Why Not Close Hamilton Street to Cars?

I realize this is one of the nuttier ideas I’ve been hawking here on the blog, but I want to make the point again that if people are really worried about hockey arena traffic on Hamilton Street in Allentown, there is a surefire solution that is 100% guaranteed to work:

Close Hamilton Street to car traffic.

Between 10th Street and 6th Street, where it becomes a narrow one-way street, Hamitlon would become a Bus Only street.

People could still cross Hamilton with their cars, but they wouldn’t be able to turn onto Hamilton between those blocks. The city could then widen the sidewalks by filling in the parking spaces cut out of the sidewalks. It’s a guaranteed way to make sure the arena creates a lot of foot traffic for nearby businesses.


  1. FutureDowntownArenaAttendee says:

    I think it should be closed from 9th to 6th east to west with cross traffic being allowed at the intersections. A nice walking mall! It is a great idea, not a nutty one.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Walking mall would be perfect. A Promenade, if you will, haha. Why 9th though? Why not start where it turns one way, and where the NIZ border ends?

      Do you know if there’s any interest in doing something like this?

    • ‘Morning Jeff!

      Here’s a thought – why not start with blocking it off on game/event nights? See how it works, and find out of there are any unintended consequences before you put more people out of work and cause businesses to fail?

      I know your boss doesn’t care a whit about destroying people so he can run for governor, but you’re Catholic – don’t you have a bit of a heart?

      • Jon Geeting says:

        Of course they’d do some test runs. Who is arguing that they shouldn’t do test runs?

        • Nowhere in your post does it say anywhere, ‘test it out and see how it works.” Your track record at not giving a flying fuck about destroying lives and businesses is well documented.

          So why in the world would I think otherwise?

  2. John.Jay says:

    I have been thinking about this for a while now too. I imagine you would get a lot of push back both from people who a) will reminisce about the way things were back in the day (there are some iconic photos) and b) who compare it to the failed “Hamilton Mall” project. In the abstract it does seem like a good idea though.

  3. John.Jay says:

    I look forward to learning from the hate-everything-crowd how this perfectly reasonable idea is totally ass-backwards and will destroy the downtown, lol. Also, did you see that upper macunige voted to join the NIZ lawsuit yesterday, but, the deadline to intervene was April 30? I am totally perplexed.

  4. urban_LV says:

    Interesting idea, but I think it may be a bad idea to close Hamilton to traffic completely. According to Wikipedia, Allentown tried something very similar in 1971 and it wasn’t very successful:

    “Problems quickly arose. It was difficult for small merchants downtown to receive deliveries, since the half streets were blocked and the narrow streets did not allow turnarounds of small delivery trucks. Also, the new restriction prohibiting automobile traffic on Hamilton Street was unpopular, and the proposed closing of the Eighth and Hamilton intersection was deemed impractical, since it blocked a major north-south route from South Allentown.”

    A section of Broad Street in Bethlehem was also closed to traffic unsuccessfully in the 80s and 90s, although I’m sure there were other factors (the block across the street from the Boyd is one long blank wall). This article gives a quick history:


    I think slow moving car traffic on narrow streets makes a downtown street feel more active, the last thing you want is the feeling of an empty plaza.

    I like John’s suggestion of closing Hamilton Street on the nights of some events. If you pick a game or concert that is going to draw a big crowd on a nice day, you could close Hamilton Street for a street fair/”Playoff Carnival” and give crowds a reason to walk around on Hamilton Street. Hopefully it would introduce people to Hamilton Street the way Muskifest introduces people to Main Street.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      The Hamilton Mall story is interesting. I’m trying to figure out how much blame to apportion to the overall suburbanization trend, and how much to apportion to bad design ideas. For instance, I would not want to see any of the half streets or intersections closed. I don’t know about the deliveries issue, but the way I think about it, the value of doing this would increase the denser that area becomes. The more tall-ish office buildings and condos that get built, the more it makes sense to move people en mass. So maybe at the current density, it wouldn’t make sense to make the trade-off with less convenient deliveries. But the denser it gets, the better the trade-off starts to look.

      In Bethlehem, I agree, one side of Broad street is a long blank wall, and the other side is laughably low density for a central business district. There are buildings on that block that are even short for one-story buildings. A pedestrian plaza would only really make sense if the surrounding buildings supported greater density. I would like to see a future Bethlehem Mayor pull an Ed Pawlowski and redo that whole block.

  5. This is frequently done in German cities, but as Jon points out there is significant density of commercial buildings in the pedestrian zone–and German shopping habits (for now, but decreasing all the time) support going to the “high street” on a weekly basis. I don’t think either situation exists in Pennsylvania right now.

    However, to do this right the entire downtown has to be designed both to allow deliveries and to move traffic, which is a tricky balance in a spread out city like Allentown. European pedestrian zones are also much smaller than the proposed space.

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