A Tale of Two Sidewalks, Road Repair, And How Neighborhoods Handle Change
Princeton Township Committee introduced a whole laundry list of bond ordinances Monday night that, if passed, would authorize either installation, repair, or replacement of sidewalks in several neighborhoods around the Township.
On that list were plans to build sidewalks around the Princeton Shopping Center neighborhood, including portions of Grover, Dorann, and Clearview avenues. Those neighborhoods, which have several young families with small children, have been targeted by the Township as areas in need of sidewalks.
Also on the list of repairs and improvements Monday night was an ordinance introduction to appropriate $100,000 to install a paved pathway along a 1,300-foot portion of the Western side of Snowden Lane. That segment between Franklin and Hamilton avenues has long been eyed by the Township as a prime location for a sidewalk.
Residents have resisted, saying the sidewalk proposal goes against the guidelines of the Princeton Community Master Plan that dictate neighborhood character preservation. Those residents also contend that the master plan does not specifically outline plans for sidewalks on that portion of Snowden.
Of the 27 households on that stretch, 11 are in the Borough, and 16 are in the Township. The actual roadway lies in the Township, so while 11 of those homes on the western side of Snowden are in the Borough, they are assessed by the Township in this particular case. Twenty-six of the 27 households on that stretch are opposed to sidewalks.
Residents have asked the Township for traffic-calming measures such as speed bumps, four-way stop signs, and islands and traffic circles, and they fear that once Snowden is not only freshly-paved, but also features a pathway, it will allow drivers to drive faster than the already oft-violated 25 m.p.h. speed limit. Residents also doubt that patrol officers will be able to enforce that speed limit.
Township standards strongly recommend against speed humps because of the damage that they can cause to snow plows, and in several presentations before Township Committee, Township Police have recommended repeatedly that sidewalks be installed as automobile traffic numbers increase in that area. Additionally, the Princeton Regional Board of Education passed a resolution supporting the construction of pathways on Snowden, even though it is not a heavily travelled route for Littlebrook Elementary students.
There is a kind of symbiotic relationship between municipalities and neighborhoods in situations like these. The elected members of governing bodies in municipalities set standards and goals for their communities in this case, the master plan that attempt to reflect the will of the residents who elected them.
In light of growing regional traffic flow, it has long been the will of this Township Committee to increase walkability by providing "a pedestrian and bicycle pathway network for maximum recreational and circulation use between neighborhoods, recreational areas, schools, and shopping areas."
In the case of Snowden Lane, the recreation areas are Smoyer and Grover parks, the school is Littlebrook, and the shopping area is the Princeton Shopping Center.
Committeeman Bill Hearon and Deputy Mayor Bernie Miller attended neighborhood meetings attempting to find middle ground between government and residents. Those meetings, while successful in producing proposals for alternate versions of sidewalks and tree removal, were not able to fully overcome the will of the residents: pave Snowden, slow traffic, leave room for cyclists, but do not build a sidewalk.
Several Township officials have said publicly that they have never seen such resistance to sidewalk installation, and other officials have privately worried that a lawsuit will follow if Committee approves the sidewalk measure.
Litigious prospects aside, Committeeman Lance Liverman said he will support sidewalks not only on Snowden, but in other neighborhoods that have been targeted in the Township. Calling his support a "safety issue," Mr. Liverman said a pathway would "enhance Snowden Lane, and be for the better of Princeton."
Residents of Tee-Ar Place, which is two blocks west of Snowden Lane off of Franklin Avenue, are faced with a similar situation. In addition to the aforementioned sidewalk projects on neighboring Dorann, Grover, and Clearview Avenues, the Township had approached Tee-Ar residents with a plan to put sidewalks on both sides of the street. The residents resisted, but resisted in a way different from the Snowden neighborhood.
Both neighborhoods were largely established post-World War II, and both neighborhoods share a similar demographic make-up. But Tee-Ar residents responded quite differently than their Snowden neighbors:
"We overall embraced the fact that [sidewalks] are a good idea and we laid out something that made sense," said Barak Bar-Cohen, a Tee-Ar resident. "You can really benefit more from walking and biking as opposed to getting in your car and driving everywhere."
The main obstacle, Mr. Bar-Cohen said, was that of navigating through the specific needs, desires, requests, and "idiosyncracies" of all the residents involved. "I think from day one, we took the approach that as long as the Township is willing to work with us, and help us answer questions, and give us opportunities to spend time with them, and followed a robust, inclusive process, we would have a shot at reaching a compromise that made sense to everyone."
An ordinance for Tee-Ar Place is expected to be introduced on February 28, but the Township is waiting for residents there to finalize details such as lighting and tree planting.
The overall experience, Mr. Bar-Cohen said, was a positive one for the community in another sense as well. He said he and his neighbors, by working together on a plan for their street, became, in fact, more neighborly.
"It's kind of nice. We wave to each other more often, we stop and talk, we're going to have a barbecue on Memorial Day at the park.
"I think spending time together has given us an appreciation of who our neighbors are, and going through this exercise has made the neighborhood that much more fun to live in."
It's certainly a more complex situation over on Snowden Lane. But what happens when, at the end of the day, residents simply do not want sidewalks and the municipality does? The public hearing for the Snowden ordinance is scheduled for March 7 at 7 p.m. at Township Hall.