The approaches to SUNY Cortland on the south end of campus soon will take on a new look that people living on neighboring streets will likely appreciate.
City residents on private properties adjacent to the College between Pearl and Sands streets are expected to experience greater privacy after one unofficial campus entrance — the familiar and long-time Warren Street pedestrian cut-through — is closed for good.
Pedestrians who live or park in the Pearl/Sands area still can access the campus by walking on Warren Street to Broadway Avenue or away from campus to Tompkins Street and then back onto College grounds from the far end of Pashley Drive.
But the quick zip through the Warren Street gap will be no more.
“I believe this is going to be a real positive for a couple of reasons,” said Brian Tobin, mayor of the City of Cortland. “The change will improve the safety of pedestrians who are predominantly college students. And this will be a good thing for city residents who live along the street, because of a reduction of traffic along the road that results in noise, etc. It’s going to be a win for both the city and for the College.”
Some students who drive to campus for classes are accustomed to parking on city streets in the vicinity and using the public walkway as a convenient shortcut to lower or upper campus via the College’s Pashley Drive, according to College and city officials.
Meanwhile, a steady stream of students walk to classes between upper and lower campus through the residential area, emerging abruptly to cross paths with the dangerous flow of cars and buses and trucks along Pashley Drive.
“Students typically will use it as a walkway from the towers down along Warren Street and over to the Park Center or the Professional Studies Building,” Tobin said. “One of the problems is there is a fair amount of the section where there is no sidewalk. And along the College side, with the fence line and trees, there is a considerable obstruction of view. Boom, you’re right on the road, and this is not necessarily the safest of footpaths.”
So the removal of the Warren Street route, currently blocked to vehicular traffic at the junction with Pashley, is expected to improve public safety as well as free the neighborhood from unwanted cars parked in front of homes. It should also reduce the accompanying heavy foot traffic and unwelcome late-night noise.
“I’ve lived on Pearl Street for the last eight years and in the last two to three years I’ve seen an increase in the number of cars that are parking on the street and the number of people who are walking over onto campus,” Tobin said. “I don’t know what has brought it about but it certainly has created a little bit of congestion on the streets, especially for local residents. They have a hard time getting in and out of their driveways. Hopefully it will reduce the number of cars parking on Pearl Street.”
College and city officials have pursued the changes together.
Tobin credits 4th Ward Alderman John Bennett Jr. and City Finance and Administration director Mack Cook with hammering out the city’s end of the plan with College officials including Nasrin Parvizi, associate vice president of facilities management, and Frederic Pierce, public relations director.
SUNY Cortland has communicated closely with the local community to foster a smooth transition as a new $56 million Student Life Center (SLC) will be constructed this fall on the site of a former football practice location, Carl “Chugger” Davis Field. The multi-purpose building will greatly expand student recreational, club and social opportunities when it is finished in December 2014.
Planners of the SLC held a series of public hearings about the anticipated construction project and will adopt a number of improvements suggested by residents.
“There were some neighbors who were concerned about the proximity of the Student Life Center and not having an adequate buffer,” said Jeffrey Lallas, the College’s director of facilities planning, design and construction.
“Along with that we heard expressed a lot of neighborhood concern that many students were parking along Pearl Street, for convenience or to save on the cost of a parking permit,” Lallas said. “And the closing of Warren at Pashley dovetails with other mitigations now incorporated into the design.”
Tobin said the city might take the lead and re-install a fence that once halted the foot traffic flow at Warren and Pashley before the start of school. In any case, once the College’s contractors begin working on the area around October or November they will close the cut-through on the SUNY Cortland side.
“Regardless, when construction begins, that cut-through will be closed down anyway,” Tobin said. “All we’re doing is closing it down a little earlier and then people won’t have to change their traffic habits.”
Area residents will see Pashley Drive itself closed during the two years of SLC construction. When the road reopens, it will be moved approximately eight feet away from the back of Pearl Street properties. Shrubs and trees on a grassy buffer zone will replace the roadbed. The row of automobile parking slots that faced Davis Field will disappear as well.
“That will make it a little bit better for the residents and will make it better for the College as well,” commented Tobin about those changes. “We plan on having a very productive conversation to look at the issues from all sides and say, ‘What’s going to be the best for everyone?’
“It’s going to make the walk to class safer for students and going to make the neighborhoods safer for everyone.”