Amidst controversy, the Department of Transportation held a meeting Tuesday night to discuss the current plans for the South Plain Street Bridge, the first step in the City’s six-point traffic plan.
Representatives from the Department of Public Works and from McFarland-Johnson, the architecture firm hired to build the bridge that will connect South and North Titus Streets, presented the plans to a gathering of approximately 30 Ithaca residents.
“The firm presented three options on three designs. From previous meetings, we came up with about eleven pages of comments and concerns. We made a selection from the schematics, and we tried to incorporate those comments into the design,” said Bill Gray, superintendent of Public Works.
Both Gray and Sam Baki, a representative from McFarland-Johnson, said that the design of the bridge was “straightforward and simple” but that there were surrounding issues that make the situation more complicated.
“The goal here is to come up with a plan that is safe. The site itself features some constraints. First of all, the area is in a flood plain. The other issue is the closeness of the southern intersection to the bridge. We had to raise the profile of the bridge upward to avoid creating a flood,” Baki said.
As one resident pointed out, the flood plane is a very real concern for the area.
“I’m a 52-year resident, and I live about four doors from the bridge. The bridge has acted like a dam at least three times in that time,” Lyle Neigh said.
“This bridge will be slightly higher than the existing bridge,” Gray responded.
The proposed upward gradation caused concern for many residents until Gray pointed out that the South Plain Street Bridge “would look nothing like the South Albany Street Bridge,” which has a very steep incline, making it difficult for cyclists and pedestrians to navigate.
“The center of this bridge is approximately the same height as the Albany Street Bridge, but it will happen much more gradually,” Gray said.
The very existence of the bridge was also a concern for some residents.
“Some of us feel that we were never asked whether we wanted this bridge. Maybe we just don’t want it, and we were not consulted,” said Susan Weitz, a resident of the area.
However, Gray was quick to shut such debate down.
“There are much broader community issues related to the six-point plan, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss tonight,” he said.
Other residents were also concerned about whether the intersections coming off the bridge would have traffic lights or stop signs. The City plans for the bridge to have a 20 mph speed limit, but residents raised concerns about which system, lights or signs, would persuade drivers to drive slowly.
“We had intended to do this with stop signs. But traffic signals provide a safer condition for pedestrians and cyclists. Stop lights sometimes don’t actually get people to stop,” Gray explained.
Residents, however, objected to that idea.
“None of these traffic signals work if people don’t use them. That’s a people problem, not a traffic problem,” Neigh said.
Baki added, “I stood at the current intersection for about three days about a month ago, and I counted at least eight or nine violations of people not stopping at the stop sign.”
However, residents did say they were happy with the design of the bridge itself.
“I would like to compliment the group on the design, and it seems you really did incorporate the comments from the last few meetings,” one resident told Baki.
Archived article by Freda Ready