[IW] report: meeting @ LACS re crosswalk safety (long)

Sharon Ahlers seahlers at twcny.rr.com
Mon Oct 19 17:21:29 CDT 2015

Thanks, Dave, for this informative synopsis of the last meeting.

The comments made at this meeting reinforce, for me, the sense that 
there's something wrong with the City's budget priorities. We can afford 
a glass roof & signs on the Commons and landscaping for city parks and 
so many other projects, but we can't afford to paint crosswalks 
properly, to enforce the speed limits, or to address other safety issues 
that would protect pedestrians, especially children.

Sharon Ahlers
Hector Street

On 10/18/15 10:37 PM, Dave Nutter wrote:
> Apologies to BPAC for sending this so close the meeting. Note the last 
> item, "Pace car program", is something BPAC is being asked to 
> consider, so I'd like to add it to the agenda.
> On Wednesday 23 September there was a meeting of city and school 
> officials at the Lehman Alternative Community School to discuss ways 
> to improve crosswalk safety in the wake of an LACS student being 
> injured in a crash with a motor vehicle the previous Wednesday 
> afternoon. I was invited by Common Council member George McGonigal who 
> resides in my West Hill neighborhood, represents the First Ward, and 
> serves as liaison to the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory 
> Council on which I serve. Fellow West Hill resident & First Ward 
> Common Council member Cynthia Brock appeared to be a prime organizer, 
> facilitating the meeting and summing up ideas. Also present were 
> Transportation Engineers Tim Logue and Kent Johnson, Sidewalk Program 
> director Eric Hathaway, Officer Haff of IPD who investigated the 
> crash, and four school officials who appeared to represent levels from 
> the Ithaca City School District to LACS. Unfortunately, I didn't catch 
> their names because I was slightly late taking a break from work to 
> attend.
> The crash
> When the question arose whether we should review what happened, I said 
> we should always try to learn from crashes. Perhaps more information 
> can be gleaned from the written report or by tracking down student 
> witnesses, but the officer appeared only to have investigated who was 
> legally at fault, which is his job, not why the crash happened and 
> what could be done to prevent future crashes.
> The officer said that he would have ticketed the pedestrian if it had 
> not been a minor, because, citing a couple of witnesses, the fault was 
> completely that of the student who ran down the sidewalk on Elm, 
> continuing into the crosswalk of Floral, and striking the side, 
> including the mirror, of a car traveling south on Floral.
> I asked if there was a motor vehicle traffic stopped at the base of 
> Elm at the time of the crash, but the officer did not know, so we 
> don't know whether the kid's view at the base of Elm was obstructed. I 
> have noticed that many drivers on Elm don't wait behind the stop bar, 
> but instead settle and wait at the Floral curbline on top of the 
> crosswalk across the base of Elm, which can make sightlines worse 
> between pedestrians on Elm's sidewalk and drivers southbound on Floral 
> as they both approach the crosswalk across Floral.
> I asked if there was northbound traffic on Floral, but the officer did 
> not know, so we don't know whether the student was distracted or 
> encouraged to speed up by something from that direction such as a 
> passing gap in traffic or even a driver keeping the crosswalk clear, 
> nor do we know how distracting that part of the road was to the driver.
> The officer said that the driver of the car in the crash had made a 
> left turn from State, but I don't know whether it was a slow relaxed 
> turn through a large gap in Hector traffic or a quick dart through a 
> small gap. I don't know whether the driver had waited on State 
> potentially in view from Elm or had driven west and turned south 
> without stopping or being visible beforehand. I don't know how fast 
> the car was going. In other words, I don't know how hard it was to see 
> and judge the danger of the southbound car, but I do know that this 
> judgement can be tricky both for drivers and pedestrians, that cars 
> can arrive without warning, and that speed exacerbates the difficulty 
> of making these judgements.
> Officer Haff said the driver did not know of any problem until hearing 
> the impact, but we don't know whether the approaching pedestrian was 
> blocked from view either by the windshield frame or by other people or 
> by other cars, nor whether the driver's attention was simply more on 
> the road and on other vehicles than on approaching pedestrians.
> We also don't know why the student was running. The officer said the 
> kid's bike was parked on the far side, but that doesn't explain why he 
> was running. Was there some interaction, positive or negative, among 
> students either ahead or behind?  Nor do we know why this 14-year-old 
> proceeded into the street. Was he unable to stop, or did he believe 
> there was no car coming? Had he looked late and had the view of the 
> car blocked, or he looked early and misjudged how long it takes a car 
> to appear on State, turn onto Floral and reach the crosswalk?
> The officer clarified that even if the pedestrian had collided with 
> the front of the car, instead of the side, this would not have 
> exonerated the pedestrian nor implicated the driver because the driver 
> must have enough time to react and stop in order to be at fault. The 
> officer said it would be better if the crosswalk were farther south 
> for that reason. It may be that police would be reluctant ever to 
> ticket a southbound driver hitting a pedestrian in this crosswalk on 
> the grounds that drivers don't have time to react. I don't agree with 
> this, but that may be the presumption. This to me says that we need to 
> ensure that drivers are given a legal responsibility to pause to 
> assess the situation where they can see the entire crosswalk and its 
> approaches, and then proceed slowly enough that they can react. In 
> other words, an all-way stop would give the ability and the 
> responsibility to the driver to tell whether there is a pedestrian in 
> or entering the crosswalk.
> One of the problems for pedestrians is that a driver is only required 
> to yield if the pedestrian is already in the crosswalk. The pedestrian 
> must already have put their body at risk to have legal standing. How 
> can a pedestrian be assured of a safe opportunity to cross when 
> drivers arrive suddenly with no obligation to yield? I mentioned the 
> idea of a barrel on each side of the street filled with red flags on 
> big sticks for pedestrians to hold out horizontally to stop traffic, 
> noting that drivers may stop, if not out of politeness or responsible 
> behavior, perhaps for fear of damage to their car. The officer was 
> quick to point out that damage to any vehicle would be the fault of 
> the person holding the stick. I think he did not approve. Perhaps if 
> the flags were on long thin bamboo canes or foam rubber pool noodles, 
> that would also get drivers' attention.
> Tim Logue said that as intersections go, the Elm-Floral-State-Hector 
> intersection does not have a high rate of crashes, and anyway the City 
> does not have a budget to address safety issues. Neither of these 
> statements is of much comfort to the pedestrians and bike riders who 
> still fear for their safety while passing through this recently 
> "improved" intersection. Perhaps this fear generally leads to people 
> being extra careful if they have to walk or bike here, but it 
> certainly does not invite people to travel other than in a motor 
> vehicle if they have any choice. In my opinion we should be working to 
> make non-motorized travel the more attractive option. And for anyone 
> who is not in prime condition with good speed, reflexes, vision, and 
> hearing, or even someone who is temporarily distracted or easily 
> distractable, I think this intersection is hazardous. That list of 
> minor disabilities certainly encompasses plenty of residents of all 
> ages, but especially kids and older folks, and I'm sure it includes 
> plenty of ACS students as well. Instead it should be easy & safe for 
> anyone to cross the street.
> Tim talked about the 'Brindleypus' intersection of State, Seneca, 
> Brindley, and Pete's driveway being more crash-prone, and as a result 
> there being a project to improve that area, which can extend west 
> almost to the Floral intersection. This project could include a 
> mid-block crossing of State just east of the bridge over the Flood 
> Control Channel, possibly with a light like on Green St east of the 
> library. This would be nice, but crossing State is already easier than 
> crossing Floral. While you walk along State, you just look and wait 
> for a big gap in traffic in both directions. That strategy works, even 
> though it's jay-walking and mildly annoying to all parties, because it 
> doesn't take pedestrians out of their way if they are already using 
> State, they can make progress while deciding when to cross, and most 
> importantly, they can see and be seen a sufficiently long distance in 
> the only two directions that matter. This project would not help 
> pedestrians crossing Floral, where pedestrians can't see oncoming 
> traffic soon enough and drivers don't have a good view far enough in 
> advance.
> Crosswalks
> Regarding the Floral crosswalk, I pointed out that it had just been 
> repainted the morning of the crash, but only with 2 long lines, which 
> are prominent to the pedestrian but not prominent to the driver. Those 
> stripes are not designed to command drivers' attention and respect, 
> being about a third as wide as the stop bar at the end of Floral, 
> which was also painted the morning of the crash. A crosswalk which was 
> painted to protect pedestrians would have the long stripes be wider as 
> well having as a series of broad white bars to be visible to drivers, 
> such as the new crosswalks on Meadow at Third and at Dey Street. 
> Furthermore, because this crosswalk is slightly raised (although it 
> lacks the markings which other raised crosswalks, speed tables, and 
> speed humps are given), the line on the farther side is even harder 
> for a driver to see because it is on pavement which is sloping away. 
> This crosswalk is not easy to see by a driver on State Street who is 
> about to turn. The original high-visibility bars have worn to 
> practical invisibility because there's a lot of traffic wearing them 
> away, and the City has not repainted them properly for 2 years now. 
> Tim Logue said the paint crew consists of only 2 people and they did 
> not even repaint any bike lanes this year. I did not hear any 
> commitment to paint this crosswalk properly with its original 
> high-visibility design, nor the crosswalk at the base of Hector which 
> has similarly been neglected. Cynthia Brock later said she had called 
> Streets & Facilities to request the crosswalk bars be painted and she 
> would follow up. However, they have not been painted yet, and the 
> City's striping machine was reportedly put in storage already at the 
> time the contractors were delayed painting North Cayuga Street's bike 
> lanes around 7 October.
>  The mid-block crosswalk on Elm at the base of the stairs below LACS 
> was also discussed. The schools are taking responsibility for making 
> sure that vegetation on the hillside does not obstruct sightlines 
> between pedestrians and drivers. This ladder-style crosswalk, I later 
> confirmed, still has its crossbars. Either it has been repainted 
> recently with more thoughtfulness, commitment, and effort, or it 
> simply does not wear out as fast because of less traffic. Eric 
> Hathaway mentioned that projected work on Elm's sidewalk past this 
> crosswalk had considered adding a bumpout to improve sightlines, 
> shorten the crossing distance, and prevent drivers from parking on the 
> crosswalk, but I think he said they decided against the expensive bumpout.
> ICSD and City officials also discussed a mid-block crossing on Court 
> St between the BJM playground and the new park. A curb-ramp needs to 
> be installed at school expense and a crosswalk needs to be painted by 
> the City. The crosswalk would be used by teachers leading students 
> during school, but there was some question whether a mid-block 
> crossing with sightlines partially obscured by parked cars was 
> appropriate for elementary school age pedestrians to use on their own. 
> Some suggested they walk to a corner to cross instead, while others 
> noted that pedestrians usually don't deviate that far from their path. 
> Regardless, students, including those at BJM & LACS, should be taught 
> how to cross streets safely, which Kent advocated.
> Signs
> Neither the Floral crosswalk near Elm nor the Hector crosswalk at the 
> base of the hill has any sign to alert drivers in advance. Ironically 
> there are 2 sets of signs for a school crossing of Hector at Sunrise 
> where there are no curb ramps, and as far as back as I can recall 
> there has not been a painted crosswalk. I heard no commitment to 
> painting this supposed crosswalk either. There was talk of signs, but 
> I think it referred to three other types. (1) The portable signs, 
> which can be placed in the middle of a crosswalk indicating that state 
> law requires drivers to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, cost 
> about $300. I think Tim suggested the school could buy and "adopt" one 
> for Floral, moving it in and out of the road for school commute times. 
> This may help schoolkids cross, but it would be less helpful to 
> residents at other times. (2) Another type of sign suggested was a 
> roadside school speed limit sign with flashing lights as is found near 
> BJM on Buffalo, near South Hill Elementary on Hudson and near Boynton 
> on East Shore Drive. I believe Tim said they cost on the order of $10k 
> each, and suggested the schools could finance them. (3) Signs which 
> use radar and a display to tell drivers when they are exceeding the 
> school zone speed limit during the relevant hours on weekdays. This 
> was installed on Warren Rd between Dewitt Middle School and the BOCES 
> campus and I think it cost multiple tens of thousands of dollars. 
> There is also a portable type radar and display sometimes used by IPD 
> on Hudson near South Hill Elementary, but I didn't hear that 
> discussed. I didn't hear anyone volunteering to pay for signs.
> Citizen paint projects
> Cynthia Brock asked about painting the street to bring more attention 
> to, I believe, the mid-block Elm crosswalk, and Kent Johnson outlined 
> the rules for decorating an intersection, noting that the Elm-Chestnut 
> intersection might qualify. Tim did not rule out the idea of citizen 
> groups refreshing the paint on crosswalks, but wanted to make sure it 
> was done with the right type paint.
> Crossing guard
> LACS/ICSD could hire a crossing guard for Floral Av part time during 
> school commute times. It would not cost a lot of money. This is done 3 
> places near BJM, 2 near Fall Creek Elementary, 2 near South HIll 
> School, and 1 on Warren Rd serving both Northeast Elementary and 
> Dewitt Middle School students. There was some question how well LACS 
> students would take to a crossing guard, but there have been long-term 
> crash-free records at the other locations. Again, this may help 
> students but be of limited benefit to residents at other times.
> Other sidewalk plans
> Eric also noted that there were plans being developed to not just 
> replace sidewalks on Elm and on Chestnut but also to improve the 
> layout of sidewalks around the Elm-Chestnut intersection, including 
> the island there.
> Other b/p path ideas
> Cynthia Brock mentioned a couple ideas she has long supported: a 
> potential walking & biking trail through the West Hill neighborhood 
> above LACS, I think she said on a water main right-of-way, and a trail 
> from LACS down to the intersection of Hector & Floral. The latter was 
> designed by George Frantz, who designed the South Hill Recreationway, 
> after a student was killed in a crash while biking down Elm in the 
> early 1990s, about which I can provide more info.
> Speed enforcement
> I was among people supporting more speed enforcement. I was surprised 
> that some people thought it would not be effective, because I have 
> heard people tell everyone they know about getting a ticket. 
> Regardless, Officer Haff seemed to indicate that it basically is not 
> done by IPD. It's not on the schedule, but there's some sort of 
> optional sign-up. Cynthia Brock requested Officer Haff to request IPD 
> increase speed enforcement.
> Pace Car program
> Because much of the motor traffic is local, local drivers can affect 
> its speed by pledging to drive at or below the speed limit. Tim said 
> that where such a "pace car" program is in place, the volunteer slow 
> drivers can get a bumper sticker explaining why they are driving slow. 
> Cynthia Brock asked me to bring this up to BPAC for its consideration 
> and suggestions.
> --Dave Nutter
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