As the birds begin to chirp in the City of Ithaca, and the appearance of snow dwindles, cyclists and citizens alike are beginning to get their bikes ready for the spring season. In just a few short months, they will be able to utilize a new network of bicycle boulevards in the City of Ithaca.
According to City Junior Transportation Engineer, Kent Johnson, the idea originated in 1997, with the Ithaca Bike Plan. The plan did not get off to a great start however and took some initiative from a Cornell grad student at the time, now Tompkins County Tourism Planner, Tom Knipe.
Johnson said, “The idea was around since 1997, but did not really gain traction until Tom Knipe was hired by the Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council to develop a plan for how a Bike Boulevard network could be created in Ithaca.”
Knipe’s efforts included organizing a symposium, part of which included a talk regarding developing a Bike Boulevard Network in Ithaca.
Once Knipe completed his plan, Johnson created the Ithaca Bike Boulevard Plan.
“I used his work to help inform the plan that I wrote, but scaled the scope back considerably so that the core Bike Boulevard network was simpler and less expensive,” Johnson said.
While the engineers and city planners focus on the logistics of the plan, BikeWalk Tompkins Program Director Rena Scroggins wants to concentrate on improving bike safety education, while getting the community excited about biking and walking.
On average between 2008 and 2013, according to Tompkins County, there had been less than one pedestrian fatality annually, however in the past year there have been three.
One of the prominent programs set forth by BikeWalk Tompkins is the Safe Routes to School Program, which will fund the Bike Boulevards.
According to the group’s website, “Safe Routes to School is an international movement with a goal of making it safe, convenient and fun for children to bicycle and walk to school on a daily basis.”
According to Scroggins, the Bike Boulevards and Safe Routes to School will work together to appeal to a wider group of those who might be hesitant about biking in the city of Ithaca.
“We are going to attract a wider group, the people that are on that edge, people that would say they are very interested but they don’t feel safe enough… We want to tap into that interested but concerned group,” she said.
As far as the infrastructure goes, Scroggins says they want to connect it to more education, by using the route for initiatives such as the Walking School Bus.
This program will allow students that might not have an older sibling or an adult available to walk with them to school, walking along the Bike Boulevards. Three schools that have the Safe Routes to School program include Beverly J. Martin Elementary School, Fall Creek Elementary School and Boynton Middle School.
Scroggins also wants citizens to know that this program is considered a phase 1, meaning it covers North and South portions of the city, and won’t cover everyone’s route. The focal point of the boulevard will be on North Tioga Street and North Plain Street.
“Right now, other phases aren’t scheduled or funded yet… A big part of that is proving that this is going to affect cycling numbers and that people will really rally in support,” She said.
Scroggins anticipates the project being constructed sometime in the Fall, while Johnson says the actual length of construction should span two to three weeks.
At the end of the day, both see the project as beneficial to the citizens of the Ithaca.
Johnson said, “Bicycle users should find the traffic conditions are more favorable for bicycling… Residents may appreciate the traffic calming benefits and reduced vehicle speeds.”
“It’s going to be a more enjoyable, comfortable place to walk and bike… That adds to the quality of life for everyone, when you see people out and about, see your neighbors, it’s just a more connected, community building experience,” Scroggins said.