What were they thinking?

Latest in a series of posts on the coronavirus

“Cases at Lehigh over the past week have increased the numbers
of infections in the city.”

Reminiscent of the dreadful racist and sexist fraternity theme parties of yesteryear–

ref: “The rise of cases in such a short period of time is nothing short of obscene”

selections from Sarah M. Wojcik, “Lehigh University cracks down on ‘COVID Party’ during outbreak, could expel students.” Morning Call, February 19, 2021.

Lehigh University’s coronavirus outbreak has bloated Northampton County’s infection rate and led to fears that the campus may have to shut down, but officials say that hasn’t stopped some student groups from throwing parties.

The university cited three Greek fraternities — Alpha Tau Omega, Delta Upsilon and Chi Phi — with student conduct charges, alleging they threw parties or gatherings last week, according to a notice posted on the university’s website.

One of those gatherings, according to the university’s notice, was a Feb. 11 off-campus “COVID Party” hosted by Chi Phi and attended by students who had recently tested positive for the coronavirus.

In a letter to the university’s undergraduate students, Vice President of Student Affairs Ricardo Hall said both on- and off-campus parties were quickly shut down, and the students and organizations are facing suspensions, evictions from university housing and even expulsions.

“The consequences are great because the stakes are high,” Hall wrote in the letter.

Even as these examples of bad behavior come to light, Hall emphasized that “the vast majority of students are doing everything they can to keep themselves and everyone around them safe, in hopes of eventually returning to a more ‘normal’ campus life.”

He pointed out examples of students at the campus who’ve been leaders in helping transform the culture around COVID-19, with the student government working to organize a council that would help bring forward possible solutions to these kinds of student-based issues.

Kristen Wenrich, director of the Bethlehem Health Bureau, said this week that cases at Lehigh over the past week have increased the numbers of infections in the city, and there seemed to be no other factors contributing to the rise.

Hall wrote that it’s understandable that students are frustrated and experiencing general “COVID fatigue,” but breaking the rules will only prolong the problem.

“We’ve seen time and again that when the protocols are followed, we see lower rates of infection,” he wrote. “Beyond the importance to health and safety, doing the right thing when it’s difficult — the actions we take today and tomorrow — also ultimately define our community. Thank you for doing your part and for expecting the same from others.”

———–

selections from Sara k. Satullo, “Lehigh U. frat allegedly hosted ‘COVID party’ during campus outbreak. Expulsions possible.” leheighvalleylive, February 18, 2021.

Lehigh University is cracking down on students and groups throwing parties amid a coronavirus outbreak on its South Bethlehem campus.

There are currently 379 active coronavirus cases amongst Lehigh students and more than 600 in quarantine. The university’s test positivity rate jumped to 8% last week, prompting Lehigh to urge student caution last Friday.

Yet, some students did not heed that message. At least three Greek organizations are facing student conduct charges for parties thrown in the last week, according to the university’s student affairs website.

Lehigh University is cracking down on students and groups throwing parties amid a coronavirus outbreak on its South Bethlehem campus.

There are currently 379 active coronavirus cases amongst Lehigh students and more than 600 in quarantine. The university’s test positivity rate jumped to 8% last week, prompting Lehigh to urge student caution last Friday.

Yet, some students did not heed that message. At least three Greek organizations are facing student conduct charges for parties thrown in the last week, according to the university’s student affairs website.

Lehigh’s outbreak is contributing to Northampton County having the state’s second highest per capita infection rate — 43 new cases per 100,000 people — over the past week. Northampton is averaging 132 new cases a day over the last seven days.

“This rise in cases in such a short period of time is nothing short of obscene”

Latest in a series of posts on the coronavirus

“Our inability to handle COVID-19 is not only an embarrassment, but serves as a serious hazard to students, professors and the entire Bethlehem community.”
Lehigh University Brown and White

The Mayor made no mention of this spike in his comments about the local virus happenings at City Council last night.

Sometimes it seems like Lehigh isn’t located in Bethlehem.

Southsiders especially, be cautious!

———–

selections from the Brown and White Editorial Board, “Too Little, Too Late.” February 14, 2021.

We are seeing, time and time again, Lehigh’s administration deflect responsibility and refuse to take action until it’s too late.

But now, it’s causing concern for public safety.

According to the Lehigh COVID-19 dashboard, since Jan. 1 there have been a total of 430 positive cases of coronavirus among students living on and off campus. During the first week of classes,104 students tested positive, and during the second week, 272 more students joined them.

This rise in cases in such a short period of time is nothing short of obscene.

It is evident that students have not been following Lehigh’s social contract to social distance and limit social interactions to 10 people or less.

However, as much as it is the fault of students for being irresponsible, going to large unmasked gatherings, and spreading the virus, the responsibility also falls on the university to put tangible policy in place to penalize students for failure to adhere to rules and regulations.

This past semester started out by only testing students who chose the campus access option twice within the first two weeks of the semester. And for a while, there were no active cases of COVID-19 on or off campus, which the school made sure to boast about on its social media regularly. However, it is easy to have a low case count when there is little to no testing occurring.

And when the inevitable outbreak did occur, Lehigh closed its campus for two weeks, wasting the money of those who opted to pay for access to campus.

This semester students were required to show a negative test upon arrival, follow a moderated quarantine before classes began and partake in weekly testing for the first two weeks of the semester. After the initial two week testing period, 50 percent of students were planned to be tested each week.

This new method quickly proved ineffective. Within just two weeks, the case count more than tripled the 100 mark that shut down campus the semester prior.

The university administration knows that the majority of the infection occurs through off-campus social interactions, yet little is being done to inhibit students from attending such events.

There has been no protocol to check if students randomly selected for surveillance testing actually show up for their test, and there have been few reports of off-campus gatherings getting shut down by the police.

If students see no consequences for violating social contract, it can’t be expected that they will alter their hazardous behavior.

Lehigh’s suggestion? Anonymously report your friends.

While many students have turned to anonymous reporting, the method has proven ineffective as Lehigh sits with more active cases than universities with student bodies five times its size.

The egregious mishandling of COVID-19 is only amplified by the hypocrisy that exists within Lehigh’s athletic department.

Throughout the various outbreaks that occurred last semester, athletics have continuously been paused and restarted, to only be paused again. When a player tests positive, they are put on a pause for a small, indefinite amount of time, unless it’s a sport like basketball, where everybody is considered a close contact.

But on multiple occasions, athletics have been able to resume 24 hours after a reported outbreak, despite potential incubation time ranging from three to 14 days.

Whether it be stronger planning or fostering a student body who is more willing to adhere to rules and regulations, it is time Lehigh takes a page out of the planning books of its peers. Our inability to handle COVID-19 is not only an embarrassment, but serves as a serious hazard to students, professors and the entire Bethlehem community.

———–

See also Andrew Scott, “Lehigh University urges double-masking, takes other precautions as coronavirus cases spike.” Morning Call, February 12, 2021.

Last step before the voting on the ordinance to regulate student housing

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

An important ordinance aimed at regulating student housing especially around Lehigh University is working its way through the City bureaucracy.

The genesis of this ordinance probably goes back twenty, maybe even thirty years and is associated with Gadfly #1 Stephen Antalic’s grim depictions of the manifestly deleterious effect that the uncontrolled growth of student housing is having on traditional neighborhoods on the Southside around Lehigh University.

In recent years the chant for taking action to protect those neighborhoods and the quality of resident life therein is associated with Councilwoman Negron.

And see powerful recent statements supporting this ordinance by Anna Smith here and here.

In recent years DCED director Alicia Karner and Planning Director Darlene Heller have worked with all parties involved to bring the “Student Housing Overlay District” ordinance to the brink of a Council vote.

This student overlay ordinance proscribes a regulated geographical district of student housing. Current student housing outside that district is “grandfathered” as long as it continues to be licensed and inspected. New student housing outside the district is permissible but with fewer students allowed than housing inside the district.

Here from the ordinance itself is the statement of purpose:

The proposed ordinance has received substantial recent attention: at a Community Development Committee meeting October 22 (many resident voices for the ordinance, a few opposed), at a Planning Commission Meeting, at City Council December 15.

And now substantial attention at a Public Hearing before the City Council meeting February 2, where landlord voices opposed to the ordinance predominated (Council video mins 28:00-1:01:50), questioning such things as the inadequately narrow size of the overlay, parking, and the nature of grandfathering. Here is an example of a landlord comment.

The familiar voices of Southside long-time residents Anne Evans and Seth Moglen were heard after the landlord calls. Gadfly always like to point you to models of effective resident commentary, and he suggests that you listen to these calls by Evans and Moglen countering the landlords by honing in on the important intention of the ordinance. Evans speaks of the need to protect the availability of affordable housing on the Southside, and Moglen urges Council to see that the landlord arguments to expand the overlay boundaries are precisely the reason the ordinance is needed.

As far as Gadfly can tell, Council sentiment has unanimously favored this ordinance at every step. Landlord questions were explored with the City representatives Tuesday night, especially by Councilman Callahan, and all seemed to be resolved.

The ordinance will now appear on the City Council agenda for first reading and vote February 16.

Frankly, this feels like one of the most important actions by Council in the time that Gadfly has been Council-watching, and he hopes the ordinance succeeds as it seems destined to.

Council acts “to protect and preserve Southside neighborhoods for everyone” (the Antalics ordinance)

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Anna Smith is a Southside resident, full-time parent, and community activist with a background in community development and education.

Early in the coming new year, the important and long-awaited ordinance regulating student housing, much discussed here in previous posts (click Southside on the sidebar), will have a public hearing and go through the normal first and second reading process.

However, at their December 15 meeting, City Council passed a resolution making it a “pending ordinance” as of December 31, which, if Gadfly understands correctly, means that in a sense it is in effect as of that date.

Anna Smith tee’d up the vote superbly.

———–

Comment delivered to City Council December 15, 2020.

Good evening, my name is Anna Smith, and I live at 631 Ridge St in south Bethlehem. I’d like to thank the members of Council who took the time to attend the Community Development Committee meeting in October to hear from residents and other South Bethlehem stakeholders about their support for the regulation of student housing. In addition to the over 20 people who spoke at the meeting, over 100 additional stakeholders signed their names to a letter in support of the zoning overlay. Tonight, you finally have the opportunity to take action to protect and preserve Southside neighborhoods for everyone. For families, renters, homeowners, boarding house and group home residents, and, yes, students.

Why is this so important? You’ve heard from a lot of us, and we’ve given a lot of reasons – preserve affordable homeownership and rental opportunities, protect quality of life, encourage Lehigh students to live closer to campus to reduce the numbers of cars brought to campus, and encourage students to live in or near the business district so that they can easily patronize locally-owned businesses. Restrict haphazard development on steep slopes. Reduce evictions and displacement of long-time residents when properties are converted to student housing. Concentrate student housing in neighborhoods where it already dominates, making it easier for colleges and universities to keep tabs on issues of safety and social life.

Now, if those aren’t enough reasons, I’d like to contextualize this policy change from my personal perspective.

I want to talk to you as someone who loves everything about South Bethlehem and who has spent the majority of my life living and working on its streets. I moved back here after 8 years away and decided to invest in the neighborhood that made me who I am, much in the way that my parents decided to invest in the Southside 33 years ago. Not because of ArtsQuest, or the Southside Arts District, or Lehigh, although those are all important aspects of our neighborhood’s character that make the Southside a great place to live. I moved back here because I want to raise my Latina daughter in a neighborhood where she won’t be the only kid speaking Spanish, and where she’ll hear Spanish on the street just as often as she will hear English. I invested in my neighborhood because I want my daughter to grow up like I did, with friends and neighbors of all racial backgrounds and socioeconomic levels. I came back because I believe in our public schools and want my daughter to be able to walk to Donegan Elementary in a few years. I moved back because I wanted to live within a five-minute walk of a playground, a pool, and the Greenway, restaurants, mini-markets, and the woods. I moved back because South Bethlehem represents the best of what it means to live in a true community. Sure, we have some challenges, like any community, but we have so much to be proud of.

And it is so important for our elected officials to understand that—not just at a surface level, or based on their own experiences on the Southside as outsiders, or from conversations with representatives of institutions… We need our elected officials and their staff to make an effort to listen and spend time with residents of all backgrounds that make up the vibrant, dynamic community at work in our Southside neighborhoods. To walk around, like I do, and chat with my next-door neighbor, a single Grandma who gives my daughter a little present for every holiday, and the young Puerto Rican couple with twins next door who always offer us food from the barbecue. The young married couple of women with the pit bulls who hang out on the porch every evening with their next-door neighbors, a black family with kids who race their scooters in front of my house and always ask to pet my dog. The older white man with a disabled son who always keeps the front of his house impeccably maintained and watches over the street. The Mexican family who just moved in this year but have already shown us all up with their holiday decorations. This is what my ideal neighborhood looks like, and where I chose to invest. We need you to understand why this is worth protecting and thinking about, not just today but each time you are asked to consider a policy change that will impact us.

The neighborhoods of the Southside have always had a certain reputation, and most of those who live here have rarely had a say in decisions that are made about it. We don’t have many elected representatives or appointed ones who live on our streets, and we often assume that no one from the other side of town cares about our neighborhoods. But things are changing, and folks from outside the Southside are now paying attention. New folks want to move here, to live or open businesses. Developers want to build, and others see opportunities to make a profit. And I want to be clear: I appreciate the energy and the fact that folks are getting excited about the neighborhoods that I love so much. But we can’t forget what is attracting these folks in the first place—the essential character of our community that has been here for a lot longer than I have. And we owe that to the people who defined these neighborhoods, who invested their time and livelihoods into these streets and homes, who send their kids to local schools, who watch over neighborhood parks and walk the Greenway to work every day. The families who opened businesses decades ago in a different economic climate, and who have won the love and support of generations of residents. Please remember them. As our Southside evolves into the future, we need to plan for the long-term and be proactive, lest we risk losing the very heart of our community and what makes it truly unique, and irreplaceable.

I’m speaking tonight because I think that the policy change you are considering is the product of that very type of consideration that I just mentioned. The Mayor and his Administration have listened—truly listened—and committed themselves to a long, exceedingly thorough process to proactively protect and preserve the essential character of our diverse neighborhoods. They understand why this is important for the future of our Southside as whole—how strong neighborhoods are a necessary condition for a viable City. And you have listened. You’ve attended meetings, read emails, talked with residents, and informed yourselves about the issues. This is, perhaps, the most thorough, well-informed proposal that I’ve seen this current administration put forward, and I’m proud to have been a part of the coalition that consulted with the administration over the last several years as the policy was developed. Tonight, you finally have a chance to stand with the residents of South Bethlehem who have implored you to act. Please vote to cut off all new authorizations of student housing development outside the student housing overlay as of December 31. Our neighborhoods depend on it.

Thank you.

Anna Smith

———–

Councilwoman Negron was kind enough to remember the years of toil that Stephen Antalics put in both in print and at the Town Hall podium in support of such an ordinance.

With due respect to the yeoman work of Anna and many others, in Gadville we’ll think of this as the “Antalics Ordinance.”

So we follow the Councilwoman’s lead and give a tip o’ the hat to Gadfly #1.

The virus and the neighborhoods around Lehigh and Moravian

Latest in a series of posts on the coronavirus

The Lehigh University COVID-19 spike three weeks or so ago has calmed down considerably.

Now only 17 off-campus active cases — the number Gadfly has been more concerned about.

And now we see the Brown and White reporter asking the right question: “How badly did Lehigh’s COVID-19 outbreak affect the greater Northampton County community?”

Gadfly can’t understand why there wasn’t/hasn’t been some notice of the substantial Lehigh outbreak to the Southside community.

Neighbors around Moravian College are reporting a similar concern about their off-campus students.

Moravian has consistently shown next-to-no active virus cases, but neighbors have determined that Moravian does not test asymptomatic students (like Lehigh does), and their efforts to get good information from Moravian have not been productive.

Lehigh

Selections from Nik Malhotra, “Lehigh’s COVID-19 outbreak a few weeks ago reflected in Northampton County data.” Brown and White, October 25, 2020.

Data from both Lehigh’s COVID-19 dashboard and the Pennsylvania Department of Health shows the potential impact the recent outbreak on campus has had on the larger community.

The chart above compares Lehigh’s new COVID-19 cases to those of Northampton County. During the week of Sep. 28, new Lehigh cases made up over 50 percent of all new cases in Northampton County. The following week, Lehigh students contributed to approximately 40 percent of new positive COVID-19 cases in Northampton County.

These figures beg the question: How badly did Lehigh’s COVID-19 outbreak affect the greater Northampton County community?

While there is no clear evidence that Lehigh students directly affected other citizens of Northampton County, the data does suggest that Lehigh’s COVID-19 outbreak played a role in increasing positive cases in the area.

Lehigh said the spread of COVID-19 likely stemmed from large student gatherings at off campus locations.

Although it’s understandable to have social bubbles in a pandemic, she said, these social bubbles are bound to overlap on a college campus. Freed said she has concern about how Lehigh is impacting the greater community in terms of COVID-19.

Virus situation calming down at Lehigh: “it seems like no one is (at Lehigh) anymore”

Latest in a series of posts on the coronavirus

“Cases have since dropped after an initial spike two weeks ago. According to Lehigh’s dashboard, active cases dropped from 82 to 36 in less than one week.”
Brown and White

Lehigh University COVID-19 Information Center

Lehigh University COVID-19 dashboard

After a significant spike, the virus situation is calming down at Lehigh. The Brown and White article below gives some student reaction to the quality of life on campus these days.

10/14/20

Selections from Aliza Lev, “239 on-campus students have vacated university housing as of Oct. 21.” Brown and White, October 21, 2020.”

Of the 1,223 students living on campus at the start of the semester, the majority — over 1,000 — are first-years students. That means about one-fifth of all first-year students living on campus have left housing either temporarily or permanently.

However, there are also 81 Gryphons [student Residence Hall advisors] currently living in university housing. Some of these Gryphons have left campus for the semester and gave up their positions or are considering doing so, according to a Gryphon who requested to remain anonymous in this article for fear of their job security.

The Gryphon said this has been a stressful semester for all Gryphons due to COVID-19 concerns and uncertainties. The anonymous Gryphon is considering not returning to campus next semester and resigning from her position.

“I’ve definitely been very stressed out and anxious over this,” the Gryphon said. “I’m thinking I should go home, but I’m nervous about getting sick and bringing (COVID-19) back to my high-risk parents. I’m torn between staying here or going home and leaving things uncertain about whether I’ll be able to be a Gryphon next semester.”

The Gryphon said other Gryphons have been concerned about the well-being of the first-years that live in their halls. The Gryphon said COVID-19 restrictions have made it difficult for first-year students to make friends, and many of them spend their time alone.

The Gryphon also said while some first-years prioritize their safety, others have not been adhering to COVID-19 guidelines for the sake of social interaction, which puts both themselves and their Gryphons at risk.

“It’s concerning seeing some kids who do care a lot wanting to stay on campus and stay safe, and other kids parading out of the building getting ready to go to parties,” the Gryphon said.

The Gryphon said there is frustration with the lack of communication between the Lehigh administration and the Residence Life staff because it has put Gryphons and other staff members at risk.

For example, the Gryphon said other Gryphons are only notified when someone on their own floor tests positive or residents need to quarantine. But when Gryphons are doing their typical “rounds” checking in on other floors in their residence hall, they could potentially be walking into a hall under quarantine and thus exposing themselves since they are not notified of positive students in halls other than their own.

Amy Zage, ‘24, and Paige Nemet, ‘24, were both exposed to COVID-19 on campus and were quarantined until they received their test results. After they each tested negative twice, Zage and Nemet went home.

Zage said she left campus because she felt scared and restricted living in her dorm.

Earlier this month, several students received letters of interim suspension after allegedly violating the university’s COVID-19 guidelines. Zage said she feared suspension and felt more comfortable temporarily living at home.

Nemet said she felt stressed before leaving campus because the university was not communicating about her situation. She said she called the Health Center multiple times with questions about her quarantine before getting in touch with someone.

“This was definitely stressful and difficult because I found out in only a day that I would have to quarantine for two weeks,” Nemet said. “Now everyone is either quarantined or at home, so it seems like no one is (at Lehigh) anymore.”

Zage also said the limited access to campus facilities, such as the libraries, significantly decreased her ability to interact with other students and maintain some form of social interaction.

Att: Everybody but especially Garrison Streeters, First Terracers, Armory-ers, W. Marketers! Southsiders need our support preserving their neighborhood

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Community Development Committee meeting
Thursday, October 22, 6PM

view on YouTube

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

———-

Neighborhoods are worth fighting for, the Gadfly has always said.

And over the last two years he has joined with you in that fighting in various parts of the City.

Now the Southsiders around Lehigh need our help.

An ordinance to regulate student housing in that neighborhood comes before the City Council Community Development Committee tonight.

The proposal is fair, reasonable, well researched, collegially developed, and modeled on national best practices.

It has the imprimatur of the City Administration.

It has been approved by the Planning Commission.

It has been approved by the Zoning Board.

All it needs now is City Council approval.

But we can expect that there will be strong business and perhaps institutional forces opposing it.

Please read the following letter to Council signed by several dozen of the affected neighbors.

And then see the ways in which you can help.

To show your support, you can:

  • add your name to a letter to Council from affordable housing advocates throughout our community: CLICK HERE to read and sign.

and/or

  • speak at tonight’s Community Development Committee meeting in support of the proposal: you can sign up in advance or call (610) 997-7963 when the chair asks for public comment. If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on October 22, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the Committee Chair will call you from (610) 997-7963.

———–

Lehigh refines reporting of COVID cases, 63 active off-campus

Latest in a series of posts on the coronavirus

Lehigh University COVID-19 Information Center

Lehigh University COVID-19 dashboard

Lehigh Brown and White Oct. 14: Lehigh’s COVID-19 dashboard is now reporting active and cumulative cases. There is currently 26 active cases among students living on-campus and 63 active cases among students living off-campus, for a total of 89 active cases. There has been 60 cumulative positive cases among students living on-campus and 129 cumulative cases off-campus for a total of 189 cases since Aug. 7.

Hello! Calling the Health Director!

Latest in a series of posts on the coronavirus

Lehigh University COVID-19 Information Center

Lehigh University COVID-19 dashboard

“We were discussing this. My concerns revolved around the community surrounding Lehigh. Do many of the students frequent local businesses? The same businesses that many residents frequent? Are they places that older residents would frequent?”
Denise

Saturday 155 total confirmed coronavirus cases at Lehigh, 101 off-campus.

Tuesday 177 total confirmed cases, 119 off-campus.

According to the B&W Weekly, October 12, “Lehigh has expanded its surveillance testing to include both on and off-campus students. However, students who are not selected for testing have found difficulty receiving help from the Health Center. Students who have been in contact with a positive case have been denied testing.

WTF?

See also:
Students encounter challenges while in isolation and quarantine on-campus, B & W, October 7.

Hello! Calling the Health Director!

“Cut the secrecy,” says Lehigh editorial, criticizing handling of virus precaution

Latest in a series of posts on the coronavirus

How does a school expect its students to act responsibly, honestly and openly if
they do not model that same behavior themselves?

Lehigh University Brown and White, October 7

Gadfly reported a few posts back that at City Council a week ago the Mayor reported on what sounded like a high number of confirmed virus cases at Lehigh, doing so without context.

He said that the Health Bureau director would forward more information to Council the next day.

Here is that email to City Council.

There were 96 positive cases counted at Lehigh as of the writing of the above memo, 155 counted by last Friday, two days later.

(Note that Moravian is “clean.”)

The Bethlehem Health Director provides pertinent factual information to City Council, but Gadfly was also interested in commentary on what the impact of this outbreak (the dashboard seems not to have been updated on Monday) on Southside residents and businesses. It looks like Lehigh is a “hot spot” — should there not be some publication of that fact? But there was no comment on that.

Should the Health Department be more than a passive reporter in a situation like this?

Gadfly might expect — because of the outbreak — some commentary on the quality of Lehigh’s policies and procedures. Have they been operating properly during this pandemic? Are proper safety precautions being taken? Are there recommendations for changes in their practices? The Health Director is silent on that too.

Which is interesting because of this October 7 critical editorial in the student newspaper. The B and W points to serious deficiency in Lehigh practice and attitude.

Shouldn’t the Health Director be on this ?

Selections from “Editorial: Cut the secrecy.” Brown and White, October 7, 2020.

When it comes to testing, Lehigh’s administration has been taking a page out of the playbook of the White House.

During the first two weeks of the fall semester, Lehigh University administered thousands of COVID-19 tests to gauge the health of the campus community. Within those first two weeks, there were fewer than 15 positive cases, as indicated by the Lehigh COVID-19 dashboard.

After the first two weeks of surveillance testing, no more tests were administered on a routine basis. Students who felt sick were administered a test from the Health and Wellness Center, and were sent on their way.

Six weeks later, throughout the last week of September and first of October, case numbers rose exponentially to 100, as of Oct. 7. The number of students in quarantine between on and off-campus is at 269.

During the week of the initial spike in cases, more students learned of possible exposure to positive cases and attempted to receive testing from the Health and Wellness Center, further spotlighting the struggle for students to gain access to a test. This forced students to find off-campus facilities to administer tests, some of which have turnaround times as long as seven days.

Indeed, the numbers don’t lie: 40 of the 100 positive cases were reported to the university after having been identified through tests administered by locations unaffiliated with Lehigh.

While it is on both the student’s and the administration’s hands to emphasize the importance and practice of COVID-19 safe behaviors, it is a team effort that stems from the top. When the school no longer preaches the importance of testing and staying on case numbers, the apathetic mentality trickles down throughout the student body.

It feels as though after having relatively low numbers during the initial testing phase, Lehigh administrators wiped their hands, said “that’s good enough,” and left the student body to handle the risks of the pandemic on their own.

But that isn’t what played out throughout September.

First of all, any plan to include further surveillance testing after the first two weeks of the semester was never communicated to students. So the argument of “we were always going to do more” is made in bad faith.

This increasing spike could’ve been mitigated by transparent and consistent communication. We have said this time and time again when it came to discussing reopening plans, which while frustrating, did not cause any imminent threat.

But this time, it does.

How does a school expect its students to act responsibly, honestly and openly if they do not model that same behavior themselves?

While we are frustrated with how the administration has handled the pandemic since our return to campus — and before — we understand that the responsibility also lies on us. There is a social contract that all students returning to Bethlehem signed, agreeing to take part in socially responsible behaviors amidst a very difficult time.

But at the end of the day, it shouldn’t be the university’s newspaper to serve as the only bridge between the administration and the student body.

The inability for the administration to hold themselves accountable during a time when its community is the most reliant on them it has ever been is disheartening to say the least.

Be open with us. Keep us informed. Let us know where the administration’s head is at. It can only go to assist student and staff decision-making to make our campus healthier as a whole.

Upward numbers continue at Lehigh; Moravian stats

Latest in a series of posts on the coronavirus

Lehigh University COVID-19 Information Center

Lehigh University COVID-19 dashboard

YESTERDAY

TODAY

Now 101 off-campus students with confirmed cases.

Lehigh’s October 9 update indicates starting the spring semester later and canceling spring break.

Gadfly still looks for a public statement from the Bethlehem Health Bureau Director.

———-

Moravian stats:

These figures are cumulative. Moravian shows no active cases on campus, 3 non-residential cases.

The Lehigh spike spikes

Latest in a series of posts on the coronavirus

YESTERDAY

TODAY

That’s a 50% rise in confirmed cases in one day.

147 confirmed cases is 10% of the 1,500 students tested.

There are 94 confirmed cases in students living off-campus. Gadfly is not sure if the Southside Commons at Brodhead and Packer is considered off-campus, so he is not sure how many of the 94 are living “in” the Southside community.

But Gadfly is concerned about the impact on the Southside community and wonders what has been done to inform that community of the spiking spikes. He is not aware of newspaper coverage, for instance.

The Lehigh October 8 update says this to off-campus students: “For all off-campus students, we urge you to exercise great care in visiting essential establishments in the greater Bethlehem community, such as the grocery store or pharmacy and implore you to wear a face-covering both en route to, and when visiting, another location other than your residence and to practice social distancing. This guidance is important for your safety and for the safety of others in the South Bethlehem community.”

Again, Gadfly wishes good luck with that “urging” and “imploring.”

Again, Gadfly looks for a public statement from the Bethlehem Health Bureau Director.

Lehigh University COVID-19 spike: a City concern?

Latest in a series of posts on the coronavirus

Lehigh University COVID-19 Information Center

Lehigh University COVID-19 dashboard

The main item in the Mayor’s report at City Council Tuesday night was, of course, the approval of Michelle Kott as the new Chief of Police.

After the applause on that important action died down, the Mayor went on to the routine business — an announcement about the budget, report on the opening of a playground, news about a voting box in City Hall.

Ending matter-of-factly with “Lehigh University began an active testing of their student body today . . . and as of this afternoon [Tuesday, October 6] we have 75 positive, and once we get the full scale of what the tests show, I’ll have Ms. Wenrich send out a memo to City Council” (video min. 30:32).

Why would there not be mention of an announcement to the public?

No context was put around this comment by the Mayor, President Waldron asked for more complete data, and later in the meeting Councilwoman Crampsie Smith passed on concerns from residents around Moravian College about the coronavirus status there.

Gadfly wonders if there isn’t cause for concern.

The above graph shows a spike in the last week.

100 confirmed cases, 66 off-campus, almost all living, one would suspect, in the adjacent Southside area.

On October 2 the University sent out a letter to the campus community indicating a “concerning increase” in cases and “scaling back” measures being taken. Athletics were suspended a few days before. The spike may have started with athletes.

Was the public not alerted too?

An update October 5 doesn’t indicate concern.

According to University regulations, “Students living off campus are required to self-isolate in their off-campus residence.”

Gadfly wishes good luck with that.

As of yesterday, there were 63 in isolation off-campus, 155 in quarantine off-campus.

We know how fast the virus spreads.

This is concerning.

We hope Lehigh University has been adhering to best practices and will continue to do so.

We’d like to hear more.

Gadfly looks for a public statement from the Bethlehem Health Bureau Director.

———–

“All Lehigh sports ‘shut down’ for undefined period of time, first on-campus cases reported.” Brown And White, September 29.

“Lehigh University temporarily suspends sports programs due to coronavirus,” Morning Call, September 29.

“22 new cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours causes Lehigh University to take almost all classes online,” Lehighvalleylive.com, October 2.

Lehigh goes all the way — online till end of semester: Packer closing study ends for now

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Lehigh has bowed to the virus and decided to go online for the rest of the semester. The traffic study that began March 9 is scrapped for now. Interestingly, people such as Councilwoman Van Wirt suggested the study be put off till the fall while talks about use of the road space might develop. Ironically, that might happen now.

If the temporary closure of Packer between Vine and Webster is renewed this fall, these recent follower ideas and questions should be remembered:

  • A public meeting with the City/ Lehigh needs to occur during/ after the temporary closure. Notice of the meeting should appear on the electronic message board at Packer and Vine as well as in news and social media. (southsidenannygoat)
  • Wondering if Lehigh is going to take a look at the businesses along 3rd and 4th st, during, and after, the Packer ave closure, to see if there is an increase in business due to the closing. That’s one of Lehigh’s main talking points, that the closure is going to bring more foot traffic down to those businesses, and it’ll be more profitable for them. (Patrick Wirth)
  • Recently visited Marietta, Ga. I was interested that the town square was donated to the town by the first mayor John Glover, provided it was always used as a town square. If not the land would be returned to his heirs. Since apparently a vacated Packer Ave. would become property of Lehigh University, shouldn’t a similar provision be secured so they don’t turn it into dorms or some other unwanted use. (Jerry Diguilio)

————

To complete the record so far, here, obtained by Right-to-Know, is the Lehigh memo to City Council just before the February 18 meeting in which Council voted to support the temporary closing of Packer Ave. The memo repeats the same basic three reasons for the test and details changes made as a result of the public meeting at Broughal School on January 28.

Lehigh Packer 1

Uh-oh, unpromising start to the Packer close study

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003

hmm! back to the drawing board

A Message from [Lehigh University] President Simon:

Dear Members of the Campus Community and Lehigh Families,

As of Monday, March 16, classes will be taught remotely and students are expected to return home or remain home to continue their coursework for the next two weeks. We will continue to assess developments during this time and provide further guidance. We are taking this extraordinary step in an effort to protect the health and safety of our community and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. To be clear, the university will remain open, and we are confident in our ability to continue to deliver on our educational and research mission during this time.

While there are currently no suspected or confirmed cases on campus, given the uncertainties about the spread of the virus, medical professionals have advised us that it is prudent to take precautions and act on the assumption that the virus will reach our campus. The Governor of Pennsylvania signed an emergency disaster declaration late last week. Our decision is consistent with the “social distancing” recommendations from health experts, and we continue to follow guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the City of Bethlehem Health Bureau.

We understand this decision presents challenges, and we are confident our community will call on their collective resourcefulness, flexibility and creativity to adjust. In-person discussion and personal relationships are an important component of our rigorous academic environment. We thank our students, faculty, teaching fellows, teaching assistants, graduate assistants, instructors, and staff for their adaptability during this time.

Packer temporary closing Monday: log impressions with Gadfly

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What is the official position of the City regarding the closure of Packer Ave? An agreement seems to have been made in secret to purchase the street from the city by Lehigh University. As a concerned citizen, tax payer and motorist I’m deeply worried that the public good has been yet again been forgotten in favor of some smoky back-room deal.
Edward Ballinger, Bethlehem City Hall Facebook page, Friday

Temporary closure of Packer Ave. between Vine and Webster to study the Lehigh University proposal to permanently close that stretch begins tomorrow, Monday, March 9.

As of noon today, Sunday, March 8, Gadfly sees no notice from the City in the news or on Facebook or Twitter. 014

Or on the City web site.

Maybe tomorrow.

Here’s what Gadfly was hoping for:

1) The City will put out a story not only with the technical details of the closure

2) but also full details of the Lehigh “ask” that is behind the study

3) as well as the means for citizens to record their travel experiences during the temporary closure plus their thoughts on a permanent closure

4) and concrete plans for a community meeting to discuss the results and steps forward, including at least a tentative date for such.

Here is what Gadfly is not hoping for: “the smoky back-room deal” that Mr. Ballinger speaks of above.

In absence of other options, Gadfly will gladly receive your thoughts and impressions and photos, which don’t have to be long, which can be multiple, and of which he will keep a running log.

Are “neighbors” and “community partners” the same thing?

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We are committed to working together with our campus community, the City,
the Bethlehem Area School District, and other community partners to ensure
that any and all concerns about the closure are heard and addressed.
Lehigh University, February 20

Lehigh University information page on the Packer Ave. closing

Ed Courrier, “Packer Ave. 45-day closure detailed.” Bethlehem Press, March 4, 2020.

We move closer to next Monday’s temporary closing of a section of Packer Ave.

We see that Lehigh has opened a web page on the closing for their faculty, staff, and students. Which is good. But it does not exactly foreground an invitation to comment on the impact of the closing by the people who use and park on Packer as part of the information gathering essential for the study.

We see that Lehigh made a presentation on the closing to the Mayor’s Southside Task Force last week, that is, after the public meeting at Broughal and, most especially, after the discussion and vote at City Council. It does not seem that this community partner was alerted in an appropriate time fashion to have input on the idea and the decision.

“Community partner” — as one keen-eyed follower has observed to Gadfly — is a curious term. It’s a jargon term, isn’t it?  Does it mean the same as “community”? Does it mean the same as “residents”? Does it mean the same as “neighbors”? Who knows? Remember that there was some skepticism about how and how vigorously the surrounding neighborhood community was advised of the January 23 “community” meeting at Broughal. Lehigh really kinda skipped over a question about that there.

But maybe there are no “neighbors” left around Lehigh. Maybe only “community partners.” At City Council Tuesday a lady recounted looking for housing in that area for months but only finding student housing.

Sigh.

Healing as the goal of the Packer Matter

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Gadfly loves to compare his thinking to our elected officials. Join him. The Council members gave us clear and substantial rationales. Remember, too, that one of the main reasons for the Gadfly project is to help you know your Councilpeople better so that you can be the most informed voter you can be. This is a good opportunity. Whom do you agree with, disagree with? Who makes you think? Who gave you something new to think about? Whom are you glad to see with a seat at the Head Table?
The Gadfly, February 24

As the opening of the temporary closing of Packer Ave. approaches on Monday, Gadfly would like to wrap up the series of posts he made on the individual comments from Council folk approving the measure 3-2.

Gadfly doesn’t always agree with Council decisions, of course, but what he looks for is good conversation — “Good conversation builds community” — and he thought there was good conversation from a variety of perspectives on the Packer Matter at the February 18 Council meeting.

So he hopes you took a few minutes to consider the range of statements and positions from the individual Councilpersons. Gadfly hopes you will be as much interested in why they voted as how they voted. The “why” is the indicator of the calibre of person we have entrusted with our public lives. You can respect a vote you don’t agree with if you respect the basis on which it was made.

What rises to the top as Gadfly thinks back on the good conversation at the meeting was Councilwoman Van Wirt’s use of “vision.”

Councilwoman Van Wirt spoke third, and the “vision” idea was picked up by Councilmen Reynolds and Waldron who followed her.

“Community” is an aphrodisiac word for Gadfly. “Vision” is another.

All the talk from Lehigh was ho-hum. Necessary. But ho-hum. For him their talk started at the wrong end of the rhetorical spectrum.

Give me the vision. Excite me. Then we can do the ho-hum.

Give me the song, the poetry, then I’ll listen to the engineers and bean counters.

Build the castle in the air. Then we can talk about the supports underneath it.

The collaborative past actions of Lehigh and the City in creating the Lost Neighborhood on the north side of Packer Ave. seem manifestly reprehensible. A power grab.

Gadfly’s sympathies were there with the ghosts of the past who for him still haunt the area from Packer to 4th St.

He remembers thinking somewhere along in the conversation about closing Packer that if it happens, Lehigh should be required, as restitution, to have a statue, a monument erected to the memory of the Lost Neighborhood at the center of the promenade.

No, better yet, not something required of Lehigh as restitution. But something done by Lehigh willingly as repentance.

Perhaps at the center of University Walk and the promenade — Lehigh might build a Southside Memorial Fountain of some sort by which people could sit, pause, and reflect come a summer day on the damage done when Power and Politics and Progress are out of control.

Silly Gadfly. A topic for a Thursday afternoon session with his therapist for sure.

But Lehigh’s Carolina Hernandez at the February 18 meeting was like a squirt of 3-1-oil on his tight lock on the grim past.

And then Councilwoman Van Wirt’s “I do have a vision of what this permanent closure could look like for Bethlehem, and it’s a great vision” was like an ice-cutter freeing a trapped cruise ship.

A vision of what could be done with the Packer Matter!

A “great vision”!

Gadfly came alive!

There were vision-teasers: a community fund, a business association.

And then with President Waldron, “is there a playground there, is there a community space . . . community programing?”

Not the whole vision. Not yet.

But enough to turn Gadfly’s perspective 180 degrees.

The word that came to mind was “heal.”

How might the Packer Matter become a “healing”?

If the closing of Packer Ave. could become an acknowledged healing ritual and not another grave stomping, then Gadfly’s on board.

It is good to have Councilfolk with vision.

Communicating with the communities

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Here’s Lehigh announcing the temporary closing of Packer Ave to the Lehigh community.  Feels a bit strange to Gadfly that no mechanism is identified for Lehigh community members to register thoughts on a permanent closing. Feels a bit strange that nothing was addressed to the people who park there. The photos in the previous post were taken c. 4PM Saturday afternoon, and Packer was parked up the whole length on both sides. Maybe something was going on, but it didn’t look like it. The campus felt deserted. Where are those cars going? — I guess the study will tell us.

But this is Lehigh announcing the closing to the Lehigh community. There was some skepticism about how and how vigorously the surrounding neighborhood community was advised of the January 23 “community” meeting at Broughal. Lehigh kinda skipped over a question about that. Should Lehigh be addressing a statement like this to that other community? Or is that the City’s responsibility?

Followers will recognize that Gadfly is more and more taken by Lehigh’s reason #3. Can you imagine Lehigh writing to the neighborhood community directly and saying, “We recognize there are long-standing cultural issues that can make our campus feel
inaccessible to you, and we are trying ease those issues by_____________.”

Wow, that would be neat (does anybody say “cool” any more?).

Does the neighborhood community have any idea of reason #3?

Isn’t one of the long-standing issues poor communication?

February 20

Dear Members of the Campus Community,

Earlier this week, the Bethlehem City Council approved the temporary
closure of Packer Avenue from Vine Street to Webster Street, beginning
March 9 and continuing through April 30, 2020. No vehicles or parking will
be permitted during this time. Pedestrian traffic will be allowed and
encouraged.

This test closure will allow the university, the City, and our partners in
the community to gauge the long-term feasibility of a permanent closure of
that portion of the street. At this point, no decisions have been made by
either the university or the city regarding a permanent closure. We will
conduct independent studies of vehicle traffic and pedestrian usage to
assess the impact on neighboring streets and the surrounding neighborhoods.
We will also assess the impact on Broughal Middle School.

More than 1,200 pedestrians cross the affected portion of Packer Avenue
each day. We are proposing the test closure for three reasons: 1) to
enhance the safety for our community and the pedestrians that cross
primarily at University Walk; 2) to knit together the Lehigh campus, which
this street bisects, and strengthen the connections to the South Bethlehem
business district; and 3) to create an attractive pedestrian walkway for
both the Lehigh community and the Bethlehem community.  We recognize there
are long-standing cultural issues that can make our campus feel
inaccessible to the Bethlehem community and we hope this closure might
address that by creating an amenity that serves both Lehigh and SouthSide
Bethlehem.

We are committed to working together with our campus community, the City,
the Bethlehem Area School District, and other community partners to ensure
that any and all concerns about the closure are heard and addressed. During
the trial period, Packer Avenue will remain open for emergency access, and
studies will be conducted to assess the impact of the closure on traffic
flow, parking, and safety. The results of the studies will be made
available to the public.

More details will be forthcoming on the closure in the coming weeks.

Sincerely,

Fred McGrail
Vice President
Communications and Public Affairs

Adrienne McNeil
Assistant Vice President
Community and Regional Affairs

Brent Stringfellow AIA
Associate Vice President of Facilities & University Architect

Packer Ave: pre-pare to de-tour

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The signs are up!

Packer between Vine and Webster
closed March 9 for 45 days

Here’s what we’re hoping:

1) The City will put out a story not only with the technical details of the closure

2) but also full details of the Lehigh “ask” that is behind the study

3) as well as the means for citizens to record their travel experiences during the temporary closure plus their thoughts on a permanent closure

4) and concrete plans for a community meeting to discuss the results and steps forward, including at least a tentative date for such.

In reference to #3, Gadfly will gladly receive your thoughts and impressions and photos, which don’t have to be long, which can be multiple, and of which he will keep a running log.

Happy trails!

Buckets of questions about the Packer Ave. closing

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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 would note that Kim’s substantial work was referred to approvingly several times in the February 18 City Council meeting. And rightly so! This is what it’s all about, good followers!]

Gadfly:

Re: Proposal to do a temporary closure of Packer Ave with an impact study

Many of us who attended the public meeting about the Packer Ave closure [Broughal Middle School January 23], and a number of my neighbors whom I’ve talked to about it since, have concerns about how any study of a temporary closure might be approached so that the most useful and accurate data would inform decision-making in the city, and so that pedestrians (and drivers) would be safe during the duration of the study. 

So this is what I asked city council and the mayor and his administration to consider before authorizing the temporary closure.

The questions are in two buckets: #1 is whether the city wants/needs to consider this closure (permanent or study period closure) at all, and if so, whether the time is appropriate now.  The #2 bucket is “if the city decides to do the temporary closure/study” questions. 

Bucket #1 –should the temporary closure/study be done and why?

1) What does the city hope to achieve with the proposed closure of Packer — not just with the short-term study time, but what is the city’s key objective for the proposed long-term closure of that section of Packer? Who will benefit? What will be gained? Who may lose? Do the gains outweigh the losses as we contemplate this closure?

2) [This was answered, mostly, or at least the accident data was. Without comparison to other locations it’s hard to know if this is a key dangerous intersection or one of many, or what . . . ]  One item we are still missing is data about how unsafe or safe that Packer Ave. crossing really is; no one has produced that data yet, despite Lehigh’s assertion that it appears to be an unsafe crossing. LU spokepersons have repeatedly and publicly said safety is part of what drives this closure idea. Can we learn more from existing safety data before diving into a study?

3) The other key reason cited by LU for the closure of Packer is that this would encourage students to feel the campus extends all the way to New, and could help them get closer to the commercial area and venture into it (on 4th and 3rd).  We already know that students tend to feel ill at ease going into the Southside, and that when they venture down they often go there by crossing (a) Morton, down New, and (b) across 4th St.  Isn’t it more likely that their Southside psychological boundaries/barriers are those streets rather than at Packer (hence the New Street revitalization plan to lure them past Morton and 4th, and down New)? How would the Packer closure affect Morton, in particular, with increased traffic and pedestrian movement? Will the closure adversely affect student movement north toward the commercial area, or will it encourage that foot traffic, as Lehigh asserts?

  • How and who will assess all of that — the study’s traffic consultants, a city business study, or another Lehigh study? If that student movement to the business district is a key objective in closing Packer, how will we know if the goal of increased pedestrian movement into the commercial area has been achieved, and when would we expect to know that?

4) Morton Street and the upper campus road are currently very congested due to university construction projects. Is this the best time to undertake a temporary or permanent closure, while those roads are narrowed, and there are flaggers, trucks, and equipment entering and exiting the construction sites all day long?

  • If the study goes forward, will the consultants measure pedestrian (and car) safety, not just at intersections but along that whole block of Morton where the street has been narrowed for construction, and the effect of the sidewalk closure on the south side of the street?
  • Will pedestrians really be safe during the study, while construction is ongoing?
  • Will the consultants measure the car traffic before and during the study to know the effects on the upper campus-E/W route across the Southside (including effects on the nearby neighborhoods)? [key issue of concern to my neighbors and me, over here!]

BUCKET #2 –if the temporary closure and study go forward

 But if one does think a temporary closure and study is a good idea, what is/will be written into that consulting contract? Is there language in the contract spelling out what the consultants must study: what exactly is to be studied, and how?  How will the results be made public, and will those results be shared before the decision is made to close Packer for good, or not? Will the public have an opportunity to provide their feedback on the temporary closure to Lehigh and the city? More specifically, then:

1) Will the consultants be studying the effects on pedestrians (and if so, is this something they know how to do, or do they need help from consultants who are more familiar with that kind of work)? We should be careful to use consultants who are experienced in pedestrian studies, and wary of using ones who may only specialize in vehicle traffic; I have no idea what these consultants are known for, but their performance in the public meeting at Broughal indicated to me that they had not thought about pedestrian studies much, if at all. It appeared that they only had focused their plans on the vehicle traffic.

Among the things we should know are

    • how do they plan to track Broughal student walking patterns and safety, and changes in those patterns and safety (if any)
    • and how do they account for safety issues as they study pedestrian movement in the extended area including Brodhead, Summit, over to Montclair and Carlton, down to 4th Street and perhaps 3rd as well; and eastward on Webster, 4th, 5th, and E.Packer.
    • What will Council learn about safety issues in the whole study area, by the end of the study?

2) [This was kind of answered, although it will be a shorter data collection period than folks first assumed when it was first announced.] How would the consultants plan to account for the traffic and pedestrian data in the earliest days of the study and closure, which will be done when Lehigh students and most faculty are on spring break: will that data be averaged in with the rest, thus skewing the results?  Studying traffic and pedestrians over spring break would definitely not provide representative data, although I see why Lehigh wants to start putting out blockades when students aren’t around and perhaps traffic is lighter. But that time should not be averaged into the data that is collected when the usual school year traffic (cars and pedestrians) is in full swing.

3) As my neighbors and I have shared with the mayor and the Lehigh Public Affairs VP, many of us suspect that W.8th to University Dr, and across campus, will become an even more appealing way to traverse the Southside (E-W and W-E) if/when Packer would be closed. Yet there will be even more construction up there on University Drive next year. The consultants should measure the before and after closure effects on that route, and also consider what could change when the next phase of dorm demolition and construction begins this summer through next year. Do we know if this is being considered in the study? I hope that the city will request a clear answer, and consider the following as well:

  •  Is the upper campus route going to be part of the city study, or would that be left to Lehigh to do separately from the consultant study? Would they include the surrounding neighborhood streets and what happens to traffic there? Will they share the data and seek community feedback?
  • Will the city be able to study the W.8th street entrance to campus and whether traffic is increased on that rather congested street that runs from Wyandotte into campus? What will be the impact on the streets to the east side of campus?
  • Would the data from a Lehigh campus road study be something accessible to the public, and would it be incorporated into city decision making?

4) Also, how will we know the effect of the closing when it snows? I mentioned at the public meeting that most of us over here are definitely aware that one doesn’t drive on Morton Street when it’s snowy; the city has never been able to maintain that street effectively; it is usually covered in slush, ice and/or snow for a number of days before things melt away- not ideal for Broughal kids and parents! That may be because of the way the buildings on the street shade the road surface, but I’m not sure.  Local folks just all try to avoid driving there when the weather gets bad. It’s a safety issue without any additional added traffic, whether for cars, buses or pedestrians; more traffic in snowy weather is a scary thought.

5) Finally, IF the trial closure and study are authorized by Council, you all, as well as residents and those who work in the area also should know how the final decision about long term closure would be made:

  • who besides the consultants will give or collect feedback
  • when
  • where
  • and how

…before the final decision is made?  What key issues will the mayor deem relevant to his recommendation?

I guess I don’t see all these questions as insurmountable, but as many of us see it, answering these questions in Bucket #2 (all of them) should mean that the planning for the traffic/pedestrian study would be quite careful, the study itself quite extensive, and both should include voices from the community.

  • Planning and contracting with consultants should also mean investigating their expertise in pedestrian studies.
  • And there should be a plan in place, before the study begins, to present the results of the study and hear from the public before any final decision is made.

Gadfly would note that Kim’s substantial work was referred to approvingly several times in the February 18 City Council meeting. And rightly so! This is what it’s all about, good followers!

Council folk speak up about the temporary closure of Packer Ave. (4)

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President Waldron (votes for the temporary closure)

Above, courtesy of YouTube’s choice, is Lehigh administrator Brent Stringfellow
not President Waldron

  • This is an opportunity where we can see how it will shake out.
  • My concern is how are those data used after we do receive them.
  • How is it disseminated to the community and the stakeholders . . . what mechanisms for feedback will there be to communicate concerns.
  • If this were the full-time street vacation I would not be supporting it, however I am in support of the temporary closure.
  • I really have to agree with Mr. Reynolds, Dr. Van Wirt about some of that conversation how the community is drawn up to Packer Ave. and feels a little bit more welcome on the campus.
  • I’ve spent some time just walking around Lehigh’s campus and it’s tremendous, a wonderful asset to our City, and I think to expose that to other people is only a good thing for Lehigh and the community.
  • I would like to see more in the conversation about how you bring the community up to that space.
  • And if Packer Ave. is eventually vacated . . . I would hope for a kind of all-in approach from Lehigh, some thoughts especially from Dr. Van Wirt about how we can make that space feel more inviting — is there a playground there, is there a community space . . . community programing?
  • That should be a major consideration in a potential vacation of the street.
  • Ultimately, this has to be a partnership between Lehigh, the City, and the community as well.

In conversation with Lehigh and City administrators, President Waldron asked about why the dates were picked, consideration of other traffic calming measures, who owns Packer Ave. if it is vacated, whether Lehigh could build on that space, what about utilities under that road, the financial value of the land, and loss of parking revenue.

All good president-type questions.

Council folk speak up about the temporary closure of Packer Ave. (3)

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Councilman Reynolds (votes for the temporary closure)

  • You look at somebody with a private interest coming forward, of course . . . there are reasons that they want to do it.
  • The key in the decision the governmental agency has to make is whether or not there’s overlap between the private interest and the public good or the public interest.
  • We’ve heard from some citizens, we need to hear from more citizens.
  • We are very fortunate here, in that a lot of time we have to deal with hypothetical benefits or hypothetical negatives . . . that is not always the best way to make decisions.
  • The best way to make decisions is when you have rational, qualitative data.
  • That’s what this is really about, giving the City and the public an opportunity to see whether or not there is a public interest in doing this.
  • The real boundaries . . . are not physical.
  • I really do give the Lehigh community a lot of credit for . . . directing more and more of their interest and energy toward how do we bring the Southside together in a way . . . how do we bring people up.
  • How do we bring people together.
  • What we’re not as good at is bringing people together that have different identities . . . to interact in that way that creates community.
  • If this is done well, it is another step in that direction.
  • Those two goals especially have an overlap between the City of Bethlehem’s public good and Lehigh University’s self-interest.
  • But that all has to be proved before anybody’s able to take that next step.
  • If this was just good for one group of people, it wouldn’t make sense to do.
  • It’s really about how is this going to be done and whether or not the important questions are going to be done, some of which we don’t even really understand yet.
  • Often times the groups that are most affected, they’re not here because they don’t exist yet.
  • We often talk about how we don’t have more information to be able to make decisions, and this is an opportunity to gain information.
  • The decision we make tonight is much smaller than the decision we are going to make, at the earliest, several months from now.
  • It is people and institutions coming out to saying we see this or we don’t see this as a good thing.
  • I think that there is an opportunity with this to really kind of go about doing this the right way.
  • For me it will come down to do I think this is a step in the right direction for bringing the Lehigh community together with the Southside community that has often been at odds.
  • We’re breaking down those kind of emotional and economic barriers one at a time, and that’s going to be the big question for me at the end of the day.
  • Is there a public good here that is worth us closing down or vacating the street, and does that interest work for both the institution that is before us as well as our community and the public good?

Council folk speak up about the temporary closure of Packer Ave. (2)

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Councilwoman Van Wirt (votes against the temporary closure)

  • My first concern is why is this being done.
  • I’m not convinced by the safety argument.
  • The first thing that comes to mind is not vacation of a city street.
  • The real reason . . . Lehigh wants to consolidate their campus, and that’s not inherently a bad thing.
  • But it has to be addressed in the correct way so that the citizens who are giving up city-owned land have faith in the process that all the data was transparent.
  • I would ask that the Mayor and Lehigh make the contracts with the consultant transparent.
  • This study must have a plan in place to disseminate the results.
  • I thought more people could have been brought in by a more robust campaign to get the word out about what was going to be talked about.
  • What was good about that meeting was that a lot of the stuff brought up was incorporated into the plan.
  • There was a lot of people calling out that this was not being done for safety.
  • I think that you can engender trust in the community of South Bethlehem if we’re pretty frank and candid about why we’re doing this.
  • We’re doing this to make Lehigh stronger . . . that’s why we are doing this.
  • The primary reason is for the university.
  • That is citizen-owned land . . . steep price.
  • The traffic concerns are real.
  • What are we doing with the dollars we’re given for that land? I would like to have some discussions now.
  • What does it physically look like?
  • Are those crossing guards going to be permanent for the Broughal students?
  • How do we draw the citizens up into this space that was formerly theirs?
  • How do we make it more like the citizens of Bethlehem feel they are more pulled in to?
  • How do we create better bike and pedestrian experiences?
  • How do we pull South Bethlehem back up in to the campus so that we can really integrate it?
  • What I really would encourage Lehigh to do is postpone this.
  • There’s too much that needs to be done before the March date.
  • Have this study happen in the fall.
  • I do have a vision of what this permanent closure could look like for Bethlehem, and it’s a great vision.
  • I think that it could be a great thing for South Bethlehem if it’s done correctly, and that means it has to be a slower process with the community involved.
  • I would advocate for a citizens’ steering committee.
  • Maybe the money we get for the land itself gets put into a community fund dictated by the committee for what it’s used for.
  • Maybe Lehigh can help start a South Bethlehem Business association . . . Maybe that could help with some of the problems we are having drawing students down the 3rd and 4th streets.
  • I have a vision that this can work., I just ask Lehigh to slow down.
  • . . . a community process that better addresses the problems brought up here.
  •  . . . fully pulls the community in to this so that they believe the process instead of feeling that it’s being jammed down their throats.

The Council folk speak up about the temporary closure of Packer Ave. (1)

logo Latest in a series of posts about Lehigh University and the Southside logo

Ok, you are not new to the question about a test of the closing of Packer Ave. between Vine and Webster.

And you probably don’t need to be reminded that the issue here is control over your neighborhood (though this issue does have ramifications for all of us who drive in Bethlehem).

Lehigh is asking “us” to conduct a test whose end result is, if positive, in effect, to end the main function of a busy, healthy street on the Southside. Is their reason compelling?

Even if you don’t live in this area, you need to be alert to the kinds of things that could happen in your neighborhood.

Gadfly loves to compare his thinking to our elected officials. Join him. The Council members gave us clear and substantial rationales.

Remember, too, that one of the main reasons for the Gadfly project is to help you know your Councilpeople better so that you can be the most informed voter you can be.

This is a good opportunity.

Whom do you agree with, disagree with? Who makes you think? Who gave you something new to think about? Whom are you glad to see with a seat at the Head Table?

Councilman Colon (votes for the temporary closure)

  • I’m curious to see what comes out of the temporary closure.
  • We’ve already vacated a couple streets that we didn’t have this opportunity to test.
  • I remember how big deal it was when that street (Broad Street) was closed and then reopened.
  • We have an opportunity to have a temporary closing and then come back to the table and see what happens.
  • Now is a good time . . . to do the study. (students there, unlikely weather event, construction conditions on Lehigh campus)
  • Where I stand on permanent closure, who knows.
  • I’m encouraged by the Mayor’s comments about having another public hearing.


Councilwoman Crampsie Smith (votes against the temporary closure)

  • I do have concerns about the temporary closure. One is the proximity to Broughal Middle School.
  • I worry about their [Broughal students] maturity level.
  • There’s also St. Peter’s Church . . .
  • Also is the concern that the Southside is so congested already.
  • For many walkability is not an option [people with physical disabilities, an aging population] impeding people attending Lehigh events.
  • I wonder [from the community perspective] if this isn’t an extreme jump.
  • Sophisticated crosswalk like done at Moravian . . . overpasses, walkways.
  • I wonder if we’re not taking an extreme leap.
  • I just have a lot of questions. Perhaps in the future I would be more inclined to agree.

Van Wirt and Reynolds next–