Broken Sidewalks

Sidewalk projects in the city of Ithaca are expected to get underway following a Common Council public hearing on Wednesday, May 7 regarding the local law confirming the Sidewalk Improvement District (SID) assessments, budget, and schedule work for the fiscal year. Administration Committee gave its final confirmation of those details during a public meeting in April.

The new local law—Section C-73 of the city charter—creates five SIDs for the construction and repair of sidewalks, and provides for an assessment against each property located in each district. Nearly $875,000 of available funds for improvements throughout the five districts was budgeted accordingly:

  • District One (Fall Creek and Cornell Heights): $161,747
  • District Two (Collegetown and Belle Sherman): $153,849
  • District Three (Downtown, Northside and lower East Hill): $273,474
  • District Four (South Hill, Titus Flats, and Southwest): $167,727)
  • District Five (West Hill, Inlet Island, West End): $117,045

That breakdown was used to determine the following proposal of sidewalk work plan and budget for this construction season: $119,880 in district one, $116,630 in district two, $208,429 in district three, $100,000 in district four, and $91,500 in district five.

The majority of these projects were left behind from the previous sidewalk maintenance plan, which suffered from delays while burdening property owners directly adjacent to the proposed repair sites. The new system uses a two-tier fee structure that charges a flat $70 fee to one-and two-family properties, and a flat $140 fee to larger properties with an additional variable square footage fee of $0.015 per square-foot of buildings on the lot, and a frontage fee of $30 for each 50 feet of lot frontage on the street.

The new sidewalk program aims to allow the city to make sidewalk costs fair and predictable, while also making sidewalk repairs at a much faster clip. Once previous repairs are taken care of, the city can build more sidewalks in future years. City Transportation Engineer Tim Logue and Sidewalk Program Manager Eric Hathaway told the Ithaca Times 2014 is the beginning of a new era in sidewalk management in Ithaca.

“This program is setting up a way to do some significant improvements over time,” Hathaway said. “Ithaca has 90 miles of sidewalk, so it’s going to take a while to improve that system. We’re looking at many, many years. But the improvements we have lined up for this year are ones that will make things safer for people, and in small ways, add up to something that’s significant for people.”

Hathaway recently came to Ithaca from Portland, Ore. and assumed his role of sidewalk program manger just a few weeks ago. His main goal in his new position is to provide a sidewalk network for people that is “increasingly safe and encourages them to want to use walking as a means of transportation and connect to their community.” He said he is eager to start the next chapter of Ithaca’s sidewalks and hopes it is the beginning of a process that leads the city to new, exciting places.

“Portland is a very forward thinking city,” he said. “So when I thought about relocating to the East Coast, Ithaca was a natural fit because its also got a reputation for being forward thinking.”

Hathaway added that his biggest challenge would be dealing with the broken sidewalks that the old program left behind. He is, however, confident that more creative ventures will present themselves in coming years.

“I think the challenges are a significant backlog of sidewalk repair, in addition to some significant gaps in the current sidewalk system that we’re aware of, and are trying to work on,” he said. “What will be a challenge is identifying those projects and working with the community to know where those issues are.”

Logue admitted that although 2014 won’t bring any eye-popping work to Ithaca’s sidewalks, it will address work that needs to be completed in order to get to more exciting projects. He added that the new program gives the city the opportunity to “look for places where sidewalk is missing.”

“There’s repair work that will happen this year and there’s some engineering design work that will happen this year that will set us up for future years,” Logue said. “But there will be no brand new construction work this year at all. The construction work that happens in 2014 will all be repair work. It takes a little more lead time to do brand new sidewalk.”

Approximately 30 construction projects are planned for 2014, in addition to several design projects, Hathaway said. Repair projects are currently slated to go out to bid to contractors in the coming weeks. From there, the city will determine the order of the projects. Hathaway noted that the 30 projects range in between segments of 100 to 600 feet.

“We want to consider, for this construction season, what can be done and look at some of the areas of sidewalk that haven’t been addressed previously and take care of those,” Hathaway said. “We also want to look to the future and evaluate some areas that might be good for sidewalk improvement and get some designs for those projects to see where we might go down the line. I really think every project on this list is one that was a high priority from previous programs. I don’t think one in particular sticks out. They’re all worth while projects.”

Moving forward, the city hopes that the new sidewalk work plan opens opportunity for the districts’ communities to reach out to the city and help it determine the best plan of attack for each given area. In addition to having public meetings where residents will be able to voice their opinions, Logue and Hathaway encourage residents to email suggestions, complaints and ideas to sidewalks@cityofithaca.org.

“If people have ideas already of priorities or ideas of how to prioritize,” Logue said, “like focusing the area around elementary schools or commercial districts, or simply focus on building brand new sidewalks, that would be fantastic.” •

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