January 29, 2020

Residents Urge Fix For Edgehill Traffic, Dangerous Conditions

By Donald Gilpin

Tucked away between Mercer Street (Princeton Pike) and Stockton Street (Route 206), and only a single block long, Edgehill Street is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Princeton. Alexander Hamilton once lived on the street. When the Continental Congress met in Princeton in 1783, he and James Madison resided in the house known as the Barracks.

According to a number of current residents, however, this 22-foot-wide 18th-century lane has become a significant traffic problem. Sean Wilentz, who lives with his family on the street, described “a growing emergency on Edgehill Street with reckless, speeding, and abusive motorists, using the street as a cut-through and treating it as a combination short-cut and drag strip. The situation has degenerated over the last few years, and it has now become a severe danger to life, limb, and property.”

A group of five Edgehill Street residents, who gathered at Wilentz’s home on Saturday morning to discuss the problem and look for solutions, agreed that traffic woes have made life on Edgehill increasingly dangerous in the past five years and that quality of life there has steadily declined.

“This is a disaster waiting to happen,” said Wilentz. “This is an emergency, not something that should be delayed to next week, let alone next year.”

On Sunday evening, January 12, Wilentz’s Honda CRV, which was parked legally across the street from his house, was struck by a car traveling from Mercer Street towards Stockton Street, causing extensive damage to both cars. According to the police report, the driver of the vehicle was found to be at fault and was charged with careless driving.

“This is not a run-of-the-mill crash story,” said Wilentz. “It is a story about an entire street, one of Princeton’s most venerable, being afflicted and at times even terrorized by out-of-control motorists. These include, as in the case of the recent crash, otherwise respectable Princetonians who have displayed a heedless and even criminal disregard for the lives and property of Edgehill Street’s neighbors, let alone for the law.” Wilentz also noted frequent “foul-mouthed, even menacing abuse” from motorists who were asked to slow down.

The municipality recognized the problem at a public hearing on November 4, 2019. A Princeton Traffic Analysis report, a study performed on a voluntary basis without compensation  by Jon Crumiller, chief operating officer of Princeton Consultants Inc., revealed significant motorist abuses on Edgehill in 2018-19, with 4.1 percent of drivers exceeding the speed limit by more than 11 miles per hour, and .6 percent by more than 16 miles per hour.

Silvana Clark, who moved with her family to Edgehill Street about four years ago, emphasized the urgency of the situation, relating how her young daughter was almost hit by a car. “The cars speed like you can’t imagine,” she said. Years before, when she had lived in a heavily-trafficked neighborhood in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, her son had narrowly escaped being hit by a car. She described how she got together with her neighbors to call for help from the authorities, and within two years the street was closed with the installation of a dead end.

“I’m not suggesting that happen here,” she said. “It’s a different situation, but the response in our town was very swift. When my little girl was almost hit it brought back memories, I thought, ‘This is haunting me again. It’s been a constant concern. It shouldn’t have to be. God forbid someone gets hurt or killed. This is not OK.’”

The Princeton Police Department (PPD), the Municipal Engineering Department, and the Princeton Council have had Edgehill Street’s traffic issues on their agendas for some time, but it is not clear when, or if, traffic-calming measures — e.g. speed bumps, speed tables, raised intersections, raised crosswalks — might be implemented.

“Edgehill has been identified as a street eligible for traffic-calming consideration,” said Municipal Engineer Deanna Stockton. “We have been working closely with the Edgehill residents to understand and address their traffic concerns.”

PPD Chief Nicholas Sutter acknowledged that PD studies have shown speeding vehicles on Edgehill. “On a narrow street with parked vehicles we understand that an increased volume of vehicles using Edgehill to travel between 206 and Mercer Street creates traffic concerns. There are also some sightline issues that we have noted and are working to correct.” 

Sutter emphasized that the January 12 crash was due to driver inattention, not speed, that the overwhelming number of crashes are caused mainly by driver inattention, and that the PPD is implementing distracted driver campaigns during 2020 to assist with that problem throughout the community.

“We are working with engineering on traffic-calming measures that may be effective on Edgehill Street,” he said, but he cited challenges posed by national traffic safety standards, unintended consequences from any measures that are implemented, and engineering concerns posed by the fact that it is a historical district.

Unwilling to put a timeline on this project, Sutter noted, “It is in everybody’s interest that we proceed in a deliberate fashion and weigh all the options available. I do believe that in the end we will be able to implement measures that will address many of the issues. In any event, we realize the importance of this issue, and this is a priority for us.”

Council President David Cohen confirmed that Edgehill was on the list of ten Princeton streets prioritized for traffic calming in the near future, and at Monday night’s Council meeting the traffic-calming initiative was included as a goal for the coming year. “Deanna indicated that some of the work is already underway,” Cohen wrote in an email Tuesday, “although they are still working on what specific quick interventions are appropriate for Edgehill.”

The residents of Edgehill are hoping for improvements in the traffic situation sooner rather than later. “It can’t just be talked about,” Clark said.

“We need some action,” added Wilentz, warning of the likelihood of “a serious and perhaps tragic event. We’re particularly vulnerable to these problems here. There are plenty of other streets that have problems, but objectively Edgehill has unique problems because of the nature of the street.”