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 . . .

Was that a “Public Meeting” on the closing of Packer Ave.?

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Olga Negron is a Bethlehem City Councilwoman.

Gadfly:

I agree with Dana, and I’m concerned the consequences are more negatives than positives. Also, I still can’t believe they called that a “Public Meeting”  — more than half of attendees were city administrators, Lehigh employees, or project-related staff,  and the other half was in great majority Lehigh students. I wonder how they advertised it. I doubt the community knew about it. At least families from Broughal Middle School should have been made aware.

Olga

Closing Packer Ave.: “the community’s concerns should carry the most weight”

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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,

As you know, I also attended [the open meeting on closing Packer Ave. January 23], and I think it’s important to recognize that 4 Councilmembers (Van Wirt, Negron, Crampsie-Smith, and Colon) were also in attendance along with several city administrators and interim parking authority executive director Steve Fenstrom. This is not the first time that Lehigh has pitched the idea of closing this section of Packer Avenue, and I can remember former Bethlehem Deputy Fire Commissioner Gene Novak adamantly opposing this probably 20 years ago. My observations are that Lehigh University’s immediate desire is not being dealt with as comprehensibly as is necessary; Broughal Middle School student pedestrian safety is critical to this ever advancing; the BPA’s loss of 60+ metered spaces means $141,000 loss in revenue for an agency that relies on system-wide revenue to support its parking garage expansion projects; there does not appear to be any concern about the need to close this from Lehigh Students; little mention of less intrusive traffic calming measures took place; there was a shortage of base line accident (vehicular and pedestrian) data; and historically the Southside community is mistrustful of Lehigh University’s motives. At initial and face value, this appears to be an uphill proposal, and it is my belief that the community’s concerns should carry the most weight.

Dana

Meeting on closing Packer Ave.: “no one bubbled over with excitement”

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Charles Malinchak, “Bethlehem mayor: ‘No decision has been made to close Packer Avenue. Period.’” Morning Call, January 24, 2020.

Should Bethlehem’s Packer Avenue be temporarily closed to vehicles for a few blocks around Lehigh University? City and university officials held a public forum Thursday night [January 23] to discuss the question.

Packer Avenue fronts Lehigh University on the city’s South Side and the stretch of road poised to be open only to pedestrians would be from Vine to Webster streets from March 16 to the end of April.

Don’t get lost in visions of a spring stroll in the middle of Packer, because at this point it is only a idea, and according to Mayor Robert Donchez, who made a presentation at the forum at Broughal Middle School, “Let me be very clear. No decision has been made to close Packer. Period.”

About 50 people attended the presentation that lasted more than an hour, during which many asked questions about the impact the closure would have on South Side traffic, but no one bubbled over with excitement.

Lehigh University Associate Vice President of Facilities Brent Stringfellow was the lead speaker, who said closing the road could help dissolve the divide between the university and the South Side neighborhoods. “It’s an opportunity to shift the gravity and bring a more integrated community. Packer Avenue was a borderline,” he said.

Donchez said the city has developed a good relationship with the university and the idea of ceding the road to only pedestrians is not new. “This has been something talked about for 20 to 25 years,” he said.

One point made was the closure could enhance safety on a street with foot traffic predominated by Lehigh students.

Parking on Packer was another issue raised, and according to Bethlehem Parking Authority Interim Executive Director Steven Fernstrom the road has 64 metered spaces.

Another concern was whether the closure would create considerably more traffic on the surrounding streets, which Stringfellow said would also be a subject included in the Pennoni study.

Another area still being worked on is a method of getting community feedback about the plan now and when it is in place.

One person not feeling the excitement was Lehigh senior Nancy Kim, who said she didn’t see the safety angle of the plan and thought more crosswalks might be more beneficial. She also thought the closure appears to benefit Lehigh more than the South Side.

to be continued . . .