As Ithaca saw its first snowfall of the season last week, students with cars on campus expressed safety concerns regarding driving in the winter, such as difficulty with outdoor parking and snow and ice accumulation on roads and their cars.
With Ithaca’s heavy snowfall, below-freezing temperatures and steep hills, many students face difficulties driving around campus and the surrounding area in the winter. Several students cited the hills as a major cause for concern, saying that steep roads become more treacherous to drive when covered in ice and snow.
“My car only has front wheel drive and has already shown struggles on the hills when the roads are wet, so I can only imagine how bad it will be when the roads are icy,” said Emma Bourgeois ’25, who first navigated driving in Ithaca winters during the spring 2022 semester.
Alan Liu ’24, who has had his car on campus for a year, also pointed to ice as the main concern, noting the extra challenges of the uneven roads around Ithaca.
“My main concern is damaging my car due to slipping on ice,” Liu said. “Ithaca is very uneven, and there are lots of low points in roads that can have water collect there and freeze over.”
Snow removal is also a point of worry for some students. Ethan Abbate ’24, whose off-campus housing requires him to park on the street, expressed concern that snow banks would accumulate around his car after snowplows had cleared Collegetown roads.
Students mentioned outdoor parking as an inconvenience in the winter, concerned that their cars would be less accessible in cold-weather conditions. Amy Li ’24 lives 15 minutes away from the off-campus lot where she parks her car and said she hopes she will be able to walk there safely this winter.
“My house, we don’t have a parking lot, and the street parking is always full,” Li said. “I’m concerned about whether the streets will be plowed, and if the roads will be safe enough to walk to my car.”
Both Cornell and the City of Ithaca maintain the roads and sidewalks in the winter, which includes spreading salt to prevent ice accumulation and plowing after heavy snowfall.
The document detailing the City’s snowplowing protocol states that there are multiple variables associated with clearing snow, such as temperature and accumulation of ice and snow, that prevent the City from following a snowplowing schedule. Instead, they prioritize clearing travel lanes on high-volume roads and steep roads, with residential streets being plowed last.
Abbate and Li expressed gratitude for the University’s and the City’s maintenance of roads in the winter.
“I think, because Ithaca is very used to snow, that they’re prepared,” Li said. “Generally, it isn’t icy — the sidewalks aren’t icy, especially the ones I’ve been on, on campus. They plow the main roads, and they’re salted.”
Liu also appreciated the City’s salting roads, though he added that this process can sometimes damage the pavement, increasing the hazards associated with driving.
“They do a pretty bad job of mitigating damage from potholes caused by salting, and by the time they fix the roads late next fall, snow has already begun to fall and the process repeats without end,” Liu said. “I believe more rapid responses to road damage would help all drivers.”
In addition to Cornell’s salt and snow clearing efforts, some students said that the University could expand parking to improve winter safety. Salma Hazimeh ’24, who lives and parks her car on West Campus, expressed concern that parking restrictions would make her car less accessible this winter.
“Despite having a Cornell parking permit, it’s impossible to find spots on campus to park. Because of this, I’ve had a lot of trouble storing my car,” Hazimeh said. “Something [Cornell] could do better is to lessen campus parking restrictions and expand parking options, since snowy conditions might make storing and driving a car more difficult.”
Hazimeh also noted that the costs of receiving tickets for parking in the wrong lot are difficult to bear, especially on top of paying for a student parking pass. Liu agreed that the University should reduce the price for parking.
“The lots should be made more affordable,” Liu said. “A Cornell parking ticket is $35 and the typical spot is around $700 [for the year]. It shouldn’t be the case that a student can take 20 tickets before a spot becomes financially worthwhile.”
Bourgeois also expressed frustration at the lack of parking on campus, adding that the volume of drivers on campus might increase during the winter.
“In the winter time, especially, everyone is trying to drive to class instead of walk when they don’t have access to bus passes,” Bourgeois said. “I’ve noticed a decrease in the amount of ParkMobile sites on campus, as well as increased pricing for the few spots that are available.”
However, Bourgeois appreciates the action that the University and City take to keep roads safe, acknowledging the difficulties that Ithaca’s climate poses.
“It definitely helps that Cornell and the local area salt and sand the roads and plow rather urgently,” Bourgeois said. “But, it does not solve all the issues with the amount of ice and snow we get, because that’s just Ithaca for you.”