City of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick sparked a discussion of nearly a thousand Facebook comments this week with a seemingly simple question, “Should we allow dogs on the Commons?”
Dogs aren’t allowed on the Ithaca Commons, but you wouldn’t know it from an average day in Downtown Ithaca. People stroll onto the pedestrian plaza with their dogs all the time, either not knowing or not caring about the ban.
There are exceptions — people who live or work on the Commons can get permission to walk their dog to and from their home or workplace. Of course, service animals are always allowed. And the SPCA gets permission each year to bring dogs to Hot Dog Day at Lou’s cart.
But for responsible dog owners who obey the rules, it can be frustrating to see others flouting them when you’d like to bring your own well-behaved pup out to relax on a nice day. Some say it’s time to remove the ban or enforce it.
No surprise, the Mayor’s unofficial poll on Facebook sparked a lot of strong opinions. As of 8am Friday, a data analysis by 14850 Magazine founder and Ithaca College Professor Ari Kissiloff showed the responses that had a clear yes-or-no bent were 75% in favor and 25% against allowing dogs.
“I don’t even like most dogs,” said Common Council alderperson Ducson Nguyen on the Mayor’s Facebook post. “But it’s time to lift the ban.”
Ducson tells us the question came up at a City Administration meeting on Wednesday night, where two Ithaca Police Department officers who work on the Commons “reported about their experiences and professed their preference that the ban be lifted.” He says it will be discussed further at next month’s City Administration meeting, and “I plan on pushing for lifting the ban.”
“That sentiment is not shared by all,” he admits. “Discussion of better signage and enforcement will surely come up, too.”
The Mayor had asked exactly the same question on Facebook a little over two years ago, with similar results. Lots of yes, some no, and some reasoned “Sure, but with requirements like leashes and cleaning up after your dog” suggestions. That was after the Planning & Economic Development Committee had proposed some changes for the Commons, including striking the dog ban. Common Council voted on the proposal at a meeting on March 4, 2015, and decided to keep the dog ban.
The question becomes one of quality of life, we wrote two years ago: Dog owners appreciate the opportunity to bring their dogs with them while out and about. Tourists visiting the area with their dogs enjoy the company on their explorations. Some residents don’t like dogs, are afraid of or allergic to them, or fear dogs will leave behind unwanted waste.
Others wonder whether the Ithaca Commons, a pedestrian mall in Downtown Ithaca that is, effectively, three city street blocks that have been closed to traffic, should be treated differently than any other city blocks — where dogs are allowed without anyone thinking twice about it.
Providing poop bag dispensers and waste bins to make sure dog owners can clean up after their pets would help, but it would be an expense someone would have to cover. “Maybe they’re not that expensive and DPW could cover it,” says Ducson. “Or we could get DIA [Downtown Ithaca Alliance] to chip in if they’re in favor of lifting the ban.”
The Town of Ithaca has added poop bag dispensers and waste bins at entrances to trails, making it easy for dog owners to do the right thing.
The topic will come up again at the mid-June meeting of the City Administration Committee.