Extending Monocacy Way northwest (Reprinted from March 27, 2019)

Latest in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability

Brian Nicas reminded us of the value of this rail trail the night the candidates visited the Environmental Advisory Council and remembered that John Marquette had posted on it in 2019.

Gadfly has wanted to walk the trail and report on it but just never got around to it, but he calls attention to it here as he goes out the door hoping to keep the idea alive.

Brian notes that this trail can be found in the 2015 BETH CONNECTS: A Trail Study for the Bethlehem Area (p. 25), which, by the way, is a very interesting document — reminding us how rich we are in actual and potential natural resources.


John Marquette is a retired librarian/archivist, author, historian, and a resident of Bethlehem. His current project is focused on the restoration of the interior of the Archibald Johnston Mansion in Housenick Park. 

Gadfly –

Marquette 1 map

The old Lehigh and New England Railroad tracks branching off of Monocacy Way could be the next expansion of the Bethlehem trail system. It could connect Pennsylvania Avenue (think Queen’s Nutritional Products) to Burnside Plantation and on to the Colonial Historical District and the D&L towpath trail.

Marquette 2 Stop

Many readers will recognize this portion of the trail at Monocacy Way, Union Boulevard, and the Route 378 north onramp.

Marquette 3 dog

About a quarter-mile north, we see the branch of the old Lehigh and New England’s Allentown line head off to the west. For reference, the dog is facing east. Burnside is visible through the trees.

Marquette 4 track

As the track condition shows, the line is not active. It no longer serves the old Durkee’s plant and never served the Lowe’s.It passes under the Eighth Avenue overpass and roughly follows the (seasonal) west branch of Monocacy Creek.

Action steps Lehigh County and the City of Bethlehem would need to take would be to have Norfolk Southern formally abandon the line and transfer possession to the same entity owning Monocacy Way. The parks department and streets bureau would need to determine access points along the new trail. Selecting property for the access points, noting that they’d need to be ADA accessible, would be the most expensive part of converting the rail line to public access.

While public focus is now on the pedestrian bridge, this stretch of land offers residents of northwest Bethlehem new and grade-free access to the heart of the city. Norfolk Southern has a foundation offering grants which might pay for some or all of the rail-to-trail conversion.

I’ve seen early plans from the 1970s when the American Parkway was being planned showing it following this line to a major interchange with Route 378 at Eighth Avenue. That will never happen. This could.


2 thoughts on “Extending Monocacy Way northwest (Reprinted from March 27, 2019)

  1. If you recall, Norfolk Southern couldn’t wait to abandon the ROW (now South Side Greenway) from the old Lehigh Valley mainline at Union Station to High Street in Hellertown (SEPTA owns the ROW south from there to California Road in Richland Twp., Bucks Co.). That section which splits off the Cement Secondary at Allen Junction is the Allentown Industrial Track. While there hasn’t been a consignee along that line in years and much of the track in Allentown has been removed, there has to be a reason why NS hasn’t filed for abandonment. They’re willing, year after year, to pay tax on an unused ROW. While the state continues to collect tax revenue, Bethlehem and Lehigh County don’t have to pay to maintain anything. From a fiscal stand point, this is the best situation for taxpayers. If it becomes a trail, two overpasses, both of which have vegetation growing on them, will have to be maintained. I’d rather see that money spent on improvements to existing parks.

  2. We definitely need more trails for safe access to pedestrians/cyclists in this area. Sharing roads with motor vehicles is not safe and there are far to many people killed/injured by motor vehicles. This short extension on the Monocacy Trail would be ideal access for many local residents to downtown Bethlehem, Burnside Plantation, Monocacy Park and the D&L. This does not have to be an either/or decision, we can maintain/improve our existing parks and add safe trails for cyclists and pedestrians which are much needed in our area.

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