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University Sliding Bad Project (Dinky) Through Approval Process Under Cover of Good One

To the Editor:

I am greatly disappointed to hear that the Princeton Regional Planning Board has voted to approve Princeton University’s plans for its new Arts Center and the Dinky train shuttle between Princeton and the Northeast Corridor train line at Princeton Junction. I agree entirely that the Arts Center should go forward immediately. But this really has nothing to do with the Dinky, except for the fact that Princeton University has dishonorably and disingenuously tried to package the two plans together, in order to slide a bad project through the public approval process under cover of a good one.

The Dinky terminus at the Princeton end will be moved 460 feet out of town, AND have a long staircase interposed between it and the town, AND have a road interposed between it and the town, AND have drop-off parking moved from the bottom of University Place to a location one traffic circle and multiple street lights and pedestrian crossings further away from town. All for the purpose NOT of enabling an Arts Center, for which none of these physical changes need be made, but instead simply to give the University better access from Alexander Road to one of its parking lots. The Dinky plan is patently awful public-amenity planning, for these reasons and others (it will prevent possible future extension of the Dinky line into town, it will further burden traffic on the Alexander Road route out of town and pin this route between University-controlled land on both sides, etc.). It would be laughed out of any reasonable public policy forum, were it not being camouflaged by the Arts Center stalking horse.

If the Dinky plan is ultimately effectuated, the sad lessons to draw will be that (1) the University is as capable of degrading the public welfare for selfish reasons as any other big, rich, and overly self-satisfied private actor; (2) the University can be quite unintelligent in weighing up long-term benefits for itself (as well as for the town) against minor gains for itself (and losses for the town); (3) our public servants have failed us in not separating the Arts Center and Dinky plans and making sure that the good plan did not come at the high cost of the bad plan; (4) our public servants have failed us in not coming up with a better way to give the University better access to its parking lot (surely something we should be rushing to help the University achieve, without having to rip up functioning electric transportation infrastructure); (5) our local news media have failed us in not seeing through the ruse of an “Arts and Transit” neighborhood and speaking truth to power; and (6) the University and the town are about to vandalize a unique and extremely valuable amenity — an electrified (and extendable) right-of-way from the Northeast Corridor almost to the Princeton town center. So close, and yet so far.

The town of Princeton has only two things that really differentiate it from most other suburbs in the country: Princeton University and the Dinky connection to the nation’s busiest transit corridor. The town has now decided to permit the stronger of these two assets to cannibalize the weaker. It will only make Princeton more of a “one-company town”, and give the University even more power to override the local public good in favor of its private interests in the future.

Richard Baumann

Princeton University Class of 1981,

Rosedale Road

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