ITHACA, N.Y.—Residents of Floral Avenue, Five Mile Drive and nearby have penned a petition with hundreds of signatures calling for reforms to be made on the thoroughfare through their neighborhood, one of the busiest in the city of Ithaca and, tragically, the site of the city’s most recent traffic death.
Liz Bageant and Kelda McGurk have both lived on or near Floral Avenue for several years and frequently travel it, and are part of the group pushing the petition to make the road safer in a variety of ways. BikeWalk Tompkins, a local bicyclist advocacy group, is also supportive of the effort.
“In the past couple of years, I think it’s gotten much worse,” Bageant said. “When we moved here, it was manageable. Not ideal, but different than it is now. Something has shifted, whether it’s more people commuting or different traffic patterns.”
While their evidence is somewhat anecdotal, it’s undeniable that the sentiment is shared by a multitude of people who live in the immediate area. Eighty-two people have signed a petition distributed by Bageant, McGurk and others, while an additional online Change.org petition has garnered 344 signatures, as of the afternoon of Dec. 5. Another petition, generated via City of Ithaca Traffic Calming Request and organized by Marie de Mott Grady, has gained an additional 41 signatures.
“I used to do a daily walk with my dog and my daughter, I’d go down the hill and go on Five Mile Drive, up Bostwick and do a loop around,” McGurk said. “In the past year, I’ve stopped doing that walk because it feels too dangerous, just walking on the side of the road where there’s a shoulder because of the speed people are driving and people drifting out of the lane onto the shoulder.”
After publication of this article, McGurk asked that her concerns be further articulated with the following.
“I use a bike to go to work, to go shopping, to pick up my daughter, on days that she hasn’t ridden her own bike to school,” she said. “She rides the road as well, on her own. A recreational walk with the dog can be moved elsewhere to a quieter road. However, for non-vehicular transportation there is no safe passage to our quadrant of West Hill. People should be able to get around different parts of our city, via at least one safe road, without the need for a car. It is essential for physical, social, and financial health of our neighbors. Floral Avenue used to be that road, and is no longer.”
Others involved tell similar stories. Amelia Habicht, a resident of the Five Mile Drive portion of the road, said she uses a recumbent bike on the road and has frequently felt unsafe with the proximity and speed at which cars pass her on the road. de Mott Grady said she has two small children who have strict rules regarding how to navigate the road. Many others voiced their concerns as well.
“They are not allowed near the road by themselves,” de Mott Grady wrote in an email. “They both ride bikes, but they are not allowed to mount them until we get down to the path by the inlet because they could easily coast from our driveway into the road by mistake. Crossing Floral Ave is one of the most stressful parts of any outing we take on foot or biking. Speeding traffic makes it very difficult to find a gap long enough for me to get across safely with such little kids (and their bikes).”
In the minds of many residents, the situation came to a tragic head in November, when Carlette Crowe was struck and killed by a motorist while biking on Floral Avenue around 10:15 p.m. on Nov. 8. Even more tragically, Crowe had signed a petition advocating for more traffic safety measures on the road days prior to his death. No tickets or charges have resulted from Crowe’s death, and while the investigation continues into the incident, it is unclear what factors contributed to the crash.
Their specific concerns, outlined in the petition, include excessive speed, high truck volume without sufficient infrastructure, danger for pedestrians and cyclists (with an eye to potentially increasing residential traffic as development continues) and driver behavior around the Bostwick Road intersection.
In terms of solutions, the petition calls for a speed limit reduction along the road, traffic calming measures like a speed cushion to help emergency vehicles, limiting truck traffic through weight or frequency limits and sidewalk extensions and bike lanes.
“I would like them to put resources into evaluating the situation and making a plan, that they can then use to pursue funding to fix it,” Bageant said. “Maybe some speed bumps, maybe a bike lane. Everybody has an idea about what could be done. But the traffic and engineering departments with the city, they’re the ones with the expertise and the resources, at least for the Floral portion. […] There’s agreement that there is a problem, but there isn’t anything beyond that in terms of action.”
McGurk, Bageant and others expressed frustration at the response from officials so far, but they found hope for their movement with some tangible progress coming last week. Hathaway said city, Town of Ithaca and state Department of Transportation officials had met to discuss options with the road, both short and long-term, to increase safety while maintaining all possible emergency personnel access.
Parts of the road fall under different jurisdictions, since the road runs through a long stretch of territory—the city owns the portion that runs through Ithaca, while the state owns the portion that runs through the Town of Ithaca. Hathaway said the group also walked the roadway, along with Alderpersons Cynthia Brock and George McGonigal, both of whom represent the area of Floral Avenue within the city.
“It doesn’t feel like an urban roadway, compared to other places in the city, it’s this longer, two-lane stretch without any real intersections or traffic control along it, it really feels like a rural roadway,” Hathaway said, noting that plans are being discussed in conjunction with Ithaca Fire Department officials and more first responders who would need to be involved in traffic decisions to ensure the efficiency of their response abilities.
The uniqueness of the road makes some of the mitigation strategies more difficult, Hathaway said. Speed bumps or raised crosswalks could be an option, he said, though those can be difficult for emergency responders to traverse, and potentially damaging to the emergency vehicles. The addition of a bike lane seems unlikely as a short-term solution due to the necessary space needed for such a lane to exist (and the money and time required to implement one), he said, and the same limitations would apply to adding a longer sidewalk along the road.
But local officials have pondered the idea of adding white lane markings or plantings to the side of the road, hopefully creating the perception of narrower lanes and encouraging drivers to be more cautious.
“If you can add a lane marking to make that lane feel more narrow, that can make people respond with lower speeds,” Hathaway said. “Those are things we’re exploring for the near-term.”
Another potential complicating factor is somewhat out of local government’s hands: Hathaway said over the last few years, navigation services, like Google Maps for instance, have been sending more drivers to Floral Avenue or Route 13A during their commutes. In previous experience, that is a difficult matter to reverse, Hathaway said.
“They’re perceiving that [that route] is faster,” Hathaway said. “My understanding is the roadway is carrying more volume than it did in years past, which I think is adding to the problem. It’s just their algorithm.”
Hathaway added that he is looking for an opportunity to sit down with concerned local residents to gather their feedback in a more formal way to know the full scope of the problems they wish to be addressed.