A proposed Princeton University arts neighborhood that is expected to usher in major changes in the area surrounding the McCarter Theatre Center will produce a greater ease in traffic, while moving New Jersey Transit's Princeton "Dinky" station nearly 500 feet further from Nassau Street, according to revised plans released by the school this week.
The updated plans, the result of meetings and public feedback in the course of a two-year campus-wide review process, provide the clearest look to date on how the school intends to pursue changes to the area that sees a significant level of activity from adjacent residential dorms, McCarter and Berlind theaters, and commuter volume from the Dinky.
Princeton University contracted with the architectural and planning firm Beyer Blinder Belle to manage the conceptual aspect of the arts neighborhood, which was launched in 2006 by a $110 million alumni donation from automotive insurance executive, Peter B. Lewis, and as plans evolve, the school has conducted an ongoing outreach campaign. Some of the major changes proposed include a roundabout on a level with the traffic configuration near the Dinky crossing on Faculty Road, as well as new academic infrastructure related to new arts programming.
A significant change in the recent revised proposal includes a public transit plaza between Alexander Street and a new Dinky station, west of the school's existing Lot 7 parking garage. The plaza, school officials say, would increase visibility of the station from Alexander Street and provide improved access to the train, the parking garage, and a relocated Wawa. A new station would also include an indoor waiting area, coffee shop, restrooms, and a newsstand.
Through it all, the fate of the Dinky has been a point of particular community interest. At a subcommittee meeting of the Regional Planning Board of Princeton earlier this year, several residents, as well as some elected officials, urged PU representatives to reconsider moving the Dinky.
These latest plans, however, indicate that the Dinky's relocation would facilitate an increase in traffic and pedestrian flow, and University officials are sticking with the plan, with some noticeable modifications.
"We have taken a fresh look at whether there is any way to create an arts neighborhood on this site and improve traffic flow in the area without moving the Dinky," said PU vice president and secretary Robert Durkee in a memo submitted to the Planning Board this week. "But that is simply not feasible."
Mr. Durkee pointed to the proposed relocation of the Wawa store and rear parking lot with the station in its current location. He also identified a perceived increase in traffic if that area were to develop without moving the Dinky the planned 460 feet to the south.
One consequence of keeping the Dinky at its current site, Mr. Durkee said, "would be a continuation of the same traffic patterns we have now, which would be even worse if a bus rapid transit had to be accommodated with the existing station."
Mr. Durkee's pointing to bus rapid transit, or BRT, refers to an ongoing New Jersey Department of Transportation study looking to implement a bus- and emergency vehicles-only lane looping around the Penns Neck Corridor. DOT has identified New Jersey Transit's Princeton Branch as a potential starting point, possibly connecting the Dinky to more regional bus lines, as well as with a Princeton community jitney system, which the University has expressed an interest in helping fund.
Princeton University owns the Dinky Station, as well as the Wawa store, and the McCarter Theatre Center.
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