A memorial after the crash

Editor’s Note: This is an editorial from the Ithaca Voice.

As always, we are eager to reprint alternative or dissenting viewpoints. To do so, contact us at jstein@ithacavoice.com. 

Ithaca Is Bluegrass Jan. 23-25

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Ithaca Voice editorial:

Ithaca, N.Y. — Officials have done an admirable job quickly and transparently bringing forward a set of proposals for improving truck safety on Ithaca’s deadly hills.

One of those — an idea to reroute truck traffic through Dryden — has drawn the concern of the village’s residents and officials. And with good reason: There are too many fatalities on Route 13 (which goes through the village), and new traffic patterns can have unknown and unpredictable consequences.

So Dryden Village Mayor Jim Zimmer is clearly right to be alarmed and to urge caution. But what’s equally clear is that everything should be done to safely get trucks off of Route 79 coming into the city — the current situation is dangerous for Ithaca, and likely to put lives at risk.

We don’t know enough to take a firm stance on the idea either way. What we do feel confident in saying, however, is that we hope local lawmakers don’t let this one controversy distract them from the critical task of doing as much as fast as possible to protect Ithaca residents from runaway trucks.

It’s easy, especially for us in the media, to highlight the points of disagreement. But doing so risks missing what is in this case the real story: A broad coalition appears to have found broad consensus over 22 ideas.

They should act on them swiftly. Many of the proposals, at least at first brush, actually seem more impactful than the much-discussed detour through Dryden. The disagreement over Dryden should thus be tabled while the more meaningful reforms are pursued.

See related: 5 key takeaways from talking with official about Ithaca truck safety push

Among the four principal ideas that we believe are most promising:

1 — Stepping up enforcement of existing trucking laws. Mayor Svante Myrick said at the meeting that stepping up enforcement of existing trucking laws appeared to generate the most enthusiasm at Thursday’s public forum.

“We should double underline this,” he said.

An earlier statement from officials noted that the Ithaca Police Department’s “truck enforcement detail,” a partnership with the state, could be expanded to include the county sheriff’s department and New York State troopers.

As Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton noted, increased enforcement would probably require significant new funding — but that funding could be serving a crucial public need of protecting our streets.

2 — Doing everything possible to steer truck traffic on to the gentler grade changes of Route 13 coming into the city rather than Route 366.

This could include new signage for truckers coming from the Northeast and adjusting GPS instructions to let out-of-town truckers know that Route 366 is a dangerous way into the city. It’s important to highlight that this change isn’t dependent on the Dryden detour.

“Route 13 is by far the safest, most ample approach for a truck,” says Fernando de Aragon, who is a part of the working group. “There’s lots of room at the bottom; there’s room to stop; if there’s some problem you can just down-shift.”

As de Aragon said, this simple, non-controversial change may have prevented the Simeon’s crash.

3 — Some sort of physical barrier or “attenuator.” This may seem to verge on sci-fi, but officials believe that it could help. The basic idea is to create something — maybe at the Tuning Fork on East State Street — that would catch or slow trucks rushing down the hill.

“We’re going to take a look at barriers and what they can do,” Myrick said.

Clearly, this sort of barrier may not be enough to stop a large truck in its tracks. But as Myrick noted in response to another issue, lawmakers’ goal should be commensurate with reality.

“Here’s an important point: We want to make incidents like this less likely to happen. Can we make them impossible?,” he said. No, Myrick said, there’s no way to totally eradicate the possibility of a crash. But officials “have to do what we can to decrease the likelihood” of another accident, he said.

4 — Creating truck pull-offs on Route 79. Assuming that the Dryden detour proposal is tabled, local lawmakers should do whatever else they can to make that entryway into the city more safe. One idea — which de Aragon said appears to be feasible — is to give trucks a place on Route 79 a pull-off in the case of brake or other mechanical failures.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.