ITHACA, N.Y.—Who among us hasn’t struggled to navigate an Ithaca sidewalk after a night of snow? Tripping and trudging and traipsing along while trying not to twist an ankle during the trek.

A group of Ithacans are trying to find solutions, organizing to push city officials to improve Ithaca’s handling of snow removal around the city and calling themselves the Coalition for Snow-Free Sidewalks and Crosswalks. They met last week to discuss strategies and kick around ideas to each other.

“The hardest part about getting around in Ithaca in the snow is intersections,” said group leader Eric Lerner during a presentation at the meeting. He used to be the chair of the Mobility, Access and Transportation Commission (MATCOM) for the city. “The sidewalk is clear, the traffic lanes and the street are clear, but the way from the sidewalk to the street is blocked with sleet and slush.”

Curb cuts are not required to be cleared by homeowners, and Department of Public Works’ snowplows can’t navigate an area that small while plowing the streets after a storm.

According to the snow removal policy of the Department of Public Works, adjoining property owners are responsible for clearing snow and ice on sidewalks, and DPW says upfront that the department “does not have the resources to clear all city sidewalks, nor does it target specific neighborhoods for sidewalk snow removal enforcement.” Volunteers and residents have to fill those gaps.

Lerner said a 2019 survey by MATCOM yielded around 800 responses, the vast majority of which were upset about snow removal and found the city’s efforts insufficient.

“I’m amazed that no one has gotten seriously hurt, though maybe they have,” said Dan Doyle, a commenter. “On Ithaca Road, it’s extraordinary, seeing people crossing the street. You can’t get across the whole strip, Ithaca Road where Mitchell stops, for a month you just can’t get past there. […] What’s it going to take to get these sidewalks cleared properly?”

More commenters voiced their frustrations, arguing that the issues effectively prevent safe walking in the city, particularly for those who are elderly or people with a disability.

“I get very upset when I see these businesses along Meadow Street, you’ve got these horrid crosswalks, then you’ve got people who haven’t shoveled their businesses,” one commenter said. “Having lived in Brooklyn and Chicago, I’m used to it, but I would like to see a change, and whatever we can do to change this you can count me in please.”

“It’s disingenuous to say Ithaca is a walkable city if we can’t really walk in it from October to April,” chimed in another commenter.

The meeting ended with attendees resolving to start their efforts by reaching out to Common Council members, including the City Administration Committee. The coalition got some good news in the days after, according to Lerner, who said the city has invited them to make a presentation during budget discussions in the fall.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com