October 17, 2011

Compromising on the Bridge Barriers

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The City of Ithaca and Cornell’s decision to install nets underneath area bridges is the right compromise. The nets solution alleviates concerns — which were not unjustified — that the vertical barriers would hinder the campus’ and surrounding areas’ natural landscape, but still ensures the safety of individuals.

There is no question that the University and City should install permanent means restriction barriers on their bridges. Despite all of the discussion over cost and aesthetics, this is a safety issue first and foremost. It is a debate over how to save lives. Just over 18 months ago, students and local residents alike witnessed terrible tragedy. Three students –– a junior, a sophomore and a freshman –– died too young. This was not only devastating because of the individual lives that were lost; it also cast a dark shadow across the entire Cornell community and the City.

This is not just a campus issue, but a community one. Tragedies like these affect everyone — both on campus and in the city. If the nets can help prevent such deaths, then there is no justifiable reason for either side to oppose the initiative.The nets will also help allay any issues over negative aesthetic impact. Initial objections to the project on these grounds were understandable. The gorges provide Cornell and Ithaca with much of their distinctive natural beauty, and obscuring that landscape is detrimental to the area’s value. The nets, however — which will only be minimally visible from the bridges — will largely preserve these views. Though it took some time to negotiate the details, it is commendable that both sides did what was needed to come to an agreement on such an important issue. The biggest impediment in the end was who would be responsible for the maintenance and insurance costs of the nets. Cornell’s agreement to fund both was a necessary step to move the process forward, and it demonstrated the University’s commitment to constructing permanent bridge barriers to ensure student safety. The initiative exhibited campus and City officials’ ability to work together and compromise on an issue in the interest of the entire community. Both should continue to see each other as partners and seek common ground through collaboration on mutual goals.