From: David Nutter, member of Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Council, 20-year West Hill resident, parent, professional local driver, and pedestrian commuter through intersection
On November 21 at a West Hill Neighborhood Association meeting at LACS Tim Logue presented a plan to change the intersections of Elm Street, Floral Avenue, Hector Street, and State Street with a quarter million dollar state grant.
I support many aspects of the plan as presented: retaining the current intersection configuration, adding crosswalks, making crosswalks more visible, including mid-crossing refuges, creating a level landing at the base of the sidewalk on Elm, and replacing the substandard sidewalk on the west side of Floral between Elm and Hector connecting to crosswalks and to the stairs to Chestnut Hill Apartments.
I also hope some changes will be made. I believe there are easy ways to greatly improve it, and gain more benefit for taxpayers’ money. In fact, I believe the plan will be largely ineffective at protecting pedestrians or changing drivers’ behavior and attitudes without these changes.
The plan as presented does not address the fact that many drivers are allowed to barrel through without yielding. This causes other drivers to make hurried, distracted turns. These situations endanger crossing pedestrians. The plan does not address too-short sightlines. Without changes to the plan, pedestrians will continue to resort to jay-walking, while bike riders resort to sidewalks. Despite the law that drivers must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, Ithaca’s drivers typically do not yield unless first stopped by a traffic light or stop sign, so the crosswalks will not protect pedestrians nearly as much as they could. If the City is serious about pedestrian safety in these intersections, there should be all-way stop signs.
A fundamental goal is to change drivers’ attitudes. Will this place be viewed as part of a residential neighborhood where pedestrians have the right to cross the street, or will it remain part of a bypass on downtown’s outskirts, where drivers don’t even have to pause on a long trip?
Below I have prepared:
A. Summary of recommendations
B. How all-way stops will benefit these intersections
C. How and why the crosswalks should be further improved
D. Bicycling issues which the plan should address
Plus, for those who seek detailed analyses, I include thorough examinations of two aspects:
E. Conflicts at crosswalks not yet addressed by the plan, a pedestrian-oriented analysis
F. Traffic conflicts not yet addressed by the plan, a traffic-oriented analysis
A. SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDED CHANGES
1. The crosswalk on Elm should be better marked.
2. The crosswalk at the end of Floral must be included.
3. The crosswalk on Hector should align with the west side of Floral.
4. Mid-crossing refuges should be wider and protected by islands.
5. Both T-intersections should have all-way stops, adding stops for Hector, the through-lane and the left-turn lane of State, and on Floral both north and south of Elm.
6. A bikeway climbing Hector should be included.
7. Conversion of the bridge to 3 lanes plus bikeways should be examined.
B. HOW ALL-WAY STOPS SOLVE PROBLEMS
All-way stops would have many benefits for both the Floral-Hector-State intersection and the Elm-Floral intersection.
Each of the two T-intersections would have an all-way stop. This will add five stop signs and stop lines:
Eastbound on Hector at Floral
Westbound on State at Floral in the through lane
Westbound on State at Floral in the left-turn lane
Northbound on Floral at Elm, south of the crosswalk
Southbound on Floral at Elm
Note that all-way stop signs could be included on a post within the Hector-State-Floral intersection for extra traffic-calming and visibility.
All-way stops create compact, safe intersections. They bring everyone into view and stopped before proceeding, so the existing short sightlines will no longer be a problem. Everyone takes their turn, so it’s fair, and there will be less resentment. There is no waiting anxiously for gaps while blocking other travelers, and no rushing through gaps. Everyone will have a safe turn promptly, and everyone knows it.
All-way stops will end the hurried, distracted driving through these intersections which makes them so dangerous to pedestrians. Pedestrians will have a chance to see and be seen before crossing. Drivers who are already stopped are FAR more likely to respect pedestrians’ right to cross.
All-way stops will shorten the queue on Floral, because turning opportunities onto Hector and State will be frequent. There will be no need for separate left-turn and right-turn lanes on Floral, so the intersection can be more comfortably compact instead of chaotic and crowded.
All-way stops will ensure that Elm traffic has a chance to turn. Although southbound Floral traffic must stop at Elm, it will move on within seconds, clearing a spot for the next vehicle to move south from Hector or State when its turn arises. Because stops are brief, the stop at Elm will not cause delays for turns from Hector or State.
With an all-way stop, Hector’s drivers will be shown that this is an important pedestrian crossing place in a neighborhood, not just part of a State Highway or, for turning traffic, an Ithaca Bypass. Hector traffic will also have to slow down farther up the hill because there may be a queue. This general traffic-calming benefit on Hector should enable safer crossings at Sunrise, where a marked crosswalk has also been requested.
With an all-way stop, State’s drivers will realize that they have not left Ithaca just because they are west of Route 13. These are residential streets where pedestrians cross. Yet the change is fair, and State’s drivers will get a prompt opportunity to proceed, even if they are turning left.
C. REQUESTED CROSSWALK IMPROVEMENTS:
1. Crossing of Floral at Elm
a. The mid-crossing refuge should be widened so pedestrians can more comfortably pause to ensure there is no conflict with crossing the other lane. Widening the refuge is more important if all-way stops are not added to stop conflicting traffic. Widening the refuge would move the west curb west slightly, as the lanes should not be narrowed.
b. The mid-crossing refuge should be protected by raised islands to the north and south, not merely with painted gores. Islands may be less expensive than the raised crosswalk, and raising the crosswalk to merely slow traffic would not be necessary if there were an all-way stop to actually stop traffic.
2. Crossing of Elm
The plan as presented shows two narrow lines from curb to curb. Zebra stripes, a series of large white bars, each parallel to traffic flow, are more visible to motorists and pedestrians, and they last longer.
3. Crossing at the base of Hector
a. The pedestrian refuge should be protected by raised islands to the east and west rather than just the gore of paint.
b. The crossing of Hector should be moved east, closer to the Floral intersection to align with the west side of Floral. There are several reasons for this requested change:
i. The refuge can be wider, so pedestrians may pause to ensure it is safe to cross the other lane of traffic.
ii. There could be longer sightlines between pedestrians and traffic descending Hector. A 15′ pine between the Hector sidewalk and the walkway to the crossing of Cliff St may have to be pruned or removed, but pedestrian safety is a worthy cause.
iii. The crosswalk would be farther into the flatter area, making stopping easier, and there would be more total stopping distance for traffic on Hector in order to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk.
iv. Pedestrians would be closer to left-turning drivers from Floral onto Hector, facilitating being seen and establishing communication. Pedestrians start crossing during a gap in Hector traffic and State Traffic, just when vehicles start turning from Floral, so this visibility is essential. Even with an all-way stop, this is important.
v. A crosswalk more aligned with the west side of Floral will be more attractive to pedestrians traveling northeast-southwest, i.e. between the north side of State and either Elm or the trail to Chestnut Hill. This is important because the plan has no provision for a safer crossing of State farther east. If pedestrians must add distance by looping northwest to the crosswalk (in the plan as presented), they are apt to continue jay-walking somewhere on the bridge or to the east, a habit this plan is trying to change. Note that moving this crosswalk east will not add distance or inconvenience to pedestrians traveling north-south or northwest-southeast, i.e. crossing between destinations on the south side of the intersections and either the Hector sidewalk or the walkway to Cliff St and Park Rd.
vi. If stop lines are added to the intersection of Hector, State and Floral, those stop lines should be behind the crosswalk. There are many reasons for an all-way stop. Even if stop lines are not included in this project, it does not make sense to create curb cuts and a crosswalk further west which will have to be replaced when the intersection is signalized in the future.
vii. The intersection will be more compact, with a pedestrian-friendly, urban neighborhood feel.
viii. An existing streetlight illuminates the crossing aligned with the west side of Floral. An additional light on the north side of that pole would be even better. The crossing in the plan as presented is in a shadowed area.
4. Crossing of the end of Floral
The crosswalk at the mouth of Floral between Hector and State should be recognized, marked well, and built properly, with ramps and a refuge. There are several reasons:
i. This crosswalk already legally exists: According to NYS V&T law, a crosswalk exists between two adjacent corners of an unsignalized intersection where there are sidewalks, even if the crosswalk is not marked. Legally, pedestrians have the right of way when crossing, and motorists should yield. The City should make this crosswalk safe.
ii. Pedestrians will use this crossing, because it eliminates a detour south across Elm for pedestrians traveling northwest-southeast between the south side of State and either Hector’s sidewalk or the walkway for Cliff Street and Park Road. The project does not include a safe crossing of State farther east. This crosswalk also eliminates a detour south across Elm for pedestrians traveling east-west between the south side of State and the path to Chestnut Hill Apartments.
iii. One element already exists: When the bridge was refurbished in the mid-1990s, before there was any sidewalk on the west side of the intersection, NYSDOT included a ramp for this crosswalk on the east corner of the mouth of Floral, acknowledging and anticipating the need for this crosswalk.
iv. Another element is already planned: The proposed island will serve – intentionally, according to Tim Logue’s writing – as a mid-crossing pedestrian refuge. As such, the island should be in two sections with the crossing in between. Even if the island were not intended as a refuge, it will be used as such, so it should be designed as such. This will also give a more obvious and acceptable purpose to the island, rather than simply being an annoyance to drivers.
v. Adding a ramp on the corner at the west end of the crosswalk is required by the ADA. Now is the time to make this crossing complete and compliant when the western sidewalk is being brought up to standards, and new curbs are being installed.
vi. Currently motorists tend not to yield to pedestrians here, despite being legally required. Marking this crosswalk will help correct motorists’ noncompliance. With all-way stops, conflicts from motorists turning fast from Hector or State would be eliminated, and respect for legally crossing pedestrians here would be more assured.
vii. Crosswalks at intersections should be well-marked and obvious to drivers in order to change their perception of the function of the intersection. This crosswalk will help show that the City is serious about changing the way motorists treat pedestrians in this area.
D. BICYCLE PROVISIONS SHOULD BE INCLUDED
A dismaying omission in the plan as presented is the lack of any provision whatsoever to improve conditions for legal bicycling. Tim Logue had told the BPAC that the goals for the project were flexible enough to include bicycle provisions, and indeed he and Kent Johnson discussed a number of bicycle-friendly options with the BPAC which were in draft plans, but evidently they have all been dropped.
Problems for bicycists include:
1. Many riders are intimidated by the speed of motor traffic, especially when required to merge left on State before turning left onto Floral. All-way stops would slow down traffic on State and make it less intimidating, while also ensuring that riders have a chance to go through the intersection without conflict and without waiting for a long time while exposed in the intersection or holding up traffic.
2. Many riders are reluctant to hold up traffic while climbing Hector, whose narrowest part (24′ for about 120′) is within the project limits where there is a guardrail on the north side. There the curb is 5′ to 6.5′ from the sidewalk, so there is room for the street to be widened. From the top of that guardrail to Fall View Terrace, Hector is about 28′ wide, which could be striped with a climbing bike lane, or could at least be stencilled as a wide shared lane going uphill. Above Fall View Terrace to the City line, Hector widens to over 32′, which is plenty wide enough for a climbing bike lane. The Ithaca Bicycle Plan, which was adopted in 1998 as part of the Long Range Plan, calls for such climbing bicycle facilities along Hector Street, and it calls for bicycle provisions on State within the project limits. A climbing bike lane could also serve pedestrians above #601, just below Vinegar Hill, where the sidewalks ends. This project should help make those bike facilities, either by widening Hector’s short bottleneck enough to make a climbing bike lane or stencilled shared uphill lane, or by marking the bottleneck with sharrows. If every project omits bike facilities because they would only be within the project limits instead of being a complete bikeway, then the City never makes any progress toward accommodating bicycles.
3. Many riders try to avoid the above problems by riding illegally on the sidewalks, where they conflict with pedestrians, especially on the bridge, where there is no room for either party to move aside. Therefore addressing bicycle issues also helps pedestrians. Some riders try to avoid traffic conflicts by riding the wrong way on the street, creating a hazard to legal riders as well as to themselves. An issue to be explored is whether 4 traffic lanes are needed on the bridge. Do there need to be 2 eastbound lanes? Do there need to be 2 westbound lanes? Can there be just 3 traffic lanes on the bridge? Would a center lane which switches halfway between being eastbound and westbound be useful? If there were 3 traffic lanes, the bridge could be re-striped to include bike lanes on either side or a 2-way bike trail on the south side similar to plans for the extra lane on the NYS-96 bridge. On-street room for bikes helps get riders off sidewalks and out of pedestrians’ way.
E. CROSSWALK CONFLICTS REMAIN IN THE PLAN AS PRESENTED
In the plan as presented, all crosswalks conflict with moving vehicles, whose distracted drivers may not see or respect pedestrians. The current situation would remain: Most drivers are not required by a stop sign to stop and look. Turning drivers are distracted by looking for gaps in oncoming traffic, so they are likely to drive suddenly across crosswalks, either not seeing or not respecting pedestrians. Sightlines are too short for the speed traffic crosses the intersections. Pedestrians have difficulty knowing when it is safe to cross. These basic pedestrian safety problems are not yet addressed by the plan. All-way stops would address these issues. Below are analyses of each of twelve conflicts with traffic which pedestrians will still face at crosswalks unless the plan is modified:
1. Crossing Floral at Elm, pedestrians cannot see traffic turning south onto Floral from State because of the bridge railing, adjacent shrubs, and queued northbound traffic at the mouth of Floral. These southbound drivers either sail through their left turn, or they are distracted by rushing through a gap in Hector traffic. The new island in the mouth of Floral will add another distraction. Then they are concentrating on traffic which may turn out of Elm. Yet these southbound drivers are not required to stop and look before traveling through the Floral crosswalk at Elm, which is why pedestrians must try to check for traffic so far in advance. This traffic includes drivers leaving downtown who foresee no more stops on their trip, and drivers who will rejoin NYS-13/34/96 having just avoided 12 traffic lights on the strip. Their mindset must be changed.
2. Crossing Floral at Elm, pedestrians will have trouble seeing traffic turning south onto Floral from Hector because of proposed shrubs and “welcome” signage and, from the east side, as now, because of queued northbound traffic at the mouth of Floral. Similar to the turning drivers from State, above, these drivers will be distracted by the new island and by potential conflicts with turning Elm traffic, but will not be required to stop and look before traveling through this crosswalk. Additionally, the drivers from Hector will not have even paused before turning onto Floral. These drivers have never stopped since getting onto NYS-79, perhaps miles outside the City, and they may view these intersections as part of an Ithaca bypass rather than part of a neighborhood.
3. Crossing Floral at Elm, pedestrians confront northbound traffic which is distracted by potential left-turning Elm traffic. Meanwhile this northbound Floral traffic will have no stop sign to accompany the crosswalk.
4. Crossing Elm, pedestrians face the same sightline issues and rushed, distracted driver issues from motorists turning south from State as outlined above for the crossing of Floral at Elm. Additionally, drivers turning left from State do not have time to put on their right-turn signals before turning onto Elm and driving through the crosswalk. Having them stop at Elm to take their turn will give them time and a reason to use their signal.
5. Crossing Elm, pedestrians face problems from Hector traffic similar to those from traffic from State, and similar to problems as outlined above for Hector traffic versus pedestrians crossing Floral at Elm – blocked sightlines, distracted fast drivers, and unreliable turn signalling. All-way stops are the solution.
6. Crossing Elm, pedestrians conflict with left-turning traffic from Floral which is not required to stop, and whose drivers are distracted by southbound traffic which also has no stop and is hard to see in advance because sightlines are blocked by shrubs, railings, and other traffic. Having everyone stop, look around, and take their turn will make this crossing much safer.
7. Crossing Hector, pedestrians face fast traffic from Hector which neither slows nor stops, often without adequate gaps. These drivers have not stopped since they got on NYS-79, and may still be in a country highway frame of mind, figuring they won’t have to stop until forced to by a queue at NYS-89 or NYS-13/34/96. At times Hector traffic is a long series of vehicles only with gaps which are appropriate as following distance at high speed, but which are too small for a pedestrian to use to cross safely, especially a slow pedestrian, such as an elderly or handicapped person, or a parent with a stroller or small children. Without assured safe gaps, pedestrians are apt to take risks. Drivers are unlikely to stop for a pedestrian because Ithaca’s car culture does not yet acknowledge pedestrians’ right of way, and currently the traffic behind them is unprepared to stop. With an all-way stop, for which all drivers will be prepared and slowed in advance, all kinds of pedestrians will have a prompt, yet flexibly long, opportunity to cross.
8. Crossing Hector, pedestrians face fast traffic from State. Outbound drivers currently consider the last impediment to the open road to be the intersection of State, Seneca, Brindley, and the exit from Pete’s gas, grocery, and liquor store. All the way across the bridge they have been accelerating to climb the hill, not considering even looking for, let alone yielding to pedestrians. If drivers are to respect the intersection of Floral as part of a City neighborhood, and allow pedestrians to cross the street, outbound traffic must be stopped again before leaving town.
9. Crossing Hector, pedestrians face sudden left-turning traffic from Floral. In the plan as presented, as pedestrians take advantage of a large enough gap in Hector traffic and State traffic to cross Hector, so do left-turning drivers out of Floral. As the gaps close, these pedestrians and left-turning drivers will be distracted by and caught between through traffic on Hector and on State, neither of which stops. This formula for disaster can be averted with an all-way stop, so no one is in a such a fearful rush as to sacrifice being careful or considerate.
10. Crossing the mouth of Floral at Hector and State, pedestrians face right-turning Hector traffic which does not stop. With an all-way stop and a properly marked crosswalk, these drivers are far more apt to respect pedestrians and change their view of the intersection. Nothing blocks sightlines.
11. Crossing the mouth of Floral at Hector and State, pedestrians encounter left-turning State traffic which only stops for Hector traffic (which may block the view of pedestrians), then rushes through a gap. Drivers turning left from State are looking up and to the right at Hector’s traffic, not looking left for pedestrians. With an all-way stop, State traffic will not be distracted or rushing, and drivers and pedestrians will have a clear view of each other, with drivers watching the intersection instead of distant gaps in traffic, so pedestrians can cross safely.
12. Crossing the mouth of Floral at Hector and State, pedestrians encounter right-turning Floral traffic, which is supposed to stop, but currently concentrates solely on Hector traffic, and, when there is a gap, may not look right or actually stop. If a driver is already waiting to turn left from Floral, right-turning drivers may pull up alongside, blocking sightlines with pedestrians. With an all-way stop, drivers will be less distracted and competitive, there will be no need for separate lines of left- and right-turning vehicles from Floral, and drivers are more apt to see and respect pedestrians.
F. TRAFFIC CONFLICTS REMAIN IN THE PLAN AS PRESENTED
None of the current traffic conflicts is solved. Although Tim Logue presented the plan as a pedestrian plan, not a traffic plan, these conflicts distract drivers from seeing and respecting pedestrians, so they need to be addressed if the plan is to be effective for pedestrians. The points in this section have been made from the pedestrians’ view above, but they show how complex and dysfunctional these intersections are. No wonder pedestrians are intimidated here. Yet the eleven issues below can all be addressed by the same all-way stops which serve crossing pedestrians.
1. Hector through-traffic is fast, does not stop, and often has inadequate gaps for cross traffic. Gaps in Hector traffic are hard to judge because they may be closing if later traffic is faster. Hector traffic has not had to stop since it got onto NYS 79, possibly miles away in the countryside, and its drivers do not plan to stop until forced to do so by traffic lights at NYS 89 or NYS 13/34/96 or by a queue of cars blocking the way. Having no obligation to stop sooner, drivers down Hector are apt to view the intersection at Floral as someone else’s problem, not as part of a neighborhood with important crossing points for local residents.
2. Hector right-turning traffic onto Floral does not stop, and because there is no conflicting traffic to which it must yield, it may not even signal. It slows down only as much as necessary to make the turn. These drivers are apt to view the intersection as “NYS-79 to NYS-13A, a bypass around Ithaca,” rather than as “Hector Street and Floral Avenue, two residential streets where pedestrians must cross in an Ithaca neighborhood.”
3. State through-traffic is fast, does not stop, and cannot be seen well from the south to judge gaps, because sightlines are blocked by bridge railings, vegetation, and left-turning State traffic. Since they have no stop, the intersection of Floral is of no consequence to these drivers. It is already “out-of-town,” not viewed as part of a neighborhood where residents have the right of way when they cross the street.
4. State left-turning traffic onto Floral awaits a gap in Hector traffic, then rushes through. Left-turning drivers who arrive during a gap in Hector traffic only slow down enough to make the turn, and cannot be seen in advance from Floral or Elm because of bridge railings and vegetation. Vehicles waiting to turn left may also be hidden because there is no stop line, and where traffic waits varies. Drivers may also try to time their arrival to coincide with a gap in Hector traffic so as to make a fast turn without stopping. In each case turning drivers’ attention is up and to the right at gaps in descending Hector traffic, not to the left at Floral or pedestrians. The proposed island in the mouth of Floral, by requiring a wider turn, will necessitate longer gaps in Hector traffic for left-turning State traffic, which must make a more precise and awkward maneuver, while it will further distract the left-turning drivers, especially if they hit the island.
5. Floral right-turning traffic onto State must await a gap in Hector traffic, then rush through.
6. Floral left-turning traffic onto Hector must await simultaneous gaps in hard-to-judge Hector through-traffic, hard-to-see State through-traffic, and left-turning State traffic (which competes for the same gaps in Hector through-traffic), then rush through.
7. Floral left-turning traffic onto Hector, because it typically waits longer than right-turning traffic, either creates a longer queue on Floral’s single northbound lane, or it blocks sightlines for right-turning Floral traffic which tries to slip past on the right although there is no separate lane. The width of the mouth of northbound Floral will be lessened and restricted by the proposed island.
8. Queues on Floral often block the intersection of Elm, obstruct sightlines between pedestrians crossing Floral at Elm and traffic from the north, or block the crosswalk across Floral on the south side of Elm.
9. Floral left-turning traffic onto Elm has sightlines to State left-turning traffic onto Floral blocked by bridge railings and vegetation, and typically also by a queue of Floral traffic waiting to turn onto State or Hector. Floral left-turning traffic onto Elm may have sightlines to Hector right-turning traffic onto Floral blocked by new shrubs and a “welcome” sign. Southbound Floral traffic from both of these sources will not stop before turning onto Floral nor when it reaches Elm, this traffic will be distracted by the new island, and it will not have time to signal its intentions at Elm.
10. Elm left-turning traffic onto Floral must either await a gap in northbound Floral traffic, or be lucky enough to be granted a gap by a driver already in the northbound Floral queue. Meanwhile the left-turning Elm traffic must get simultaneous gaps in left-turning State traffic, which can’t reliably be seen in advance, and right-turning Hector traffic, which will be harder to see behind the proposed new shrubs and “welcome” sign. Neither southbound traffic stream will stop or yield or likely take time to signal their intentions at Elm.
11. Elm right-turning traffic has all of the problems from southbound Floral traffic from Hector and from State listed above for Elm left-turning traffic. Elm right-turning vehicles with a large turning radius may also need a gap in northbound Floral traffic in order to make the very sharp turn.