-one rural and small
urban bus systems cover at least parts of 26 counties. In the
2000-2001 fiscal year, public bus systems transported 3.7 million
passengers traveling 6.1 million vehicle miles. There were 165
vehicles in use at peak hours. These figures represent interesting
changes in service from 1990-1991 when there were 4 million passengers,
4.6 million vehicle miles traveled, and 155 peak hour vehicles.
While there is no specific information available on air ridership,
there were 55 public airports in the state's rural counties in
1999. This figure is fewer in number but more per capita than
in urban counties. Rural Pennsylvania had over 3,900 active licensed
pilots in 1998. For more rural airport information, see the 2001
Center for Rural Pennsylvania fact sheet on rural airports.
In terms of rail transportation, Pennsylvania is served by all
three major eastern railroad systems and 70 regional and short-line
railroads, more than any other state. The second group ranges
from short-lines that operate on a few miles of track within a
single county to major regional systems serving as many as 12
counties. The commonwealth has about 5,600 miles of rail line.
Only a few counties have none. According to the Association of
American Railroads (AAR), the majority of track (61 percent) is
part of the three major systems. About 10 percent belongs to the
four regional systems and the balance is part of 24 local railroads
and switching terminals.
AAR data also show that freight rail carried 190.5 tons of cargo,
which amounted to more than 4.1 million carloads. Coal accounted
for about half of this freight.
Amtrak data show that 119 passenger trains operate daily in Pennsylvania,
excluding commuter systems. Ridership in the state was nearly
4.8 million in 2001.
Want more info?
For the fact sheet: Trends in Rural Pennsylvania, Transportation:
The Road Rules, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717)
787-9555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rural counties are defined as those whose population is more than
50 percent rural according to the 1990 Census, the current definition
at the time of the research. Unless otherwise noted, data come
from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and
are for the year 2000.
Miles of highway - Linear miles of road regardless of number of
lanes. The length measured along the road centerline.
Daily Vehicle Miles of Travel (DVMT) - A measure of total travel
by all vehicles.
PennDOT roads - Roads owned and maintained by the PA Department
Center Board Welcomes Dr. Nancy Falvo, Elects
At it's January Board meeting, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania's
Board of Directors welcomed its newest member, Dr. Nancy Falvo,
director of Clarion University's Health Science Education Center
(HSEC). HSEC is a health education project that provides health
education programs to school-aged children in Clarion, Venango,
Armstrong, Butler, Elk, Forest and Jefferson counties.
Prior to serving as HSEC Director, Dr. Falvo worked at Clarion
University's Pittsburgh site, serving as the Director of the Pittsburgh
Programs and teaching in both the undergraduate and graduate nursing
degree programs. Dr. Falvo received a bachelor's degree from Duquesne
University, a master's degree in nursing from LaRoche College,
and a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh. She is chairperson
of the State System of Higher Education's Primary Care Council
and a volunteer with the American Cancer Society.
In other business, the board elected officers for the 2003-2004
legislative session. The board reelected Representative Sheila
Miller as chairman and Dr. C. Shannon Stokes as secretary. Senator
Mary Jo White was elected vice chairman and Representative Mike
Hanna was elected treasurer.
Acid Mine Drainage: Research Looks at Remediation,
Manual Provides How-Tos on Site Prioritization with GIS
Mining has long been an important part of Pennsylvania's rural
economy. Past mining activities, however, have contributed to
environmental degradation, and rural communities are now struggling
to cope with the economic burdens associated with these problems.
Perhaps the most acute problem is acid mine drainage (AMD).
Today, one of the most popular treat-ment techniques are "passive
treatment systems," which are designed to funnel the AMD
through limestone drains and artificial wetlands to remove the
acidity and metals. While these systems were developed about 15
years ago, their impact has not been studied well enough to determine
Given the large investment in AMD treatment over the years, the
Center for Rural Pennsylvania sponsored a study to evaluate passive
treatment systems for their effectiveness and a study to develop
a Geographic Information System (GIS) methodology for acid mine
drainage remediation prioritization.
Effectiveness of systems
The first study, conducted by Dr. Andrew M. Turner with the Department
of Biology at Clarion University, used the Mill Creek Watershed
in Clarion and Jefferson Counties as a study area to evaluate
passive treatment systems for their effectiveness. The research
project assessed the efficiency, stream water chemistry, cost-effectiveness
and recovery of biological values for selected passive treatment
systems in the watershed.
The study found that passive treatment systems have the potential
to treat AMD successfully, since most of the systems in the study
area helped to significantly reduce contaminants.
Remediation planning using GIS
The second study, conducted by Dr. John Benhart Jr. and Dr. Thomas
Simmons of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, developed a
Geographic Information System (GIS) methodology for acid mine
drainage remediation prioritization. The researchers used the
Blacklick Creek Watershed in Indiana County as a study area.
For the study, researchers gathered, preprocessed and analyzed
data, and developed a manual to help other groups follow the same
process. The researchers found that the GIS developed was able
to handle and manipulate spatial and attribute data in ways that
provided crucial information for prioritization and decision-making.
The methods used in the research are detailed in a manual that
may be helpful to nonprofit groups working on watershed or water
quality projects in AMD affected areas.
Report, manual now available
The report, Acid Mine Drainage: Studies in Remediation, which
provides details about the two research projects, and the manual,
Building a Geographic Information System for Acid Mine Drainage
Remediation Planning: A Manual for Nonprofits, are now available
by calling the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555
or emailing email@example.com.
Did You Know . . .