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City programs work together to improve sidewalk accessibility


The City of Ithaca Disability Advisory Council (DAC) and Sidewalk Program are working together to improve the quality of Ithaca’s 78 miles of sidewalks under last year’s local law, which created this year’s $870,000 annual budget for the sidewalk repairs. By fixing the sidewalks, accessibility for people with disabilities will be improved.

The program separates the city into five Sidewalk Benefit Districts and people from each district have a fee, which is then pooled and dispersed by the city for that district’s sidewalk repair. This program is unique to Ithaca and several officials involved in the program tout its success, including Larry Roberts, the Chair of the DAC and the program director at the Finger Lakes Independence Center.

“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the sidewalks in Ithaca are in bad shape, and the city has worked for a long time to make repairs.. but there’s a lot of work that needs to continue and that this [the Sidewalk Program] is the way forward,” Roberts Said.

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The DAC has been crucial in determining where to facilitate repairs, Eric Hathaway, the Sidewalk Program manager, said.

“They’re a really good group- they’re very easy to work with and they have good ideas, so it’s really a win win. I feel like they’re [DAC] helping me do my job better and I feel like we’re doing something that’s good for the community,” Hathaway said.

Repairs are needed all over the city, said Roberts, who added that there are places in Ithaca without any sidewalk at all.

The sidewalks are damaged in several ways, making it difficult for people with disabilities to get around. One of the biggest issues, especially in a tree friendly city like Ithaca, is that the roots of trees grow into/under sidewalk slabs, causing them to be damaged and hard to maneuver around, Roberts, who is a wheelchair user, said. Another issue is joints out of level, which means one slab of sidewalk will heave up, making it un-level with another

Sidewalk repair is expensive, particularly in Ithaca, which encourages pedestrian traffic, Fernando DeAragon, director of the Ithaca/Tompkins Transportation Council, said.

“The city in particular has a very extensive sidewalk network and like any piece of infrastructure you have to maintain it so that it is functioning well and particularly functioning to address the needs of disabled citizens who may have wheelchairs or other assisted mobility that need good quality infrastructure. They need flat surfaces, smooth surfaces to be able to move around,” DeAragon said.

Because of Ithaca’s weather, sidewalk repair is not possible year round, so repairing the sidewalk will take a number of years, Roberts said.

One of the current projects is the sidewalk that’s being constructed on Old Elmira Road. That’s a fairly large project and it’s being funded out of its sidewalk district, Hathaway said.

While the Sidewalk Program and the DAC are working to improve Ithaca’s accessibility for people with disabilities, Roberts said that there are stores and restaurants that are not easily accessible for people with disabilities, and added that the DAC is working on that too.

The local restaurant, Bandwagon Brewpub, has a handicap entrance, but it is in the back of the building, and can only be accessed by going through an alley to the side of the building. One of the employees said most people, unless they’re staff, would not know about the entrance.

Despite some lack of accessibility, Roberts said he has seen much improvement in Ithaca’s disability awareness in the 30 years he’s lived here.

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