Robert Leslie, the town’s Planning Division director, right, spoke about the Road Diet project’s history and helped encouraged attending residents and business owners to offer ideas on how to craft a strong communication strategy to inform people about the Road Diet’s progress.Diego Cagara / Spotlight News
BETHLEHEM — Maintaining communication among residents and business owners about the Delaware Avenue Road Diet project was the main theme discussed at a Sept. 18 meeting hosted by the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce.
The meeting, mainly catered to business owners, happened from 8 to 9:30 a.m. last Wednesday at the Nathaniel Adams Blanchard Post 1040 on 16 West Poplar Dr. in Delmar. More than 35 residents and business owners attended the meeting which featured an introduction by the Chamber’s president Maureen McGuinness and a presentation by the town’s Planning Division director Robert Leslie. It initially summarized the history of the project, why the town government views it as beneficial and what future updates people can expect through 2022.
Known officially as the Delaware Avenue Complete Streets and Road Diet Project, it seeks to transform the road’s stretch from Elsmere Avenue to the Normans Kill Bridge from the existing four-lane road to two opposing traffic lanes, a middle two-way left-turn lane, and two opposing bicycle lanes. Spotlight News has already covered this project extensively in past articles and for more information, visit www.townofbethlehem.org/830/Delaware-Avenue-Complete-Streets-Project.
As there has been concern about how construction on the road may affect businesses, deter potential customers away and upset local vehicular traffic, the meeting brought up how imperative communicating with residents and business owners about the project’s progress is.
“We didn’t do a great job on the Delaware Avenue Enhancement Project and we need to do better on this one,” said Town Supervisor David VanLuven to the attending residents and business owners regarding communication. “We’ve got time to do it but in order for it to be effective, we need to do it with the Chamber of Commerce and we need to do it with you. You have outreach in the community through your customer base; we need to get the word out. But the reality is that we’re going to have a major construction project there regardless of the striping pattern on the road.”
Such a communication strategy, he added, needs to be developed and implemented prior to construction which is expected to start in 2021 and end by 2022.
“I know that the Chamber has an e-newsletter where we communicate with our members and some non-members … on a regular basis and we have an open rate that’s higher than the national average,” said McGuinness. “This is one way we’re going to communicate about all of the processes that went into this project.” While she added that she knew mailing has been sent to businesses along the to-be-affected Delaware Avenue stretch about the project, she said, “Despite all of that, people still seem to not know. We don’t want that to happen as we move forward.”
However, some attendees said people may receive too many emails and e-newsletters in general and they end up not reading them.
Some alternative suggestions people offered included:
Sending out important project-related information via text messages
Using the Nextdoor app to spread information (this is a private social network for any neighborhood)
The Chamber of Commerce working with businesses to gather information with the town about when heavy customer traffic is typically expected year-round and when vehicular traffic gets busy at that Delaware Avenue stretch
The Chamber having a page on its website dedicated to projects like the Road Diet one where all relevant information is readily accessible to the public
Regarding the latter point, McGuinness said, “You’re in luck. We’re redoing our website and it should launch next month so we could do that.” She added that it would be “not right” for patrons to “punish” businesses by not going there when construction is happening because they do not like the project itself.
Towards the meeting’s end, Jim Giacone, the owner of My Place and Company on 241 Delaware Ave. in Delmar, asked if the project is a done deal and if public forums could be held to remodify the road configuration.
Leslie said, “This is the plan that was applied for, this is the plan that was funded and this is the plan that will go ahead in design. We will have public meetings but it will be on the specific design items of crosswalk location, bus pullouts and other specific design details. But going forward, this is the plan.”