May 15, 2019

All-Pedestrian Cross Phase To Have Trial at Intersection

By Anne Levin

At a meeting of Princeton Council May 6, it was announced that the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) will conduct a two-week trial of a pedestrian-only phase in the crosswalk at the intersection of Nassau Street and Washington Road. The trial begins June 10.

The intersection has long been considered dangerous. In October 2017, a woman was struck and killed by a cement truck turning left onto Washington Road from Nassau Street as she attempted to cross Washington Road. In 2016, the NJDOT had made some changes to traffic signals at those two streets, and at Vandeventer Avenue, in an attempt to make the crossings safer.

The NJDOT had initially rejected the municipality’s request for the pedestrian cross phase. But after a conference call early this month, a pilot program was proposed by the NJDOT. The idea had been suggested in previous studies of crosswalks on Nassau Street by the former Borough, and, more recently, with the municipality’s traffic safety and transportation committees, said Deanna Stockton, municipal administrator.

The NJDOT sent a signal phasing schedule to the town, which is now being

evaluated. “We’ve taken a look at what they’ve sent us, and we think it looks reasonable,” Stockton said this week.

It is concerns about increased traffic congestion that have made the NJDOT reluctant to install the pedestrian-only signal phase. “NJDOT has a responsibility for providing safe pedestrian accommodations on state roadways while not increasing traffic congestion and gridlock on a critical roadway through any town,” spokesperson Stephen Schapiro wrote in an email. “Balancing these concerns is paramount for any roadway improvements NJDOT considers. Upon completion of the trial, NJDOT will review the findings to determine what is best in terms of safety and operational performance at the intersection for all users.”

Stockton said that traffic congestion “is not the determinant of success in this case for Princeton, while what we understand from the state is that they want to move traffic. We want to accommodate all road users. It might turn out that everybody has to wait a little bit longer to have safe movement in the corridor.”

The NJDOT will re-time the signal to provide an all-pedestrian cross phase that is activated only when pedestrians push a button and wait until the pedestrian interval appears. At last week’s meeting, Stockton said, “We’re really excited this opportunity has presented itself to us after all the hard work of the mayor and Council in pushing back on the previous denials.”

The town will have a follow-up meeting with the NJDOT on June 24. “If it is determined to be successful, we may be allowed to continue,” Stockton said. “We will put out more information to let the public know how this is supposed to work. There is a fallback plan if we do find some unintended consequences. It could allow more time for people to cross. Right now, pedestrians who want to cross Nassau Street actually get a three-second head start in front of the vehicles, but there is the possibility we can adjust that if we want to try something other than the all-pedestrian cross phase.”