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Tackling Sidewalks

BACKGROUND

The City’s new system to fund the repair and expansion of our sidewalks uses a modest annual assessment of all properties. Everyone will chip in for this public amenity, and no longer will individual property owners be saddled with sudden huge costs to build or repair the bit of sidewalk system which happens to be along their own property. Rather than arguing over whether any sidewalk work should be done, we can now discuss where it will be done. Funds from within each of five Sidewalk Improvement Districts (SIDs) will pay City crews to work on sidewalks within that district. The Board of Public Works will take public input and decide before the construction season what sidewalk work to do in each district each year.

OUR ROLE

We should start now to look at the needs of our district, for repair or for extension of the sidewalk system. All of West Hill in the City is within SID 5, which also includes Inlet Island and the West End, bounded by Cascadilla Creek on the north, Meadow Street on the east, and Malone Drive on the south.

AN INFORMATION SOURCE

This map from the City of Ithaca website, when zoomed in, shows most (but not all) sidewalks, and a menu click on the left adds SID boundaries, but without their numbers: http://tinyurl.com/ithaca-sid
[this page doesn’t appear to work on my puter running Win 8.1 — works on MAC and many other PCs. I’ll clarify or correct if possible.]

SUMMARY OF CITY SID MAP

SID 1: Fall Creek & Cornell Heights neighborhoods
SID 2: Collegetown & Belle Sherman neighborhoods
SID 3: Downtown, Northside, & lower East Hill neighborhoods
SID 4: South Hill, South of the Creek, and Southwest neighborhoods
SID 5: West Hill, Inlet Island, & West End neighborhoods
Two areas are not in any SID. One is Cornell University, including all academic buildings and most dormitories (but not frats), because Cornell builds and maintains all its own walkways, does it well, and can finance it. The other non-SID area includes the major parks near the lake – The Ithaca Youth Bureau, Stewart Park, Renwick Wildwood Sanctuary, Newman Golf Course, the Cornell Biological Field Station, Cass Park, the Hangar Theatre, and Allan Treman State Marine Park.

OUR SID COMBINES TWO DIFFERENT SITUATIONS

On Inlet Island and in the West End, I counted 17 streets with 50 blocks of road, which have mostly good coverage by sidewalks which are in good shape. There are sidewalks on both sides of 62% of blocks, and there is a sidewalk on just one side of 18% of blocks. Only 20% of blocks lack any sidewalk, which includes NYS-13 north of Cascadilla Street, Third Street by the Farmers’ Market and Cornell boathouse, and Brindley, Taber, Cherry, and part of Malone.

West of the Flood Control Channel, I counted 29 streets with 68 blocks of road. These blocks are variable in length but still are useful for general comarison. Only 2 blocks have sidewalks on both sides, if you count the State Street bridge as one block and Floral Avenue between Elm and Hector Streets as another block. The long block of Floral Avenue between Elm Street and the City Line has some sidewalk on each side, but there are several large gaps. Of the remaining blocks on West Hill about 27% have only a single sidewalk, a couple of these don’t extend the full block, and the sidewalks on West Hill are quite variable in quality. The remaining 72% of blocks have no sidewalk at all.

WHY BUILD SIDEWALKS?

There are two big reasons for needing sidewalks, in my opinion: lots of people OR lots of motor vehicles. Where there are few pedestrians AND drivers are seldom, slow, and polite, the priority for sidewalks is relatively low, and that case can be argued on parts of West Hill. But if traffic is so heavy or fast that any pedestrian in the road would be at risk, OR if pedestrians are so frequent that any driver might have a conflict with them in the street, then those are each reasons for having a sidewalk. Both the numbers and the density of people will increase the need for sidewalks. In other words, the scattered destinations of individual houses add up as indicators, similar to a single destination serving many people. A third reason to build sidewalks is that lack of a safe place to walk is a deterrent to walking, so providing a good walkway system can encourage people to walk, which is good for the health of individuals and the  community. More people choosing to walk means fewer cars on our roads, which is important to address climate change among many other reasons. More pedestrians using a system which takes their needs seriously means drivers are apt to respect pedestrians more, too, which further increases safety.

SOME CANDIDATES FOR MORE SIDEWALKS – WHAT ARE YOUR PREFERENCES?

  • Floral Avenue: A high-benefit first step would be to continue the section of sidewalk from the Cedar Creek Apartments, where there is a crosswalk to the new section of Black Diamond Trail, south past the Towerview Apartments, and there is room for this along the west side of the road. The gap north of Cedar Creek to more sidewalk starting by #256 is not level but has been beaten down by foot traffic, showing demand there, too. The complete walkway connection to the paved shoulders at the City Line involves considerable distance and some challenges with rather close power poles on the east side and side slopes in a few areas on both sides.
  •  Hector Street to Mecklenberg Road (which has paved shoulders already): This project has 2 parts, as I see it. First, continue the sidewalk up from its current end at #601 past Vinegar Hill to Fallview Terrace, connecting with quiet residential streets off Fallview Terrace to the north and North Taylor Place to the south. Second, make the wider part of Hector Street between Fallview Terrace and the City Line/Warren Place more friendly to non-motorists by initially and inexpensively striping the shoulders to slow traffic and give pedestrians and bike riders a better defined and safer space, and later convert some of this road width to sidewalk. This would serve northern Campbell Avenue, Oakwood Lane, Warren Place, Linderman Creek and other points outside the City.
  • Elm Street: Continue the sidewalk from West Village Place past Elmcrest Circle to the City Line at Haller Boulevard.
  • Chestnut Street, with an apartment complex at each end and a school in the middle: Although there are sidewalk connections onto the school property, there is no continuous sidewalk along this at-times busy street past the school for people not going to the school, or for students to wait to be picked up. The sidewalk south of Elm Street is overgrown and little used; people walk in the street instead. Perhaps the street is too wide and it would be better if the east side were converted to a sidewalk, which would connect better with the existing sidewalk north of Elm Street.
  • Sunrise Road between Taylor Place and Chestnut Street: a fairly busy road, connecting with existing sidewalk to Hector Street and on Chestnut Street.
  • Abbott Lane: should be connected north along a gentle slope to Chestnut Street. Is this on private property?
  • Ackerman Circle: should be connected north to West Village Place. Is this on private property?
  • NYS-13 north of Cascadilla Street: There are wide paved shoulders now, which are fairly safe to walk on, but very unpleasant. Rebuilding this streetscape with bike lanes, curbs, and sidewalks could bring traffic speeds to within the posted speed limit while making the road more friendly to bike riders and pedestrians. The cost of sidewalk work on the east side of Meadow Street would be borne by SID 3.
  • Third Street: Complete the sidewalk system to the Farmers’ Market and the Cayuga Waterfront Trail. There are plans for work at the crossing of NYS-13 which may include some of this.
  • Brindley Street: The City is planning to replace this bridge and realign the intersection with State/MLK Street. Presumably this project will include sidewalks, which might come from SID 5 funds. Brindley Street has businesses and workplaces at the north end and is used as access to destinations on Taber and Cherry Streets or to a short-cut directly to Malone Drive for access to shopping and housing.
  • Taber Street: A short length of street, with a car repair shop on it, and a route for people accessing a car repair shop on Cherry Street.
  • Cherry Street: wide enough to stripe off paved shoulders, which could serve as walking and bike lanes, and site of a car repair shop, among other businesses.
  • Malone Drive: There will be huge demand for a complete sidewalk and bike lanes if/when the bike/ped bridge for the Black Diamond Trail crosses the Flood Control Channel between the end of Malone and the end of trail on the west side by Cedar Creek Apartments. The recent potential funding for this bridge was dropped by NYS, so another source is needed. Sidewalk work on the south side of Malone Drive would be borne by SID 4.

WHAT ABOUT SIDEWALK ON BOTH SIDES OF A STREET?

The greater cost of doubling the sidewalk is obvious, but the benefit is not obvious until one considers that, where there is a single sidewalk, half the destinations require a midblock crossing. For example, my kid’s friend, living on the side of Cliff Street which lacks a sidewalk, in the middle of a block which is a half mile long, was crossing the street at his house, tripped on his loose shoes, was run over, and suffered a broken leg. Yes, the kid should’ve been more careful with his shoes, but being a kid also lacked good judgement about the speed and distance of cars. A bigger problem is that anyone should feel rushed to cross a busy street where there are poor sightlines and drivers aren’t expecting it, because traffic just won’t stop. At some point, making double sidewalks on some streets may be more important than adding single sidewalk to other streets which have none.

WHERE DOES SIDEWALK NEED FIXING?
IS IT MORE IMPORTANT THAN EXPANDING THE SYSTEM?

  • Part of lower Cliff Street’s sidewalk below the guardrail and retaining wall is very uneven, making it difficult to clear snow and ice and tricky to walk on. This might be expensive to repair, so I’d want to compare how much new sidewalk we’d get for the same money before insisting on this.
  • Where do you walk and find it difficult?

–Dave Nutter

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