One narrow lane on the busy Philip J. Fahy Memorial Bridge is the only option to get from South Bethlehem to North Bethlehem by foot, and cars whiz by as pedestrians attempt to navigate their way across the bridge.
Area residents attended an open forum on Feb. 3 to discuss the building of a pedestrian bridge from North to South Side. The South Side Initiative and the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the Sierra Club sponsored the meeting for community members to express their opinions about the benefits and drawbacks of the bridge.
Bethlehem is “somewhat walkable,” according to Walk Score, and the construction of a pedestrian bridge connecting North and South Bethlehem would increase pedestrian safety and ease of commuting on foot or bicycle.
Nicole Reisert, ’19, said the bridge would increase accessibility to the North Side for Lehigh students.
“A pedestrian bridge would increase safety, accessibility and traffic flow while also decreasing the environmental impact of using cars to travel that short distance,” Reisert said.
In addition to increased accessibility, the bridge would have environmental benefits, according to Breena Holland, chairwoman of the South Side Initiative. The bridge would make the city more pedestrian friendly and walkable, making people more likely to walk or ride their bike to work, thus reducing their carbon footprint, she said.
“It is unsafe to ride a bike across the Fahy Bridge, so safety is an important concern for cyclists,” she said. “A more walkable city is a city in which people are more active, and this generally means more healthy.”
In addition to the environmental, health and transportation benefits of a pedestrian bridge, Holland believes the bridge would have a positive economic influence on the area. Pedestrian bridges often have positive economic impacts in the communities in which they are created, Holland said. A bridge that is appropriately located could generate foot traffic for businesses in South Bethlehem.
Katie Pettis, ’16, agreed with Holland that businesses would reap some of the biggest benefits through this construction. Pettis said she would like to see the bridge built because it would make it easier to travel from one side of town to the other to visit businesses and run errands.
Holland also noted the bridge would lead to a decrease in traffic and, in turn, add a reconnection with the Lehigh River, the creation of a new public space and the connection to other trail systems, thus exercising away from pollution emitting vehicles.
There has been support for the building of the bridge, but there have not been plans for construction or fundraising. According to Holland, the first step is to identify and generate community support and interest so that the features and location of the bridge can be characterized for the purpose of conducting a feasibility study.
Finding ways to fund this study would be next in the process, Holland said.
“Money has to be raised for the bridge, before construction can begin,” Holland said. “So this is the start of a long process that may move quickly, but nonetheless, we are at the beginning of it. It is hard to guess when the bridge construction would start and end.”