March/April 2003


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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 grant writing.

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 50,000 people.

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:

  • Population Density: The average number of persons per square mile, population density is calculated by dividing the total population by the total number of square land miles. In 2000, the population of Pennsylvania was 12,281,054. The number of square miles of land was 44,820. The population density was 274 persons per square mile.
  • Square Land Miles: The number of square miles of land in a county, municipality, or school district. Square miles of water are excluded.
  • Urbanized Area: An area consisting of a densely settled core and adjacent densely settled Census blocks. The entire area must encompass a population of at least 50,000 people.

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 activities.

For more information about the Center's rural definition, contact the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or email: info@ruralpa.org.

Chairman's Message
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 definition.

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 health care.

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 rural PA.

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 Road Rules

"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 our state.

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 counties.

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 licenses.

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.

More vehicles
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.

Commuting patterns
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.

Crash statistics
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 drivers.

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 info@ruralpa.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 of Transportation.

Center Board Welcomes Dr. Nancy Falvo, Elects New Officers

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 their effectiveness.

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 info@ruralpa.org.

Did You Know . . .

  • In rural Pennsylvania there are 55 public airports and more than 3,900 licensed pilots.
  • The average rural municipality in Pennsylvania had a total budget of less than $400,000, according to the Center for Local Government Services.

Just the Facts: FORE!
With spring in the air, the thoughts of many Pennsylvanians turn to a swinging outdoor activity…golf. Fortunately for this crowd, golf courses are aplenty in Pennsylvania.

In fact, there are more golf courses in rural Pennsylvania than there are in 32 other states.
According to year 2000 Census Bureau data, there are 232 golf courses in rural Pennsylvania, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of the state's total of 590.

Regionally, western Pennsylvania has the most courses at 251, while the central region has the least at 135. At the county level, Census Bureau data shows that Montgomery and Allegheny have more than 50 courses each, while Cameron, Forest, Mifflin, Perry, Potter, Sullivan and Union counties have less than two courses each.

Nationally, 2000 Census Bureau data show that there are nearly 11,900 golf courses. Pennsylvania ranks seventh in the number of courses. States with the most courses, with more than 640 courses each, are California, New York, Ohio, and Michigan. Wyoming, Delaware, and Alaska each have the least number of courses with less than 40 each.

According to data from the National Sporting Goods Association, golf is big business. In 2001, consumers across the nation purchased more than $3.8 billion in golf equipment. The association also estimates that there were 26.6 million golfers in the United States in 2001, an increase of 7 percent since 1991.

Among recreational activities, golf ranks ninth according to the total number of participants. Swimming, camping, and fishing, respectively, were the top three activities.

According to a 1999 demographic profile by the National Sporting Goods Association, about 80 percent of golfers are male and less than 20 percent are over 55 years old. More than 60 percent of golfers had household incomes in excess of $60,000 a year.