ITHACA, N.Y. — Looking at a three-year period of data from the Ithaca Police Department, the most pedestrian-related crashes in Ithaca are reported at North Aurora and East Seneca streets, and West Buffalo and North Meadow streets.

With Ithaca having such a high rate of pedestrian commuters, The Ithaca Voice wanted to see where the most crashes are reported and what the biggest contributors to crashes were. We also spoke with traffic engineers about what pedestrian-related projects are underway or on the horizon in Ithaca.

According to 2014 Census data, 42 percent of people walk to work in Ithaca. In the Northeast, which has the highest rate of people walking to work in the country, about 4.7 percent of workers commute on foot.

Mapping it out

The map below shows pedestrian vs. car crashes from 2014 to 2016 reported to the Ithaca Police Department. The darker the dot, the more injuries at that location.

There were 65 pedestrian-related crashes reported between 2014 and 2016 according to the data provided, and 54 had mappable addresses.

The most common contributing factor was drivers failing to yield right of way (27 crashes), followed by pedestrian error (16 crashes), driver inattention (9 crashes) and backing unsafely (3 crashes). Some had no contributing factors listed.

The City of Ithaca is in the process of comprehensively mapping crash data using a nine-year period of data that will dig deeper into crash rates, injury severity, etc., according to Eric Hathaway, transportation engineer.

Seeing the most crashes were reported at North Aurora and East Seneca streets and West Buffalo and North Meadow streets was not surprising, Logue and Hathaway said, since there is a high volume of cars and pedestrians at those spots.

Though crash data — whether it’s a small sample or more comprehensive study — is interesting, it does not really drive city pedestrian improvements because there are not enough crashes to show real patterns, Tim Logue, director of engineering, said.

On average, there are about 15 to 20 reported crashes per year.

“As we hear about specific locations like crossing Route 13 at Third Street going to the Farmers’ Market … I don’t think we ever had a record of a pedestrian crash there, but that didn’t mean we said well great that’s fine, must be a lovely place to cross the street, we’ll just leave that alone,” Logue said. “We knew how many people were walking over there. We were building the waterfront trail. We wanted to make those kinds of connections more obvious and a little more friendly.”

Rather than waiting for crashes to happen, Logue said they take a “broad, systemic approach” to making pedestrian improvements in the city.

Crossing at Green Street to Ithaca Commons. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

Pedestrian projects underway

The City of Ithaca actually invests a good amount of money in sidewalk improvements each year since the Sidewalk Program began in 2014. Nearly $900,000 is allocated annually from a local law that created five Sidewalk Improvement Districts for constructing and repairing sidewalks.

This year, the city has been working to replace all the pedestrian crossing signals with countdown timers. Using countdown timers for crossing is a proven method of increasing pedestrian safety, Hathaway said.

The city has also added a few “leading pedestrian intervals,” which give pedestrians a few seconds to cross before the light turns green for cars. South Aurora and East State street at the end of the Commons is one example.

Logue said they have found adding those leading timers has made drivers more aware of pedestrians.

“I think the vast majority of drivers out there, people who are driving cars, they’re not looking to hit or harass a pedestrian, they just don’t see them is usually the problem if there’s a conflict,” Logue said.

Another way to make pedestrians more visible is “bump outs,” like on Seneca and Green streets.

The state is responsible for upgrading some routes in Ithaca, like portions of Route 79, Green and Seneca streets and most of Route 13. While the city can suggest improvements, it’s up to the state to make them.

Logue said if he had the ability, he would love to see lower speeds on residential roads. However, by law they are not allowed to go lower than 30 miles per hour, unless in specific zones like a school zone.

What’s on the horizon for pedestrian improvements?

Inlet Island — The city recently sought input on two design options for re-doing 1,080 feet of the West State Street/Martin Luther King, Jr. Street corridor from Floral Avenue to Taughannock Boulevard. The goals would be to improve pedestrian conditions along the street, make it easier to cross the street and enhance conditions for bicyclists.

→ Read more: City seeks input for redesign of Inlet Island roads

Five Corners — The city is also considering redesigning Five Corners at Dryden Road and Oak Avenue to make it more pedestrian friendly. Design work will begin this year. Though it’s not a high-volume traffic section, Hathaway said, the Maplewood development has spurred them to rethink the intersection. It will either have a traffic circle or a traffic signal that is more pedestrian friendly.

Hathaway said they have the design funded, and they hope to get the construction funded for 2018-19.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.