The proposed Packer Ave. Promenade

(Latest in a series of posts relating to Lehigh University, the Southside,
and neighborhoods)

“Lehigh University proposes to have the City of Bethlehem vacate the portion of Packer Avenue from Webster Street to Vine Street to create a pedestrian corridor.”
 – Lehigh Traffic Study

Gadfly is confident that we have all at one time or another been traveling on Packer Ave. through the Lehigh campus and experienced the hazardous crossing right at the main entrance.

Especially at class change time, students and faculty flow en masse up and down across Packer Ave., sometimes almost oblivious to traffic.

Students coming down the hill often flow with such force and determination that you are reminded of one of the falls in the Jim Thorpe area.

Students going uphill have the primal focus of salmon going upstream to spawn.

While students sometimes seem oblivious, drivers run the gamut from impatience to anger.

It’s not a good scene.

For this and other reasons having to do with a new physical plan in operation for the campus, Lehigh (as Gadfly first noted in the student newspaper back in March) is exploring seeking approval from the City to make Packer between Adams and Vine a promenade.

The safety concern would be eliminated.

And one can see good things in such a plan from Lehigh’s perspective. A promenade would help unify the lower campus buildings and fit right in to the (laudable) goal of a walking campus.

At a meeting two or three weeks ago, Gadfly heard the Mayor say there was no definite decision yet, but the positive thing he saw was a better flow of students down to the 4th St. businesses. So, at first blush, good for the City economics too.

In early May, a group from a Lehigh graduate class studying this proposal made a presentation to our Environmental Advisory Council (EAC), primarily, I think, to recommend use of their assessment tool — Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) — to complement existing planning processes in new development projects.

Active Gadfly follower Peter Crownfield seems to have been involved in the assessment (see the conclusion to the executive summary), and I am sure we will hear from him.

Here is the complete PowerPoint presentation: Packer Promenade – Sustainability Council.

And here the executive summary:

001

002

Per Gadfly usual practice, let’s look at the primary sources before we editorialize and criticize.

But Gadfly had in mind then at the EAC presentation and has more in mind now with the South Bethlehem Historical Society May 22 letter about the impact of “progress” on the Southside still bubbling on his brain things like impact on the residential neighborhood, consultation with neighbors, and the dreaded “Lehigh sprawl.”

So join me in chewing on the Packer Ave. Promenade proposal.

Lehigh’s Health, Science & Technology Building begins (25)

(25th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Groundbreaking for the new Lehigh Health, Science, and Technology college at the corner of Morton and Adams is imminent.

Lehigh 1

The presentation on the web link above is stunning. Savor that video.

You might remember Gadfly having his pee warmed by Lehigh’s construction of three new buildings on parking areas, resulting in a loss of over 500 parking spaces, pushing some parking off campus.

Lehigh now has a parking lot for faculty and staff in the area of Founder’s Way and 3rd St. There will be bus service between the lot and campus. Maybe it has already started.

(You will have already noticed the big Lehigh Transit buses on Mechanic St. turning south [up] New St.)

Reminds me that I never did find out where the lower-paid contract workers (cafeteria, cleaning, grounds staff) were accommodated in the parking reorganization.

And reminds me that we need to talk about the Lehigh plan in potencia for closing Packer Ave between Brodhead and Adams for a pedestrian mall.

As well as the refurbishing of the entrance into Lehigh from 3rd St. at the bridge to Campus Square at New and Morton.

Lehigh — on the move!

Lehigh Northside parking lot mystery partially explained (24)

(24th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Deep Throat surreptitiously (good SAT word) passed Gadfly a new document regarding the new Lehigh University parking plan that contains the following bullet:

  • There will be a commuter lot added on the SteelStacks/Sands property off of Third Street and Founder’s Way, and a shuttle serving this commuter lot. More details about the commuter lot will be shared with the campus community by the end of March. The university will be funding the cost of this space, so there will be no cost to the employee to use this lot.

So why the big mystery?

Why couldn’t Lehigh simply say, yes, Gadfly, we announced in September and said nothing different until this week that there would be a Northside Commuter lot but actually it’s a commuter lot on the southside now — 3rd and Founder’s Way.

Instead they played dumb, as if there were no off-site commuter lot, and got Gadfly’s pee all warm.

No doubt a good reason for stiffing me. No doubt above Gadfly’s pay grade. Big business.

In the recent document, Lehigh indicates they have made some changes. They indicate that the first come/first served system has been dropped, and people on lower campus seem assured now of parking close to their workspace. Sounds like “bumping” has been eliminated or diminished.

Lehigh is, of course, still silent about the contract workers — Sodexo, ABM, BrightView, etc. They are not Lehigh employees, and thus are not referenced, though they clearly must be affected by the parking reorganization, and are separated out as such in the Lehigh July 2018 parking study (p. 16 if my notes are correct).

The 3rd and Founder’s Way lot is 3/4’s of a mile from Farrington Square at the bottom of lower campus, about the same distance as the “mythical” Northside lot.

Thus, I still don’t have an answer to my basic question of what’s happening with this lower-paid group, at least some of whom no doubt are Bethlehem residents and taxpayers.

But even if they aren’t Bethlehem residents and taxpayers, are the lower-paid workers being, as it were, “forced” to suffer some hardship to park off-site because they can’t afford the parking fee?

Remember that Lehigh has made a conscious decision to build on parking lots, losing approx. 500 spaces.

I keep saying that there may be no problem, but I’d like somebody who has thought about these people to tell me so.

Lehigh obviously made changes in the original program because of legitimate concerns, stiff questions, and resistance from faculty and staff on campus.

The contract workers probably have no similar voice or power.

Are they being treated fairly?

Gadfly asks time before the Planning Commission today (22)

(22nd in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Thursday, March 14

Brent, Darlene, and members of the Planning Commission (except Ms. Cohen, for whom I do not have a permissible email). Lawyer Durso has been copied through her firm’s web site.

Good People:

Take #5

I understand that the Wind Creek Sign Waiver Request is on the agenda for today — apparently a visible sign that the long-awaited casino transfer is near. Exciting times. Great.

I didn’t hear that the Lehigh matter would be added to the agenda, but then again I see that I didn’t ask for notice so that I could prepare if it were possible for me to make a presentation. Let me ask now. Is it possible that we can re-visit 124 E. Morton today? Can I be recognized?

As more evidence that something is amiss in seeming City and Lehigh professed ignorance of this off-campus parking option before the PC: in an Oct./Nov. “additional FAQ’s” document, Lehigh answered these questions regarding the “Northside Commuter Lot” from concerned members on campus.

1) “Will there be a bike share location available at the North lot?” (You will remember that I believe it was Lawyer Durso at the very end of the 2/21 meeting who emphasized bikes as part of the solution in relation to the questions I raised. But the answer was no help from bikes here.)

2) “Will the North Lot shuttle schedule be expanded over time to accommodate people who work outside the designated hours?”

3) “How long will the wait be for the North Lot shuttle?”

4) “If the Commuter lot option is selected, where will staff park during Musikfest, Celtic Fest . . . ?”

Can there be any doubt that the Northside Commuter Lot is a definite part of the Lehigh parking plan though it was not included in their parking study presented to the City?

I remind you that Lehigh has announced plans to commence the first-come, first-served sign up system April 1, and on Feb. 26 the Lehigh representative announced to the Mayor’s South Side Task Force that construction on 124 will begin in June.

Now is the time to get some inconsistencies straightened out.

I hope to hear from you about today’s meeting.

Ed Gallagher

probably the last time to set the record straight (21)

(21st in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Tuesday, March 12

Brent, Darlene, and members of the Planning Commission (except Ms. Cohen, for whom I do not have a permissible email). Lawyer Durso has been informed of my request below through her firm’s web site.

Good People:

Take #4

Since I have provided all parties with access to substantive materials that indicate that a Northside Commuter Lot, though not in the parking plan submitted to and approved by the City and apparently unknown to the Director of Planning and Zoning, is part of the Lehigh parking plan rolled out to employees in September 2018,

and since Lehigh has announced plans to initiate its parking plan around April 1,

and since Lehigh’s implied denial of the very existence of that lot in their thinking about making up for lost parking spaces on campus made me look rather foolish in front of the Planning Commission, the public, and the press,

I respectfully request that 124 E. Morton be added to the agenda for the Thursday March 14 meeting.

It will probably be the last time to set the record straight before Lehigh’s plan becomes operational.

Ms. Heller and Chairman Melosky, I will be glad to make a presentation based on the presence of the Northside Commuter lot in Lehigh documentation if that is permissible.

Ed Gallagher

Will the Planning Committee reconsider the Lehigh Northside issue? (20)

(20th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

from the Planning Commission meeting 2/21/19

The gadflies of the insect world are nasty, pesky critters. Your Bethlehem Gadfly of the homo sapiens world is surely earning his sobriquet (good SAT word) with this thread on Lehigh University.

And you may be tired of it.

What’s your beef, Gadfly Gallagher?

There are two elements to this “case” bound to engage a gadfly:

1) what seems like conscious and willful inconsistency between Lehigh’s statements and the actuality

2) what may be (not sure) potential unfairness to the “little guy”

In relative briefness, let me lay it out once again:

Lehigh is constructing three major buildings on existing parking lots and, in total, by its own published figures is thereby losing 518 existing parking spaces on campus, almost the equivalent of the new New St. Garage. Lehigh’s July 18, 2018, parking study, approved by the City, indicates that Lehigh meets all zoning requirements and that all lost parking space will be absorbed on campus. That claim of absorbing all lost parking spaces on campus was affirmed by Lehigh before the Planning Commission, even when questioned by Gadfly at a meeting.

However, when Lehigh rolled out its new parking plan in a September 10, 2018, memo to employees and in perhaps a score of large and small group meetings with employees in the Fall, there was in the plan an off-campus Northside Commuter Lot at 123 W. Lehigh St., ¾’s of a mile and a good 15-minute walk from Farrington Square at the very bottom of main campus – a lot not mentioned in the July study submitted to the City. In the documentation circulated on campus to employees, bus service from that Northside lot to Farrington Square, where employees can connect with other buses to their work location, is described.

It seems clear from Lehigh documentation that all parking demand cannot be satisfied on campus and that the Northside lot is part of several elements to resolve that shortfall. In addition, the new Lehigh parking plan involves an annual fee of $500 for most spaces close to work locations. Some people might choose to park in the Northside lot because it is free. But it’s possible that others – among them Bethlehem residents and taxpayers – will be forced into that lot because they can’t afford the fee.

The fundamental problem, though, is that neither Lehigh or the City has recognized the inclusion of the off-campus lot in testimony before the Planning Commission, despite clear, overwhelming evidence that it is part of the Lehigh plan. Gadfly would like to see the existence of the off-campus lot recognized before the Planning Commission at which time any potential unfairness to Bethlehem residents and taxpayers can be addressed. There may be no unfairness, but we won’t know that without focused discussion.

Well, that wasn’t so brief, was it?

So here’s audio of the public comment section of the 2/21 Planning Commission meeting:

  • in the beginning “with-it” PC members do ask about parking
  • Gadfly makes his soulful pitch for the underdog (min. 1:20)
  • the Lehigh lawyer responds (min. 6:55)
  • there is a brief interchange between the lawyer and Gadfly (min.8:20)
  • astute PC members question again, and City official Ms. Heller resolves the discussion for the PC (9:20)
  • an astute concerned PC member, though, suggests an addition to the main motion before the vote, indicating still some uncertainty about parking (min. 12:25)
  • also comically (to Gadfly anyway) interesting is the Lehigh lawyer implying bike parking as part of the solution to the specific question about the specific kinds of people Gadfly is concerned about (min 13:50)

Lehigh plans to begin parking allocation around April 1 (3 weeks) for a July start to the new plan.

The Planning Commission meets next this Thursday March 14.

If anything is to be done, the time is now.

As you might note from his last letter to Lehigh, the City, and the PC, Gadfly has asked that the authorization given at the 2/21 meeting be revoked till the issue of the Northside lot and potential unfairness to City residents and taxpayers is thoroughly aired.