Going Against the Way of the Jay – Is Ithaca the Walkable City it Claims to Be?

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It’s Tuesday July 19th, 2016 and the thoughts of Ithacans are melting away with the stagnant heat of summer, dreaming of the weekend to come with the  Grassroots Festival and undoubtedly, trips to bodies of sparkling cool water. At 3:56pm, the Ithaca Police Department issued a media release on Facebook that surprised many,

After 21 shares and a litany of complaints and comments (see comments in the above link), the IPD changed their intent,

Then just two days later on July 21, the IPD issued it’s final announcement on the topic, 

Does “America’s Most Walkable College Town” have a pedestrian problem?

Are “jaywalkers” more of a threat to public safety automobile violations? Or, as the Center for Disease Control suggests, are pedestrians the most vulnerable users of roads?

Jaywalking is when a person crosses a street at a place along the street other than the designated intersection, only if that intersection has traffic controls. If the street has no controls then it is legal to cross the street at any point so long as the pedestrian does not impede traffic. Interestingly, it seems that the term “jaywalker” emerged after the term “jaydriver”, which originated in Junction City, Kansas in 1905 to describe horse-driven carriages on the wrong side of the road. Why has the word jaywalking remained, while jaydriving left in obscurity?

In an email correspondence to IPD Public Information Officer, Jamie Williamson, Dave Nutter of the Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Council wondered, 

“Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m guessing that some of that round-the-clock zero tolerance in the notice you sent might impact these folks even when there is very little traffic, and that didn’t seem right to me. Then there are the working-class folks who live and walk along Hector Street and Cliff Street, which each have only one sidewalk. Was the plan to have zero tolerance for people jay-walking between the sidewalk and their houses on the opposite side? That also doesn’t seem right. What about the folks who go running in streets which have sidewalks? That’s illegal, I believe. Were they going to get zero tolerance? What about folks with money to spend, or jobs, or appointments to go to downtown? When they park on one side of the street then cross mid-block to get to their destination or simply use the parking pay machine, were they going to get zero tolerance? I don’t know who IPD intends to ticket or how this sudden program is supposed to work”

In addition to jaywalking laws, New York State has legal language for those driving:

Section 1146. Drivers to exercise due care. (a) Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law to the contrary, every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any bicyclist, pedestrian or domestic animal upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary.” (underscore added for emphasis)

Why did the IPD launch a “zero tolerance” campaign targeting pedestrian violations, without an equal vigilance on motor vehicle infractions even though according to the Ithaca-Tompkins County Traffic Council’s traffic accident report (pg 38), the City of Ithaca has the top 8 most dangerous intersections for pedestrians in the county.

So besides issuing tickets, what is Ithaca doing to address transportation safety for all?

For one, you may have noticed lots of new painting of intersections, including the more visible “ladder-striped” ones at the busier intersections.

A freshly painted cross-walk with ladder-stripes
A freshly painted cross-walk with ladder-stripes

Additionally, Mayor Svante Myrick has enrolled Ithaca along with over 200 other cities to be part of the US Department of Transportation’s Mayor’s Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets, with a goal of designing our roadways to be “Complete Streets”, which make it safe and convenient for people of all ages and abilities to reach their destination whether by car, train, bike, or foot.

An example of a Complete Street in Houston, TX
An example of a Complete Street in Houston, TX

Sharing roads with designated places for each mode is becoming the way of the future of mobility in cities. Specific and separated lanes for people walking, biking, taking transit, and driving creates predictability and moves individuals efficiently while increasing safety for all. It seems that as more and more cities build protected bike lanes, not only do people riding bicycles feel safer and encouraged to ride more, people driving also benefit. This is helping to end the “War on Cars” mentality that has divided urban communities in the US for the past 40 years.

Here at SmartTrips we feel that smart trips are safe trips. Make sure you stay visible and aware while traveling and always obey all traffic laws.

To help steer the direction of transportation issues in Ithaca consider getting involved in local initiatives that interest you the most. Attending Common Council meetings is a great way to talk with your Ward representatives. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council works on recommendations to City officials about issues aimed at solutions for walking and biking throughout the city.

For questions and concerns about traffic laws, contact IPD Public Information Officer Jamie Williamson at JWilliamson@cityofithaca.org, or call (607) 272-3245

For pedestrian and/or bicycle advocacy and information contact Chair of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council, David West at West.David.J@gmail.com or Director of Bike Walk Tompkins, Victoria Armstrong at varmstrong2424@gmail.com

Pedestrian safety information:




More about Complete Streets: