Bethlehem’s two distinct downtowns are physically separated by the Lehigh River. The river played a vital role in shaping the city’s development and is an invaluable natural resource offering stunning views—but it also poses a physical barrier that has traditionally made it difficult to connect and unify the two downtowns into a cohesive whole. This is exacerbated by the limited number and unsafe conditions of the pedestrian and bike trails on the existing bridges. This effort aspires not just to facilitate a safe new crossing but also to create a vibrant civic gathering space, where the community is invited to cross from one side to the other, but also to linger among beautiful green spaces, take in breathtaking new views of the City, and even welcome moments of serendipity. As such, this bridge will not focus on connectivity alone, but encourage the physical linkage of these two disparate zones for pedestrians and cyclists in new and accessible ways. During events and festivals, this space will burst with activity in the manner of a public square, offering a meaningful new thoroughfare to improve connectivity for passive, active, recreational, educational and cultural events. The Feasibility Study will provide a comprehensive strategy for the City and the community to realize a safe pedestrian and bicycle crossing over the Lehigh River in Bethlehem. Development of such a bridge has wide-reaching potential to positively impact local economic development, tourism, climate change, property values, transportation alternatives, and as a result, the quality of life for all who live, work, and visit the area.
The vision of the Bethlehem Pedestrian Bridge arose as very much a grassroots effort driven by local residents. In 2016 the Pedestrian Bridge Committee was created. It is a “Public Collaboration to Promote Safe Passageways for Pedestrians and Bikers across the Lehigh River”. Members of the committee include the local Sierra Club, the South Side Initiative, Lehigh University, local residents and merchants. The Bethlehem Pedestrian Bridge will provide a safe, scenic pedestrian transportation option to achieve the goal of a “walkable city”. It will enhance Bethlehem’s reputation as a notable tourist destination by linking the north and south sides together as one community. The feasibility study is necessary to prepare for next steps in the bridge development and to fully understand the scope of a project of this magnitude. Bethlehem has invested significantly in its trail network and this project is an important step forward to continue those efforts.
The intent of this feasibility study is to conduct an engineering/planning study with a strong public involvement component to analyze the feasibility of a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge across the Lehigh River. This study is also intended to lay the ground work for any actual project development studies that will be required if the project is determined to be feasible and a group of local and regional partners can be identified for the project.
Funding for this feasibility study is available through grants from PA DCNR and the Northampton County Open Space program and through the local municipal budget.