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South Side Bethlehem is going green

It's hoped that the South Bethlehem Greenway, when completed, will stimulate community and economic development.

The City of Bethlehem is planning to connect residential neighborhoods and Lehigh University to the urban center of the revitalized BethWorks site by creating the South Bethlehem Greenway—a continuous open space with pedestrian and bicycle paths that will focus and stimulate community and economic development.

Darlene Heller, director of planning for the city of Bethlehem, presented the Greenway’s extensive plans through illustrations, photos and maps at a public lecture on Oct. 25 at Linderman Library. Heller’s visit to Lehigh was sponsored by the University’s South Side Initiative.

“This is one of the most exciting parts of the development of Bethlehem,” said John Pettegrew, associate professor of history and director of Lehigh’s American Studies program. Pettegrew, along with Seth Moglen, professor of English and interim director of the Lehigh Humanities Center, organized the South Side Initiative. Additional lectures and events related to South Side’s development will follow this year.

Heller says that the Greenway—a 12-foot-wide path—will run east to west for 1 ¾ miles like a spine through the South Side of the city. Spanning from Union Station to the Lynn Street Bridge, the Greenway will run approximately one in three quarter miles in length and connect major points of the South Side including residential communities, local shops and restaurants, Saucon Park and Lehigh University.

“BethWorks and Lehigh University are anchors on the South Side,” said Heller. “We want to be able to connect those two anchors.”

Simultaneously, Las Vegas Sands Corp. is building a $600 million casino, hotel and retail complex on the former Bethlehem Steel site. Proponents say it will spur economic redevelopment in the area, creating an entertainment and retail boom, while others in the community have expressed concern about potential increases in crime and traffic.

The Bethlehem Steel land comprises one-fifth of the land in the city, and the Greenway will run just to the southern border of the Steel property. The city hopes that the Greenway will preserve some of the remaining South Side green space and make use of the abandoned railway corridor. The city will have settlement with Norfolk Southern in December to purchase 28 acres of land.

Heller says it’s unique to have a greenway running through the center of a downtown, but she notes that this also presents some unique obstacles that the city is currently working to remedy.

One of the major concerns in the central area of the South Side is that traffic patterns are unpredictable at Greenway crossings. South Side streets will be reconfigured into a one-way traffic pattern with alternating directions at each street. The roadways will also be narrowed, and crossings will be shortened.

“One of the things we’re trying to do, not just in the South Side but in all of Bethlehem, is improve pedestrian safety and bike use,” said Heller. “We’re also trying to use art to create personality for intersections to alert drivers to Greenway crossings.”

Approaching the design phase, early plans are shaping up for the areas surrounding the Greenway path, including a world-class skate park, new residential housing, public gathering places, a farmer’s market or public venue, an urban tree farm, community gardens and murals. Bethlehem is also in talks with Salisbury Township to potentially extend the Greenway to connect to the mountain trails.

“There has been a wealth of ideas put on the table,” said Heller. “Support of this was almost universal from a variety of constituents including residents, business owners and the arts community.”

Heller says that there are myriad opportunities for members of the Lehigh community to take part in the design, implementation and maintenance of the Greenway. “Lehigh has been a great partner to the city in many ways,” she adds.

--Tricia Long

Posted on Wednesday, October 31, 2007

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