Architecture professor Anthony Viscardi and his class have started conceptualizing the design of a pedestrian bridge that will connect North and South Bethlehem.
The idea, which is still in its preliminary stages, stemmed from a partnership between Lehigh’s South Side Initiative and the Lehigh Valley Sierra Club, a local organization that promotes environmental initiatives.
Over the past year, the South Side Initiative and Sierra Club sponsored five public meetings where several community groups discussed the project. Through the meetings, they generated public interest and prepared a document to present to the state of Pennsylvania.
This document, called the “Bridge Package,” includes a vision statement that defines the purpose of the bridge.
According to the document, the community groups envision “a bridge that allows safe passage for all community members, including walkers, bikers and runners, and unites North and South Bethlehem’s neighborhoods and businesses, allowing them to flourish as one.”
The document also states that an “architecturally beautiful bridge that promotes recreational enjoyment of the river is essential for Bethlehem to become a true walking city.”
With this vision statement in mind, Viscardi created a course dedicated to conceptualizing the bridge. Now, several civil engineering, architecture, and earth and environmental studies students are collaborating on a design and “look” for the bridge.
“The first thing we did was walk,” Viscardi said.
He took his students on an exploratory tour of the community, to parts that are seemingly unknown to most of the Lehigh student body.
Viscardi said the students looked shocked as they walked to destinations like ArtsQuest, Sand Island Park and the North Side.
Andy Lachler, ’18, an architecture major, and Quinn Boothe, ’18, a product design major, are enrolled in Viscardi’s course. They share the goal of involving the Lehigh student body to make the bridge a possibility.
“The community wants to know what the bridge is going to look like,” Lachler said. “Our job is to create a model of the bridge and show how it will allow people to access areas they didn’t know existed.”
Viscardi said he encourages the community to see the bridge as more than just a way to get from point A to point B.
“(The bridge) is an artery that can enliven dead organs,” Viscardi said. “If there are places on the North and South Side that are underused, the bridge should make people more aware of it.”
Doug Roysdon of the Lehigh Valley Sierra Club said certain areas of the city might be underused because of Lehigh students’ inclinations to stay near campus and avoid exploring their surrounding community.
Roysdon said he hopes the bridge will be a solution to this problem and will serve as a historic moment for the relationship between Lehigh and its surrounding community.
“Students tend to stay on the Hill and the South Side,” he said. “But if there’s a place for a wonderful morning run or walk that gets you out of campus, then the relationship between the students and the community will grow.”
Viscardi said building a positive connection between students and Bethlehem residents will promote a more welcoming community.
“We must bring the diverse groups of South Bethlehem together so that we aren’t separate ‘tribes,’” Viscardi said. “A bridge is a way to pull different entities together, whether it be two banks of a river or two different social groups.”
Viscardi sees many societal and economic benefits from constructing a pedestrian bridge. He said other cities that have constructed pedestrian bridges have seen improvements in their economies, a decrease in crime and an increase in community members spending time outside.
Viscardi said the bridge also offers a safer area for pedestrians to walk or run. He said the creation of a car-less walkway for pedestrians can severely lower the risk of injury or death.
However, Viscardi thinks developing a safer city isn’t only dependent on the bridge, but the amount of people who use it.
While the project is still in its early stages, its progress will largely hinge on the involvement of the Lehigh community.
“It’s important for Lehigh students to feel like they have an impact on the area they live in because the school is what gives the community a large part of its character,” Viscardi said. “Once the students are invigorated, we can move along because without the students, we don’t exist.”