Attack on councilperson damages credibility (13)

(13th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

Steve Melnick has had a career in economic development for over 35 years in several states, with the last 20 years here in Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley.


Several points of debate have been raised recently that speak to the walkability issue in Bethlehem. Unfortunately when they are used to denigrate the opinion of a current city council person, they lose much of their credibility.

The points raised by Professor Thode may, in certain cases, be valid. However, Bethlehem is a unique community, and his advocacy of high rise development in our two urban cores is nothing more than a thinly disguised attempt to justify the fact that our leaders have allowed or, in certain cases, been forced into allowing developers to build what they want, where they want, with little or no accountability for our existing zoning and planning regulations.

Why do we have historic districts, conservation overlays and other zoning and planning regulations if we continue to ignore them? By the way, what defines our urban cores? Where do they begin or end? Is Stefko Boulevard in the urban core? Is the Lehigh campus part of the urban core? Experts usually avoid ambiguous terminology because it can skew perceptions.

Walkability is more than having access to supermarkets and medical facilities. It is true that the North side urban core has low density population. I view that as a positive attribute. Other communities that have allowed the subdivision of grand old homes and buildings into a myriad of apartments have seen the disastrous results of those actions.

Allentown, our neighbor to the west, has seen numerous high rise developments built in the last few years. Ironically, this increased density and alleged criterion for walkability according to Dr. Thode has resulted in not a single supermarket being located inside the urban core. Indeed, the Giant supermarket and Wegmans are 4 and 5 miles away from center square respectively.

I guess in that category we, as residents, have to make a judgment. Do we want crowded residential development to justify a supermarket on the north side, or are we willing to drive to one outside of the urban core and preserve the architectural beauty of our historic district?

Demographically urban core supermarkets market to the residents that surround their site. The C Town market on the Southside is the perfect example. Its product mix and pricing reflects the neighborhood it serves. I believe this debunks the low population density argument for the southside.

By attacking a current council person for advocating for sound urban planning, Dr. Thode has completely revealed his bias. Currently developers in Bethlehem have been allowed to build what they want, where they want with no thought to the existing zoning and planning regulations. Could Dr. Thode have an ulterior motive for attacking a candidate using the cover of academic expertise? Food for thought.


“you are not aware of my positions about walkability and downtown development” (12)

(12th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

Paige Van Wirt is a Bethlehem City Councilwoman, physician, and small business owner.

Dr. Thode,

Since we have never met, it stands to reason that you are not aware of my positions about walkability and downtown development. I don’t know where you got incorrect facts.

“Since Councilperson Van Wirt is on record opposing high rise development of any kind in the urban cores of Bethlehem, good luck with that.

I wonder how many miles Councilperson Van Wirt logs on her car each year. Where does she shop for groceries? Where does she go for medical services? Where does she shop for household items? Where does she go to see a movie, or hear a concert? Does she walk to these places? Does she take LANTA? Or, does she take private transportation?

Stephen Thode”

I am not on the record opposing high rise development of any kind in urban cores of Bethlehem.  Please, show me where I said that? I voted FOR the Benner/Parks project on West Broad Street, which went against HARB recommendations, precisely because I do believe we need increased amounts of downtown residential development. My remarks at the time of the vote reflect this belief.  I am for the use of the Boyd for market rate housing.  I voted FOR the vacation of 2nd avenue for the Armory project. I have never once said I oppose high rise development in Bethlehem.  I have been on council for one year and my voting record is crystal clear for all to see. Please, be sure of your facts before having them published, in a blog or otherwise.

I am a physician for nursing home patients.  I take care of patients at over 25 different nursing homes and ALFs in the Valley. You can bet that if they were in one walkable radius, I would be walking there. How inconvenient for my personal transportation beliefs that they are spread from Sellersville to Hometown.

I shop for groceries at the Wegmans. I would be more than happy to shop at a local food market, such as C Town, if there was one in North Bethlehem.  But there is not, which is why my husband and I joined the Bethlehem Food Co-op, to help establish a market in a food desert.

I live in the heart of downtown Bethlehem, a choice my husband and I made so we could walk to as many activities as possible. The fact that you cast aspersions on how I live my life without even knowing me gives me great pause. I do not understand why you took your feelings on Bethlehem’s walkability to Bernie, without even bothering to have a conversation with me about this.  You are substantively and factually incorrect in your assertions.

Dr. Thode, I am deeply surprised that an educator such as yourself would not do the research before making assertions.   The sad thing is, we share the same beliefs about what would make Bethlehem better in terms of walkability.  If you ever would like to sit down with me and hear my own beliefs and then come to a conclusion on their validity, I would be more than happy to make the time.

Paige Van Wirt

The developer needs to be treated the same as the homeowner (11)

(11th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.


So, I guess Mr. Thode (for whom I have a great deal of respect) believes in unequal application of the law as well? Because, what both Bethlehem Councilwomen Van Wirt and Negron have been battling is exactly that issue. Neither one is anti-development, but those who are attacking them are trying their best to portray them in that fashion.

Both zoning and historic district ordinances have requirements. In historic districts you are supposed to build to the scale and mass of the resources that qualified those areas to become National Register Historic Districts in the first place. In zoning certain uses are permitted in certain areas. These laws are not being applied equally in this City, and both Negron and Van Wirt see that, and many residents do as well.

Mr. Thode makes absolute sense with his assessment. And, for example, there was no public argument against the development directly across from the Fowler Center on East Third Street, because it was not subject to Historic Conservation Commission review and subject to the local Historic District ordinance. Both the 6 story office building and public parking garage on South New Street were. 510 Flats is a fantastic development that “fits” where it’s built.

And then to compound matters, everyone involved with the South New Street office development, including the City administration and five Members of Council, conveniently buried their heads in the sand when an unauthorized expansion of the 6th floor restaurant was undertaken without the proper review. The citizen commission recognized the faux pas and refused to endorse it because it contradicted the highly negotiated compromise of the original Certificate of Appropriateness!

So, the difficult part of Mr. Thode’s observation for Bethlehem is that both central business districts are also in whole or in part located in National Register Historic Districts. Studies have shown that a sense of place, including preservation of historic buildings and areas, is critical to these areas being successful. In these cases you can’t have it both ways, and that is exactly the position both Councilwomen have taken. You can build higher around them but shouldn’t within them. It’s that simple.

As far as Councilwoman Van Wirt’s use of her vehicle to do her job vs. her endorsement of walkability, these are totally different issues that can coexist. When your employment requires you to work at various locations throughout the Lehigh Valley, it’s plain and simple, you drive. Schedules, services, accessibility and appointments do not make walking conducive from say downtown Bethlehem to the Gracedale County Home, and public transportation options are limited. So, you drive your auto from one to the next point of service because you have to meet the obligations of your employment.

However, what you also do is walk from your residence to City Hall, restaurants on Main Street, visits with friends, parks, etc.

The bottom line is that both Van Wirt and Negron are not anti-highrise, density, or development. They want compliance with City ordinances and City Hall’s complicity with developers stopped. They want the developer to be treated the same as the homeowner who needs a permit to add a porch, or build a garage, or a historic district property owner who wants to paint their home. All they have been advocating for is equal treatment under the law. Nothing more, nothing less!


Challenging Bethlehem walkability (10)

(10th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

Stephen Thode is recently retired as director of the Murray H. Goodman Center for Real Estate Studies at Lehigh University. These comments appeared today in the Lehigh Valley Ramblings blog.

Several factors mitigate against increased “walkability” in Bethlehem. Let’s walk through them:

1) The urban cores of both the North Side and South Side have relatively low population densities (both residents as well as day visitors and workers) resulting in

2) A paucity of mass transportation AND a paucity of resident services in the urban cores, i.e., supermarkets, medical services, shopping, entertainment, etc. resulting in

3) The automobile becoming the default mode of transportation for all residents who can afford a car (or know someone who can drive them around).

Bethlehem will not become more “walkable” unless:

a) The urban cores become much more densely populated by residents as well as office, retail and shopping venues which will only occur if

b) A substantial number of high-rise apartment buildings and office buildings (with first-floor retail) are developed in the urban cores, and;

c) Mass transportation becomes frequent enough and broad enough to be a viable option for people to take to and from the urban cores.

Since Councilperson Van Wirt is on record opposing high rise development of any kind in the urban cores of Bethlehem, good luck with that.

I wonder how many miles Councilperson Van Wirt logs on her car each year. Where does she shop for groceries? Where does she go for medical services? Where does she shop for household items? Where does she go to see a movie, or hear a concert? Does she walk to these places? Does she take LANTA? Or, does she take private transportation?

Stephen Thode

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.


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?

A bridge under the bridge? (8)

(8th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

“Tail on the Trail” challenge started last week. Are you in? Not too late.

Gadfly needs everybody in shape in case we have to march on City Hall or something.

Spring is coming.

Yeah, right.

Gadfly was trying to push the season yesterday and get some outside Tail miles in.

Was the fastest 70+ in a 5k “in support of People with Disabilities” in deliciously sunny but windswept and frigid Fogelsville. 002

(Well, truth be told, he was the the ONLY 70+.  All others were sensible of living till 80. And, more truth be told, he was 4th from last. Just in front of 3 strolling women of a certain age eagerly engaged in a really quite interesting conversation — sprinkled with biographical admissions and evidentiary anecdotes — about whether if they were dating now would they find the Bezos-Sanchez pictorial email interchange a matter of routine. Normal conversation for a “Cupid” race in which participants — Only in America! — wore shirts marked “available” and “unavailable.”  The conversation actually helped keep Gadfly warm. )

Not Spring-y at all.

But he was thinking about Spring.

And realizing that he has let this thread go dark for about two weeks.

And so he went looking for several City studies done on walkability and bikeability.

Like the 2016 “Beth Connects: A Trail Study.”

Seemed beautifully done. Stem to stern. Soup to nuts.

Divides the Bethlehem trail system into eight easily identified geographical sections.

Take a look. Easy reading.

Because a pedestrian bridge has been in the news lately (funds for a feasibility study on the horizon), Gadfly was especially looking for info about a bridge.

See pps. 46-49 of the report itself.

I wondered where such a bridge would be.

Ok, possible bridge from the foot of Main St. at Sand Island over to Union Station area.

And, quite interestingly, possibly a bridge UNDER the Fahy Bridge.


Belle Island

See as an example: Richmond: Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge

Has anything been done with this “Beth Connects” report? Does anybody know?

Gadfly has a vague recollection of news stories about the City with plans to purchase land to connect the east end of the Greenway with the Saucon Rail Trail.

Having worked in Academia, Gadfly is used to reports that collect dust. In fact, he wrote several of them.

Granted, all the Beth Connects recommendations have hefty price-tags.

But Gadfly hopes dust collecting is not happening here. Certainly looks like a lot of productive work was put into this study.

W-ers ‘n B-er’s: Coalition for Appropriate Transportation (7)

(7th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

Gadfly’s trying to raise his knowledge about “walkability and bikeability” groups he should know about. So much he doesn’t know. Suggestions?

Coalition for Appropriate Transportation


Speaking of things he doesn’t know. From the “Love Our Trails” page of CAT’s web site, Gadfly learns of a trail he hadn’t heard of, the Stockertown/Plainfield Twp Trail. On my list of places to go.