Meet-Up: Let’s Build Some Sidewalk Seating on Southside Bethlehem

Southside Bethlehem’s West 4th Street business district has a few street benches, but it should have a lot more. That’s why I’m putting together a volunteer group to build some tree box benches on a couple of weekends in July.

Sidewalk seating is so popular these days, and it’s a pretty cheap and easy way to improve a retail strip like 4th Street. Tree benches run the gamut from relatively simple designs…

…to more elaborate designs like these. My wood shop skills are pretty intermediate, but maybe some more talented people will want to get involved:

Why would we want to build sidewalk seating? Because it’s fun to get outside in the summer and build things, and because bringing more outdoor seating to the Southside business district is a low-cost, high-impact thing we can do to make 4th Street a more enjoyable public space.

If we do this right, these tree box benches will:

- Enliven the street space

- Give people more places to sit and relax, read a book, eat takeout food, etc.

- Improve the street’s appearance. We’ll choose a simple, attractive design, and maybe paint them if people want to go that route

- Drive interest in area businesses. A livelier street scene will attract more foot traffic

- Raise property values (a little bit!) and drive new business interest in 4th Street’s remaining empty retail spaces

- Provide night-time street lighting. We can put some solar-powered LED lights inside the benches that will glow at night

I want to keep this very cheap and simple, because I want to try to make a lot of these benches – 10? 15? I want to keep the number of wood pieces required to make one bench pretty low, and I also want to keep the design Ikea-level in its simplicity so that volunteers with amateur wood shop skills won’t have any trouble following the construction plans.

As for funding, I am planning to chip in, and a couple others have offered to chip in too. I don’t think this has to be expensive, but the cost of materials will depend on the bench design we choose. I’ve heard a couple creative funding proposals so far and would like to hear more if anybody has ideas.¬†As for tools, I have a jigsaw, a sander, a drill and all the basic tools we need to do this, but we will need some more if a lot of people are going to work on this. I bet some of you have some better tools that you might be kind enough to let us borrow.

If you’re interested in helping out with the planning or the building, or have comments or advice, send me an email at jgeeting@gmail.com or leave me a comment. I will be sending out an email in the next couple days to the people who want to get involved, so we can talk about the next steps and logistics.

Comments

  1. Put me down as someone who wants to help. I think our best bet will be to construct and/or dry fit them them offsite (someone’s house, a common area, maybe a little of both?) then reassemble them as a kit where they’ll end up. Think picnic table. If we can make a bunch of sub-assemblies and then just bolt them together it’ll be a lot less disruptive.

    As far as funding, maybe we can work out some sort of sponsorship/plaque thing. Does anyone know anyone who works at a trophy store?

  2. Jon Geeting says:

    I was thinking about assembling them off-site too. Andrew Bench suggested building them at the NCCC Fab Lab wood shop, or at least cutting all the pieces there since we can bang out all the cuts pretty quickly, sand them, etc. He’s emailing them to get their input.

    Adam Waldron also suggested asking businesses to sponsor and then putting little plaques on them. I’d like to know what the price per bench will be, and then we can see what we think it’d be reasonable to ask businesses for.

  3. Hillary Kwiatek says:

    Do you need a permit/permission from the city? That’s my only concern. You know I’m on board with the idea!

  4. Dale Kochard says:

    I like the grass roots enthusiasm of this idea. Happy to help out. You should be aware that Carter Van Dyke Associates has been hired to develop a street scape concept for this South Bethlehem commercial district. They are holding a meeting for public input Tuesday, June 25 at 6:00 pm in the Comfort Suites. All are invited to attend to give input on the initial design concepts. Perhaps these street seating ideas can be integrated into the concept.

  5. Jon Geeting says:

    I’m going to ask about permits, but I’m hoping to keep this pretty unofficial. There’s a lot of gray area with sidewalk property rights. Building owners have partial ownership and the city has partial ownership. I’m thinking that if property owners agree to let us do it, and we abide by the right-of-way rules for how much sidewalk space has to be kept clear, city won’t rip them up.

    • Lynn Olanoff says:

      In addition to the city, you’ll also probably need permission from the South Bethlehem Historic Conservation District (an advisory board to city council) as much of the business district is in the South Side historic district.

      • Jon Geeting says:

        Unless I’m reading this wrong it looks to me like HARB and SBHCC only have jurisdiction over buildings and signage. I don’t see anything in here regarding building on the public sidewalk.

      • Jon Geeting says:

        Historic Conservation District Board doesn’t have direct control over things in the public right of way, but city sometimes takes items to them as a courtesy for information and public comment purposes. I don’t want to hold this project up but I’d also like to hear what they have to say about it. We’ll need to clear this with the Dept of Public Works, but not City Council. I’m going to reach out to the relevant department people and get their take on it and I’ll hopefully have updates in a couple days.

        • Lynn Olanoff says:

          You may not have to, but I know the north side historic board reviews even the outdoor tables used by every restaurant on Main and Broad streets so you may.

          • Jon Geeting says:

            It was recommended to me that we run it by them as a courtesy, and I’m inclined to take that advice. Politically, I have to admit I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about having to kowtow to the design overlords, but their opinion is advisory only and city council won’t have to approve, so I guess there’s no harm in it.

  6. Jon Geeting says:

    Thanks Dale! Is anyone able to go to the meeting? I’m moving this week so things are extremely hectic on my end right now.

  7. Dale Kochard says:

    Yes, it is a public meeting. We encourage people who live and work in the area to attend, but anyone who cares about the future of this wonderful commercial district is welcome to come.

  8. Dale Kochard says:

    Based on input they got at a public meeting on May 6, CVDA and their team have developed some preliminary improvements for this area. The improvements focus on the sidewalk areas and pedestrian crossings to create a “more friendly” commercial district for people. They want to share their ideas with the public and get feedback before proceeding toward final design. CVDA is collaborating with the City of Bethlehem on their designs.

  9. Andy Po says:

    I’m all for this idea- just let me know of you need input to make them better for skateboarding! But honestly, something like this would be a great addition to the Southside.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I know, I was thinking it would be cool if they were skatable, but have a feeling that the wood’s gonna get really torn up. Any ideas on how we could do metal edges on the cheap?

  10. Mary Ellen says:

    I think it’s a great idea! I’m sure this could be incorporated into the CVDA street scape plan. And the positive note is that this will be done by volunteers and donations — not costing the city anything! Great idea, Jon!

  11. matt says:

    I like the idea, but how do you avoid these seats from becoming a hangout spot for Sheldon Adelson’s clientelle? (See the gazebo under the New St bridge… Its basically filled with Sands Casino tourists, I don’t think I’ve ever seen locals take advantage of the spot). I really think we need to create a robust community center on the south side, one which focuses on being a safe zone for kids, especially on hot days like today.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Well that’s the thing about public spaces – you can’t control who uses them. Should we not build any of the nice public spaces that we want just because the “wrong” people might use them sometimes? I don’t agree with that. A community center would be good too, but the public sidewalk space also needs pedestrian-friendly improvements.

      • I agree. The greenway picnic tables and benches are FILLED with casino clientele during the day, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have nice seating areas there.

        A community center would be great, but that’s beyond the scope of this initiative. A couple hundred dollars on benches is nothing compared to the cost and planning required for a robust ongoing facility like a community center.

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