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Vol. LXIV, No. 31
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
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Whither the Dinky? Facebook Presence and Media Coverage Add to the Debate

Ellen Gilbert

“It’s time for an informed public debate,” observed a recent magazine article about the Princeton Dinky’s uncertain future. Writing in the online edition of Preservation, the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Eric Willis suggested that “an analysis of the Dinky’s financial performance seems like a good place to start,” adding that “if creative ways can be found to keep operating costs in check those options merit careful study, as do other innovative ideas, before prematurely declaring the Dinky an antiquated relic of the past.”

Preservationists are not the only ones observing the Dinky debate. The story went national with a recent Fox news broadcast (available on YouTube) that described the Dinky’s history (“built the same year that Lincoln was buried”) and featured riders and residents speaking both for and against a proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) system that would replace the rail link between Princeton Borough and Princeton Junction, where commuters pick up main rail lines heading north to New York City and south to Trenton.

Proponents of keeping the Dinky appear to have attained a substantial critical mass with the creation of a “Save the Dinky” Facebook site that has attracted more than 6,000 users. Those who log into the site can participate in an ongoing Save the Dinky Survey which will continue through September 26. “Apart from the substance of the issue (saving the Dinky or not), this provides a really interesting case study in the way the internet can be used by concerned citizens to mobilize public opinion,” observed Princeton resident Virginia Kerr. The Facebook site was initiated by another local resident Anita Garoniak, with strong support from Lieve Monnens and Marc Monseau.

“I can’t imagine why anyone would choose to replace anything that works so well!” wrote Jay Melrose in a recent Facebook posting. “How could anyone advocate a bus on busy city streets?”

Former Borough Mayor Marvin Reed is a member of the Planning Board and a key proponent of the BRT system. He believes that the new bus system would provide more efficient and frequent service than the existing Dinky, and have the advantage of continuing beyond the current Dinky station into the town center.

Coverage of the Dinky story invariably includes both the pragmatic (potential undependability of a vehicle making multiple stops in highly trafficked areas) and the wistful (“it’s about the nostalgia and the mystique of Princeton”). Adding complexity to the discussion is Princeton University’s proposed Arts Neighborhood plan that would necessitate moving the Dinky Station, should the Dinky continue to exist, 460 feet farther south.

An article in the New York Times (“Dinky or Bus? A Town Is Torn”) also weighed in on the subject. “If these are the Dinky’s final days,” it observed, “one might not immediately sense it from riding the train. On a recent weekday morning, most of the seats in the Dinky’s one open car were filled with commuters sharing newspapers and conversation.”

Official discussions about the fate of the Dinky will take place at a Princeton Future meeting on Saturday, September 25, from 9 to 11 a.m. in the Community Room of the Princeton Public Library. It will also be on the agenda of the Princeton Regional Planning Board’s Thursday, September 30 meeting, which will be held from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the main meeting room of the Township municipal building.

Although New Jersey Transit will have final say in the matter, spokeswoman Courtney Carroll responded to questions about the current status of the discussion by saying that “that’s a conversation that’s been taking place with the town; we really haven’t taken a position on it.”

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