November 30, 2011

City Officials Consider Bridge Barrier Plan

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The University’s revised bridge barrier proposal includes two new safety features — thermal detectors and security cameras — that Cornell administrators say will improve safety precautions and assist in maintaining the proposed nets under bridges on and near campus.

The new cameras and thermal detectors were mentioned at a Nov. 22 meeting of the Ithaca Planning and Development board — one of several recent meetings aimed at moving forward with the University’s means restriction project. New images of the proposed net systems were given to the planning board in late October.

The Common Council met Wednesday night to discuss the University’s proposal, which was submitted in May.

According to University Architect Gilbert Delgado, the security cameras — which will be installed on new and existing Bluelight phone poles near the bridges — will be used to “document malicious actions toward the nets” and protect the property surrounding the nets.

“There was concern that people would be dropping things into the nets … we want to mitigate those problems,” Delgado said in an interview with The Sun.

Delgado said that, after exploring various options to notify rescuers automatically when a body or animal lands in the net, Cornell officials decided to propose infrared head sensors.

“Someone may be in the net that no one saw go down and the heat sensors will pick up on a person’s or animals’s body heat and notify first responders,” Delgado said.

John Schroeder, chair of the Ithaca Planning and Development Board, said that the board found the environmental and aesthetic impact of the thermal detectors and security cameras to be negligible.

“While the cameras and sensors were reasonable accommodations for the University’s safety concerns, you won’t see [them] at all,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder added that many city officials believe the barrier proposal has improved significantly since the University first submitted designs for barriers. On Nov. 22, the Planning Board unanimously passed a “negative declaration of environmental significance” for the nets, a significant first step toward approving the plan.

The previous version of the barriers also included vertical fencing at the abutments — where the bridge meets the side of the gorge — which was visually obstructive, according to Associate University Architect Andrew Magré ’91.

“The focus of these refinements was reducing as much vertical fencing at the abutments as possible,” Magré said in October. “[The changes include] moving the means restriction down below the deck level of the bridges to protect the abutments in strategic areas so as not to block views.”

The majority of the fences will be installed beneath the rim of the gorge, where they will not be visible from the bridge.

At Wednesday’s special Common Council meeting, council members sought to address a set of different concerns — the responsibility of  installation and maintenance of the new nets.

“[We] have been working to come up with a draft agreement that reflects what Cornell is seeking and tries to incorporate concerns of the city,” said Dan Hoffman ’71, the city attorney. “What we have come up is the best document that reflects those intentions and concerns.”

According to an agreement presented at the meeting,  the University intends to pursue site plan review approval on seven bridges and construct the means restriction net systems without charging the city. The document also states that the the maintenance, repair and other obligations of operation and ownership of the net systems will not cost the city over the 10 year period of the agreement.

The Common Council will vote on the agreement on Dec. 7.

Original Author: Liz Camuti