Gadfly in a meditative mood

Andrew Wagaman, “Morning Call Editor-in-Chief Terry Rang retiring amid larger newsroom reorganization.” January 29, 2020.

  • The Morning Call’s parent company offered buyouts to employees who have worked for Tribune for eight or more years. The Morning Call expects to lose managers from other departments, and additional employees next week.

EJG newsboy

Newsboy Gadfly at age 11.8 years with new bike bought with his earnings
framed by family underwear
(Dana Grubb is shuddering at the layout)

Another nail in the coffin.

Not only of Gadfly’s past.

But of  local news coverage.

Gadfly was just thinking. Approaching his 30th post on the Packer Ave. closing. And reading Kate Laepple’s article in the last post.

Laepple worked the Bethlehem beat for the Morning Call. Award-winning. Indefatigable. Exhaustive.

Where have the Laepple’s gone?

Who will do 30 stories on a subject of local interest any more?

Where is local news coverage going?

Toilet-ward.

What to do?

  • subscribe to the Bethlehem Press
  • support your citizen journalist, follow, and encourage others to follow
  • be a citizen journalist, contribute to Gadfly and BP


Good conversation builds community

“See Good News for Bad Government”on Bernie O’Hare’s Lehigh Valley Ramblings blog, especially the comments.

The contentious history of attempts to close Packer Avenue

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“We cannot stand still.”
Lehigh representative Charles Seidle, 1965

“The foolish destruction of a whole community to appease a nontaxpaying institution.”
Southside resident Anne Pongracz, 1965

“There is no support in Council now or ever to close the street.”
City Councilman Paul Calvo, 1976

“The university has looked at Packer Avenue with envious eyes for a long time.”
Lehigh representative and former Bethlehem mayor Ken Smith, 1999

“As long as I’m on Council, I will never, never, never agree to let them have Packer.”
City Councilwoman Jean Belinski, 1999

“Maybe when that road needs $500,000 in improvements, they’d be willing to talk.”
Lehigh representative and former Bethlehem mayor Ken Smith, 1999

  • City Council creates Packer Ave. September 1, 1891 (info thanks to Gadfly #1 Stephen Antalics)
  • There once was a neighborhood here in the precise area bounded by the traffic study: “During the 1950s, the neighborhood between Packer Ave, Martel, Morton and Webster Streets was a bustling community” of 93 families. It is now “The Lost Neighborhood.”
    Packer 8
  • Maintaining that it has “a continuing interest in the economic, social and cultural welfare of the City, ” Lehigh argues, as reported in the Morning Call June 29, 1965, that “We cannot stand still” and advocates expansion to the north side of Packer Ave. as an example of the “mutual benefit” from university-city cooperation “to continue progress of our city.”
  • As reported in the same article, legendary Southside resident advocate Anne Pongracz called Lehigh a “do-nothing landlord” and called the urban renewal program “the foolish destruction of a whole community to appease a nontaxpaying institution.”

Packer_Ave_6_29_65

  • The Morning Call of April 16, 1967, notes that the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority is petitioning to vacate Adams St. between Morton and Packer and “at a later date” will petition to vacate Packer from Adams to Vine.
  • The Morning Call of June 21, 1976, shows legendary City Councilman Paul Calvo confronting Lehigh over Packer Avenue. In its mid-60s master plan, Lehigh shows Packer between Vine and Webster as part of the campus since it owns all the property on both sides. Lehigh says that it has no plans to ask for a vacation “in the foreseeable future” and “we are not asking to have it closed.” But the possibility is still there. Campus expansion is a “political football,” with City officials periodically stressing the need for “stopping the university” from “squeezing out the South Side.”

Packer_Ave_6_21_76

  • The Morning Call of July 1, 1976, reports that Councilman Calvo tells Lehigh “there is no support in Council now or ever to close the street” and that Lehigh has nothing to gain from trying to do it “except a lot of bad feeling in the community.” For its part, Lehigh says there is no economic advantage for them to do it anyway. Control of parking seems to be Lehigh’s issue.

Packer Ave 7 1 76

  • The issue is parking as the May 25, 1999, Morning Call shows. Lehigh admits “the university has looked at Packer Avenue with envious eyes for a long time.” We’ve talked about it quietly,” but now City Council action “makes it too emotional to even consider it.” “Council members argued that Lehigh was being “unfairly favored over South Side residents” in regard to a parking program. Councilwoman Jean Belinski says, “that’s an emergency route through the South Side. As long as I’m on Council, I will never, never, never agree to let them have Packer.” To which Lehigh retorts, “Maybe when that road needs $500,000 in improvements, they’d be willing to talk.”

Packer_Ave_5_25_99

to be continued . . .

“Lehigh is trying to . . . make its campus less vehicle-centric and more pedestrian & bike friendly”

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Gadfly:

It seems to me that one thing Lehigh is trying to do is make its campus less vehicle-centric and more pedestrian & bike friendly, and the Packer Avenue pedestrian mall would be a good example — especially if they make it a venue for events that are open to the community.

The city doesn’t seem to have any problem approving structures such as the new health building and the new business & econ building, both of which will make the pedestrian mall more valuable.

(The only concern I have is the possibility for increased congestion at Broughal MS at the beginning or end of the school day, something the traffic study definitely needs to consider & analyze.)

Peter Crownfield

What should the City traffic consultants study?

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Kim Carrell-Smith is a 31-year resident of Bethlehem’s historic Southside, where she taught public history at Lehigh University for almost two decades. She is also an aspiring gadfly, buzzing in on issues of historic preservation, public education, city government, and other social justice issues. She tips her wings to the master gadflies who have served our community for so long!

Gadfly,

As residents of the west side of Lehigh’s campus, we use two routes to cross the Southside while avoiding 3rd and 4th Streets, and based on our observations and the current traffic on Summit and W.8th Street, so do a lot of other people.

The more common of two cross-Southside patterns now from 378/Wyandotte is to turn at the blinking light onto Summit Street, go down Summit to take a left on Brodhead, and a right on Packer. The other route which is less busy these days has drivers turning off 378 at the blinking light at W.8th Street, one block above Summit. This is the route we take at rush hour or school bus time, crossing through Lehigh’s campus via W.8th Street, which becomes University Drive.  We often follow folks who are on the same cross route, heading for Taylor Street, E.6th Street, Hillside Avenue, and/or Hayes Street.

With the Packer Avenue closure between Vine and Webster, the current more commonly used cut-through at Summit may become less popular. Brodhead traffic already tends to back up the hill at rush hour and it will probably be worse with the new traffic patterns, particularly with the increase in Morton Street traffic turning on and off of Brodhead; we appreciate that the city has already promised to look at that as part of their traffic study. But maybe, as noted at the meeting, folks will wait out the backup, and go further down to take one of the big arteries rather than turning onto Morton? Both the 378 eastbound Summit-Morton cross-Southside route (including whatever may occur at the east end of that), as well as the 4th/3rd cross routes, should be part of the traffic study.

But we suspect that the W.8th Street/upper campus eastbound route will become more appealing to drivers seeking to cross the Southside while avoiding major traffic backups. So, as one young man at the meeting said, the city’s consultants should also study the changes in traffic on the upper campus.

So please, city traffic consultants, study

  • the W.8th-University Drive cross-Southside route
  • the Summit-Morton cross-Southside route
    • And please include the traffic that may bolt off of Summit or W.8th Streets onto Carlton and Montclair Avenues…
  • the effects on traffic on 4th and 3rd Streets, too.

And, please

  • consider retiming the very long light at 4th and Brodhead to ease the backup on Brodhead

Whew, these could be some busy traffic engineers! So I’ll leave any east-of-campus traffic study requests to folks who live over there . . .

Kim

Waving a yellow flag at Lehigh’s strategies

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Gadfly,

I would raise a cautionary flag on Lehigh’s “three place-based strategies” where it calls for “area improvement through acquisition or rehabilitation.”

Each time any non-profit acquires real estate it removes that property from the tax rolls.

Then other property owners, including home owners, have to suck up and fill that real estate tax paying void that is created.

That is problematic for residents, many of whom live on fixed incomes or are lower income, and for whom maintaining their home ownership is already a difficult situation.

Dana Grubb

According to its Master Plan, what does Lehigh want to do for, to, and with the City?

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Why is Gadfly serving up this huge text omelette for your breakfast this morning?

The Mayor said graphically at the January 23 Broughal public meeting on the temporary Packer Ave. closing that he would be “crucified” if he decided to go ahead with the street vacation without providing substantial data and rationale. Crucified. That’s what he said.

Yes.

But Gadfly thinks it’s going to be hard for the Mayor and Council to say no to Lehigh. And that one of the arguments in favor will be that Lehigh does a lot of good for the City.

And thus how can we say no.

So Gadfly is anxious to see how Lehigh describes its relationship with the City — and to see how he feels about it. Is he going to be disposed in Lehigh’s favor? Should he be thinking of Lehigh as a benevolent partner with the City as it moves off The Hill?

Frankly, Gadfly worries about continued “Lehigh sprawl,” and he is the kind of person who walks with the ghosts of the Lost Neighborhood.

And we have to be realistic and acknowledge — as a Gadfly follower just reminded him — that Lehigh looks out for itself.

So let’s see what Lehigh says. Always to the primary sources in Gad-world.

The 2012 Lehigh Master Plan describes three “place-based strategies” in its actions related to the City:

  • Area improvement through acquisition or rehabilitation
  • Develop a dense mixed-use housing project through partnership
  • Participate in a neighborhood improvement district

Remember that the following section of the Lehigh Master Plan would have been written a decade ago and thus might feel or be dated. But Gadfly is interested in the voice, the language with which Lehigh describes its relationship with the Southside.

Goal 3: Participating in the Renaissance of South Bethlehem

Objectives Of The Real Estate Strategy: As an integral part of the Campus Master Plan, and with a focus on implementation, the South Bethlehem real estate strategy is critical for achieving three objectives:

Expanding the quantity and quality of housing options for both undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty and staff. The Campus Master Plan projects a need for approximately 150-300 graduate beds in new and existing housing and 250 undergraduate beds in new and existing housing.

Promoting economic revitalization of South Bethlehem. Universities across the nation, including Lehigh, have acknowledged the importance of engaging in improving their adjacent urban areas, to improve the quality, enjoyment, and safety related to the off-campus experience for students, faculty, staff, and neighborhood residents.

Creating spaces for additional University activities. The Campus Master Plan identifies key catalytic expansion projects for University programs and administration. As has been the case in other college towns, creation of a facility that can meet University needs while contributing life and vibrancy to the city can be a useful approach to downtown revitalization.

Principles when participating in the renaissance of South Bethlehem in the Campus Master Plan include:
• South Bethlehem should serve as a draw for faculty, staff, and students.
• Work with the local community to build opportunities for mutual benefit.
• Be a presence to help revitalize South Bethlehem.
• Create opportunities for students and faculty to live and work in South Bethlehem.
• Build upon academic strengths to address the issues of a post-modern urban environment: education, health, housing, small merchants, and entrepreneurs.

A Place-Based Strategy: The Campus Master Plan has identified two critical zones for South Bethlehem revitalization through the University’s potential intervention. Real estate efforts should be concentrated in these areas as much as possible.

The residential neighborhoods to the east and west of campus include numerous rental units within the older housing stock which serve Lehigh students. A partnership program with local landlords to rehabilitate these areas could both benefit the neighborhood and provide safe and affordable housing for the student population. The core commercial area of South Bethlehem from New Street to Polk Street and from Fourth Street to Third Street is one of the main gateways to campus and a key area for amenities and services that support both campus and community. This area includes the University-owned Service Building [4th and Adams], the South Bethlehem Greenway (a new linear park on the site of a former rail right-of-way), and several City-owned lots along the Greenway that could support new residential and retail uses.

A Partnership-Driven Strategy: The uses critical to a South Bethlehem revitalization strategy are generally those that are produced by market-oriented, private activity including housing, retail, and other commercial uses. In South Bethlehem, economic conditions have made success more difficult. The most efficient use of the University’s resources is therefore not always to develop and finance projects outright, but to leverage new activity in South Bethlehem through partnerships between the University, private developers and owners, and the City of Bethlehem. Implementation of the strategies through the partnership approach will nonetheless require a long-term commitment on the part of all partners and stakeholders in the process.

Options For The Housing Strategy: A combination of both “decentralized” and “centralized” approaches will be critical to improving South Bethlehem and the quality of off-campus housing. The University should aim to implement strategies that are not only maximally catalytic of South Bethlehem revitalization but also produce the desired number of new or improved quality beds for the reasonable University investment. The decentralized approach targets the substantial number of existing off-campus housing units leased by Lehigh students which currently offer sub-par living conditions and are in need of significant rehabilitation as well as a higher quality of management by their owners. To appropriately incentivize the private market to undertake needed investments in these homes for lower cash flow, the gap created by rehabilitation costs and likely rents would need to be closed.

Strategic steps would include identifying priority areas for housing improvement, setting a target for the proportion of housing to be rehabilitated, and partake in partnership opportunities. To offset the gap between rehab investment and likely revenue streams, the most effective approach would be for the University to subsidize purchase and rehabilitation of groups of houses by private parties, achieving the University’s goals at the lowest combination of cost and risk. The rehabilitation of a subset of the existing housing supply in the targeted areas would likely alter market dynamics in a manner such that the rest of the stock would be rehabilitated over time in response to changes in demand.

As a more centralized approach, the development of a currently-unoffered product type—multistory housing in an amenitized urban core—will be more attractive to both graduate students, faculty, and staff. The University could support either gap-financing for a multi-unit building built by a private owner/developer, or directly finance a residential building that would provide graduate student housing exclusively. A sizeable development in South Bethlehem would serve as a catalytic project for area growth and improvement.

As with the decentralized approach, the University’s goal should be to produce the maximum number of quality units with the minimum investment. However, the need for graduate dormitory housing creates a special case, since there are significant advantages to the University owning or holding a long-term lease for these units.

Service Expansion Strategy: Increasing the student, faculty, and staff population in South Bethlehem would induce increased retail activity and provide additional indirect benefits to the University and the neighborhood. Retail which caters to student needs could also potentially reduce car ownership among students and help reduce the University’s parking demand. An increase in retail activity would also add to the eyes-on-the-street factor and improve area safety. Placing retailers strategically between or adjacent to campus and residential areas will increase retail viability and pedestrian activity.

A strategic framework that would increase retail, food and beverage, and entertainment options in South Bethlehem would benefit the immediate area and provide much-needed amenities for the student population. The introduction of more retail space could potentially attract more residents to the immediate area, thus revitalizing the area nearest campus.

Safety And Community Strategy: The potential for South Bethlehem to become an even more vibrant and diverse community that is welcoming to both the students, faculty, and staff of Lehigh, and to local residents, centers around the perception of safety and security in the neighborhood. Adoption of the proposed Bethlehem Neighborhood Improvement District (NID), in which the University would play a key role, would lead to more area improvements in several ways. A Clean and Safe program would enhance neighborhood surroundings and would increase the presence of public safety officers in South Bethlehem. A retail tenant recruitment and storefront improvement strategy would support retail growth. Finally, capital improvements to the public realm would improve the quality of the pedestrian experience and help to activate key streets, building upon the existing successful endeavors in the neighborhood.

University Program Strategy: Lehigh’s location within South Bethlehem also creates opportunities for meaningful connections between University programs and community interests, in physical spaces that become “magnets” for campus-community interaction. As at other universities located in urban areas, academic and other programs can support or engage in neighborhood revitalization and generate day, evening, and weekend activity with public programs.

During on campus interviews, faculty and staff prioritized interaction with the community as the most important function of a potential Lehigh development in South Bethlehem. As opportunities arise to strategically embed University functions in the surrounding community, proximity to campus, maximizing available assets, and generating activity should be considered as key characteristics. As an exemplar, the Lehigh-owned Service Building represents these aspirations well.

The Service Building [4th and Adams] was built in 1894 as a cold storage warehouse served by an active rail line. Today, this historic industrial building houses workshops and storage spaces for the University’s facilities department. Originally in an industrial area, the building now sits at a location of strategic importance between the East Fourth Street retail corridor and the new South Bethlehem Greenway. While firmly part of the South Bethlehem context, it is only one block from campus along Adams Street. The Service Building could potentially be adaptively reused to create a new landmark and beacon of activity. The historic industrial building has architectural characteristics that could be well-suited for creative uses that would benefit from high ceilings and loft-like spaces. Ground floor spaces along the street, as well as along the Greenway, could engage the community through shared uses and by creating vitality during both day and evening hours to activate the area.

An improved streetscape along Adams Street could provide a safe and well-lit connection to the campus proper. Street improvements and better lighting in South Bethlehem were prioritized by students during on campus interviews. With a number of large redevelopment sites in the immediate area, the Service Building exemplar is envisioned as a catalyst to the revitalization of the core commercial district of South Bethlehem.

———–

to be continued . . .

What does Lehigh say about the City of Bethlehem in its Master Plan?

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Thanks to a message from President Waldron, we now know what the next step on the Packer Avenue pilot study will be: “Council will not be discussing or voting on Packer Ave Tuesday. There is a communication on the agenda for a Use Permit Agreement, which we will be voting on Feb 18th. That is for the temporary closure.”

The temporary closing of Packer is slated for March 16 to the end of April, followed by assessment of results, and a decision by the Mayor. If the Mayor decides to move forward on a permanent closing of Packer, we are looking at a good several months before this issue comes before City Council.

That’s a long time. But once on his hobbyhorse, there is nothing Gadfly can do but hold on and ride it to the end.

So please bear with him another 2-3 posts till he gets Packer Avenue out of his system for a while.

While reading the Lehigh University 2012 Master Plan, he could not help focusing on what is said about the City.

Quite a lot actually.

Among the “Campus Master Plan Guiding Principles” we find:

  • Leverage the presence of the University to better integrate the campus and South Bethlehem.

Among the four “Campus Master Plan Key goals” we find:

  • Participating in the Renaissance of South Bethlehem
    Helping revitalize South Bethlehem and the partnerships needed to achieve that will allow for distinctive student experiences and will make it an asset in recruiting students, faculty, and staff.

Let’s sample some of the rhetoric describing Lehigh’s vision of the town/gown relationship:

Lehigh University’s campus is bordered by a neighborhood that is undergoing great change. While there remains great opportunity, there have been tremendous strides taken in South Bethlehem in recent years. There is a sense of optimism about the neighborhoods. The SteelStacks complex offers a focal point for music, arts and conference space. Thousands congregate in the summer months to hear free concerts at a pavilion built just in front of the stacks. The open space created by the Greenway has created pedestrian and recreational activity in South Bethlehem. First Fridays draw thousands more to patronize shops and restaurants. Still, there are challenges posed in revitalizing a formerly industrial city. Creating sustainable economic vitality, stabilizing neighborhoods and improving housing conditions, enhancing the quality of student rental housing, supporting the quality of public schools and ensuring safety in the neighborhoods require continued focus and effort. Lehigh University is actively engaged in the community. This Campus Master Plan builds on that engagement and outlines some paths the university might take to positively benefit South Bethlehem.
Frederick J. McGrailVice President, Communications and Public Affairs

“Lehigh’s future success is inextricably tied to that of the local community and the region. Universities serve as anchor institutions for cities, and the strategic role Lehigh can play in bringing about positive change is significant.
”Strategic Plan for Lehigh University, 2009

Lehigh University and South Bethlehem have a shared history stretching back to the early industrial development of the Lehigh Valley. With the closing of Bethlehem Steel, the former industrial center is transitioning to new sources of economic and cultural activity. The University provides a critical anchor within the community and in the region. The close physical connection between the campus and South Bethlehem’s neighborhoods creates opportunities for engagement. The University and the community share an interest in fostering a safe, stable, and vibrant urban environment with a diversity of housing and employment opportunities and a pedestrian-oriented retail district. Building on this history and the momentum of existing plans and programs, the Campus Master Plan identifies a place-based real estate strategy for engagement and partnership in South Bethlehem. In addition, as one possible example, the South Bethlehem Catalyst identifies the reuse of the Lehigh-owned Service Building as an initiative that can support both the University’s academic vision and the revitalization of the neighborhood.

The Master Plan chapter describes “Three Place-based Strategies”:

  • Area improvement through acquisition or rehabilitation
  • Develop a dense mixed-use housing project through partnership
  • Participate in a neighborhood improvement district

These strategies are very interesting. Here is the place where the Lehigh rhetoric rubber meets the road. Gadfly will see if he can’t arrange to copy out and post this important section (for us) of the Master Plan.

But how are you feeling about what you’ve read so far?

to be continued . . .

So what’s planned for Morton St.?

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Somebody has to send Gadfly back to bed.

But planning is aphrodisiac.

So Gadfly started to think, ok, what will Morton St. look like if more traffic is shunted down there when (if) Packer is closed between Vine and Webster.

He was prompted by the comment by the guy at the January 23 Broughal meeting to the effect that closing Packer only shifts the pedestrian safety issue one block down.

And then he remembered the “South New Street Streetscape Enhancement” project final public meeting in March 2019, almost a year ago.

You remember, right? The plan to do a make-over on New St. from the Fahy Bridge up to Lehigh’s Campus Square (Farrington Square).

Pretty exciting. A wild bus stop proposed on New at the Greenway!

Now, like the Lehigh Master Plan, this is a “plan,” and Gadfly doesn’t know if the February 22 concept design proposed at that March 26 public meeting is a done deal.

But here is one rendering of the proposed make-over in that concept design of the “end” of New at Morton at the edge of the Lehigh campus.

The sweeping arrows show the pedestrian flow on and off campus there at the plaza area between the bookstore (where you can feed your mind) and The Cup (where you can feed your belly).

Morton St.

And the new design elements seem to be a long bump-out of some sort on the south side of Morton along the plaza and bump-outs on both corners of New and Morton.

Bump-outs are traffic-calmers, they “narrow” the sense of the road for drivers, and they also shorten the distance pedestrians need to cross.

Now this intersection of New and Morton can be busy. Fairly recently there are large transit buses coming south on New and turning east on Morton and traveling east on Morton from Vine.

The intersection can also be a bit crazy — think end-of-day rush hour when traffic on New backs up to Morton because of the long traffic light on 4th — think Thursday lunch when the Farmer’s Market is there.

Is putting more traffic on Morton because of a Packer closing a good idea?

Just thinking out loud. Isn’t planning fun?

to be continued . . .
(you’ve got to be kidding! Get a life, Gadfly!)

Let’s look at some Lehigh hot spots

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Gadfly loves a plan.

Planning is creative.

Gadfly authored and collaborated in many a plan during 50 Lehigh years.

He used to say planning was aphrodisiac.

So this Packer Ave. thing has aroused him about as much as an 80-year-old man can be aroused.

It’s given him incentive to look at plans.

Here’s an interesting thing that he found in Lehigh’s 2012 Master Plan, the one operative now.

There are on Lehigh’s campus “existing hot spots” and “proposed hot spots.”

An existing hot spot is marked by the arrow on the left of this illustration. It maps a heavily traveled student path from the traditional center of campus at the flagpole across Packer Ave. (which, interestingly, is color-coded for “traffic calming”) at the trouble spot we all know, and continues on to Campus Square at Morton St., debouching [good SAT word] on to New St. heading toward 4th. Thus the students flow toward the Southside business district.

Lehigh master 3

But lookee here.

On the right another arrow shows a proposed hot spot brooking Packer a little farther east (but still before Webster) and continuing down to Morton, where it debouches into Adams St. on the way to 4th so that you can catch a meal at Jenny’s.

Not one but two heavy traffic streams crossing Packer.

Now this is a 2012 Lehigh Master Plan. Already aging a bit. And Plans are just “plans.” They change. They die. Who knows if it’s still operative in all aspects.

But we know that there’s a Lehigh building boom going, and Gadfly was impressed by the number of elements he read about in the Master Plan that have been or are being achieved. Somebody on the Hill is checking off the boxes.

The Master Plan doesn’t explicitly say so, but it suggests that Lehigh may be “engineering” another pedestrian safety situation.

Thus, we might bank on that second crossing creating even a greater need for doing something about the traffic flow on Packer.

But, even so, does “traffic calming” — the label the Lehigh Master Plan pins to Packer — need to morph into traffic purging?

to be continued . . .

(Gadfly, have you nothing to write out besides the possible vacation of Packer?????)

Thinking on how to approach the Packer Ave. decision by some Council members

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Gadfly is a bit confused about whether the temporary closing of Packer Ave. is a done deal. Newspaper reporting indicates that it will be voted on by Council at the next meeting — February 4.

Gadfly would have thought that the Mayor could make that decision and that Council would come in to play if, on the basis of the study of the temporary closing, the Mayor decides that a permanent closing is a good idea.

If Council votes February 4, it would only be on the temporary closing that enables the traffic study, and such a pilot study makes sense both technically and politically.

Gadfly sorta knew this day would come, and thus back in primary time early in 2019, he used the Packer Avenue closing as one of the series of questions he asked Council candidates to answer and that they graciously agreed to answer.

Gadfly pauses to acknowledge again the absolutely great cooperation the candidates gave in answering in detail and with care that list of 8 questions. Unparalleled!

It might be interesting now to look at their answers to this Gadfly prompt. He was not really looking for their opinion on whether closing Packer Avenue was a good idea or not. He was looking for how they would approach making a decision.

On March 24 [2019], The Brown and White, the Lehigh University student newspaper, reported that Lehigh was exploring a pedestrian walkway on Packer Avenue, presumably between Brodhead and Webster Streets. Such a street “vacation” – should it ever be formally and officially proposed – would ultimately come before City Council for final disposition. Without prejudging how you would vote on such a now hypothetical proposal, describe what factors you would need to consider before reaching a decision.

Michael Colon

Grace Crampsie Smith

J. William Reynolds

Paige Van Wirt

Gadfly was interested in a picture of how their minds operated when faced with a major decision.

Gadfly thinks they are going to be faced with such a real decision on Packer Ave. in the relatively near future.

Lehigh backed off in 1976. Gadfly is not sure that will happen now.

to be continued . . .

Longtime Bethlehem folks do use Packer as an W/E and E/W route

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ssider is known to Gadfly but prefers to remain anonymous.

Hi, Gadfly,

I’m curious about John Rothschild’s last statement.

Southside residents and longtime Bethlehem folks (and perhaps others?) do use Packer as an W/E and E/W route.

I rarely choose the bigger more congested streets.

Faster to weave through the eastern area once Packer ends than to go 4th. And 3rd is just ridiculous these days . . .

Also: Love the idea of the city working to reduce the no. of FedEx trucks in particular. Truck traffic is too heavy, and really bad for air quality over here now.

ssider

Further notes on the Packer Ave. meeting

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Packer announcement

  • Gadfly says again that this didn’t feel like a neighborhood residential “community meeting.” Though realizing that sometimes the public just doesn’t turn out till the very moment of crisis, he still wishes he knew more about how this meeting was publicized.
  • Lehigh estimates that around 70% of the parking in the section that will be closed is by Lehigh people. In effect, this street area is a Lehigh parking lot.
  • An important question is where those displaced parkers will go. The fear is taking up neighborhood residential spaces.
  • Gadfly said earlier that he wasn’t sure what the Parking Authority was studying, but a review of the audio indicates they are studying precisely this question, where the displaced Packer Ave. parkers go.
  • Gadfly thought this briefly-made point strong, though it received no response. A man said that since all that was happening was that the traffic was being routed one parallel block down from Packer to Morton, he could not see that the connection with South Bethlehem (one of Lehigh’s goals) was improved. In effect, the border was just moved one block.
  • Dana Grubb made good comments about unforeseen future impact on vehicles and walkers as new developments on east 3rd st. bring new conditions and pressures. In response the Mayor mentioned the possibility of reconfiguring the ramp off a new Hill to Hill bridge to give us another east-west street. That was interesting.
  • City Council will have the ultimate decision if the Mayor decides closing Packer is a good idea.
  • If the Mayor’s decision is to close Packer Avenue, there will be another public meeting before City Council votes on the matter.
  • Breena Holland suggested that the data collected be available to the public to see before the Mayor makes his decision and that a meeting be held so that the public might inform that decision. “Well, we’ll consider that,” said the Mayor.
  • Questions were asked about gathering qualitative data, questions that got not much response.
  • Paige Van Wirt made the excellent suggestion of using the City web site to gather people’s responses. The Mayor liked that. [Gadfly could be a depository for such comments as well.]
  • By the way, 3 Council members were present: Crampsie Smith, Negron, Van Wirt.**

** Gadfly has been advised that Councilman Colon may have been there. Sorry, Councilman, if I misspoke.

to be continued . . .

What should the [traffic] study, study?

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Please forgive Gadfly’s awkward attempt at visual aids!

Let’s play some games.

How will the closing of Packer Ave. between Vine and Webster affect your travel pattern, or how do you think it will affect others? Where will the traffic that normally goes east-west and west-east on Packer go? What will be the new normal?

It’s good that “they” are doing a pilot study to find out. Makes sense. Technically and politically.

image 1:

Poor acoustics in the Broughal auditorium made hearing hard, so Gadfly could be wrong, but what he understood is that the traffic study planned by Pennoni (The Bethlehem Parking Authority is doing a study too, I believe — not sure what that consists of)  would only cover the Packer-Vine-Morton-Webster-Packer rectangular route around the closed area on Packer. Is that all that needs to be looked at?

Packer master 1

No — a lot of discussion at the Broughal January 23 meeting was about widening the study to 3rd and 4th St. on the north and to Montclair and Carlton on the west.

So here’s where we play some games.

image 2:

Suppose you were coming off the 2nd St. ramp (the circle on the top left) and heading to the Hillside area (the circle on the bottom right) and were used to going south (up) Brodhead to Packer — might you not now go east on 4th and make a right somewhere to get to Hillside?

Packer master 2

image 3:

Suppose you were coming from 378/Wyandotte/Summit onto Brodhead (bottom left) and were used to turning east on Packer. You might, as the traffic study supposes, use Vine-Morton-Webster to get back on Packer. But you could go down Brodhead to Morton. And if Morton backs up at your travel times (likely), you might then go down to 4th or 3rd to head east.

Packer master 3

image 4:

If the traffic study only covers the area in image 1, several people — including the principal — strongly pointed out that it would not cover the extra traffic at drop-off and pick-up times at Broughal or the impact of increased traffic on walking patterns of students as well. Safety concerns were expressed. One audience member pointed out that makers of an earlier traffic study weren’t even aware that Broughal was there.

Packer master 5

image 5:

Several audience members pointed out that the study area had to be widened on the west to Montclair and Carlton because, especially if traffic is slow or backed up on Morton, drivers coming from 378/Wyandotte/Summit will be cutting down those streets to get an advantage.

Packer master 4

image 6:

Suppose you are coming west on 3rd or 4th heading for Summit (the circle on the bottom left) onto 378/Wyandotte and used to cutting south to get up to Packer. Now that you can’t get through on Packer, what will you do? Probably stay on 3rd or 4th till you get past New.

Packer master 6

What other traffic game-scenarios would you like to play?

So the case is made for widening the study to 3rd and 4th to the north and west to Carlton and Montclair. There will probably be traffic impacts in these areas.

Now the sense was that the Mayor, Lehigh, and the study organizers were on board with the changes in the scope of the study.

The surprise was that it took the audience to point these things out.

That did not give Gadfly a lot of confidence in the studiers.

They started with a pretty narrow focus on the impact of their project.

to be continued . . .

Collecting some Packer Ave. comments

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Follower “comments,” as Gadfly has often pointed out, can get lost because of the WordPress format.

So that me collect a few here to make sure they get visibility:

  • Yes, even if through truck traffic is banned, there are still plenty (too many) delivering to SS businesses & residences. (Peter Crownfield)
  • The mayor’s comment [‘it’s been talked about for 2-3 decades’] means, I suspect, that it was first proposed 20–30 years ago — NOT that it’s actually been talked about very much over the years. (Peter Crownfield)
  • Additional crosswalks could be an alternative that would help student experience — but would make it even worse for drivers than it is now. I don’t think there’s a huge payoff in terms of connecting students to SouthSide, but eliminating even a small barrier won’t hurt. We’re still missing data about the pedestrian experience, but seeing students basically stepping out to force vehicles to stop is at least an indication that something is amiss. (Peter Crownfield)
  • Why not close the road to truck traffic? And no truck or van deliveries on Packer. Lower speed limit to 15, strictly enforced. (John Rothschild)
  • I see 3rd and 4th streets as east/west routes, but how does Packer Ave. imitate that? It doesn’t. (John Rothschild)

Yes to restricting truck traffic

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Breena Holland is an Associate Professor at Lehigh University in the Department of Political Science and the Environmental Initiative. She is a past and current director of Lehigh University’s South Side Initiative.

Gadfly:

Response to Bill Gontram: Yes, I have also noticed an increase in truck traffic on 3rd Street. Last spring my students did a black carbon air monitoring project on 3rd Street. During the afternoon rush hour, there were a lot of tractor-trailer trucks going through the south side. Many of them were Fed Ex trucks. I agree this area should have truck traffic restrictions put on it. The city is not cleaning the ice off the south side of Third Street and so anyone walking on that side of the street is at risk for slipping off the ice in front of a massive truck, as well as other vehicles. But putting the ice problem aside, I believe that when the traffic on 22 gets backed up, the trucks take the route through South Bethlehem to get to 78. It’s a mess that we can probably address through road restrictions.

Breena

Closing Packer Avenue — is there a Plan B?

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The January 23 Broughal public meeting was a few people in a large auditorium with dim lighting and without mics — not ideal for recording. Sorry, you may need to put your audio volume setting at the highest level.

Closing Packer Avenue is a pretty big step.

The Mayor has said it’s been talked about for 2-3 decades.

Gadfly senses a big push now. Lehigh is really on the move in this area. It is poised to gobble up this portion of Packer.

But people at the meeting wisely asked about options and alternatives: crosswalks, traffic light, pedestrian bridge. In other words, alternatives to achieve the same goals.

Here are two sections of the conversations that Gadfly has patched together. Listen particularly to Lehigh response at the end of the second section.

“Nothing’s being planned right now . . . We are in fact-finding.”

This later audience comment on the same topic of options/alternatives was not really addressed at all.

Interesting.

to be continued . . .

Push-back on the goals for closing Packer Avenue

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The January 23 Broughal public meeting was a few people in a large auditorium with dim lighting and without mics — not ideal for recording. Sorry, you may need to put your audio volume setting at the highest level.

A Lehigh student questioned each of the three goals Lehigh laid out for closing the section of Packer Avenue between Vine and Webster.

Safety: how about an additional crosswalk?

Connection between Lehigh and South Bethlehem: how would pushing traffic down a block help that?

Improve pedestrian experience: any data to show that it’s bad now?

The answers might not seem very satisfactory:

  • safety is not a prime goal
  • congestion can help — to a certain degree — the urban experience
  • part of a Lehigh pattern of closing roads

Interesting.

to be continued . . .

Closing Packer Avenue: more on what the Mayor had to say

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The January 23 Broughal public meeting was a few people in a large auditorium with dim lighting and without mics — not ideal for recording. Sorry, you may need to put your audio volume setting at the highest level.

Gadfly loves your participating voices. Public meeting: democracy in action.

But let’s begin with a Gadfly question that eventually elicits as firm and as declarative a response from the Mayor as he has heard in his 16 months on duty. In this clip, the ever skeptical Gadfly asks if closing Packer Avenue is a done deal (the phrase that always makes Gadfly shudder).

“No decision has been made to close Packer Avenue Period.”

Let’s listen to the Mayor again. The meeting was ending. The Mayor was giving thanks when I think it was Kim Carrell Smith who wedged in one last question that importantly elicited from the Mayor his sensitivity to the dark history of Lehigh interaction with the Southside as well as another statement of his goals regarding the Lehigh/City relationship.

Very poor quality. Turn the volume up. Be patient. Important words.

“You just don’t change the whole feeling of a community in a matter of years.”

So the Mayor of course is aware of a history of ill will in the community toward Lehigh (Gadfly always suggests that you browse the “Lost Neighborhood” web site), is aware of lingering resentment.

Which begs the question, was the neighboring residential community aware of the meeting? If so, it would not seem that community was well represented at the meeting. A few posts ago Councilwoman Olga Negron even questioned calling it a “public meeting,” wondering, for instance, if Broughal parents were notified.

So a man asked about the “community engagement” plan for the meeting. A good question.

“For the promotion of this meeting, what was your methodology?”

Aside from the fact that the “invitation” was translated into Spanish, that question was not answered.

Remember that we did the City Communication Survey last year. That was mainly about how we communicate with the City. We need to think the other way around. How does the City communicate with us in a case like this?

There was a message in English and Spanish on Facebook January 15 — 8 days before the meeting. Gadfly’s no expert on announcement timing, but that may be too far ahead, and a follow-up might have been in order.

But is Facebook the best way for the specific Southside community that should be reached for this purpose? What do you think?

And was this the only thing done? Gadfly wishes Lehigh administrator Adrienne McNeil had given more information.

Was the City aggressive enough in getting the word out and stirring up attendance? Has this pilot program been discussed at the Southside Task Force or Southside 2020 or other groups? Were notices in the Hispanic Center? Whatever.

We hope.

to be continued . . .

Close Packer, and close 3rd and 4th to thru-truck traffic

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Bill Gontram is a Philly transplant happy to find a nice quality of life on the Southside.

Gadfly:

Has anyone noticed the increase in truck traffic specifically on 3rd and 4th Streets? And especially tractor trailers bearing the FedEx logo? FedEx drivers use the corridors as a cut-through from/to I-78 to/from Route 378. Other truckers probably do it too depending on what their GPS might be saying at any given time. If Packer Ave is taken away as an east-west route, then big tucks, excepting through traffic on 378 (perhaps), should be restricted to local deliveries only.

Bill

Handling the closing of Packer Ave. “needs to be a finely tuned dance”

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Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.

Gadfly,

And this good idea should be lauded. However there are things at play that are working to accomplish this, that don’t involve closing a city-owned street. University housing on Brodhead Avenue, a new classroom center at Morton and Webster Streets, and now proposed university expansion at Webster Street and Packer Avenue are connecting the campus with the business district. Collaboration between city and university police departments to create safety are helping to do that as well. However, as I stated that night [at the Broughal public meeting, January 23], continued development on the Southside is drawing more and more activity, pedestrian and certainly vehicular, and more of both creates conflict particularly just to the west of the campus and certainly to the north and east. Whatever design and implementation is advanced for South New Street from the Fahy Bridge to University Square may certainly affect traffic and pedestrian flow, both positively and negatively. Certainly having a new parking garage in that short stretch of S. New Street already has. This entire situation needs to be a finely tuned dance, because small missteps in one neighborhood will have substantial impacts in others. And, the sense I get is that residents are growing tired of being the ones stepped on.

Dana

Lehigh proposes a number of benefits to the closing of Packer Ave.

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Brent Stringfellow, a Lehigh University Vice President

Lehigh believes that there are a “number of benefits” in the closing of this section of Packer Ave.

The closing of this section of Packer Ave. would:

1) Enhance safety:

  • huge crossing point
  • 1000 at peak times
  • bad at dusk

2) Better connect Lehigh with South Bethlehem to have more foot traffic supporting the businesses:

  • use this to better connect Lehigh with the Southside
  • reknitting parts of the north campus with the central core campus (flagpole area)
  • opportunity to shift the center of gravity
  • which is starting to happen with the construction of the new buildings now going on
  • and Lehigh’s renewed focus on activities in Southside Bethlehem
  • traditionally Packer Ave. has been a border line
  • it is still an emotional border
  • looking to put Lehigh closer to the community

3) Improve the pedestrian experience for everyone walking across Packer Avenue:

  • walking and biking not only for the Lehigh community but the Southside community as well
  • nice way to move in the east-west direction
  • push the whole community toward more bike-friendly areas
  • tie in as an endpoint to the upgrading of New St.

to be continued . . .

Packer Ave. should have been closed years ago

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Peter Crownfield is officially retired but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.

Gadfly:

I agree with Dana that “community concerns” have a priority, and I frequently oppose LU plans.

That being said, I think we need to remember some things on the points Dana listed: (1) LU also needs good access for emergency vehicles; (2) this should have little to no impact on safety for Broughal students (in fact some might choose to take that route); parking on Packer was not metered until around 10 years ago; any perception of lack of concern by LU students is more likely the result of a general lack of activism and/or a general assumption that it is going to happen. (We should also remember that many students were vehemently opposed to closing University Drive but that has worked out very well IMO.)

I do think there should be a clear presentation of relevant data as Dana suggested!

Anyone who’s been at Packer & University Walk at busy times of days know that masses of students need to cross Packer, and I’ve seen vehicles backed up past Vine and almost all the way to Webster.

I think it should have been done years ago.

Peter

Gadfly would point out that the concern for Broughal students was walking on the now more highly traveled streets because of the closing of Packer, a concern expressed by the school principal.

Mayor Donchez introducing the Packer Ave. study: “My goal has been to try to get Lehigh off campus and have more students in the community”

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Mayor Donchez introduces the public meeting on the temporary closing of Packer Ave. , January 23.

  • I have worked very hard to form a partnership with Lehigh University.
  • We have an excellent relationship.
  • My goal has been to try to get Lehigh off campus and have more students in the community.
  • And in the last few years [Lehigh] has had offices move off-campus.
  • Ambassadors, housing inspectors, I could go on and on.
  • We really have a very good working partnership and a very good relationship.
  • We want that to continue.
  • No decision has been made to close Packer Ave.
  • [studies done over the past year]
  • We will analyze the data [on this traffic study] and then we will meet.
  • There’s a process [his decision and then to City Council].

to be continued . . .