A Northside Commuter Lot for Lehigh U? Let’s make sure fairness is in play (19)

(19th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

This is the 3rd email in Gadfly’s recent conversation with the involved Lehigh and City parties over this puzzling issue of Lehigh’s “Northside Commuter Lot” and its possible negative effect on lower-paid Bethlehem residents and taxpayers who work at Lehigh.

Saturday, March 9

Brent, Darlene, and members of the Planning Commission (except Ms. Cohen, for whom I do not have a permissible email)

Take #3

There is a discrepancy here. The most obvious reason is that Lehigh has in some fashion (not a lease) made arrangement to use the Bethlehem Parking Authority Lot, discussed it openly with Lehigh employees as an option in their new parking plan, but not told the City, since Ms. Heller has no knowledge of it. But there are other possible interpretations as well.

My suggestion would be that the Planning Commission revoke its 2/21 approval till Lehigh explains the discrepancy, at which time the possible impact of bumping or forcing lower-wage Bethlehem residents, taxpayers, and voters into the Northside lot may be explored fully. There may be no problem, but let’s be sure.

The College of Health at 124 E. Morton is a major undertaking and a great additional distinction for the University and the City. The Mayor just highlighted it in Thursday’s “State of the City” address.

That new College and fair practices for lower-wage Bethlehem residents and taxpayers are not incompatible. Let’s just pause and make sure fairness is in play.

Here is evidence to consider–

Direct quotes from recording of the 2/21 Planning Commission mtg:

1) The Lehigh lawyer (so sorry, I don’t have her name): “[Lehigh has done] a study to prove and confirm to the city that with all these projects that would be coming both proposed now and what may be coming in the future that there’s adequate parking through out the campus based on the zoning ordinance requirements. That is public record here at the City, so whether Mr. Gallagher took the opportunity to review that, I don’t know. The lot that he’s talking about that there be a lease of some City lot does not exist, so the comments about lower income, lower whatever he’s trying to describe parking in that lot, there is no leasing of that City lot. And that is not even part of the parking study. The parking study took into account existing projects as well as the projects proposed. . . . There is no leasing of the lot with the City. All I can say is the lot you are claiming Lehigh is leasing is not under lease. . . . It’s not in the Comprehensive Plan. It’s not in the plan the City reviewed.”

2) Darlene Heller, Bethlehem Director, Planning and Zoning: “So that there will be some satellite parking spaces, none that I know of on the northside. . . .”

From the Lehigh Parking Study referenced above:

1) “The commuter lot is located on Goodman Campus [over the Mountain, Stabler Arena locale] with frequent bus service.” (32)

2) “Lehigh University intends to make use of off-site parking as an option for non-residential students at the Goodman Commuter lot.” (41)

From Lehigh U material on web site Sept 2018 and used as basis for widespread campus discussion throughout the Fall:

— see the attached image from the Campus Parking Map from the Lehigh U parking regulations document showing notation for Northside (other areas in the documentation reference bus service from the Northside lot to Farrington Square)

Northside 3

From personal conversation with a score of current Lehigh employees on Friday:

— everybody I talked with is aware of the Northside Commuter Lot in the mix of parking locations in the new plan

Assoc. VP Stringfellow and other Lehigh reps perhaps closer to implementation details of the parking plan than the Lehigh lawyer were present 2/21 but did not participate in discussion, though led to do so by Ms. Heller. Stringfellow is signator to the Sept 10, 2018, document that was circulated on campus that is the basis for my concern.

Ed Gallagher

Why still the mystery about a Northside Commuter Lot for Lehigh U? (18)

(18th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Gadfly did some research in the City Hall vaults for this follow-up message.

Thursday, March 7

Take #2

Brent, Darlene, and members of the Planning Commission (except Ms. Cohen, for whom I do not have a permissible email)

On 2/21 the Lehigh lawyer (sorry, I did not catch her name) “invited” me to look at the July 18, 2018, parking study submitted to the City.

I did. And, indeed, it has nary a mention of a Northside Commuter Lot. Which is consistent with the first testimony I heard from Lehigh when I inquired whether all lost parking spaces could be absorbed on campus. And was told they could.

So how does that square with the appearance of the off-campus Northside Lot on this document on the Lehigh web site and in conversations with Lehigh faculty and staff in the Fall when news of the parking changes was rolled out?

See the Northside Commuter Lot mention on the lower right of this Campus Parking map.

In fact, here is a blow-up of that lower right corner of the map clearly showing the presence of the Northside Commuter Lot in the Lehigh parking plan:

Northside 3

Why before the Planning Commission is the existence of this lot not recognized?

The 2/21 Lehigh lawyer was careful to say that Lehigh has no lease for that lot. But she did not say that Lehigh wasn’t using it.

Is Lehigh using that lot? Has that use been approved? Why the mystery?

Ed

Lehigh University’s Multi-Modal Culture (9)

(9th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

A Gadfly tip o’ the hat and wave o’ the wing to follower Tony Hanna (Redevelopment Authority Director) for recommending the work of Jeff Speck on this subject. Gadfly is reading Speck’s Walkable City books now.

Gadfly followers will recognize that he is engaged in a bit of a beef with Lehigh University over the possible negative impact of the new parking system on the lower income strata of workers, some of whom, no doubt, are Bethlehem residents, taxpayers – and voters.

But

that new parking system is the result of a laudably ambitious plan to foster a multi-modal culture on campus.

See: A New Mobility Ecosystem

“Lehigh University’s Connections Plan will reduce the reliance on the automobile for on campus travel, promote ridership and expansion of the Lehigh University transit system and encourage health and wellness through walking and cycling, resulting in a more collaborative, less congested, and more sustainable environment for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and visitors alike. The Connections Plan will seek to accomplish the following thematic goals:

  • Foster a multimodal culture
  • Achieve environmental sustainability
  • Enhance health & wellness
  • Minimize investment in new parking structures”

For more details, see the links on this main Connections page to The Pedestrian Experience, Transit System, Parking System, and Mobility Solutions for such specific sub-goals as:

  • Create a car-free zone of nearly 39 acres in the academic core of campus bounded by Packer Avenue, Taylor Street, University Drive, and Brodhead Avenue
  • Provide convenient, timely, and comfortable transportation options to eliminate vehicle dependence in the core of campus and provide access to all existing parking facilities
  • Limit vehicular access and parking throughout the core campus and establish the car-free zone
  • Partner with the public and private sector to deliver various transportation, carpool and ridesharing options (LANTA/LYFT/Enterprise).

Drilling down on the Pedestrian Experience, we find:

Pedestrian Experience

So there’s gonna be free Lanta, carpooling, car-sharing, bike sharing, etc., etc. – all kinds of things!

Gadfly has many followers on the Lehigh campus. Would anybody like to comment on this plan? It’s quite ambitious. Lehigh is built on the side of a hill (and I’ll bet somebody can tell us what degree of slope). Does the plan look good from your ground-level? Or how about other followers who are expert in such plans – is Lehigh on track?

“We’re lacking transparency here” (17)

(17th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

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

Gadfly:

Regarding your post on Lehigh Northside parking, here is a map of the environs of 123 West Lehigh Street.

123 W. Lehigh

The lot is generally vacant except during Musikfest. Police officers sometimes use it for bike training. Why isn’t a traffic study being conducted for the added volume to the streets feeding into this lot? A new crossfit facility has just been permitted at Conestoga and Union. The Conestoga and Spring intersection is famous for traffic collisions (though I have no statistics to corroborate the statement). The main parking lot for Moravian’s Priscilla Payne Hurd campus is less than 200 yards away. And the neighbors (me, for example, plus the condo owners on Lehigh and Spring Streets) have not been notified of the proposed use. We’re lacking transparency here.

John

John: The answers seem so easy, I don’t understand why Lehigh just doesn’t give ’em. It has always just seemed odd to me that with what at first glance/thought seems like such a big campus, that Lehigh needs to push parking so far away.  And, if it is true that Lehigh is using that lot — remember, they are not saying so, even though it’s in the material distributed to faculty and staff — then there is still the issue of a bus running apparently at both rush hours that will probably need to stop somewhere in the “canyon” of New St. between 3rd and 4th before heading to Farrington Square.

a class-based parking system (16)

Breena Holland is an Associate Professor at Lehigh University in the Department of Political Science and the Environmental Initiative. She is a past and current director of Lehigh University’s South Side Initiative.

(16th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Gadfly, Thanks for your attention to this ongoing issue. I have one point of clarification.

When Mr. Stellato asked where the 124 cars would go, and the response was a nearby garage, there are two options that come to mind. First, the top floors of the garage behind Maginnes Hall are currently reserved for students, and I think they plan to eliminate the student parking there so that the entire lot can go to faculty and staff.

Second, there is oodles of space in the new Benner Garage on New Street. I’m talking about the garage for which there was not a demonstrated parking demand, but which was built anyway with publicly backed bonds, in order to accommodate Dennis Benner’s desire to have parking for his new building at the corner of 3rd and New Street, which is now attached to the garage by a glass walkway built over a public greenspace. Now it would appear that the garage was built in part to accommodate Lehigh University’s need for new parking spaces. Of course, none of this was admitted at the time, although the University never opposed the construction of the garage, which is oversized and attached to an oversized building — completely out of scale with the Historic District.

So as long as you are trying to determine the impact of the new parking scheme on low-income folks, you really need to consider the imposition of a poorly located garage attached to an oversized building that has really just destroyed a key gateway to the south side, making it look like an ugly institutional setting rather than a historic city. And the developer continues to ignore the restrictions put on the building, backed by 5 members of city council who will apparently let him get away with anything, and a mayor who is willing to take the blame for anything the guy does wrong.

This garage, which will likely be at least half full of Lehigh University parkers, brings a lot of traffic right into the heart of downtown Bethlehem. It has created a canyon effect on the New Street and on the greenway, and because it has its own fancy restaurant (a destination in itself) and coffeeshop on site, it does not appear to be helping the local businesses much at all. Why would people leave the building when they can get everything they need on site and then take a glass walkway to their cars in the new garage?

As you know, the Bethlehem Parking Authority went into significant debt to build this garage for Benner and (apparently) Lehigh. The consequence is that everyone’s parking rates and fines will be raised. We knew this at the time and argued that the primary user of the garage should pay for it, since the parking study did not convincingly show demand for it. The inequity starts there.

In order to address the problem you raise, of the remaining need for parking pushing lower income people at Lehigh to the north side lot, parking fees at Lehigh should be attached to salary, so it is just as easy as my department coordinator to pay for a spot in the garage outside her office as it is for me.

Leave it to Lehigh to cook up a class-based parking system, rather one that is equitable.

Best, Breena

Still seeking info from Lehigh (15)

(15th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)
Monday, March 4, 2019

Brent, Darlene, and members of the Planning Commission (except Ms. Cohen, for whom I do not have a permissible email)

To reiterate my comments at the 2/21 Planning meeting. I am concerned that Lehigh’s decision to do substantial building on parking lots might negatively affect low income Lehigh faculty and staff and contract workers for Sodexo, BrightView, and etc. — people who may be Bethlehem residents and taxpayers.

The attached document was distributed to the Lehigh community in September. I attended three follow-up sessions on campus. I had personal contact with Mark Ironside and the Lehigh Transportation manager in November.

Contrary to the impression given by the Lehigh lawyer 2/21, there was no doubt in any of these documents, meetings, and contacts that Lehigh was using a “Northside Commuter Lot” at 123 W. Lehigh St., and running a bus from there to Farrington Square on lower campus.

The Lehigh lawyer 2/21 made the point that Lehigh has no lease for northside parking, making it sound as if there was no plan for Lehigh people to park there at all. Given the knowledge and experience I had, frankly, I was rather dumbfounded. I checked with BPA. Indeed, there is no lease. But there was/is no question in any of the documents, meetings, contacts about use of that lot.

Take a look at the attached document. Lehigh is losing 518 spaces, partially making up that loss to “respond to a reduction in parking supply” by utilizing 150 spaces in a “Northside Commuter Lot.” There, in black and white, is what I have been focusing on.

The clear impression I have is that the Northside Commuter Lot is necessary. Some people might choose to park free there and take the bus or walk the 3/4 mile to campus. That’s good. Yes, Mr. Malozi, Lehigh has an ambitious and laudable walking and public transportation plan. But I am concerned about those who will be bumped or forced off-campus by inability to pay the $500 on-campus parking fee or simply lack of space for everybody on campus.

For it looks to me there will be a kind of hop-scotch going on. Mr. Stellato cogently asked where the cars displaced at 124 will go. The answer was to the nearby Lehigh parking garage. But then the follow-up question should have been, where will the cars in that now-filled lot go?

There may be no problem. I am simply seeking clarity. At a Planning meeting last year, Lehigh said all displaced parking would be absorbed on campus. I questioned that, and it was so affirmed. Then, to the contrary, comes the Northside Commuter Lot in documents and meetings by Lehigh itself.. So that statement does not seem to have been true. And now the Lehigh lawyer made it sound, frankly, that I was making up the plan to use the lot. As if it were not clearly in the documentation and in the air during conversations among affected persons on campus.

The new Lehigh parking plan is to be rolled out in April. I think the city needs to know whether lower-income Bethlehem residents and tax payers might be unfairly impacted.

There may indeed be no problem, no issue. Many contract workers work after 4PM, for instance, and can park on campus. Maybe many contract workers already walk or take the bus or car pool.

My question(s) might be easily answered. These matters might have been thoroughly thought through. I think we should hear the answers. But it seems to me like Lehigh is avoiding.

At the previous Planning meeting where I brought this issue up, the Lehigh lawyer at that time (a different one) and I ended in an almost comical cliched stand-off. He said Lehigh had done everything right legally. I said there’s a difference between law and concern for people.

How will Lehigh’s new parking plan affect low income Lehigh faculty and staff and contract workers for Sodexo, BrightView, and etc?

I will write about this later in the week on Gadfly, in case anyone would like to respond before then.

Be well–

ED

All quiet on the Lehigh front? (14)

(14th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Tim Hyland, “Lehigh Breaks Ground on Bridge West Residence Hall.” Lehigh University News, December 19, 2018.

Jacqueline Palochko, “Lehigh University breaks ground on 720-bed dorm.” Morning Call, December 19, 2018.

Gadfly hasn’t posted on Lehigh for over a month. You may have forgotten the issue he’s been watching out for. (Reminder that you can always catch up on earlier posts on topics through the menu under the image on the front page of the blog or under Topics on the sidebar).

Some recent and planned Lehigh new construction, like the one covered in this morning’s articles, is on parking lots (120 approx spaces lost by this construction), forcing Lehigh to obtain parking from the Bethlehem Parking Authority across the river on the north side of town.

On the face of it, that’s kind of bizarre — 3/4’s of a mile from the closest, lowest edge of campus. But the issue Gadfly is concerned with is whether Lehigh’s lowest class of worker will be forced to park there inconveniently (adding time to the work day, etc.) after testifying at 2 City hearings that their parking studies showed that they could accommodate all the lost parking on campus.

Gadfly has asked that Lehigh discuss the impact of their parking decisions on those workers before construction goes much further so that the City is aware that there might be a significant negative impact on workers who are City residents.

Gadfly thinks that the next major project is the College of Health described in the above articles as opening Fall 2020. Not too far away. So Gadfly assumes there will be presentations at City meetings soon.

  • It has occurred to Gadfly that bouncing concerns off the Mayor’s Southside Task Force might be a good idea, but he has not been able to work their meetings into his schedule. And he can’t find contact info for chair Roger Hudak — if any followers can help with that, much appreciated.
  • Gadfly filed Right to Know requests with the Parking Authority for leases on that “Northside Commuter Lot” and was told there were none. Strange. Maybe too early for leases? Just a verbal commitment now?
  • Gadfly was curious about busing from the Northside lot (on Lehigh St., just west of the Fahey Bridge, adjacent to the Wooden Match). What size bus it would be and where it would stop on the Southside. Would, for instance, the bus go straight on New till stopping at Farrington Square? If so, where would it stop in that narrow stretch along the new building and garage between 3rd and 4th Sts. I could get no answer on that from the Transportation guy. No decision yet.
  • Also, I wondered about the new bus loop (square?) from Morton to Adams to Mechanic to New to Morton. That will be a Transit-sized bus. Big. I wondered about it turning on some of those streets and where the stop would be. Sounds like the stop will be in the bus pull-off on Mechanic St. Gadfly worries a bit about the left turn from Mechanic onto New. We all have seen the awkwardness of the buses turning right there — trying to get into traffic with a wide turn and often jamming traffic. Getting across traffic with a big bus turning left looks like potential jamming too at times. But the Transportation guy said planning was not definite when I talked with him a month ago.

Are there any Gadfly followers with ears closer to the ground who have anything to add about what’s going on? Is all quiet?