In late June the City of Ithaca decided to make a single block of Aurora Street into a temporary pedestrian plaza so adjacent restaurants could expand their outdoor seating. With Covid health regulations continuing to limit indoor restaurant capacity, the Aurora Streatery provides a way for some downtown establishments to stay open.
It’s been nearly three months and the orange traffic barrels and concrete barricades are still standing. Everything that was built for the Streatery was temporary, including the wooden ramps that connect the sidewalk (now mostly cafe seating) to the roadway (now a pedestrian thoroughfare).
I applaud the City of Ithaca for making this decision as New York began to ease Covid restrictions and allow more restaurants to open this summer. And, I think that the City should consider ways to allow the Streatery to operate for the foreseable year or more.
It may be worth noting that the Streatery has had an actual impact on my driving habits. There are basically two routes to get to the bottom of South Hill from my house: Prospect / Clinton Street (NY-96B) and Aurora Street. Prior to the Streatery, I could drive down the hill and buzz past downtown on Aurora as it was a two-lane one-way street. With the Streatery blocking the northbound roadway, I now have to turn left on East State/MLK Jr. Street then turn left onto Seneca Way (NY-79) and merge into traffic with westbound traffic coming down East Hill before I can turn back onto northbound Aurora Street.
This is not the most intuitive or obvious detour, so I find myself using Clinton Street more often than not.
I got to wondering if it might be possible to make the Aurora Streatery more permanent without making a giant capital investment. The Streatery can provide some additional space for Ithacans to maintain social distance while also patronizing local businesses. Here were some ideas I had:
- Decorate the Jersey barriers
- Swap orange traffic barrels for domes or delineators
- Add DIY planters on pallets
- Add light and heat
- Divert and calm traffic on NY-79 and Aurora St.
- Make better ramps or sidewalk extensions
Decorate the Jersey barriers
Right now concrete Jersey barriers serve as a temporary measure to ensure that cars and trucks don’t drive through the Streatery. These can be painted or wrapped to add a bit of color and visual interest. New York City Department of Transportation solicits artists to paint these barriers. The barriers can also be softened a bit with small planters; at least one company makes a planter designed to fit over the standard Jersey barrier.
Traffic domes and delineators
Orange plastic barrels are used to temporarily divert traffic around the Streatery. These are effective but not very eye-pleasing. If the Streatery is going to be with us for the next twelve months or more, there are other solutions to consider, such as traffic domes (aka “armadillos“) and delineator posts. These measures will keep drivers out of restricted areas without impeding emergency vehicles, trucks, and buses.
Light and heat
The long days and warm temperatures of summer make outdoor dining an easy choice. As fall and winter proceed, the addition of light and heat will help make the Streatery a more pleasant place.
Strings of holiday lights, colorful bulbs, or small lanterns over Aurora Street would be a quick, low cost way to improve lighting and add some cheer to the darker months. What’s more, hanging lights are already used on the Commons in the winter, so extending this element to Aurora Street would be a logical way to grow the outdoor lighting display.
The provision of heat to the outdoors is a bit more challenging. Some restaurants may find it worthwhile to invest in outdoor heating elements, but these will likely only serve the desires of their patrons. It would be wonderful to have some small fire pits lining the Commons and the Streatery this winter to help keep pedestrians warm, but I fear that the liability of such a proposal would render it infeasible.
Planter boxes on the Ithaca Commons add a touch of beauty with ornamental flowers. Similar planters with flowers, shrubs, or even small trees could become a feature of the Streatery. Large concrete or resin planters can delineate the pedestrian space from automobile traffic.
Diverting and calming traffic
Right now, all the signage about the Streatery is within about one block it. Downhill drivers from South Hill and East Hill should be warned about the new traffic pattern at a point where they can decide on a different route. Signs should be placed on Hudson and Aurora Streets (south of Prospect) and Seneca St / NY-79 (east of the tuning fork). Ideally the signs would direct drivers to the closest parking garages downtown.
As the orange barrels positioned next to the Streatery are replaced with slightly more permanent fixtures (like armadillos or delineators), the barrels can be moved to the periphery. This will help warn drivers of the upcoming pedestrian zone and ensure that they slow down.
Better ramps or sidewalk extensions
Weathering is causing the wooden ramps that connect Aurora Street to the sidewalk to warp. A longer term solution may require a plastic or metal ramp. Another option may be to expand the sidewalk area substantially.
In the long run there is one thing that I would like to see changed near the Streatery – the slip lane from South Aurora to East State Street. This lane prioritizes fast automobile traffic at a spot with a high volume of pedestrians. If the Streatery becomes permanent (or at least more permanent than the improvements I’m contemplating) then this intersection should be redesigned to benefit pedestrians and bikes.