This is a long post in three sections, and I’ll apologize upfront for the length.
- The first part is the announcement the City of Ithaca sent to the various neighborhood listservs concerning the award Ithaca got for being a Bicycle Friendly Community. I am usually a calm rational person but this article got under my skin.
- The second part is my public response (private was a bit less rational) to the announcement.
- The third is a summary of what the City has done — e.g., the city engineers — to promote biking.
Ithaca, New York – On November 16, 2016 the League of American Bicyclists recognized the City of Ithaca with a Bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community award. Ithaca was part of the largest application round in the BFC program’s 13 year history; award levels are Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. In total, 140 communities applied for recognition in this round, resulting in 26 new awards. The Bronze BFC award recognizes Ithaca’s commitment to improving conditions for bicycling through investment in bicycling promotion, education programs, infrastructure, and pro-bicycling policies. Ithaca joins Buffalo, Rochester, and New York City as the fourth Bicycle Friendly Community in New York.
“We applaud these communities for making bicycling a safe and convenient option for transportation and recreation,” said Bill Nesper, Vice President of Programs at the League of American Bicyclists. “We are encouraged by the growing number of leaders who see bicycling as a way to build more vibrant, healthy, sustainable, and connected communities and be a part of the solution to many complex challenges faced at both the community and national levels. We look forward to continuing to work with these communities as we move closer to our mission of creating a Bicycle Friendly America for everyone.”
The BFC program provides a benchmark for communities to evaluate bicycling conditions and policies, while highlighting areas for improvement. Recent improvements in Ithaca include the completion of the 6-mile long Cayuga Waterfront Trail, the establishment of a Bicycle Boulevard network of 3 miles of low-traffic routes, installation of the only bicycle traffic signal in upstate New York, implementation of Ithaca’s Safe Routes to School educational program that is a collaboration with the Ithaca City School District, and numerous Streets Alive! events. Over the years, bicycle lanes have been steadily increased and now total about 9 miles, and over 100 bike racks have been installed. While Ithaca has made considerable progress, there is still quite a bit of work to do to create the conditions that will encourage a large percentage of the public to feel comfortable bicycling. The League of American Bicyclists will provide the City of Ithaca with detailed improvement recommendations by the end of the year.
“Overwhelmingly, traffic safety ranks as the top concern I’ve heard from Ithaca residents,” said Ithaca’s Mayor, Svante Myrick. “In recent years the City has focused on this issue, and I’m pleased that we have been recognized as a Bicycle Friendly Community for our significant efforts toward making bicycling safer and more convenient. Though we are off to a good start, there is certainly more to be done to encourage more people to bike more often. I look forward to continuing this effort because streets that are friendly for cyclists are also friendly for pedestrians and residents, and help to make our neighborhoods even more vibrant and enjoyable.”
“I’m proud of our work over the past 10 years to build and to enhance the City’s bicycle related infrastructure,” said Tim Logue, the City of Ithaca Director of Engineering. “From the large scale projects like the Cayuga Waterfront Trail to the small scale things like strategically located bike racks, I think we’ve done a commendable job with our resources to make Ithaca a bicycle friendly city. To be sure, there is more to do, especially along the lines of education, equity and cultural change, but there are many people around our community who are interested in advancing such efforts, and we look forward to working with them. We know that we have an excellent sidewalk program that supports all the people walking around Ithaca, and we know that we have the best transit system of its size in North America. Now, with a Bronze award and key steps to Silver, we can start to see the outlines of a blueprint for better bicycling to support the goals of our comprehensive plan.”
Fernando de Aragón, Executive Director of the Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council, responded to the award by saying, “Congratulations to the City of Ithaca for its recently granted designation as a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. The ITCTC, through its policies and plans, is fully supportive of all actions and programs that make bicycling a safe and convenient mode of transportation for everyday trips. We look forward to working with the City, Bike Walk Tompkins, the Finger Lakes Cycling Club, and other municipalities and community groups to make bicycling a key component of transportation in the greater Ithaca area. Let’s go for that Silver designation!”
“Big congratulations are in order!” said Vikki Armstrong, Director of Bike Walk Tompkins. “Ithaca has been making steady improvements to make it safer and more convenient to bicycle to get around, and it’s wonderful to get the recognition of a Bronze BFC award. By making space for bicycles with on-street bike lanes, more bike parking and multi-use trails, Ithaca is well on its way to become as sustainable and vibrant as other bicycle friendly communities. Of course we still have quite a way to go to make cycling comfortable for all. A significant number of people have told us they would use a bicycle for some of their trips if it felt safer and more connected to do so. We commend all the work the City staff, councilors and Board of Public Works members have done to encourage more cycling, and we look forward to many more improvements in the future that will lead us to silver, gold and platinum awards.”
Paul Winkeller, Executive Director of the New York Bicycling Coalition, said, “Congratulations Ithaca on becoming New York State’s fourth official Bicycle Friendly Community.”
Gary Ferguson, Executive Director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, congratulated the work of those involved and said, “The award and recognition as a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community is a significant milestone in the journey of our community to become one of America’s best places for bicycling.”
The process of applying for Bicycle Friendly Community recognition was beneficial itself since it provided an opportunity to engage with numerous agencies and advocacy groups to catalog various accomplishments and efforts underway, and to develop a better understanding of bicycling issues that still need to be addressed. The Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council led the application effort and hired a Cornell University student, Eliza Minxuan Zou, to connect with relevant stakeholders and to compile the data necessary to answer a broad range of application questions.
The Bicycle Friendly Community award will be presented to the Board of Public Works at their next regularly scheduled public meeting on November 28th at 4:45PM in Common Council Chambers on the third floor of City Hall, 108 E. Green Street.
For more information, please contact Kent Johnson, Junior Transportation Engineer at 274-6528.
Hello West Hill,
Just a reminder about the other people who actually promote bicycling in Ithaca: Dave Nutter, David West, the people at BPAC, Tim Logue, Andrejs Ozolins, Laurence Clarkburg of Boxy Bikes, Judy Swann and Chris Trudeau of ebikeithaca, etc. and more whom I am not aware of. Most of these people have given countless hours of time to making roads bicycle and pedestrian friendly.
I was taken aback that the mayor and downtown Ithaca Alliance took credit (apparently) for the bronze designation when they clearly they were opposed to such projects :
Transparency and genuine honesty in our leaders — governmental and civic — is rare, but these are virtues that would help Ithaca envision and build for a better future. .
RESPONSE FROM DAVE NUTTER
This was the second time Ithaca applied to be called a Bicycle Friendly Community. There are many criteria which the League of American Bicyclists evaluates. Compared to other Bronze level communities Ithaca barely registers, let alone qualifies, for the Bronze level on any category. Yet the LAB decided to award that lowest level medal anyway, probably for two reasons.
First, thanks to many people and organization, but especially to Tim Logue and Kent Johnson of the City DPW’s Engineering Division, we have seen a marked increase in infrastructure since the previous application:
* the paved Cayuga Waterfront Trail, which was completed to connect Cass and Stewart Parks;
* the paved trail extension southward from the CWT between Floral Ave and Cayuga Inlet to Cedar Creek Apartments, which would serve as part of the future Black Diamond Trail to Buttermilk Falls SP, should funding for a trail bridge across the Inlet be found;
* the stone dust covered Black Diamond Trail between Taughannock Falls SP and Cass Park, which was inaugurated a few weeks ago.
* the bike lanes on Taughannock Boulevard, which extend from the paved shoulders outside the City through Cass Park to – but not over – the bridge over the Flood Control Channel;
* the bike lanes on part of North Cayuga Street, from Farm Street not quite to Boynton Middle School, painted despite the objections of several Common Council members, which resulted in a wasteful expensive delay;
* the climbing bike lane which now extends to the top of the hill via Ithaca Road, painted despite the objection of at least one Common Council member. Meanwhile the connection to that climbing bike lane from the flats of downtown remains perennially blocked by construction which allows heavy motor traffic through without any provision for bike riders;
* There’s a traffic signal just for bike riders – apparently unique in upstate NY – at State and Mitchell Streets, which was fixed after not working for a long time;
* Regarding bike lane maintenance, after years of requests, several existing climbing bike lanes, which had been driven on and worn down to the point of invisibility, were repainted on the very morning that League of American Bicyclists representatives came to visit, tour, and evaluate Ithaca’s facilities.
* We also now have signs and several speed humps on part of a debatably useful Bicycle Boulevard system. Its rationally engineered and BPW-approved plan to connect more vulnerable riders to a major destination, the Commons, via bike lanes was downgraded by the Mayor and BPW at the request of at least 2 Common Council members so that there could be 2 sides of on-street parking instead of parking on just one side a mere block away from a parking garage.
Even with all the problems and pushback, that’s a considerable list.
The second reason for the award, I think, is the hope that it will spur further improvements. The LAB is also providing an evaluation, a list of things to do in order to get a Silver designation or perhaps even to retain Bronze status the next time. Perhaps with the recognition which an award brings, there will also be both pride and an interest in continuing to improve the way bike riders are treated here, in terms of infrastructure, education, enforcement, and respect both inside City Hall and on the street. All of the most involved officials and groups who have talked about the award have said there’s more work to be done. No one is resting on their laurels. This award is a statement of faith that Ithaca will continue to improve.