(21st in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)
Kate McVey is a concerned citizen, 30-year resident of Bethlehem, professional organizer, dog owner, mother of two children, been around, kosher cook . . . explorer.
Ok, Gadfly, so let’s talk about walkability and bikeability for the City of Bethlehem.
I’ve attached photos of the current bike paths I took recently early on a Sunday morning. Well, actually I’m guessing this is a bike path because I don’t really know what a bike painted in the middle of a busy street really means. Is that a bike path? What are cars to do? That can’t be bike paths because they are painted in the middle of busy thoroughfares. Elizabeth Avenue has several such painted bikes; Fahy Bridge has a painted bike; Main Street has painted bikes. (Several years ago a biker was tragically killed on the Fahy Bridge.) Does this mean that cars are to yield to bikers? Does this mean that bike traffic (against all bike-riding regulations) should travel in both directions in that one lane? If the city is going to paint bicycles in the middle of busy streets, please inform the public as to what those painted bikes mean. I am pretty astute, and if I don’t know what I am to do when I drive on a street with a painted bike, I’m guessing a lot of people don’t. Is it simply: BEWARE BIKERS MAY BE ON THE ROAD?
Ok. So let’s tackle the walkability issue. There’s been a lot of discussion about this as several citizens and at least one council member really want a pedestrian bridge across the Lehigh River. Hmmm, there are three existing pedestrian crossings at this time. Do we need the expense of a bridge for bikes and walkers when there are already three? Where is this bridge to be located? What is it connecting? Do we need it? Is the Lehigh River a river that requires contemplative crossing? Will there be benches placed along it for sitting and watching the sunset etc.? Is there something exciting going on in the River? In Denver I have watched kayakers (outside of REI) do their thing in rapids below — that was fun. But do we have this in Bethlehem? The Lehigh River is a fun recreational place, but simply to walk across it doesn’t offer that much gratification. Usually pedestrian bridges connect one immediate social area to another; that, if my understanding of placement of this Bethlehem bridge is correct, will not be what this proposed bridge will do. And, I am very open to correction.
I have two dogs, and I walk a lot. Here are pictures of sidewalks within one block of my house. They certainly are not safe. I have fallen while walking because a sidewalk slab was raised four inches up from the next slab. These irregularities are all over Bethlehem. Many older adults I have spoken with won’t walk in Bethlehem because of the bad sidewalks and the risk of falling. They feel much safer going to the gym to walk. When events that are clearly walkable from my home come up, no one near me wants to walk to them because they don’t want to fall on the poorly lit and treacherous sidewalks.
I saw that Councilperson Paige Van Wirt announced that money had been secured for a feasibility study of a bridge. I really hope that these funds came from private money (not taxpayer) for this study. To replace sidewalks is very expensive. $40,000 allocated for a feasibility study would be better spent correcting poor sidewalks that are now the responsibility of the homeowners. I understand there are loans available to residents for sidewalk replacement, but a loan needs to be repaid. Residents simply do not have the thousands it takes to replace sidewalks. It isn’t as if it would be several hundred dollars; my research is that is would be several thousand.
So, where are we? Would a pedestrian bridge be a nice perk for some of our citizens? Indeed. Is it necessary when so many other things are needed? I think not. Will it make Bethlehem more “walkable”? Not when the sidewalks are of such poor quality that you must constantly be looking down so as not to trip.
I understand that the Sierra Club favors the bridge. Have they given thought to some of these other issues? Is it not in the interest of Sierra Club to want the entire City to be more walkable? I don’t believe I have seen or heard anything from them concerning the deplorable condition of our current sidewalks. If a resident has to drive to access the pedestrian bridge, then the carbon footprint problem is increased, not diminished
Finally, there is this sidewalk on Elizabeth Avenue. As ADA regulations require a four-foot-wide sidewalk, this space is not compliant. While the City is busy putting in and correcting the curb cuts around the City (my favorite are the elaborate curb-cuts put in at Macada Road and Center Street where there are absolutely no sidewalks for miles, so good luck to the person in a wheelchair; once they cross the intersection where the heck are they going to go?), perhaps the person responsible for ADA compliance for Bethlehem should be investigating the sidewalks also. Just saying . . . let’s get our priorities straight, and if walking and biking in Bethlehem is a goal, let’s start with real bike paths and good sidewalks.