The university expressed interest in taking ownership of the section of Packer Avenue between Webster and Vine streets in late 2019, to make the area accessible to foot traffic only. Brent Stringfellow, university architect, said the plan is currently on hold.
The initial initiative was rooted in Lehigh’s goal to diminish vehicular traffic and further promote a walking campus.
“With the continuing COVID issues, a new Lehigh administration and elections to determine Bethlehem’s mayor underway, there has not been any action to advance the question at this time,” Stringfellow said.
Stringfellow said this integration would involve eliminating city-owned spaces from Packer Avenue with no impact to the current Lehigh-owned spaces.
Tiffany Wells, City of Bethlehem traffic coordinator, said the plan to close off Packer Avenue was initiated by Lehigh and the university intended to facilitate and pay for it.
Wells said the city was heavily involved in the process as a reviewer when a test study for the plans was scheduled in 2020. The study involved temporary measures to close Packer Avenue to review the effects of the closure for a month.
The trial closure was scheduled to take place between March 9 and April 30 in 2020, prior to the university’s move to online learning because of the pandemic.
While Lehigh remains interested in the future of integrating Packer Avenue into campus, no planned date for a new test study is set to take place, Stringfellow said.
“The last I heard, Lehigh was not currently seeking to close Packer Avenue at this time,” Wells said.
Despite a standstill on the initial plan, Wells is open to promoting pedestrian safety in that area by slowing traffic, while improving visibility at pedestrian crossings.
Wells said the city would welcome other traffic calming measures on Packer Avenue such as enhanced striping, bumpouts at crosswalks and flashing push-button-activated pedestrian lights.
Some students welcomed the idea of these plans back in 2020, opting for more safety and unity, while community members raised concerns regarding where the traffic would be redirected to.
“The campus has a noticeable disconnect above and below Packer Avenue,” said Ian Kuhn, ‘22. “This change to the street would make the campus prettier, all at the tiny expense of a few parking spots.”
Kuhn also said that the Packer Avenue crosswalk next to the STEPS Building consistently has a dense population of students walking between classes.