Ithaca Builds

Mapping, photos and information for Ithaca construction and development projects

Traffic Signals, Signage, Curb Ramps & Marking Upgrades for Five Downtown Intersections

March 21, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

The City of Ithaca has released a bid request for the replacement of five traffic signals, including the installation of new mast arm traffic signals and appurtenances, new sidewalk curb ramps and connections to existing sidewalks, intersection pavement milling and resurfacing, and new pavement markings. The bidding has officially opened this week, and bids will be accepted until April 9th, then read aloud at the Board of Public Works Meeting (probably the 14th). Once the contract is awarded, and notice is given to proceed, the full scope of work must be completed within 85 days, so the target completion will probably land in this summer, perhaps July or August.

Images from the plans along with maps embedded below:


Aurora Street and East State Street Intersection:



Cayuga Street and West State Street Intersection:



North Aurora Street and East Court Street Intersection:



North Cayuga Street and Court Street Intersection:



North Tioga Street and East Court Street Intersection:



Revised Purity Project- Correction: Fails Supermajority Straw Vote, But Special Meeting Wednesday

November 27, 2013 // by Jason Henderson

This one came as a surprise- the revised Purity project has been voted down. Correction: There was a straw vote 4-1, but the project requires a supermajority of 5 due to the County’s concerns on the parking lot, referencing the West End Urban Design Plan (the County can issue a letter to force a supermajority vote under GML 238-m, Number 5). There will be a special meeting next Wednesday to vote. My thanks to Govind for the correction.

I think in these situations, it’s important to seek to understand where people are coming from on both sides. In a model world, planning is a craft that endeavors to determine what best to do with land for the benefit of the local residents, and developers take financial risks in order to seek the reward for building improvements on private property. These goals are commonly at odds.

In this case, the vicinity of the proposed expansion lot is housing, and neighbors have expressed their interest in keeping the land free from use as a parking lot for concerns of noise and disruption that parking lots tend to bring to an area. I think it’s a valid point, although I do think concerns of that nature can commonly be overstated. Another consideration can be made from a planner’s perspective: I think most planners would desire a building there (the parcel is zoned West End Zone 1b).

The proposed lot was approved in the original plan for the apartment tower, which seems like a trade-off consideration: tolerate undesirable parking for new desirable housing units. This can be confusing though- if the proposed parking is not outweighed by the benefits of this revised project, then at what point is it? An outsider would have to logically assume that somewhere between the apartment tower and this revised project, there’s a break-even juncture on the social utility curve.

Developers and builders can be put off by uncertainty; there’s an associated cost for lack of information, and especially, uncertain permission.

Land use regulation should seek reform to alleviate this disconnect. The development process would be more desirable given a code that says plainly “this is what you can build, no meetings if you build it” rather than what we have now: “this is what you can’t build, and any site change must be approved in a public meeting.” In addition to the outdated code, some if it disincentivizes the very things we want most as a small city.

The objective of code models like SmartCode is exactly that: zone form-based building districts that mimic the order of nature, and perhaps just as important, provide a zoning document that is genuinely clear. Buffalo’s GreenCode effort will culminate in a new form-based code in Buffalo, NY. There was also a recent demonstration study done by Randall + West and Noah Demarest of Stream Collaborative for an area of land in the City and Town of Ithaca.

Of course, nothing changes overnight, but a better code and a better process would help to avoid future situations like these. Development is an investment, so if the costs of uncertainty are too high, and the process too frustrating, the finances for development may turn to a different investment to seek a return. In this instance, it seems sad that the plans for an overhauled building may be decided by another parking drama.


2010 AADT (Annual Average Daily Traffic) for Ithaca, about 32,000 vehicles a day pass by Purity:



Original approved proposal for 24 apartment unit tower and two additional parking lots for Purity and apartment residents:

Purity Render



Revised proposal that is being considered, which included overhaul of the existing building, new office on the second floor with a terrace, and one additional parking lot at the corner of Cascadilla and Meadow Streets:




Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s recent expansion, at the corner of Fulton and Cascadilla, a block down the street from Purity. It’s zoned West End Zone-1a, which allows parking as of right.


State & Mitchell: Light Poles Installed, Lights to Come

November 26, 2013 // by Jason Henderson

The State & Mitchell Intersection now has poles installed for the future traffic lights at this crossroad of over 17,000 vehicles per day. The temporary all-way stop has generated some backed-up traffic for the past few months, especially during rush hours, but it looks as if the lights will be installed within a month.


Ithaca’s Walkability

November 17, 2013 // by Jason Henderson



As Ithacans are well aware, one of the key advantages to living in Ithaca is its walkability. Proximity to groceries, pharmacy, work, etc. make downtown a convenient place to live, and one of the most common tools to measure this metric is the Walk Score® algorithm. Walk Score® uses several geographic data sources (primarily Google Maps/Places) to feed a formula that determines Walk Score ranking from 0 to 100 (0 being least walkable, 100 being most walkable). The more amenities within the immediate area (.25 mile radius accounting for street geography and various obstacles), the higher the Walk Score ranking. Although I couldn’t get the raw data from Walk Score®, I was able to get a heat map for Ithaca showing the walkability, and the average Walk Score ranking for the City of Ithaca’s roughly 30,000 inhabitants. Here’s how we compare with the major US cities with high Walk Score rankings:

From Walk Score’s Most Walkable Cities in the US

#1 New York with an 87.6
#2 San Francisco with an 83.9
#3 Boston with a 79.5
#4 Philadelphia with a 76.5
#5 Miami with a 75.6

Commuting-mode to work is also a very important metric. As shown in the chart below, based on the 2006-2010 American Community Survey, the City of Ithaca boasts a 41% share of walking to work (charts from the Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council). Tompkins County as a whole has a very high walking ratio compared to the rest of the nation, as noted in a New York Times article a couple years ago- 15.1% of Tompkins County commuters walk to work, compared with a national average of 3.5%. On average nationwide, walking, cycling, and public transportation are vastly overshadowed by the private automobile.


Cayuga Waterfront Trail Phase Two Pathway Photos

October 19, 2013 // by Jason Henderson

Here are some photos along the pathway of the future trail to connect the Cass Park loop with the trail meeting the Ithaca Farmer’s Market. Besides the two bridges to be built across the inlet alongside Route 96, the path will go from the north alongside the end of 3rd Street, around Cornell’s Collyer boathouse and Ithaca College’s new (2010) Tallman boathouse, alongside the western shore before the inlet (around Cayuga Lake Cruises, Instant Printing, Enterprise), then west along Route 96.
The inlet portion of Route 96 seems to have plenty of space, and the trailhead sign and map are already located in a small park on the western side. The plan documents are here in a previous post.





State & Mitchell Utility & Prep-work for Traffic Light Poles

October 3, 2013 // by Jason Henderson

The State and Mitchell intersection light pole concrete bases have been set, poured, and anchor plates are in, as well as what looks like the utility service to each future traffic light. Traffic up there has been Stop All Way since the new curbing work began, so I bet there will be a sigh of relief from many commuters once the lights are up.



Lake Street Bridge Work Planned, Old Elmira Road Delayed

September 18, 2013 // by Jason Henderson

The City of Ithaca has announced a $1.464 million capital project to replace the deck and refurbish the structure of the Lake Street Bridge (the first bridge after Ithaca Falls, behind the high school) with an 80% reimbursement from the Federal Highway Administration, and a 15% reimbursement from the NYS Department of Transportation.

In other civic news, the primary work for the Old Elmira Road complete street project has been delayed until next year.


Thoughts on Parking and Minimum Parking Requirements

September 3, 2013 // by Jason Henderson


There’s been a lot of discussion generated on minimum parking requirements for new developments in Ithaca, and I thought I’d throw in my two cents.

Firstly, to define: minimum parking requirements are rules that determine how many parking spaces must be supplied on a proposed development based on various features of the proposal (number of planned dwelling units, square footage of planned office space, etc., Central Business District not included).

Given that the City of Ithaca now has a parking director, and the Board of Public Works has announced their support of abolition, my hope is that a discussion on minimum parking requirements for new development resurfaces once the new director has established a “current state of affairs” and a sound plan of action for parking managed by the City.

The social, economic, and physical implications are well studied, and I recommend turning to this short and excellent video of Cornell’s Michael Manville (link courtesy of Daniel Keough) for a brief overview of what has been identified in modern studies:



A philosophical basis for arguing in favor of abolition has roots in the inequity of placing the burden of provision on the private sphere, specifically, new building developments. Just about everywhere in the US, municipalities have decided that parking should be built municipally and provided at a cost to willing consumers, and thus we have municipal garages, metered street parking, and of course, “free” parking, which is parking that carries a public and social cost, but is free to the consumer. One could argue that public entities shouldn’t be in the business of providing parking at all, and furthermore, that car owners should establish their own private arrangements for vehicle storage, but in this case, that’s beside the point.

Any planning rule, especially minimum provisions, imply an enforced sponsorship upon the developer/owner of the good that must be supplied on the development parcel. Minimum parking requirements create one of the most extreme situations, because it involves the mandated supply of a good that generally takes up a lot of land space, making the opportunity cost high, and in addition, parking itself is not a very productive use of space. In turn, the owner must shift this burden onto the consumers of the building space, whether they are apartment tenants, office, or retail tenants.

The enforcement of this burden works a lot like a tax. Let’s use a new apartment development as an example: the development will charge higher rents because a burden of supplying parking has been put on them (and oddly enough, the building itself was contingent on whether or not it could supply the required parking). In turn, a portion of rent from apartment renters can be attributed to this burden.

Apartment renters in this example are sponsoring the cost of vehicle ownership regardless of whether they own a vehicle or not, and in addition, are sponsoring the automobile ownership of existing drivers in the area. Ideally, those that decide to own a car should pay for the full cost of that ownership and usage. These rules enforce a “me first” policy for existing drivers, whom are commonly the political constituents of those in office with the power to make change.

There seems to be an American (especially young, urban) trend against automobile-use in general, and there are countless other reasons as to why that is, but in this case, it’s quite clear that the argument in favor of the abolition of these sorts of rules is rooted in sound logic of fairness.

Of course, if minimums were done away with, then you get parking spillover into areas with “free” parking, or un-metered street parking. In this case, as mentioned in the video, the remedy is to price parking. “Free” parking is not economically free. Taxpayers right now are paying for the space regardless, and it would be a fairer and more efficient policy to price parking provided by a municipality. Parking benefit districts, restrictions, and permitting are all logical and efficient policies that should be utilized in favor of minimum parking requirements.

San Francisco’s SFPark is one example of this sort of policy, aimed at using demand-driven information to establish pricing. This sort of system is probably out of reach for Ithaca for quite some time, but given the small size of Ithaca, it probably wouldn’t take long to figure out what pricing would be appropriate, and what permitting system would work best for everyone.

As for new developments, it’s not hard to imagine that developers tend to have a good understanding of what parking demand they will see in their proposed developments, so if there is demand for parking on-site, it will be planned to meet that demand (with the consideration of opportunity cost), and will come with a price, as it should.

State & Mitchell Intersection Begins Work

August 22, 2013 // by Jason Henderson

Apologies for the spectacularly bad photos here, however, the State and Mitchell Intersection has begun work, as the Ithaca Journal noted a few days ago. Just in time for students coming back, so hopefully the traffic flow will be well-directed.


State & Mitchell Intersection: Final Design

August 14, 2013 // by Jason Henderson


Here’s the final design for construction documents for the State & Mitchell intersection. This will surely be a major transit enhancement for this area, and I hope to continue to see more civic transportation projects that account for pedestrian and cyclist safety (noting the recent cyclist fatality on Warren Road). Ithacans tend to walk, bike or ride public transit to work at drastically higher rates than the State and US averages, so taxpayers should expect to see their money spent on projects that benefit their transit choices, especially since these transit options are less polluting and resource-intensive.
The bids for this project were due-in back on July 3rd, so we should probably be hearing some news on timing soon.