Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 49
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010
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Thoughts From a Longtime Dinky Rider: We Should Work With What Is In Place

Michael Mathews
Bedens Brook Road

It’s Time to Rethink Massive, Messy, Machine-Driven Collecting of Leaves

Stephen Hiltner
North Harrison Street

Good News and Bad News Reported by Mercer Street Friends Food Bank

Phyllis C. Stoolmacher
Director, Mercer Street Friends Food Bank


Thoughts From a Longtime Dinky Rider: We Should Work With What Is In Place

To the Editor:

In the mid-1970s, when the Pennsylvania Railroad operated the Dinky, known then as the PJ&B, as a part of its passenger service, I offered to buy the PJ&B line together with the stations and adjoining property at both ends. A price was negotiated and I developed a plan to open a restaurant in the Dinky Station serving a light meal to McCarter Theatre patrons as well as to students and others. I also envisioned a parking structure where there is now a University parking lot with doctors/business offices above the garage.

At that time, the legal picture was unclear. As I recall, the land was owned by the United NJ Railroad and Canal Company that had signed a 999-year lease with the Pennsylvania Railroad and then gone bankrupt in the 1870s. There was a reversionary clause providing that if rail operations ever ceased, three acres acquired from the University would revert to the University. As we were completing our plans to acquire the rail operations, the Pennsylvania Railroad filed for bankruptcy. Immediately, I realized that the chips were bigger than I could personally fund and so I joined with the late Barbara Sigmund, John McGoldrick, and others to form the “Save the Dinky Committee.” The then savior was Gov. Brenden Byrne who created New Jersey Transit Corp. establishing public transit as a part of the State’s responsibility. This cleared all title and bankruptcy issues and provided the State with the responsibility for the rail system.

As a town resident, PU graduate, McCarter devotee, and long time Dinky rider (since 1972), I have watched with great interest how McCarter has expanded and enhanced its programming, how the University has grown across Alexander Road, and how the area has been inundated with transit users and others creating parking and traffic issues.

Bill Moody’s thoughtful letter in Town Topics of November 24 has caused me to review my own plan. My recommendation is to work with what is in place rather than attempting to re-engineer the entire neighborhood. To have a restaurant across the street from McCarter would, I believe, be a plus. I have thought so for 35 years. In order to utilize the University parking garage on the Baker Rink side of the tracks, re-grading the entire area to ramp or terrace up and over the tracks and bringing traffic access across the tracks with a bridge into the parking structure seems feasible to me. Further, it would seem a good idea to end University Place at the Dinky Station with a circle to drop off passengers and return to town. The University (in cooperation with the McCarter Trustees) can then proceed to develop the land/road area below McCarter Theatre, the WaWa, the corner properties across from the Princeton Inn, and along Alexander, with appropriate land re-grading to terrace over the existing tracks and to tie the new buildings to the existing campus. A pedestrian bridge across Alexander into the Princeton Inn facilities can replace the traffic light and intersection by the WaWa.

Michael Mathews
Bedens Brook Road

It’s Time to Rethink Massive, Messy, Machine-Driven Collecting of Leaves

To the Editor:

The leaf season has once again revealed two opposite impulses in Princeton residents. The most common impulse, magnified by landscape crews, is to purge the yard of all leaves. The second impulse, contrary to custom but aligned with nature’s methodology, is to keep the leaves for fertilizer and wildlife value. The former impulse costs the Borough $200,000 each year to clean up (no figures are available for the Township). The second impulse imposes no public burden.

A common reason given for piling leaves in the street for pickup is that there are “just too many.” Another defense of the practice is that in a high-tax environment, it can be satisfying to see town employees working their hearts out on the streets for two months, cleaning up the mess. In addition, the leaves are not landfilled but instead hauled to a “finishing school” where their coarse nature is patiently mellowed and refined into compost available to all residents. 

That people find no room in their yards for a pile of leaves has much to do with the customary design of yards. With shrubs pressed against the house and fenceline, the yard becomes essentially one large “room” with no space dedicated to storage. A yard can be ornamental and spacious, yet still have a space or two defined by shrubs or fenced corral within which leaves can be piled, there to deflate over the winter and all but disappear by the next fall.

Mowing over leaves fallen on the lawn offers further proof that leaves are mostly fluff. The imposing blanket of brown is turned into a scattering of crumbs that can be left to fertilize the turf or used to mulch around shrubs.

True, the compost created at the Lawrenceville Ecological Center is a handy commodity for residents who make the drive, but it is not sustainable. Oil supplies on earth are diminishing at a rapid rate, extraction of remaining supplies is getting increasingly expensive and risky, and no replacement for the miraculous gasoline we burn daily without a second thought is in sight. Surprisingly, the mechanical grinding and turning required at the compost center consumes five times more fuel — $30,000 worth for the Borough alone — than is used to haul all the leaves and brush to the site.

We pay a lot in taxes, and Princeton’s consumption of energy seems a trifle compared to global use. But all consumption is local. Only the cumulative impact of countless small changes will steer the nation and world away from a dangerous course. The sooner we shift from fuel-intensive town services to those that consume less, the more likely that future generations will be able to enjoy some semblance of the lifestyle we claim as our right. Oil doesn’t last forever, and the leaf piles are mostly air. These two facts alone should be enough to cause a rethinking of the town’s massive, messy, machine-driven response to autumn leaf fall.

Stephen Hiltner
North Harrison Street

Good News and Bad News Reported by Mercer Street Friends Food Bank

To the Editor:

On behalf of the Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, I wish to thank all the caring and compassionate people who so generously donated food to us during this holiday season. The Food Bank provided over 3,400 turkeys, 25 tons of fresh produce, and 15 tons of the trimmings to our member agencies — food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters — so that those facing hunger would be able to enjoy a traditional holiday meal.

This is the good news. But there is also the bad news. The long economic downturn has pushed more and more Americans into poverty. Thousands of our neighbors are having a tough time feeding their families. Daily food shortages are no longer just a challenge for the chronically poor. Persistent unemployment has driven former middle income wage earners to food pantries and meal sites for the first time. The Food Bank will channel three million pounds of food and groceries this year into the communities of Mercer County to help children, adults, and seniors who experience the pain and indignity of hunger. For those hit hardest by the recession, Thanksgiving is a stark reminder of the struggles they face every day to put food on the table and meet other basic household needs. This is why the Food Bank works so diligently to keep the supply line to our member agencies flowing with quality and healthy food.

I thank all those who support us in our work to end hunger, not only on Thanksgiving but on all the other days of the year.

Phyllis C. Stoolmacher
Director, Mercer Street Friends Food Bank

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