ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca’s City Administration Committee moved quickly to slow down Wednesday, advancing a resolution to lower the citywide speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour. No word on whether local signmakers will be the beneficiary of the boon of needing to replace 135 signs that say “City Speed Limit 30” around town.

The committee covered the speed limit topic as part of its monthly meeting on Wednesday, emphasizing the impacts it would have on traffic safety in Ithaca with an eye to minimizing traffic deaths and collisions. You can read the full meeting agenda here and watch the meeting here (and the second half here); The Ithaca Voice covered City Attorney Ari Lavine’s decision to step away from city-union bargaining negotiations here, which was also discussed at the meeting.

Speed Limit Reduction

Though it was only a brief portion of the meeting, the reduction of the speed limit citywide will likely have the most impact on Ithacans’ daily lives. According to studies conducted by the city, there should only be an impact of about 24 seconds per mile traveled if the city’s speed limit is lowered to 25 from 30 miles per hour. It would also reduce the danger to pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers, as outlined by studies the city cited in its justification for lowering the limit.

It will be voted on by Common Council, potentially as soon as next week, for implementation. The discussion was last touched upon in the spring.

The reduction is only possible after Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a law that allows municipalities to lower their speed limits under 30. Advocates, including the city’s Director of Transportation and Parking Eric Hathaway, had hoped for a reduction to 20 miles, but said this will do.

“Now that we are permitted to set area-wide speed limits of 25 mph, we wish to move in this direction as the default speed limit in Ithaca,” Hathaway wrote in a letter to the committee. “We have performed several analyses using the nationally recognized standards for speed limit setting (USLimits2) of roadways in the City and have found that 25 mph is generally the recommended speed limit. Lowering area-wide speed limits is also consistent with our goals to reduce severe injury crashes and deaths, per our Vision Zero initiative.”

Hathaway further mentioned that there are certain major roads in Ithaca that aren’t actually under city jurisdiction, because they are owned by New York State. That includes “large portions of Route 13, 79, 96 and 89,” Hathaway wrote, though the city has requested that the state’s Department of Transportation assess Seneca and Green Streets for speed limit reductions to 25 mph.

The move was celebrated by everyone on the committee. Alderperson Jorge Defendini said he hoped there would be a trickle-down effect of sorts, with driving becoming safer and then other forms of travel gradually becoming safer overall as well. Mayor-elect Laura Lewis also said she thinks it will make a “real difference.”

It is estimated to cost $30,000 to replace the 30-mile-per-hour speed limit signs in Ithaca.

City Morale

Perhaps not coincidentally, considering the rampant tension between the City of Ithaca leadership and its employees that has been wildly evident in the last several weeks, the city reviewed the 2019 employee engagement survey that was used to gauge morale and issues within City Hall for employees.

The Novak Group designed the assessment for the city, with a goal to elicit feedback from workers and attempt to adjust the workplace in accordance with that feedback. The review was presented Wednesday to get a more formalized sense of what some of the longstanding complaints of employees may be, taken from a less emotional standpoint than what has been recently said at public comment.

The focuses, according to the city’s Organizational Development Manager Leslie Moskowitz, were improving communication and relationships between city staff and leadership, create professional development and promotion opportunities, increase accountability at all levels of the city, address compensation and benefits concerns and improving infrastructure and facilities.

COVID helped derail progress on the reforms, which were the task of teams of different employees assigned to help develop solutions to the above-listed concerns. However, Moskowitz—who acknowledged that morale is “in the dumps”—did list some steps that are being taken internally to help employees have more of a voice in the operations of City Hall—though considering the widespread disillusionment expressed last month, it’s fair to question how impactful those steps have been.

Cantelmo asked specifically about the accountability aspects, since Moskowitz’s review seemed to show that was the only complaint where tangible progress hadn’t been made.

“Creating the structure and the systems that support [accountability and expectations]. If you want a certain outcome, you need to have the systems to make that outcome occur,” said HR Director Schelley Michell-Nunn in response, positing that working in-person may have a natural impact on accountability in the workplace. “We’re coming out of the COVID, it’s still here but people are feeling more comfortable, but I think having visibility and being accessible is really what people want.”

Alderperson Ducson Nguyen said he’d like to see more progress made on professional development options for employees, saying it has been an important part of his professional career. Alderperson George McGonigal lamented that he felt council and staff had been composing the budget without sufficient input from employees, something that had been laid bare in the last month.

“It’s the biggest budget the city’s ever had, and yet it wasn’t until after we passed the budget that we became fully aware how far apart the city and their unions are in terms of compensation,” McGonigal said. “I wish we’d had more information earlier.”

Other News and Notes

  • Cantelmo had planned to introduce a new resolution that would have reformed the way mayors are appointed after someone leaves office that would aim to reduce the amount of time someone could serve as an appointee in an elected position. To a certain extent, the city has watched this play out this year; former Mayor Svante Myrick left office in February, naming current Mayor-elect Laura Lewis as his replacement. She served in the role as acting mayor for nine months without having won a mayoral election, before she was victorious in last month’s general election. However, Cantelmo pulled the resolution after the committee ran out of time and it will likely come before the CA committee next month.
  • It appears that the city has finished its long-awaited compensation study, though it may take a while for it to come to light. City Administration Committee members saw the results of the study during a scheduled executive session Wednesday night, which takes place behind closed doors. There was not much further discussion on the matter, though the study will likely be discussed by Common Council either at its meeting next week or in the future. The Ithaca Voice has filed a FOIL request to receive the compensation study; the request is pending.
  • Additional funding for a bridge over the flood control channel, part of the Black Diamond Trail, was unanimously approved.
  • Approval for Ithaca Police Department to accept a grant from the Department of Homeland Security in order to “improve tactical team capabilities through equipment, training, exercise, and planning projects that support counter-terrorism missions deployable throughout the jurisdiction and nationally per federal guidelines.” It will also support the department’s SWAT team, according to a letter sent to the city by the Department of Homeland Security.

Matt Butler

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