A Packer Avenue without long car lines at the intersection, students jaywalking to catch the bus and cars scrambling for prime parking spots.
This could be the new normal.
A pedestrian walkway in place of Packer Avenue is in its exploration stage, with the intention of connecting students, faculty and the larger Lehigh community, said Lori Friedman, Lehigh’s director of media relations.
Packer Avenue, constantly bustling with pedestrians, cars and buses, can become dangerous with students, faculty, visitors and other members of the campus community rushing to get to their destinations, particularly in between class periods.
The congestion caused by the frequent activity at the Packer Avenue crossing is causing Lehigh’s administration to question the ability of safe movement across the street.
Friedman said the issue is multi-faceted.
“There are safety aspects, such as the risks associated with crossing Packer (Avenue) at busy class times, as well as improvements in the quality of the campus pedestrian experience,” she said.
Friedman said there is no set time frame as of now on any decisions regarding the proposed walkway.
The Path to Prominence has already and will continue to greatly reshape Lehigh’s campus. Parking and transportation issues have risen to the forefront in recent months. TRACS, a popular late-night transportation service for students, will be discontinued, and new parking changes have affected all university members.
In light of these changes, some students are concerned with what adding another project, such as the creation of a pedestrian walkway, will do to the already changing campus.
Giorgos Hiotis, ’21, a commuter student, said he thinks that the Path to Prominence and the new pedestrian walkway may become detrimental to the Lehigh community, depending on the final plans. At the same time, he said that it sounds like it could be beneficial to students who live on campus.
“I feel like (the new possible walkway) is going to be safer for students because a lot of times at the small place that people cross Packer Avenue, people with cars are waiting, and as soon as they see a small opening they just go for it,” Hiotis said.
Friedman sees other benefits for a pedestrian walkway that would tie together several of the university’s goals.
“Sustainability would be one goal, in addition to improving safety and the campus pedestrian experience, unifying the campus and preserving access to the surrounding community,” she said.
Hiotis agrees with some of the new plans for campus. He said he likes the overall ideas of increasing the university’s national profile and student numbers, but he also has some questions.
“I am just concerned,” Hiotis said. “Does Lehigh have enough infrastructure to withstand the Path to Prominence?”
Garrett Gomez, ’21, a student who lives on campus, said he believes the construction of Packer Avenue could cause more problems than it would solve.
“Even though I do not drive on campus, I know we already have so many issues with transportation and parking as it is,” Gomez said.
Some unanswered questions persist, including the impact such a move would have on Lehigh’s busing system, in which all bus lines meet at the Packer Avenue stop. Since Packer Avenue is a public street, the city of Bethlehem would need final approval to any changes that might get made.
Friedman said she knows there’s much to decide before any such walkway would get constructed.
“The bus system would have new routes to accommodate any changes that may take place,” she said. “Any impact on transportation and traffic are critical concerns and are being looked at carefully.”