February 6, 2014

GUEST ROOM | East Avenue Closure: A Problem of University Transparency

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Winter break traditionally holds a place in the college experience as a respite from the annoyances associated with attending a pressure cooker of an institution like Cornell. The month to month-and-a-half long stretch of freedom pleasantly punctuates the rigor of the academic year with a few much-needed weeks of relaxation. During one of my lazy afternoons on Facebook this past winter break, I happened upon an article that had been shared a number of times by my friends. The article, from the Cornell Chronicle, was headlined “East Avenue to Close to Through Traffic Jan. 8.”

My initial interpretation of the article’s headline was that East Avenue would be closed until January 8, 2014. I thought, therefore, that most Cornellians would not be affected. So I couldn’t understand why my friends had posted such inflammatory comments about the article on Facebook: I decided that more investigation was needed.

The University’s poor communication of East Avenue’s closure underscores a greater problem between administration and the student body: transparency.

According to the article, “from Jan. 8, 2014 to April 19, 2015, East Avenue will be closed to through traffic from West Avenue to Tower Road due to the construction of Klarman Hall.”

Yes, you read that correctly. As I’m sure most of you have observed by now, East Avenue is closed for a year and a half. Well, the road is open to pedestrians, buses, emergency vehicles and bicycles, but any other vehicular traffic is subject to ticketing by Cornell Police.

Personally, as an English major, I am a huge advocate for Klarman Hall, which is the first building for the humanities to be constructed at Cornell in more than 100 years. I believe that creating a central meeting place for students and faculty and adding more workplaces and classrooms for staff are much-needed additions to the perpetually-under-construction Cornell campus. However, I question the need to close an essential artery of Central Campus for such a long period of time. Although I am by no means an engineer of any kind, I believe that some sort of solution could have been devised in order to avoid the inconvenience created by the closure.

Ultimately, the shutdown of East Avenue is little more than a minor annoyance. In the grand scheme of things, the five-minute driving detour through West Avenue to your destination is not the most difficult or trying thing that most of you will experience during a typical Cornell week or even a typical day. The largest problem with the closure of this major road, as I see it, was the way in which the University communicated the news to the student body.

I can’t imagine that a closure of such magnitude was not planned for several months before it began. The earliest notification of the closure I can find is a press release on the University’s Special Conditions Information webpage, posted on December 13, 2013.

However, I can’t help but doubt the efficacy of disseminating important University information through a webpage that is also used to notify students about a “significant reduction in steam service to campus.” (That was posted on January 29, 2014, if you’re interested.) Furthermore, the timing of the announcement fell in line with the middle of finals for most students. It seems to me like the timing of the announcement was calculated to discourage any criticism of the construction.

The University’s poor communication of East Avenue’s closure underscores a greater problem between administration and the student body: transparency. Had the University notified us of the shutdown several months before it began and given a brief justification of its necessity, I’m sure that most students wouldn’t have had a problem with it.

For the most part, it seems like most Cornellians have accepted the closure as a necessary side effect of an ever-improving campus –– in the same vein as being unable to use the sidewalk in front of Myron Taylor Hall for a year during the recent Cornell Law School renovation. As was the case with Myron Taylor Hall construction, people will adjust. They will drive on West Avenue –– granted, complaining the whole way. But our days won’t change in any significant way. That being said, I encourage the University to improve its communication efforts for similar construction endeavors in the future.