Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 21
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
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Trustee’s Traffic Plan Unsettles Residents and Planning Board

Ellen Gilbert

The presentation of a “traffic/circulation plan” by Princeton University Trustees was the main focus of Thursday’s Regional Planning Board meeting.

After a detailed presentation delivered, for the most part, by Neil Kittredge, an associate at Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners, the firm chosen by the University in 2005 to lead the development of the campus’s long-term plan, Planning Board members, independent consultant Ted Ehrlich, and residents of the eastern section of the Borough who stand to be most affected by the University’s plans responded, expressing considerable concern about the implications of the plan. No action was taken, and the discussion will continue at the next Planning Board Meeting on June 19.

Although Mr. Kittredge spoke of the plan as “thorough, transparent, and comprehensive,” recognizing “that the University exists within a larger community,” Mr. Ehrlich, speaking on behalf of the Planning Board, was not convinced about the efficacy of proposed changes that include the building of a three-story parking garage on Western Way, and a number of “transportation management” efforts. Describing the concepts presented that evening as “appetizers and dessert,” Mr. Ehrlich said that actual numbers were needed to support the plan’s goals. “The devil is in the details,” he commented as he wondered about the direction of traffic accessing the campus, the University’s definition of “mass transit,” the square footage and intended usage — including times of the day — of the proposed new arts center buildings, and (his suggestions) the potential implementation of flex-time and carpooling to ease traffic congestion. He has, he added, many comments about the impact of the University plans on individual neighborhoods, but said that they would wait for another time.

Among the University’s strategies for improving traffic flow in and around the campus are extending the no-car rule to sophomores in 2009 (freshmen are already not allowed to have cars on campus), relocating administrative staff parking to an off-campus site in West Windsor, enhancing bike trails, minimizing the distance between parking spots and job locations, and improving roadways as a benefit to pedestrians as well as -drivers. Mr. Kittredge reported that over 35 area intersections have been observed at morning and evening peak hours to gauge driving “delay experiences,” and that the intersections of Nassau Street and Route 206, and Alexander Street and University Place are believed to suffer the worst gridlock.

Planning Board member and former Borough mayor Marvin Reed said that he had requested the employee zip code information used by Princeton Planners in their decision-making, but had not yet received it, causing him to wonder if there was something “suspicious” in that information, “something that we aren’t supposed to see. What are the origins of the four-to-five thousand students and faculty who come to this campus every day?” he asked. He also noted that plans concerning the new Neuroscience building on Washington Road as well as the planned arts center on the opposite side of the campus must all be figured into the current discussion. Another variable, he said, is the relocation of the bookstore to Nassau Street, which has put an additional parking burden on the Borough.

The new parking garage, intended to replace Lot 21 (at Faculty Road) and provide additional spaces for the Washington Road area employees, also referred to as the “spine,” drew criticism from several members of the public. Murray Street resident Marty Schneiderman distributed copies of a bar chart showing that the proposed new 1,740 space eastern campus parking complex is 257 spaces more than all three of the existing downtown parking garages combined, representing “a 273 percent increase (from 638 to 1,740 spaces) in surface and garage parking adjacent to the stadium in our residential neighborhood.”

In a subsequent email, “neighborhood representatives,” including Mr. Schneiderman, Jim and Harini Frederickson, Si Kochen, Andrea Stine, and Connie Tate pointed to an apparent inconsistency in that “the University report from their employees that Lot 21 was the least desirable of all parking on campus because of its proximity, and the newly proposed three-story parking garage is just 60 to 90 seconds closer to campus by foot than most of Lot 21. So wouldn’t continuing to accommodate more parking closer to the center of campus on the western side of Washington Road make more sense?”

Toby Fisch, a physician who lives on FitzRandolph Road, pointed to a precedent for the current discussion in hospital area residents’ resistance to an additional parking level at the hospital garage, saying that this was among the reasons that the hospital is moving. Noting that her three children had attended preschool at University Now (also the location of the University League Nursery School), and that a large, additional childcare facility is being planned for the Broadmead area, she contemplated the coming traffic “nightmare,” and argued that adding a couple of minutes to the University’s desired five-minute walk between parking and work, by moving the parking complex further away, would actually be health-promoting.

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