July 8, 2020

Addressing Misunderstandings About Slow Streets Initiative

To the Editor,

The Slow Streets initiative is part of a larger effort to rebalance our roadways in response to changed patterns of use during the COVID pandemic and the associated shut-down. Fewer cars have been on the road because people have not been commuting to work, either due to layoff, furlough, or because they have been working from home. Unfortunately, statistics (and our local police) have seen increased reckless behavior by drivers and increased rates of crashes and injuries during this period. At the same time, many more Princetonians of all ages have been out walking and biking, for recreation, for exercise, and/or to get around town. 

Strict public health guidelines for social distancing create the need for even more space on the roadway for these users. Our narrow sidewalks do not permit pedestrians to pass each other safely without stepping into the road, and many of our peripheral streets do not even have sidewalks, so pedestrians must be in the road all of the time. New Jersey, Mercer County, and Princeton all have long-standing Complete Streets policies which state that all classes of roadway user are equally entitled to be accommodated in our public rights-of-way. Slow Streets are an attempt not to change behavior but to validate, and formally authorize, the new patterns of roadway use during the pandemic.

Slow Streets, as public rights-of-way, will remain open to the public at all times. Every walker or cyclist from any part of town, or from out of town, will be welcome to use these roadways. Every resident, their guests, and those providing local services will be entitled to use the roads for vehicular access. Public parking regulations will remain unchanged.

The public has been, and continues to be, consulted on the selection and implementation of this low-cost initiative. We have also consulted the Engineering Department, Public Safety, Sustainable Princeton, the schools, and Princeton University’s Office of Transportation and Parking Services. We have researched policies in other towns throughout the state and the country who have already implemented similar programs.

In addition, a detailed set of criteria was created for evaluating the suitability of each proposed Slow Street. These include: roadway classification in Princeton’s Master Plan, density of the neighborhood served, adequacy of existing facilities for cyclists and pedestrians, connectivity to important destinations in town, and the availability of convenient alternative routes for drivers who might be excluded, among others. Many of the selected roadways serve our less affluent neighborhoods, and are especially welcomed by residents of these neighborhoods who rely on alternative transportation for a variety of reasons.

Princeton’s public schools and Princeton University are extremely concerned about transportation issues as they reopen. School buses and Tiger Transit will be severely constrained by social distancing requirements, and unable to accommodate a fraction of their usual ridership. They realize that they need to encourage dramatic increases in biking and walking to avoid a tsunami of private automobile congestion when students return, hopefully in September. Improvements to the biking and walking networks in town, including Slow Streets, are seen as critical to the success of this change.

David Cohen
Council President

Lisa Serieyssol
Princeton Bicycle Advisory Committee Chair