(23rd in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)
Paige Van Wirt is a Bethlehem City Councilwoman, physician, and small business owner.
I am responding to Kate McVey’s piece as I am mentioned in it a few times. I am very happy to be having a dialogue about this, and happy citizens have a forum in Bethlehem to air their ideas. While this forum is valuable, I think the most powerful advocacy out there is coming and speaking before city council. It is remarkable how an informed, passionate citizen can sway opinion and open minds.
In terms of the bike lanes in Bethlehem, I agree they are inadequate. The concept is “sharrows,” which are shared lanes between bikes and cars. They are meant to help indicate where cyclists should be safe. They are less preferable than dedicated bike lanes, which I agree should be implemented in Bethlehem. This would cost time and tax dollars, but that does not mean it can’t be done. Citizens coming and speaking before council about their concerns and desires for safe cycling lanes is a very effective way of advocating for the dedication of tax dollars, or asking the city to obtain grants with the help of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission; the LVPC has a number of ongoing projects and exploratory studies to address this very issue — how do we foster safe cycling in the valley. I encourage you to come and speak and let City Council and the Mayor’s administration know how you feel. We would benefit from dedicated bike lanes on certain streets in Bethlehem. Even better would be an off-road set of paths and trails that could be shared by pedestrians and cyclists alike. Ironically, to your point, a pedestrian bridge would be a valuable part of any off-road system. A local group
involved in cycling advocacy is Lehigh Valley Coalition for Appropriate Transportation: http://www.lvcat.org/lvcat/. [You can always find this link on the Gadfly sidebar.] Walk Roll Lehigh Valley, through the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, is creating a master plan for walking and cycling in the Valley: https://www.lvpc.org/walkrolllv.html. These organizations are open to the public and welcome your advocacy and input. For every project, there is a cost/benefit analysis that must be data-driven and easily understood by the citizens.
I could not agree with you more about the condition of our sidewalks. In many places they are deplorable. The legal structure in Bethlehem means that homeowners are responsible for our sidewalks, and that puts a serious financial burden on homeowners as neighborhoods age and root systems wreak havoc on our sidewalks. One idea for improving our sidewalks is to increase code enforcement in houses that are sold — the sidewalks must be repaired, if needed, before the sale goes through; we should target absentee landlords in this particular transaction. This is a law on the books in Bethlehem which we are not consistently enforcing. Another idea I have proposed to the administration that we take a small portion of the $2.5 million we are using for street paving from the casino transfer fee and dedicate it to our sidewalks; the casino transfer fee is a one-time cash payment Bethlehem will see in the sale of the casino. As it is, this portion of the CTF is entirely dedicated to street-paving. Our streets must be maintained, but so must our sidewalks, as not all transportation in Bethlehem happens in cars walking is a valuable form of transportation. There are ways to offer grants to homeowners with this money instead of loans, to get our sidewalks into good shape.
Where I do disagree with you is the idea that when it comes to transformative projects like the pedestrian bridge project, and the sad state of many of our sidewalks, that the situation is zero-sum gain. It is not. The purpose of the pedestrian bridge study is to answer many of the questions you pose, and to explore the many different federal and state alternative transportation funds available for projects like the pedestrian bridge project. Most pedestrian bridges in the US are built with federal and state alternative transportation funds (along with tourism-related taxes such as the hotel tax), and there is no reason Bethlehem should not claim its share of those funds. The project, if feasible, would help create an off-road walking circuit in Bethlehem, linking our north and south downtowns, and transform our relationship to the river. I encourage you to bring your questions to future meetings of the pedestrian bridge project, as all citizen input, critical and laudatory, is welcome.
We should fix our sidewalks, look at the structure and costs of developing dedicated bike
lanes, and we should explore projects that may change the way we link our two downtowns and create a healthy, livable, and joyous city. These are not mutually exclusive goals and in fact should occur side by side.*** The funding for these goals is out there — we must must now show the will to implement them.
*** For a similar view, see “smandrew’s” comment on the previous post in this series.