Kids are heading back to Ithaca schools this week, many of them walking, and a local father has taken the initiative to put up signs at several pedestrian crosswalks to remind drivers to yield.
“I’m not trying to pick a fight, but I feel strongly that our city leaders need to step up and take pedestrian and cycling safety more seriously,” says Armin Heurich, whose son Toby was hospitalized this summer after being hit by a car while on his bike.
“Even though state law requires motorists to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, this rarely happens downtown,” says Heurich. Drivers must yield, or stop entirely if necessary to yield, to pedestrians who are anywhere in a crosswalk — not just on their side of the street. (The law also says pedestrians may not step into a crosswalk if a driver might not have time to slow or stop safely.)
“I just spent some time in two of the most cycling-friendly and pedestrian-friendly cities in the world, Copenhagen and Amsterdam,” Heurich tells us. “It was mind-blowing! These cities weren’t always bicycle and pedestrian-friendly. It took sometimes radical community action to get to where they are currently. It also took brave leadership of city officials.”
“Several times in the last few years I have reached out to [Ithaca mayor] Svante [Myrick] and members of common council via email and social media for increased signage and enforcement,” he says. “There was a sympathetic response, but it didn’t result in new signs.”
“A regular refrain that I have heard through the years is that our state highways cutting through the city limit what the city can do about streamlining actuated signs and such, and perhaps even signage,” he tells us. “The city has challenges since they have to work with the state DOT. Regardless, things need to change.”
“I have felt this way for a very long time, and have been frustrated with how slow the city is to act, but [Alderperson] Ducson [Nguyen]’s accident and my son Toby’s accident have me less patient than ever.”
The frustrated father took to a crowdfunding initiative to help pay for professionally printed signs that would be noticeable and informative and hold up to the elements. A GoFundMe page quickly met its $500 goal.
Heurich picked up the first batch of signs at a local print shop just after his son was released from the hospital. “I will be targeting the intersection of Seneca and Geneva first, and I am also looking at Cayuga and Cascadilla and Buffalo/Waterfront Trail and Taughannock Blvd,” he says. “These are just for starters.”
He adds that his efforts haven’t been sanctioned by the Finger Lakes Cycling Club, Bike Walk Tompkins, or any other group. “It is strictly an individual action, though I’m certain that many people involved in these organizations stand by me.”
“Cyclists need to be educated. Drivers need to be educated. And yes, police officers need to be educated,” says Heurich.
Take it slow this week as young drivers new to the area and young pedestrians new to their routes to school affect Ithaca’s already chaotic traffic patterns.