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)

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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!