ITHACA, NY – Driving around the Belle Sherman neighborhood of Ithaca lately, one can’t help but notice a conspicious amount of bright yellow “Slow Down” signs.

Last month, a group of about a dozen Belle Sherman residents came to a Board of Public Works meeting to express their growing concerns about the streets in the Belle Sherman area getting increasingly dangerous, in many cases due to speeding.

With the upcoming possibility of the Maplewood development, which could bring in hundreds of more residents near the area, those worries will continue to grow.

Belle Sherman resident Anne Sullivan says that the neighborhood was with for walkability in mind, but many residents feel that walking is becoming dangerous due to people driving at high speeds.

One example is Ithaca Road. The city added a bike path to this street in recent years, which meant people could no longer park on the side of the street. Parked cars have been shown to have a calming effect on traffic, as they make roads appear narrower so people tend to slow down. Beyond that, residents are saying that increasing density may also be contributing.

Recently, however, Sullivan and other residents have been seeing increased speeding and dangerous driving, including a recent accident where a drunk driver smashed into a resident’s porch.

“Ithaca Road is a street that people cross all the time, kids cross it to get to Belle Sherman school and a lot of kids play there, people walking to Cornell cross it all the time and there aren’t enough crosswalks,” Sullivan said. “It’s just getting scarier and scarier… people want traffic controls put into place that will basically keep somebody from getting killed.”

How change is made

Actually getting the changes that folks in Belle Sherman want may not be a straightforward task.

According to Director of Engineering Tim Logue, Ithaca used to have an official traffic calming program 10 to 15 years ago. This program resulted in traffic calming measures like raised intersections and crosswalks in various places in the flats of the city.

More recently, the city had plans in the works to provide a way for residents to recommend which areas or neighborhoods were most in need of traffic calming.

“This would allow you prioritize locations around the city and also instead of just thinking about a single street or a couple blocks in a row, a neighborhood at a time,” Logue said. “There’s a sense that having a comprehensive traffic program is better than do something on one street, people go to another street and you have to chase the problem street by street by street.”

Unfortunately, that program never really got off the ground, and is now left in a sort of funding limbo. Logue says his department has applied for capital funds from the city several times, but the program hasn’t been funded.

“Until there’s some money behind it, I don’t have the luxury of having staff time to do some planning and early engineering work if there’s not a commitment to follow through on actually building something,” Logue says.

For the time being, Logue says that what can be done when they get requests like this is to collect data and ascertain whether or not there’s a legitimate safety issue. If a specific problem can be isolated, then solutions can be explored. Smaller fixes, like signage or road paint are easy to swing, but budget may be an issue for larger projects that would would require some construction.

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.