New York : Safety by City
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Elmira, in upstate New York, welcomes you with a blend of scenic beauty and literary heritage.
Known as Mark Twain Country, this charming town boasts a rich history and captivating attractions.
Mark Twain, the iconic American author, spent several summers here, drawing inspiration from the serene landscapes and the picturesque Chemung River.
Elmira’s allure extends into the region’s past, from Native American settlements to the Civil War.
This is also known as the Soaring Capital of the World, where the art of flying using aerodynamics is celebrated at a museum with flights ready for you to experience soaring.
As part of the Finger Lakes region, you’re close to mountains, lakes, trails, and four-season outdoor activities and festivals.
Elmira is named after the daughter of Nathan Teall, the first settler in the area. Elmira was born in 1798.
The name means “noble” or “princess,” and Elmira is now often referred to as the Queen City.
Despite all the charm and history here, there are some serious safety concerns to discuss before you plan your trip.
Let’s dive in.
Warnings & Dangers in Elmira
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk in Elmira, but it edges close to a low risk as long as you have street smarts and use common sense. The crime rates here are concerning but not overwhelming. It's definitely not the safest city in the Finger Lakes region.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
CTRAN is the public bus system to get around the region, including several stops in Elmira. Taxis and rideshares are available. The safest option is to use a rental car to get around.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM
We know that theft rates here are historically high, so treat this with a medium risk. That goes beyond your pickpocket or purse, too. Lock your car doors and keep valuables secured in your hotel room.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
While most storms here will come with plenty of advance notice, you should still know it's a medium risk. Blizzards, flash flooding, severe thunderstorms, occasional tornadoes, extreme heat/cold, and drought are the major risks.
MUGGING RISK : MEDIUM
This is another medium risk, mostly because of the high gun violence rates. You can lower the risk by sticking to the tourist areas and doing as many activities as you can during the daytime. Don't walk around at night.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
This is a low risk. The bigger risk is the crime-ridden streets and challenges locally with gun violence. International terrorists wouldn't likely focus on this remote and rural region.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
There are too many reports of scams at local events to make this anything but a low risk. Some reports include fake jewelry being sold at high prices after being advertised as real or a fake Disneyland trip raffle. Common scams are listed on the police department's website and social media pages. Just don't fall for any deal that seems too good to be true.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Women should use the same caution as anyone else, with a special focus on not walking around alone at night. Keep your car doors locked while driving and don't go for a walk or run wearing earbuds that block out the surrounding sounds.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2022 Water Quality Report shows 3,000 water samples were taken without a single violation. All standards were met or exceeded.
Safest Places to Visit in Elmira
Let’s do a quick geography lesson in this area first.
There’s the city of Elmira, which we focus on mainly in this article.
To the west is West Elmira, a census-designated place that is technically in the town of Elmira.
The town surrounds Elmira, the city on three sides.
To the north is Elmira Heights, which is its own village.
Mark Twain Country (.com) is the website for Chemung County, which covers this region.
Elmira is the county seat, and a few small towns are wrapped into the county down to the Pennsylvania state line.
It goes about halfway to Watkins Glen on the northern edge.
While Mark Twain was a well-traveled man, he wrote many of his most notable stories while summering in Elmira.
His presence is felt in many places, including:
- Center for Mark Twain Studies
- Chemung County Historical Society, Inc.
- Twain Country Trolley Tours
- Woodlawn National Cemetery, where Twain is buried.
This is also the “soaring” capital of the world, which involves using an aircraft’s aerodynamic capabilities to gain altitude by riding on rising air currents, allowing for extended flight without engine power.
Here, you can visit the National Soaring Museum and see the art of this unique flight dating back to the 1800s.
Soaring flights are also available for visitors.
The Tanglewood Nature Center celebrates the wilderness and wildlife of New York.
Tour the nature center museum and then explore miles of hiking trails.
This is a safer option than going into the wilderness to explore hiking trails while still getting the outdoor experience.
Stoney Ridge Orchards is one of the closest wineries in the region, but heading up to Seneca Lake reveals many more.
Look for Finger Lakes Wine County’s website to get the layout of all your options.
To see more options throughout the Finger Lakes, go to fingerlakes.org.
The “I Love New York” website has a “Leaf Peeping” section, which is where you can find the best time to see fall foliage across the state.
Elmira and Chemung County are included in the list.
Just 20 miles away, you can visit Corning, where the Corning Museum of Glass is located.
The world’s latest collection of glass is here, with historic exhibits and hands-on glassmaking activities.
Places to Avoid in Elmira
When visiting Elmira (the city), it’s best to avoid going through any neighborhoods where you don’t have business.
Stick to the main roads and tourist attractions.
The city has a 26% poverty rate and is a working-class community.
It does have the regal homes in neighborhoods that make driving around a good idea.
Even some of the town walking paths can expose you to more shady situations than you might like.
Recently, a man was exposing himself to children at a local park.
If you want to avoid Elmira but need to be in this area, check out the town of Elmira, Elmira Heights, or Corning.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Elmira
- The different police departments with the name “Elmira” in the title can be confusing for first-timers. There’s the Elmira Police Department in the city. Follow them on Facebook @elmirapolicedepartment. The West Elmira Police Department is for the town of Elmira. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Elmira Heights also has its own police force, with contact information on the village website.
- Chemung County has an app for emergency information and alerts. By downloading this app, you’ll have all the safety tips for any weather event or natural disaster, plus the ability to sign up for instant alerts on your phone.
- Timber rattlesnakes are in this region, and they are protected by law. That includes the Tanglewood Nature Center trails. These snakes aren’t aggressive unless startled. If you see one, stay away. If you hear a rattle, walk back the way you came. You can see a live one safely inside the nature center to know what to look for.
- Ticks are all over the woods of this area. If you are walking in the wilderness, always wear long pants, even in the summer. Ticks can carry diseases like Lyme Disease. It’s important to do a full-body scan after being outdoors to look for and remove them. Always stay on marked trails.
- The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has a ton of information for you. This is where you’ll purchase a fishing license if you want to catch fish. You can also check lake and river water quality. More safety information about wildlife risks is there as well.
- Another reason to avoid the neighborhood streets is due to basketball hoops being set up in the roadway. While it’s against the city code, this keeps happening, and it puts pedestrians, drivers, and athletes at risk.
- Parking downtown is available on the street with metered parking. Follow the payment instructions when you get there, as an app isn’t available to pay in advance. You can also use a parking lot. Also, note the places where you see signs for “Odd-Even Parking.” This impacts which day of the week and side of the street is legal for parking.
- If you see suspicious activity that isn’t urgent enough to call 911, report it through the hotline at (607)271-4258. You can also fill out a form on the city’s website. All reports are anonymous.
- Winter visitors should check out the Snow Removal map available from the city’s website. This will show which streets get property for plowing. It also details the steps the city takes to keep the roads safe as a storm is approaching.
- Use NY 511 to check road conditions throughout the Finger Lakes. You’ll be able to check live cameras, get real-time traffic reports, and review construction zones.
So... How Safe Is Elmira Really?
While Elmira’s violent crime rate still rests below the state and national average, it’s going the wrong way in a hurry.
More than two shootings per week were reported in 2022, and 2023 was on that same track in the first three months of the year.
2021 had seven homicides.
That’s the highest number going back to the year 2000.
In 2022, that number was down to one.
In the first three months of 2023, two homicides had already happened.
While most of the violent crime is between people who know each other, there’s not enough data that allows me to say that with 100% certainty.
I gather that from the reports of each homicide I’ve read.
“There is no way to look at that except for the fact that it’s horrible; it was alarming.
That is something that we aggressively worked on this year, 2022, understanding that we had a huge increase in not only gun play but just violence all around,” Police Chief Anthony Alvernaz said in 2021.
Then the police chief was let go in early 2023 due to a scandal surrounding a suspect who was arrested by Alvernaz.
The body cam video unveiled details that led to an investigation.
The chief was either fired or resigned under a cloud of mystery.
In 2023, there’s a new police chief.
He’s facing a theft rate that is historically concerning and now 80% higher than the national average.
In another lack of transparency, it’s not clear what thefts are causing that problem.
The department does give those specific details to the FBI as other departments do.
At the same time, burglaries doubled between 2021 and 2022.
That’s really where the concern should come in for a tourist–thefts.
Lock your cars, keep personal items out of plain sight, carry a small cross-body purse, and put wallets in zipped from pants pockets.
Limit what you carry to the bare essentials.
If you’re looking for a place to visit in the Finger Lakes region, Elmira might be more affordable.
It’s just not the safest or the most scenic.
At the same time, it’s not too dangerous to visit.
It’s just a little more sketchy than much safer communities on the lakeshores.
The town of Elmira and Elmira Heights are safer options too.
How Does Elmira Compare?
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- Visas - International travelers should have a visa or visa waiver if they are eligible for the latter. Those coming to attend the university should have a student visa. Passports need to be valid for at least six months in the future.
- Currency - Only the U.S. Dollar can be used here. Carry as little cash as possible due to the theft rates. Credit cards are widely accepted and can be used in USD currency. If you do need cash, don't use a public ATM. Most international airports will have currency exchange options.
- Weather - You'll get the typical four seasons here, and nothing stands out as essential to be packed beyond that. A few additional tools you might find helpful is a tick-removal kit, especially if you'll be spending time outdoors. Bug spray and sunscreen should be part of any outdoor activity from fall through spring.
- Airports - Elmira Regional Airport is just 16 miles from the city. It is served by Delta and Allegiant. You don't have a lot of airline choices, but you can get to major cities like Detroit or Orlando. Otherwise, you'll have a 2+ hour drive to Buffalo, Syracuse, or Rochester. The NYC metro area airports are all about three hours away.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance is important when visiting a more rural community that could be impacted by storm delays or cancelations. Comprehensive insurance should also cover any illnesses or injuries during your visit.
Elmira Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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