Ithaca, N.Y. — Viacheslav Grychanyi would have encountered this sign on State Street before he lost control of his tractor-trailer and crashed into Simeon’s, killing a young mother:
And then, if he could see and read it through the leaves, this one:
What Grychanyi would not have seen before driving into the heart of downtown Ithaca was the kind of signage on a similar road that meets the one he was on:
Or this one:
Or even this:
Those last three are easily visible to drivers on Route 96B heading down the hill from the south toward one of the most bustling, populous zones in downtown Ithaca. The signs attempt to alert and divert drivers hauling the heaviest tonnage down that steep grade.
State Routes 96B and 79 (79 is also East State Street in Ithaca) converge from the south and the east at the east end of the Commons. They both drop steeply to where State and Aurora Streets meet. The signage that truckers see — or don’t — differs on the two approaches:
— No large overhead signs on Route 79.
— No attempt to divert drivers of heavy trucks on Route 79 to a gentler curving Seneca Way approach toward downtown instead of the straight State Street approach that forces a ninety-degree turn at a “T.”
— No mention of the steepness of the grade.
Former Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson wonders if road signage for trucks ought to be prominent among the questions discussed after the crash of the tractor-trailer into Simeon’s on the Commons Friday afternoon.
The crash killed a young working mother, Amanda Bush, injured seven other people, and nearly demolished the historic building housing Simeon’s at the northeast corner of the Commons.
“It’s a tragedy, it’s frightening,” Peterson said in an interview, searching for words. “It’s a loss in so many ways.”
And, possibly, avoidable.
“We have unique circumstances of where Ithaca is situated with hills all around us,” Peterson said. “Has enough been done to protect the safety of people at the bottom of those hills?”
She cited the large overhead signs, the first one south of King Road, for truckers heading north on Route 96B.
“I don’t think we have anything like that coming in on either of the 79s, from east or west,” she said.
Truckers driving west on Route 79 would see this from two miles out:
And this from one and a half miles:
And this from one half-mile:
But those signs are all east of Mitchell Street, where Grychanyi is believed to have made the turn onto State Street/Route 79. He would not have seen those signs.
This is, to be sure, an alert to truckers on Mitchell Street:
Once the downhill turn is made onto State Street, however, no signage targets truckers.
The focus of the signs closer to the steep descent into downtown is more on awareness of bicyclists sharing the roadway:
Peterson served on a task force six years ago focused on steering trash-hauling trucks away from populous centers of small municipalities in this region. She wondered if the rules and regulations resulting from that debate could be applied to all heavy trucks, not just trash haulers.
“To me, it’s about safety of people,” she said. What’s the difference if the big truck is carrying trash or cars? “We already have this (Route 79) recognized as problem for trash trucks coming through.”
She recalled a 2010 crash, not far from the site of Friday’s, at almost the same time of day, when a truck loaded with gravel rolled over two cars and struck the facade of the Community School of Music and Arts. That time, no one was killed, no bystanders were injured and the building survived the blow.
This time was different.
Peterson lives three blocks from Friday’s crash site. She did not see it, but heard the sirens. She went to the site several times to offer moral support.
“This kind of thing is not in any mayor’s playbook when you run for office, put out your platform…” she said, her voice trailing off.