City of Ithaca Looks to Implement Bike Boulevards

North Tioga Street, one of the streets downtown that will utilize bike boulevards in the City (photo: Connor Weingarten).
North Tioga Street, one of the streets downtown that will utilize bike boulevards in the City (photo: Connor Weingarten).

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.

Ithaca City Police Get Started With The Citizens Police Academy

The first meeting of the Ithaca Citizens Police Academy was held Wednesday night (photo: Simon Wheeler/Ithaca Journal)
The first meeting of the Ithaca Citizens Police Academy was held Wednesday night (photo: Simon Wheeler/Ithaca Journal)

ITHACA- A group of 22 members of the Ithaca community gathered Wednesday night for the first meeting of the Citizens Police Academy, held at the Ithaca Police Department.

The meeting was comprised of presentations about the history of the IPD and the reasons for including a dog as part of the IPD, as well as a tour of the building and a live demonstration with the police dog.

The gathering took place in a small conference room, where community members from various backgrounds, ranging from teenagers to retired people, were eager to learn and ask questions.

According to Ithaca Police Public Information Officer Jamie Williamson, this is not the first time the IPD has held the academy.

Williamson said, “We have hosted the academy over the last 10 years, but due to staffing cuts and budget constraints, we haven’t been able to host it the last couple of years.”

An incident that seemed to spark interest in bringing back the police academy took place in Ithaca this past summer, when Sergeant John Norman pulled out his gun while pursuing four black teens.

Although race has been a prominent issue in Ithaca and nationwide, crime rates in the city have not been a problem as of late. While comprehensive data is not yet available for the year 2014, the FBI has compiled the violent crime totals in Ithaca over the past five years.

According to the bureau, after violent crime totals rose from 36 to 65 in the year 2012, the most recent data shows that there were just 50 occasions of violent crime in Ithaca in 2013, which was fifteen fewer than the previous year.

FBI crime stats show that in relation to other cities such as Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo, Auburn, and Rochester, Ithaca has the lowest total for violent crime.

However, in light of issues concerning police misconduct in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York, the country as well as Ithaca has focused on the problems regarding race and law enforcement in the city.

Lynne Jackier is one Ithaca citizen who has dealt with issues of race in the community. She was the Founding Executive Director of the Drop-In Children’s Center (an early childhood center on the Northside that served and employed people from diverse income, race and language communities).

Jackier hopes the Police Academy will help the community and the police come together, and improve the overall relationship between the two groups.

She said, “I do see the Academy as a step, a piece of a big, big puzzle that will include relationship-building, changes to the structure of policing and a strong, independent system of accountability.”

Officer Williamson echoed the sentiments of Jackier, preaching the importance of the citizens of the Ithaca community being involved in the police department.

Williamson said, “We have developed many fantastic working relationships, and we want to continue doing so.”

Lynne Jackier is just one of the 22 community members who attended the Citizens Police Academy Wednesday night. Members included people from many different backgrounds, including engineers, psychologists and high school students, but according to Jackier, there was not much racial diversity in the crowd.

“All but one person appeared to be white, “ she said, “I understand the IPD plans to run more of these programs and I hope future sessions can be made more inclusive.”

Jackier felt that because the department required background checks, many people were put off who might have otherwise made meaningful contributions in that setting.

Although according to Jackier there was just one white person present at the meeting, Officer Williamson reiterated that they want to, “welcome all perspectives, and people from different walks of life.”

Williamson emphasized the importance of community members reaching out to the department.

He said, “We’re not perfect, we’re human… We encourage folks to reach out to us if we are making mistakes.”

As the Citizens Police Academy continues though April 15, Jackier talked about making relationships and learning about the policies and procedures of the IPD.

“I think there is even a police ‘culture,’ a shared worldview. I think these classes are teaching me something about that culture. My hope is that from a place of understanding it will be easier to help IPD members to understand perspectives outside their own worldview,” She said.

Williamson shares a similar goal. He said, “Our only expectation is for every single person to have a better understanding of the inner workings of the Ithaca Police Department.”

Ithaca City Schools Rally Against the Gap Elimination Adjustment

Ithaca High School, one of many schools in the district that may face changes as a result of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (Photo: Connor Weingarten)
Ithaca High School, one of many schools in the district that may face changes as a result of the Gap Elimination Adjustment
(Photo: Connor Weingarten)

ITHACA—When New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announces the state budget for the 2015 year, it is expected that the proposal will leave the Gap Elimination Adjustment in place.

Something that was originally created as an adjustment to state aid for schools in order to eliminate the state’s budget gap has posed a significant problem to districts statewide, including the Ithaca City School District.

As recently as 2008-09, state aid comprised approximately 40 percent of total school district revenue. By 2012-13, that portion had fallen to 34 percent, according to a January report by the Office of the State Comptroller.

According to the New York State School Boards Association, this depressed state support has come at a time when the property tax cap has restricted districts’ ability to raise revenue locally, forcing many schools to eliminate programs, lay off staff and/or deplete reserve funds.

Ithaca City School’s Board of Education President Robert Ainslie said that Albany has clawed back $21 million in state aid from the school district over the last five years due to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, to, “basically fund other initiatives in the state budget.”

The GEA has delivered a substantial blow to the district’s budget, which saw an adjustment of $2.8 million imposed on the state aid run.

Ainslie said, “In order to make up that deficit we would have to raise the local tax levy by 3.6 percent, just to make up for this loss of aid due by statute to the district.”

This tax increase, along with the possibilities of cutting programs, is not sitting well with those who live in the district.

Ithaca citizen Ann Reichlin is someone who has fought hard to combat the Gap Elimination Adjustment. Reichlin formed the “SOS Election Boosters,” a parent-based group that initially formed to help ICSD override the tax cap last year.

The group has since refocused their energies on the GEA, because this policy is one of the primary reasons that the district was forced to seek the override, according to Reichlin.

Reichlin believes that the only solution to the problem is the complete abolition of the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

“On many levels it is a dishonest policy as it allows New York State to pretend it is giving schools more money than it is actually giving them… Even its name is deceptive,” she said.

Many different community members have gotten involved in the bout against the GEA. At the most recent school board meeting held on Tuesday, citizens shared their thoughts on the GEA, and the support that the community has shown as a whole.

Ithaca High School Senior Conor Coutts, who is a student representative of the Board of Education, discussed a recent rally that a group of students attended in Lansing, where they protested the education cuts being proposed by Governor Cuomo.

“It’s exactly what we need, for students to engage in their own education, and learn how the Governor’s cuts and specifically the Gap Elimination Adjustment, threatens just that,” Coutts said.

Ithaca City School’s Superintendent Luvelle Brown spoke highly of the citizens of Ithaca and their support.

He said, “This is a community that really has rallied around public education in a great way.”

As the City of Ithaca awaits the finalized budget from New York State, which has a deadline of April 1, BOE President Robert Ainslie hopes that the state can come up with some type of solution.

He said, “The only real solution at this point is to have Albany come to their senses.”

The Ithaca City School District will hold a budget hearing on May 5, followed by the annual budget vote, which will be held on Tuesday, May 19.