Curbside parking will be returned to a segment of Wyandotte Street in South Bethlehem some time in 2012 – a move city officials and property owners alike hope will make the block more pedestrian friendly and prosperous for small businesses.
But the owner, employees and other representatives of the McDonald’s at 442 Wyandotte St. told City Council on Wednesday night that the change in street traffic patterns would threaten business, employment and perhaps the very existence of the fast food restaurant at that location.
Council nonetheless unanimously voted to enter into an agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to re-establish the parking lane along the east side of the 400 block Wyandotte Street, which is also a stretch of state Route 378.
For McDonald’s – located on the west side of the street, the change means that the dedicated left-turn lane that allows northbound traffic to turn into the restaurant’s parking lot will have to be eliminated and made illegal.
Restaurant representatives said the change would harm the business because northbound motorists will probably not be willing to make extra turns to go around the block to get into the parking lot or drive-thru lane.
Tammy Carr, the general manager of the restaurant said she would probably be forced to lay off some of her 55 employees. Another restaurant representative said the loss of business could affect the $26,000 in tax revenues the restaurant generates for the city and school district.
Counter to those arguments, owners of properties and businesses on the east side of the street told council that the loss of parking has created almost insurmountable obstacles for small businesses to succeed.
Andrew and Martha Popichak, owners of 417 Wyandotte, said they lost storefront owners after parking was removed and, at one point, waited two years to find a new tenant for the space. Jorge Santana, owner of 419 and 421 Wyandotte, said his mother’s flower shop might have been a casualty of lost parking.
Renaldo Valentin, owner of the NewVox art gallery at 425 Wyandotte said there is a perception that the block is unsafe, not only because of crime, but a feeling that one could get hit by a car as through traffic moves right past the curb.
A lane of parked cars would create a buffer from the dense traffic moving north toward the Hill-to-Hill Bridge.
Santana theorized that the Kalat Art and Carpet Gallery, which is also at 425 Wyandotte, might get pedestrian traffic from First Friday “if people didn’t feel like they’d get hit by a truck on a dark street.”
McDonald’s owner Christina Mueller-Curran told council that the restaurant – which is currently open 24 hours a day, seven days a week – may be forced to cut back hours or perhaps even close.
A representative of the chain told council that McDonald’s probably would never have located there had the left-turn lane not been established when the restaurant opened in 2002.
Council was not convinced by the fast food chain’s arguments. Councilwoman Karen Dolan said the initial decision to build the left-turn lane was a mistake made in the aftermath of Bethlehem Steel’s final closure and a desire to show new life in South Bethlehem.
“I can’t believe that a business like McDonald’s can’t turn a buck because they don’t have a dedicated turn lane on a state highway,” Dolan said. “That’s absurd to me. Put out more balloons. Let Ronald McDonald stand outside.”