Ithaca, N.Y. — How can the city prevent another Simeon’s disaster? Can something be done to prevent even the possibility of a similar tragedy?
These were among the questions the Ithaca Board of Public Works grappled with Monday evening.
Some towns or villages become known as “speed traps,” said Commissioner William Goldsmith. Could Ithaca become known as a “truck trap”? Would that help reduce truck traffic through the city?
He and the Board were united on one point: A safer Ithaca will be one that is less inviting to large and heavy trucks.
The discussion resulted from the fatal June 20 crash of a tractor-trailer into Simeon’s on the Commons. Mayor Svante Myrick had asked the city engineering staff to brainstorm ways the city could help prevent another such disaster.
Tim Logue, city transportation engineer, said that process started with a consideration of “zero.” Is it possible to get to a point where there is “zero” possibility of another crash?
Not likely, unless you take all vehicles off the the roads and make it literally impossible for a truck to enter downtown. Short of a solution that extreme and unlikely lie many variables and possibilities.
He did say, in response to Goldsmith, that he has he sense Ithaca is gaining a reputation as a “truck trap.” The question is how to make that reputation grow.
Mayor Svante Myrick made the stakes clear: The June 20 crash was devastating on a number of levels.
“It was a catastrophe not only for the life that was lost, but for the sense of security that was shattered” for the community, he said.
So what variables does the city control, and what else can it do in cooperation with the state and other parties, Myrick asked.
The Board found most of the 13 items on the brainstorming list prepared by Logue and his colleagues to be worthy of further study.
Commissioners Mark Darling and Robert Morache volunteered to work with the engineers to refine the ideas further and shape proposals for city action.
Those that seemed to create the broadest consensus were:
— Rescind a request to convert Route 79 from a minor to a principal arterial. This may cost the city some federal funding, but help keep the route off truck routes.
— Make sure that truck and commercial-vehicle GPS applications steer heavy trucks away from the central downtown area.
— Consider traffic flow changes on North Aurora Street and look at ways to make it both safer and more difficult for trucks to travel that part of the city, at the east end of the Commons.
— Examine the signage on the roads there now and what could be added.
— Explore ways to update GPS apps for commercial vehicles to make sure they steer clear of central downtown areas.
— Work with state transportation officials to swap some segments of arterial highway so as to give the city more direct control over some parts of the roads and to lessen the sense that they are “highways.”
— Step up enforcement of existing truck and highway regulations. The mayor noted that about thirty percent of random checks of trucks by law enforcement result in tickets.
One idea that did not gain quick consensus was to install bollards or barriers of some sort at the east end of the Commons to help arrest a runaway vehicle. The mayor favored this approach; his fellow Board members were dubious.
Regardless, it and most of the ideas bruited about by Logue and his colleagues will be studied further.