Students prepare to board the Packer Express bus on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, at the Packer Avenue bus stop. As a part of the Path to Prominence plan, a pedestrian walkway is in an exploratory stage that would replace Packer Avenue. (Jessica Mellon/B&W Staff)

Proposal of pedestrian walkway to bridge campus together

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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.”

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6 Comments

  1. One of the issues with closing Packer Avenue is that you lose that beautiful authentic view up toward the UC that sets the tone for sowing new prospects and their parents the beauty of the traditional campus. Once the road is closed you have lost that selling point. When you are looking to increase enrollment by 1000+ undergraduates, the University has to think about how does it do so without lowering its admission standards and therefore insuring that the Path to Prominance does not become the Path to continued loss of reputation that the University has experienced in the last 25 years. One of its biggest selling points was its beautiful campus which prospects could at one time drive thru to experience. That has been reduced over the years and this closure would totally cut off the best viewing spot of all near the bus stop on Packer Avenue.

    • Robert F Davenport Jr on

      Good point about the view of the UC. Someone may know if the expansion of the university south of Packer Avenue blocked off New Street because it wanted it blocked or because it wanted to use the former street right of way for additional land. Possibly it was thought that the former entrance to the campus at Packer was meaningless because the campus moved significantly northward. Current traffic patterns. seem to be aimed toward the Alumni Memorial (AM) and it’s parking garage where the Lehigh Seal megalith enhances the AM. The route I took when driving to Lehigh for the first time was a much more impressive one than is used now. The good news is that the route still exists if you walk and could possibly be available for driving if there was little other activity on campus. On the other hand the route used by Alumni marchers for the Reunion is much better than before the northward expansion.

      In our current environment, I’m sure a internet video could indoctrinate potential students and families as to the beauty of the campus so that when they actually step foot on the campus they could be on the outlook for campus highlights. Current YouTube Lehigh perform that task while focusing on students and their activities although I did not see a view of the UC from Packer Ave a view of it was shown from a location further south.

      • J. G. Lewis '90 on

        Robert F. : In your second sentence, you write ” …the expansion of the university south of Packer Ave. [in the later 1960]….” Many people, even graduates, make this mistake. The expansion was _north_ of Packer Ave. Therefore, the front face of the U.C. faces north (and so contributes to its ‘dark’, or foreboding, atmosphere).

        Regarding New Street. As older graduates know, the extension to the original Mart Library, “Super Mart” or the red/brown brick and glass east-west orientated Fairchild-Martindale Library, was constructed in 1984 and years after the expansion of the university north to Morton Street. Super Mart covered a former grassy walkway that connected the campus with the town. The latter was actually attractive, as it was a large breezy area joining the university with south Bethlehem. … The Fairchild-Martindale Library – itself an expansion of the original Mart Library of the 1960s – was constructed over this grassy runway. … And still later, in the early 2000’s, Farrington Square would be erected immediately north of the Mart extension. So a lot indeed has happened to the corridor over the last 60 odd years.

        New street has therefore not existed, in this area, since Lehigh’s expansion of the 1960s… The land formerly held steel worker homes which characterize much of south Bethlehem.

        I would say congestion issues may very well develop in this area, and so studies of people and vehicle movement need to be done. Also, general campus access should be examined… Our campus used to be reasonably easy to get to in the 1980s, as most would arrive using the ‘western’ bridge via route 378/Wyandotte St., this being an exit south from US route 22. This changed to a degree with the building of the I-78 extension south of Bethlehem in 1988.

        However, whether Lehigh should construct raised walkways, as a partial solution, is another matter.

    • Robert F Davenport Jr on

      May have been a solution 75 years ago but probably not now. Underpasses often have danger lurking in them, real or perceived. Overpasses are perceived as safer but people seem to avoid them because it takes relatively too much time or effort to use.

      • J. G. Lewis '90 on

        Overpasses can be eyesores. I remember one from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where my Dad was a graduate, and I never really liked it… It can give the campus an ‘airy’ feel, as if one was at a carnival.

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