ITHACA, NY – There’s a lot of feet of sidewalk in the City of Ithaca, and someone has to pay to keep it functional and safe.

Until 2014, Ithaca’s sidewalk policy was similar to that of many other cities: property owners were responsible for the maintenance and repair of sidewalks abutting their property. Those costs could range anywhere from $175 to $27,000, according to a presentation given by Sidewalk Program Manager Eric Hathaway on June 14.

Many property owners did not want to pay that kind of money, or simply could not, leading to very little in the way of new sidewalks being built and delays in dilapidated sidewalks being repaired over the past 20 years, according to city officials.

The new policy, instituted in January 2014, takes a collective approach: rather than each property owner being responsible for “their” piece of the sidewalk, the city was divided up into five “sidewalk improvement districts.”

In each district, property owners pay into a collective pool that the city then uses to tackle major sidewalk improvement projects, including both repairs and new construction. Money collected in each district is used only in that district.

For single family homes, the owners pay a flat $70 a year as an annual maintenance fee. For commercial properties, there’s a scaling annual maintenance fee of $140 plus $30 per 50 feet of lot frontage and $0.015 per square foot of buildings on the lot, or $15 per 1000 square feet. Property owners are eligible for credits against this fee if they had previously spent money on the sidewalk abutting their property.

Property owners still responsible for basic maintenance tasks, such as clearing snow from the sidewalk in front of their property.

How the money is spent

Every year, the city comes up with a plan that targets areas of particular concern. This includes both sidewalks that are in dire need of repair and areas where building a new sidewalk would be highly beneficial.

Public feedback is taken into account in these project. The city’s plan for sidewalk improvements in 2016 is already set. The city is soliciting feedback on a plan for 2017 until June 21. The last public meeting on the subject is at 11 a.m. on June 15 in the Common Council Chambers at City Hall.

Hathaway explained how the city decides which sidewalks are a priority at a June 14 public meeting.

Hathaway said that the city weighs several factors when looking at areas to tackle, including how severe the need for repair is, how high-traffic the area is and how many people have requested repairs for a particular sidewalk stretch.

In each sidewalk improvement district, the budget for what the city wants to accomplish exceeds their available budget, so the city is seeking public feedback on which projects to prioritize. Feedback can be sent to Johnathan Licitra, who will be taking over the sidewalk program..

Sidewalks by district

The details for each district are below. On the accompanying maps, the green marks indicate areas for proposed sidewalk construction/repair and the purple marks indicate proposed new sidewalk designs.

In district one, which is centered around the Fall Creek area, the city is considering repairs on Lake Street, Edgemoor Lane, Farm Street and North Aurora Street, as well as adding several curb ramps around North Aurora Street. The plan also includes possible new sidewalk designs for the 100 block of Fall Creek Drive and the 100 block of Cornell Avenue.

In district two, which is focused on Collegetown and Belle Sherman, the city is considering repairs on Blair Street, Dryden Road, College Avenue, East Buffalo Street and Dryden Road. The plan also includes possible new sidewalk designs for the 500-900 blocks of Giles Street, the 300 block of Cornell Street and the 200 block of Valley Road.

In district three, which focuses around downtown Ithaca, the city is considering repairs on West Seneca Street, Osmun Place, East Buffalo Street, Ferris Place, West Buffalo Street, Cayuga Street, West Court Street, East Seneca Street, East Court Street and Adams Street. The plan also includes possible new sidewalk designs for the 200 block of Fifth Street and the 100 block of Schuyler Place.

In district four, which focuses on South Hill and the Elmira Road corridor, the city is considering repairs on Pleasant Street, Crescent Place and West Spencer Road. Potential new sidewalk design options include Giles Street, Cecil A Malone Drive, West Spencer Road, Coddington Road, Hudson Street, Hudson Place, East Spencer Street, Turner Place and the intersection at Wood and Fair Streets.

In, district five, which focuses on West Hill and the waterfront area,  the city is considering repairs on Hector Street and West State Street. Potential new sidewalk design options include the 300 block of Floral Avenue, the 400 block of Elm Street, the 500 block of Chestnut Street and the 700 block of Cliff Street.

(All images courtesy City of Ithaca Engineering Office.)

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.