Published: Monday, February 13, 2012, 4:30 AM
“This isn’t technical stuff,” coalition Director Steve Schmitt said. “This is picking up trash.”
But he sees the program being put into place along Northampton Street as one with the potential for tremendous impact.
“If we clean the streets up, can we lower the vacancy rate? That would be a huge improvement,” Schmitt said.
With a $9,500 grant from the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership, the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation is planning the biggest expansion of its adopt-a-bus-stop program outside Bethlehem, where the program began.
Schmitt is looking for volunteers to maintain about 20 bus stops along Northampton Street between Sixth and 15th streets. Each volunteer would maintain at least two stops — one on each side of the street — but ideally four stops within proximity of each other.
The coalition will provide anything needed to clean the bus stops such as gloves and bags, and volunteers will also be asked to report things such as vandalism, graffiti, damaged shelters or broken streetlights.
And as Schmitt explains it, finding volunteers is far from an exact science.
Schmitt said the only requirement is that a volunteer regularly use one of the bus stops along Northampton Street. It’s been his experience that the majority of successful volunteers have lived or worked within the block they’re helping maintain.
The program has been in place in Bethlehem for more than a decade, and Schmitt said some of the more successful volunteers are referred to him by people in the community. In other cases, he’ll start picking up trash at a bus stop and wait to see who joins him.
“Once I start picking up garbage and someone voluntarily starts picking up garbage, I know I have a winner,” Schmitt said.
As part of the grant, West Ward Neighborhood Partnership requires recipients report data to measure success and determine whether the program is applicable elsewhere. The Coalition for Appropriate Transportation will use Walnut Street as a control street as it offers similar bus service as along Northampton Street.
Schmitt will measure things such as criminal reports and resident attitudes to see if cleaning bus stops has a discernible impact on the Northampton Street corridor. He sees the simple act of littering as a progression to greater offenses.
“If you’re standing in filth, people will throw down more garbage,” Schmitt said.
And if people see litter, they’ll assume no one cares if they tag a bus stop, and graffiti leads to vandalism, which leads to more crime, he said.
Program Manager Esther Guzman said the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership funded the grant through program sponsors and its multiyear Wells Fargo Regional Foundation urban ecology grant.
“It fits into our program because it’s not only about picking up garbage,” she said.
Volunteers maintaining a few bus stops will serve as extra eyes on the neighborhood, Guzman said. Schmitt’s survey work can offer a different resident perspective on the West Ward’s needs, and his role with the coalition could provide a different look at the use and effectiveness of public transportation in the city, she said.
Visit the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership office, 668 Northampton St., 2 p.m. Mondays or call 610-515-0891 for information.
Possible volunteers may also contact the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation at 610-954 5744 or firstname.lastname@example.org.