June 15, 2016

Public Invited to Discuss Improving Nassau Street

At first glance, the restaurants, storefronts, and wooden benches that line Nassau Street present a pleasing picture. But a closer look reveals problems С heaving sidewalks, unsightly tree wells, and areas where space is not sensibly allocated.

It has been decades since Princeton created a plan for Nassau Street, and the town is gearing up to do a new study. A big part of the plan is public input. On Saturday, June 18, officials are hoping that members of the community will drop by Nassau Street’s Garden Theatre for an interactive open house, being held from 9 a.m. to noon, to learn about what is proposed and offer suggestions.

“People don’t have to stay for the whole thing. It’s very interactive,” said Deanna Stockton, Princeton’s assistant municipal engineer. “They can drop in. We want their help on how to re-envision and re-energize the street.”

The town is working with consultants Looney Ricks Kiss (LRK), a Princeton planning firm, on the project. LRK will set up displays related to subjects such as different seating options. One proposal for an area where the sidewalk is wide is to provide face-to-face seating instead of benches parallel to the curb and facing buildings. “It would become more of a conversation area rather than just a people-watching area,” Ms. Stockton said.

Different paving options will be explored, with stones people can examine. Outside the theater, a tree well will be “greened up,” Ms. Stockton said, to show one option for greenery. Some placement of outdoor seating and dining will be displayed. Inside, simulations of some other conditions will be shown on a screen, and community members will be asked to vote on the changes they would like to see.

Princeton Council member Jo Butler has been vocal on more than one occasion about the deteriorating condition of Nassau Street. She is hoping that the open house will be the first step in creating a document that has implications beyond that roadway. “I’d like to see a unified plan that will work for Nassau Street, and hopefully we can play off of that on Witherspoon Street as well,” she said. The lack of a unified plan for Witherspoon Street has made for a less-than-ideal result regarding the streetscape around the AvalonBay development currently under construction at the former Princeton Hospital site, she added.

On Nassau Street, “We know that the sidewalks have outlived their natural life,” Ms. Butler continued. “They’re growing more unattractive by the moment. So before we get to the point where we’re doing it without much thought, we should have a really good plan in place. It’s Princeton and we love it because we love it. We all love it. But when I travel for work and see what other communities are doing and then I come back, I think we can do better. We can green up the streetscape. Lots of cities and communities have put in big, attractive planters, and we can do that.”

Mayor Liz Lempert agrees that a fully developed plan is in order. “We don’t want to end up doing parts here and there, and having different looks for different parts of the street,” she said. “This is a time to look at things and decide.”

Princeton University is funding the first phase of the study. Results will be collected by LRK to further refine design guidelines not just for Nassau Street, but for other parts of the central business district as funding becomes available. “I feel like we’re in a downward spiral,” said Ms. Butler. “It’s not as attractive as it could be, and people feel emboldened to throw their trash on the street. But the more you take care of a place, the more other people will take care of it, too.”