Feb 19, 2010
Back Of The Bus
Buses have long been a vehicle of discrimination. In the mid 1950's, Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus with the other African Americans. In recent decades the discrimination has evolved from racial to one of class.
Several years ago Allentown decided it wanted to improve it's human streetscape on Hamilton Street. The scheme had two elements; remove the benches and remove the bus people, who for the most part are low income. This gentrification plan was not articulated, nor printed in a brochure, but discussed among officials and urban planners. Resistance was minimal. The merchants, mostly Asian, are not inclined toward outward demonstration.* The Allentown Parking Authority induced Lanta to locate a transfer terminal at the new parking deck at 6th and Linden, and the transfer stops were removed from Hamilton Street. Only after business dropped 40% on Hamilton Street, would the merchants consider speaking out.* After pleading their case, Lanta Board member Steve Schmitt told the merchants that they are just looking for a reason to complain and would have to prove the business decline, by showing their accounting books; as if the empty street was not proof enough.
Lanta is now repeating the process in Easton. The social-economic segregation is more transparent.
On the other hand, some other nearby businesses say they'd be happy to see the bus riders move along. At the Terra Cafe, a coffee shop between Family Dollar and American Dollar, owner Marcel Bedoya said he and some nearby higher-end shops don't get a lot of bus-riding customers -- and in fact the lower-income bus riders tend to scare off some of his clientele.
Bedoya said he feels for the dollar stores, but moving the transfers ''definitely will benefit us, because we will not have that type of crowd hanging around in front of our stores.''
Allentown's hope of shopping gentrification never materialized. The people of the bus never were replaced by people of the wallet. About eight businesses folded on Hamilton Street, and the remainder hang on with reduced revenues. Allentown has a new plan for economic revitalization;
The idea to improve the city's park system by connecting them through bike and pedestrian trails is extremely important. Perhaps it's the most important thing the city can do to foster economic development, improve the health of residents and attract tourists and businesses,'' Schmitt said.
Yes, it's the same Schmitt, but this time proof isn't required. Apparently it's better to get rid of those bus riders who did shop between buses, and count on bicyclists to improve our economy. I didn't even know those spandex outfits have pockets.
* I organized** several meetings on behalf of the merchants, including two at the Lanta Board
** Jenny Lim, from the House of Chen, and Bernie O'Hare were my partners in organizing the merchants
Use search engine at top of page to learn more about Lanta's abuse of the Hamilton Street merchants; Lanta and Merchants