Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 39
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
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Dinky’s Future Goes Before the Board

Dilshanie Perera

The Princeton Regional Planning Board will consider pursuing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as an alternative to the Dinky during its open public meeting this Thursday, September 30, at 7:30 p.m. at the Township Municipal Complex.

Ahead of the meeting, the non-profit organization Princeton Future met on Saturday for presentations and a community-wide discussion of public transit in town.

Chair of the Master Plan Subcommittee of the Planning Board Marvin Reed noted that for two years, the body had been wrestling with the question of improving public transit in town. BRT had also been the subject of many discussions of the Central New Jersey Transportation Forum beginning 10 years ago.

The concept of BRT involves dedicated roadways specifically for special low-rise, low-emissions or electric buses. If the buses have to venture onto the main roads, they could be equipped with technologies to change the traffic light to green as they approach, making for a faster ride.

Mr. Reed acknowledged that in town “we don’t have the capacity to absorb what we’ve zoned for,” meaning that with greater density and more people, traffic congestion by cars would increase unless viable public transit options were made available.

A review of the light rail system in central N.J. versus a BRT system concluded that BRT “would better serve regional demand,” Mr. Reed said. The Dinky right-of-way was seen as a core connection that could be utilized in the BRT system.

Describing “enhanced station stops,” “priority roadways,” and a streamlined fare system, Mr. Reed pointed out that BRT “is not just another bus.”

BRT would be a project spearheaded by New Jersey Transit. The possibility that the vehicle might run from the Junction to the location of the current Dinky station and then continue up University Place through the downtown is under consideration as well.

“The system has expandability,” Borough Councilman Kevin Wilkes added.

Anita Garoniak of the Save the Dinky campaign made a case for preserving the form and function of the current Dinky. “There’s a high demand for it during rush hour, and it would involve no additional capital expenditures,” she said, noting that the rail vehicle sees 1,700 rider trips per weekday. “It can make the 6.7 miles to Princeton Junction in under five minutes.”

“BRT is completely inappropriate for Princeton streets … it gets transit into the center of town, but at what cost?” Ms. Garoniak wondered, adding that “significant taxpayer investment in infrastructure” would be the likely outcome. She estimated that the entire conversion would cost $87 million and that the capacity of the buses would be less than the Dinky. Characterizing the BRT as something destined to fail because Princeton is a small town, and the fact that “they work in large cities with huge metro areas,” she pointed out the ridership on the FreeB jitney shuttle, which sees approximately 28 rides per day, is minimal compared to the use of the Dinky.

“The promise of an area-wide BRT system should not lure Princeton into being the test case,” she added.

Borough Council President Andrew Koontz and Princeton Professor Alain Kornhauser took the Dinky preservation and transit augmentation arguments in a different direction in a proposal that would involve moving the Dinky to below grade level by the time it gets to the University’s campus. Mr. Kornhauser advocated having the Dinky tunnel under the campus with its final stop in Palmer Square.

“All the infrastructure in place today would be retained,” Mr. Koontz said, noting that for much of the current route, the Dinky would be running along a cut in the landscape, as opposed to a fully covered tunnel, which would likely be more costly. Mr. Koontz suggested that the “Princeton Station could be a standalone station below grade or as part of the [University-proposed] performing arts building.”

Along with Council member Jenny Crumiller, Mr. Koontz proposed a draft resolution supporting the construction of the below-grade rail system to members of the Borough’s governing body at its meeting on Tuesday night after Town Topics press time.

“We need more public discussion of the alternatives,” Ms. Crumiller acknowledged. “This plan strikes a nice balance between those two interests, which are now competing,” said Mr. Koontz.

Other ideas presented at the Princeton Future meeting included support for the modern street car presented by Carlos Rodrigues, and a Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system proposed by Chip Crider and J. Edward Anderson. See this week’s Topics of the Town and Mailbox for additional community input.

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