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Walkable cities: What will it take for the Lehigh Valley?

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Walkable cities are all the rage. But what does it take to actually create one, particularly in the Lehigh Valley?

Imagine if you didn't have to drive every single day – or, at least, most days.

It’s difficult. But like any shift in action, it takes a little bit of pain, sacrifice and planning.

It happens every day in many parts of the word. People use trains or buses or bicycles – or simply walk – to get around.

That was what Whitney Burdge experienced in London, where people rely on multiple transit options each day.

Now, Burdge lives in the Lehigh Valley, where she works as an urban design planner for the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. She is one of the rare local commuters who does not own a car and prefers it that way.

“The main reason is, I moved from London,” Burdge said. “I felt like when I moved here, I felt I had to live that lifestyle.”

Each workday, she takes a four-minute walk to a bus stop for LANTA, the Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority, where she catches a ride to work.

SHE also relies on the bus schedule to get to the store, to run errands and TO get other places, not just the office.

She said the money she saves by not having a car, and all that entails, from repairs to gas to insurance, allowed her to pay cash for a recent vacation.

NOT THE ONLY ONE

Gary Lader, an architect with Bonsall Shafferman Architects in Bethlehem, said he has been walking to work regularly since his office moved to West Broad Street in Bethlehem earlier this year.

“I’ve absolutely been walking here, I would say probably four days out of the week,” Lader said. “I walk with my youngest son, Toby, to the bus stop; it’s about a mile walk.”

Lader said he remembered how beneficial walking proved to be was during the November snowstorm that snarled traffic for many commuters who were on four wheels.

While he wasn’t prepared for the snow, he was able to walk home from the office.

On the days when he has to drive, he plans ahead, but overall, walking to work is a practice he wants to continue in the New Year.

“I just love getting the fresh air and exercise,” Lader said.

MEETINGS AN EXCEPTION

Mike Drabenstott, president of Drabenstott Communications Group, is a marketing and communications professional who lives only a half-mile from his office in the West End of Allentown.

“I walk or bike it a lot more than I drive it,” Drabenstott said. “The only time I have to drive it is if I have a meeting.”

It’s a practice he plans to continue in the New Year.

He previously worked at Lehigh Mining & Navigation, which was in Bethlehem. While he said the commute there was not bad, it was about 20 to 25 minutes of driving each way, each day. That time is now spent either walking or biking and the time to get to work is much shorter.

“It’s a big movement we are seeing,” Drabenstott said. “We are finally starting to put commercial development near residential development. That, more than anything, is going to drive people to be walking or biking to work.”

Most people are open to biking to work if it’s three to five miles and especially if they can do it on a bike trail, he added.

He described Allentown as a perfect example of that, where many downtown residents are also working there. To some extent, Easton has that too.

Hearst Magazines, which purchased Emmaus-based Rodale’s magazine and book publishing divisions earlier this year, signed a multi-year lease for the former Heritage Lanes bowling alley in Easton.

The company will open an office there in 2019.

“They cited access to trails as one of the main reasons,” Drabenstott said.

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Brian Pedersen

Brian Pedersen

Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh and read his blog, “Can You Dig It,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/can-you-dig-it.

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