Archives for February 13, 2013

More Infill, Less Lowe’s

I appreciate what Bryan Callahan is saying here, and agree with him that what Bethlehem needs are more bold ideas and less political wimpishness. But I do think there needs to be a distinction drawn here:

Bethlehem City Council candidate Bryan Callahan said the opening of Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem and Lowe’s on Eighth Avenue are examples of bold decisions he would continue if elected.

Neither decision was initially popular but both have proven to be good economic development initiatives for the city, Callahan said at his announcement today to run for city council.

The Bethworks plan was a good idea because it made better use of an area with good connections to existing neighborhoods and mixed-use areas. It reused land in an already built-up part of the city. I’m not in love with all the land use choices Bethlehem’s planners made for the site (don’t like the quasi-highway level of service on Daly Ave/E. 3rd Street, don’t like that surface parking is an allowed use, etc) but those are the kinds of things that future politicians can ratchet back as more of the site gets developed.

Lowe’s on 8th Ave brought Big Box sprawl to Bethlehem, and I think that was a mistake. What needed to happen on 8th Avenue was a reduction in level of service to make it less like a highway, and more like Broad Street or Union Blvd. It needed a road diet, with a bus-only lane and some curb parking, but planners doubled down on the idea of 8th Ave as a highway. Shrinking the road space would have made the Martin Tower redevelopment plan make sense, they could have rezoned the area between Martin Tower and Union Blvd to improve pedestrian connections between the Tower and the neighborhoods, and laid the zoning foundation for a bunch of compact mixed-use development. You could have a whole walkable commercial district serving the west side neighborhoods over there. That wasn’t an example of political courage, it was an example of bowing to the highway. It was the least visionary thing they could have done with that land.

Chris Morales Should Make His Bethlehem Council Race About the Anti-Competitive Food Vendor Law

Chris Morales, the only guy to successfully establish a mobile food vendor business in Bethlehem, is going to be running for Bethlehem City Council, and I think his entry into the race provides a great opening to inject the issue of overhauling Bethlehem’s anti-competitive food vendor ordinance into the discussion.

I’ve written about this here, here and here, but basically the issue is that a few years ago Bethlehem’s politicians hastily wrote some regulations with the goal of making it inordinately difficult to run a mobile food business in response to some Southside businesses whining about competition.

The ordinance succeeded at its aims apparently, because Bethlehem only has one mobile food business.

People who don’t want any competition from nimble low-overhead food businesses have good reason to cheer this outcome, but people who like eating good affordable food need to rise up against this bullshit. Mediocre businesses are the only beneficiaries of the current rules. For everyone else it means fewer choices and higher prices.

City Council needs to adopt this model vendor ordinance that would make it very easy to open mobile food businesses, promote competition between restaurants mobile and immobile, and improve the city’s food scene and its customers.

They might even consider creating a revolving loan fund for people who want to start new mobile food businesses.

Universal Pre-K FTW!

I was psyched to see President Obama endorse the idea of universal pre-K last night, since that seems to be something the education profession believes could make a huge difference in student achievement all through life. That’s especially the case when it comes to learning self-command skills.

Naturally this will be a contentious because one of our two major political parties is controlled by anti-tax radicals, but like health care and old age pensions, it is a fight progressives can win eventually, and the real significance was mainly that Obama put it on the agenda for the future.

It’s a reminder too that reducing health care costs will free up more money for Big Government. If we could stop spending 18% of our GDP on health care, by bringing US health care providers’ prices into line with what they are in other developed countries,  then we’d have a lot of extra money around to pay for universal pre-K, or more generous Social Security benefits, or more generous family leave policies, and all the rest. The liberal project of cradle-to-grave public services is kind of stalled until we do something about health care prices.