February 18, 2004

Volvos, Subarus, farms, and woods

Planner George Frantz (who is, among other things, the consultant working on the Town of Dryden Comprehensive Plan) has a strange but certainly thought-provoking guest column in the Ithaca Journal today. While it purports to be about a specific traffic proposal in Ithaca, much of its venom is directed at places like the Town of Dryden and their impact on Ithaca.

He starts by attacking the "lame rhetoric" of people who charged that fixing Ithaca's notorious 13A/79/89/96 Octopus intersection would cause environmentally-unfriendly growth, and charges that "reality-based local transportation decision making" is a casualty of such claims.

(This seems odd, given that removing the Octopus has in fact made the western side of Tompkins County a much more attractive place to live if you're interested in commuting to Ithaca. That removal has to be a key factor in the plausibility of the West Hill development, one piece of which was postponed last night, that Frantz sees as dumping "another 15,000-plus cars and trucks into the West End traffic mix.")

After noting the relative affluence of Tompkins County and Ithaca's designation by the Utne Reader as an enlightened city, we reach what seems to be the heart of his complaint:

In 1970 the City of Ithaca was home to 27 percent of Tompkins County families. Today the city is home to a mere 15 percent of county families. Sprawl reigns here in Enlightened City, USA, and with sprawl so reigns the automobile.
Little wonder, as here in Ithaca it's still politically correct to carve a house lot out of the forest or farm fields far out beyond the Town of Ithaca and needlessly consume 300, 400, 500 or more gallons of gasoline per year commuting between paradise and the city.

Dryden is certainly part of the trend, politically correct or not, that Frantz sees as a problem. I watch the commuters come and go from a house that was plainly built (in 1929) once the automobile made commuting the few miles to Ithaca convenient. (The garage is tiny, but it is built into the house.) Moving Route 13 from present 79/366 shifted the immediate burden of sprawl to Lansing's Triphammer Road area, but much of Dryden is bedroom community for Ithaca, and some of it is in fact deep in the woods or the fields.

While the Draft Comprehensive Plan seeks to limit some of that impact by limiting densities in much of the town, that still leaves lots of houses and potential houses to be precisely the gasoline-wasting isolated paradises to which Frantz objects. The plan's objective to "Recognize Ithaca, Cortland and areas adjoining those cities as the centers of regional commercial activity," virtually ensures that Dryden will be the home of cars that regularly drive through Ithaca for a long time to come.

(While I'd love to see the development in Varna that the Plan suggests, and hope it might reduce my own gasoline consumption, I suspect that the New York DOT will share Frantz's concerns about gridlock rather than his interest in hamlet development when it's time for them to contemplate making real changes to 366.)

Instead of looking at traffic sources, though, Frantz turns his fury on people who question the need for yet another road through Ithaca. Without this road, he asks, "how attractive is a gridlocked West End going to be to the investors that the city is now currently trying to attract into the area?"

Ithaca and Tompkins County more generally might well benefit from more coordinated planning, especially given how the county's topography forces such a tremendous share of traffic through downtown Ithaca. (I joke about a Lansing-to-Trumansburg suspension bridge, but it seems unlikely at best, as does a bypass from Newfield to Dryden.) Complaining about the people who live in the Ithaca area and their predilections for Volvos and Subarus (I drive a Saturn!) doesn't seem likely to produce much change of the kind Frantz seems to want.

Posted by simon at February 18, 2004 5:33 PM in
Note on photos