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Bethlehem hosts dance party in traffic to promote pedestrian awareness

Confused motorists looked on as two dozen people danced in one of Bethlehem’s busiest intersections to Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” as rush hour approached Wednesday.Normally, partying in open traffic is the type of behavior municipal planners, safety officials and transportation advocates frown upon. But a host of local government and nonprofit entities threw the dance party at New and Broad streets to promote Walk/Roll LV, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s soon-to-be released study on alternative transportation in the Lehigh Valley.As the Lehigh Valley grows and develops, its aging infrastructure has struggled to keep up with the growing number and sizes of vehicles. The region’s transportation funding from state and federal governments is only enough to address about half of the needs across the region’s highways and bridges as it is, and that figure will likely get worse as more people and warehouses come into the region.In an effort to alleviate that strain, the Planning Commission is advocating for more investment in bike trails, sidewalks, nature trails and public transportation. The goal is to ease congestion by making it easier for residents to bike or walk to work or go shopping. These strategies are used in other countries. Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong recounted being stuck in traffic in London years ago and complaining to his bus driver about the need for more roads.“His answer has stuck with me all these years. He said if you build more roads, you’ll get more cars. You’re not really solving the problem,” Armstrong said.The final version of the study won’t be released until later this summer, but the preliminary results show a number of issues that need to be addressed. For starters, many of the region’s main retail centers are on busy highways with few or no sidewalks. The average resident would consider it too dangerous to bike to MacArthur Road to get to Lehigh Valley Mall in Whitehall Township or walk on Route 248 to reach the Northampton Crossings shopping center in Lower Nazareth Township.“For many, many years after the car was invented, we have built communities for the car and not for people,” said LVPC Executive Director Becky Bradley.Even more walkable neighborhoods pose safety risks. While the Seventh Street corridor in Allentown has sidewalks and crosswalks for residents shopping along the main drag, PennDOT statistics show pedestrians and bikers are frequently killed or seriously hurt along the busy road. Bradley said the intersection of Broad and New was specifically chosen because of its elevated crash statistics. PennDOT data shows four pedestrians were struck within a block of the intersection in the past decade.Two Bethlehem bike cops kept a close eye on the revelers and traffic Wednesday.Karen Lott, a Hellertown native dancing in the street, said she goes for a walk almost daily on the Saucon Rail Trail, heading into Lower Saucon Township. While Hellertown’s downtown is generally friendly to pedestrians and bikers, she never heads north into Bethlehem, saying she wouldn’t dare travel the eight-lane Route 412 on foot or bike.“If you could take the rail trail, that would be great. We would come into Bethlehem all the time for the restaurants,” she said.In other instances, the study will identify areas where trails or bike paths don’t exist or could be improved upon. For example, the D&L Trail connects the region’s three cities, acting as the backbone of the trail network. But significant gaps exist in the trail between Allentown and Coplay. Ben Guthrie, a project manager for the study, said that even in spots where the trail exists, accessibility between trail heads and business districts can be problematic in spots like Easton or Sand Island in Bethlehem.“It’s not always obvious how to get from here to there even when you can see the downtown from across the river,” he said.While the study is nearing completion, there is still time to provide comments on the Lehigh Valley’s sidewalk and trail connections. Interested participants can go online to lvpc.org/walkrolllv.html or attend the next Walk/Roll LV working group meeting at 3 p.m. June 26 at the America On Wheels Museum at 5 N. Front St., Allentown.Morning Call reporter Tom Shortell can be reached at 610-820-6168 or tshortell@mcall.com.
Source: Morningcall

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