Planning & Zoning

The City Livable
Modest Proposals for a More Walkable Downtown

In 2009, Jeff Speck, the City’s consultant on walkability and other related planning issues, developed the attached report based on the conviction that a successful city is one in which people choose to walk. If people are not fully comfortable using the City as a pedestrian, then the City will never provide the high quality of life that is now demanded in our communities.

Bethlehem recognizes the importance of walkability in the core urban areas of the City and has been developing programs and working with the public to address pedestrian issues for years. The Citizen’s Traffic Advisory Committee (CTAC) manages pedestrian safety and education programs such as the ongoing education programs with students at Liberty High and other schools, pedestrian stings and bike safety programs. Through Elm Street and other programs the City has ongoing programs to funds upgrades to crosswalks and installation of shared lane markings for bicyclists where warranted. However, since walkability is such an important issue, it is clear that we can always do more. Therefore, Bethlehem contracted with Jeff Speck in 2009 to visit Bethlehem and complete a Walkability Study of the core downtown areas of the City.

Mr. Speck visited the City in May 2009. His report notes that, unlike many American cities, Bethlehem is blessed with a wide range of uses in its downtown. It contains a large number and variety of housing units within walking distance of retail and entertainment. He also notes that Bethlehem is blessed with a tight network of many streets and is home to some of the most beautiful tree-lines streets in America.

But, of course, we all recognize that there is always still more work to be done. Mr. Speck’s report, The City Livable: Modest Proposals for a More Walkable Downtown, is attached to this website. In addition he compiled a list of “Walkability Next Steps” or action items that can be pursued to begin implementation of the recommendations in the overall Walkability Plan. The action items are listed below and are organized by those items that have already been completed or are significantly underway since the completion of the Plan, those items that are already ongoing programs in the City, short term items and long term items.

Completed Items

1. Pursue improving the “plaza” at New and Broad.
2. Stripe parallel parking into the eastern span of the Broad Street Bridge.
3. Redesign the south end of Main Street and its intersecting roads to a less strictly automotive geometry, without widening the roadway.

Items the City already does on an ongoing basis or has already been initiated.

4. Survey all missing crosswalk markings in downtown and schedule their painting.
5. Study all opportunities for the introduction of bike lanes and sharrows into street striping.
6. Design the introduction of a median and bike lanes on Broad west of 4th, and submit to a traffic engineer for review.

Short term items.

7. Reintroduce parallel parking to the south side of Elizabeth Street.
8. Pursue a façade improvement grant for the Eyesore on Adams Street.
9. Reconfigure the northern entrance to the Fahy Bridge, first by proposing a right angle intersection to DOT, and in any case introducing proper crosswalks and a Stop on right turns.
10. Reconfigure the southern entrance to the Fahy Bridge to include a speed-hump crosswalk and a mandatory Stop in front of it.
11. Study all left-hand-turn lanes in the downtown area for possible elimination or shortening, and make a proposal that can be reviewed by a traffic engineer for implementation.
12. Retime all lights that have dedicated walk cycles back to a conventional timing regime (e.g. Main and Broad)*
13. Stripe one side of angle parking into several blocks of New Street.

Long term items

14. Study the physical potential for stairs up to City Hall Plaza, and investigate organizing and funding a competition for their design.
15. Pursue land acquisition, trades, or eminent domain solutions to acquiring the front 60’ only of the church parking lots at 4th & Pierce and North & Garrison.
16. On over-wide streets serving multi-family housing, add one side of angle parking to slow traffic. Survey property owners on other over-wide streets with a carefully worded questionnaire regarding their support for replacing excess pavement with green open space and trees.
17. Study the delay of the parking structure at 3rd and Pierce, and/or its replacement by a structure in the greenway west of Polk, which allows for the elimination of surface parking lots in the greenway.
18. Charrette with property owners the creation of an as-of-right plan for properties on the north side of 3rd, taking advantage of a new parking structure in the greenway
19. Relocate the front entrance of City Hall back to the Plaza.

The conclusion of the Walkability Plan notes that the report contains many specific recommendations for action by the City, business community, Public institutions and citizens of Bethlehem. Some are easily achieved, some are harder. Some are cheap, some expensive. Some, like improving access to the Fahy Bridge, have a limited cost but require the will to negotiate with a significant partner like Penn DOT. This Plan is not about spending more money, but spending money in a prioritized way. Bethlehem will continue to invest in pedestrian facilities, street improvements, parking structures, and even in the development of key private parcels. This report and these action items help the City to direct these investments to make the City more walkable, not less.

Speck Walkability Report [PDF] (Full Size: 100MB)

Speck Walkability Report [PDF] (Reduced Size: 6MB)