The Downtown Ithaca Alliance has released the Downtown Ithaca 2020 Strategic Plan, which seeks to revitalize Ithaca, New York’s downtown business district and reposition the Ithaca Commons as a sustainable transit-oriented development (TOD) by upzoning the downtown area, adding more housing, and redesigning the Commons itself based on plans from the urban design and architecture firm Sasaki Associates.
A key component of the TOD plan is constructing a spine-and-spoke enhanced transit corridor linking Cornell and Collegetown (both set atop a steep hill to the east) with the Commons (in the heart of downtown) and the Cayuga Lake waterfront to the northwest. This spine would move people efficiently between key community nodes. Additional spokes, toward Ithaca College to the south for example, could be added in the future.
The plan keeps the exact nature of this “enhanced transit corridor” open to a few possibilities – either “possible enhanced shuttle service” or “possible fixed-rail service.” Personally, I would encourage the city to choose a fixed-rail system. Why?
Developers and urban planners know that out-of-towners, of which Ithaca has many, are more inclined to use fixed-rail public transit than bus or shuttle service. Fixed-rail systems have permanent, easy-to-understand routes, and even if you miss your stop, it’s a mistake easily corrected. Bus routes are scarier for tourists – less-clearly articulated and subject to spontaneous service changes.
Additionally, the development aspect is essential to a TOD’s success. The incentives to build on the peripheries of an urban center are still strong, since land is cheaper and zoning regulations are often less demanding. To bring development back into the urban core, contemporary developers and business owners need to know that they will see sufficient return on investment. They will always feel more secure locating their enterprises at a fixed-rail transit stop than on a bus or shuttle route, since the larger infrastructure investments and permanence of the tracks provide more certainty that the route won’t be changing anytime soon.
What advantage does fixed-rail TOD provide in your community?
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