Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 13
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
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Dinky Terminus Move Appears Inevitable

Dilshanie Perera

Even if the municipalities did not approve the zoning changes requested by Princeton University to build its proposed Arts and Transit Neighborhood at the intersection of University Place and Alexander Road, the Dinky terminus will still likely move farther away from downtown Princeton.

In a letter to University Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee dated March 25, New Jersey Transit Executive Director James Weinstein explained that his organization had “no objection” to the “University’s interest in moving the borough terminus station of the Princeton Shuttle Line (the Dinky station) some 460 feet southward.”

Mr. Weinstein’s letter reads, “It is my understanding that such a move was specifically contemplated in the October 30, 1984 agreement of sale between NJ Transit and the University for the station property.”

Under the agreement, the University is free to move the Dinky terminus farther south as long as NJ Transit retains the right to a 170-foot platform, and that the work performed by NJ Transit in relocating the train would be at the University’s expense.

“NJ Transit agrees with the University that the 1984 agreement allows the University to move the Dinky station to the south, subject to the work and expense provisions noted above,” Mr. Weinstein writes. “The University’s authorization to relocate the Dinky station is unrelated to any particular development proposal for the current station site and its vicinity.”

In a telephone interview, Mr. Durkee explained that regardless of how the University would choose to develop the area under consideration, it would likely move the Dinky terminus. “It is more conducive to the development of the area in a holistic way,” he said, adding that it also “allows us to create a driveway into the garage, which has a number of benefits, including sustainability, and takes traffic out of the Alexander/Faculty intersection, which is an important goal for the community as well as the University.”

While the University is currently in negotiations with both municipalities regarding possibilities for rezoning the area (see the story on the Borough’s consideration of the AET zone in this week’s issue of Town Topics), Mr. Durkee noted that “the question that is in front of the municipalities now is whether we can develop [the land] for the arts, or within the existing zoning. I believe it’s a better outcome for the community if they can be developed for the arts.”

Mr. Durkee noted that no other approvals would be necessary for the relocation of the Dinky terminus. “New Jersey Transit has control over its own property,” and plans for “a new station building would go before the Planning Board, but the question wouldn’t be where it was located … it would be whether the building we designed fit within the existing zoning.” Current zoning at the location permits transit-related structures.

With respect to the committee formed with representatives from the Borough, Township, and University, Mr. Durkee said, “We’re making progress, but we’re not at the endpoint yet. In our understanding, we’re trying to see whether we can reach consensus in time for the zoning discussion to be moving along before the end of April.”

“Those conversations are taking place with the assumption that the Dinky station is going to move,” Mr. Durkee remarked.

Characterizing the negotiation as focusing on both the long and short terms, Mr. Durkee said that the committee is considering what to do to encourage and increase ridership on the Dinky after its move, and to appropriately address the concerns of people who would have to walk further.

Long term, they are considering the question of “How should we think about mass transit connections between Princeton and Princeton Junction after the Dinky? Is there a way at some point to replace it with a different technology?” According to Mr. Durkee, the possibility for a light rail vehicle, for example, to travel up Nassau Street, as well as designing the current project to accommodate that extension are also under consideration.

In some respects, everybody in the room has the same goals: to keep the Dinky running as frequently and reliably as we can,” Mr. Durkee said.

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