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Vol. LXIV, No. 50
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Wednesday, December 15, 2010
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Dinky Wins the Day, Location Up for Debate

Dilshanie Perera

The Regional Planning Board of Princeton expressed its unanimous support for the Dinky at its meeting last Thursday night, voting in favor of continued and improved rail service between Princeton and Princeton Junction.

The passage of the resolution suggests that the Dinky will not be replaced by a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

While the Board tasked New Jersey Transit with continuing the Dinky, it stated in the resolution that it is willing to work with the organization to restore more frequent service, ensure the meeting of trains from the northeast corridor during peak commuter hours, and to have “adequate Princeton Station facilities open during ‘Dinky’ operating hours.”

The main point of contention during the meeting focused on the location of the Dinky. Princeton University has proposed moving the Dinky back 460 feet further from the downtown as part of its redesigned Arts and Transit Neighborhood project. Members of the community, including those of the “Save the Dinky” group, have called for having the Dinky terminus remain where it is currently.

Debating whether the wording on the resolution should call for having the station stay where it is or whether they should leave the location open, the Board ultimately decided it would be premature to fix the rail shuttle’s termination point. According to the resolution, “because the location of the ‘Dinky’ station is of concern to the Princeton Community, all aspects of the current location should be weighed against any proposed changes at duly noticed public meetings before any conclusion is reached.”

Board member Julie Nachamkin called for a presentation by Princeton University regarding their proposal in front of the Planning Board prior to taking a stance on the location issue.

The Borough and Township will have a joint meeting in January to hear Princeton University’s plans for its Arts and Transit Neighborhood. The Planning Board and members of the public are also invited to attend.

Sheldon Sturges of Princeton Future noted that “it is the sense of the residents of Princeton not to move the Dinky station further away from the downtown,” while Anita Garoniack of “Save the Princeton Dinky” declared that her group was “adamant that the Dinky station and terminus not be moved from its current location.”

“I understand that a Regional Planning Board can be reactive or proactive … there’s no reason to wait,” said resident Bill Moody. Kip Cherry agreed, suggesting, “Let’s not lose what we already have in place … the Dinky is a public facility owned by the public.”

Chastising the Board for being too hasty, Chip Crider called for a study and further facts on the optimal location of the Dinky. “Are you the ‘public opinion board?’” he queried. “We need a lot more emphasis on planning and a lot less on politics.”

Princeton University Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee noted that “other issues” would be addressed by the station’s move, including traffic flow and backups, as the south side of the Arts and Transit Neighborhood would be designed to make those improvements. He also emphasized the fact that the University is committed to preserving the Dinky by taking measures to increase ridership, creating a new station, and adding amenities to the proposed terminus.

“One of our main goals is to preserve and enhance the Dinky experience,” Mr. Durkee said. “Any Planning Board action should look at the totality of the impact.”

Former Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand spoke in favor of the move, saying that the redesigned neighborhood would “enhance accessibility, safety, and convenience,” and that an improved transit area “can only happen by moving the Dinky 460 feet.”

“There are design solutions to all our problems,” Borough Councilman Kevin Wilkes countered, proposing an at-grade railroad crossing that would allow for the Dinky to remain where it is with the new Arts amenities built around it.

Jim Constantine advocated “better inter-community connectivity,” pointing out that “planning decisions should attempt to take into account a comprehensive, long term view.”

The Planning Board also passed two other resolutions on Thursday night calling for New Jersey Transit to accelerate the establishment of the proposed Route 655 bus system from Princeton to Plainsboro and for New Jersey Transit and the NJ Department of Transportation to reduce traffic congestion by establishing a Bus Rapid Transit System in the Route One Corridor.

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