Although the late-January storm that never happened postponed the public hearing on the bike lane ordinance from January 26 to February 18, another sort of storm has been brewing among residents living on a three-block stretch of Hamilton Avenue who feel blindsided by the sudden introduction of an ordinance that would construct bike lanes at the expense of on-street parking.
The lone “no” vote when the ordinance was introduced at the January 12 Council meeting came from Council member Patrick Simon, who lives on a neighboring street. In a telephone interview Tuesday, he said he cast his vote after consulting with 21 Hamilton Avenue residents, 15 of whom were against the plan, four in favor, and two undecided. Since then Mr. Simon has twice spoken with homeowners on Hamilton and with residents on side streets. As he wrote in his January 21 letter to Town Topics, he remains unconvinced of “the merits of the proposed changes,” feeling that the public has not had “adequate input into this ordinance and the larger plans for a bicycling network throughout town.” He also shares the general concern about the difficulties the strict parking regulations would cause for the handicapped and the elderly.
Mr. Simon pointed out that the master plan put into effect in November 2013 contains no reference to the construction of bike lanes and related enforcement of no parking rules on Hamilton. Nor were residents notified of the bike lane issue in a June message announcing a meeting about plans for widening and improving the street. At the meeting, which was lightly attended, residents heard for the first time the full extent of changes being planned. Those who were there were not happy with the plan.
As a resident of the neighborhood, Mr. Simon knows from experience the complexity of the parking issue. “Whenever a big event is held at the Jewish Center on Nassau, there’s an overflow of parked cars and Hamilton is one of the main streets used.” If parking were banned there, the impact on the side streets would be significant.
Asked about how the Council would react to the arguments against the plan at next Wednesday’s neighborhood meeting, he thinks a reversal is unlikely (“You would have to flip three votes”), though he foresees the possibility of a compromise that would delay the vote. “Council has to take notice and recognize what’s been done and what hasn’t,” he said, mentioning the need to consult with the engineering department.
Consulted about the issue, Princeton University Professor and Director of the Transportation Program Alain Kornhauser said in an email, “If we somehow wanted to better accommodate the small percentage of trips taken by bicycle, then we need to be looking at much more than the couple of blocks on Hamilton. We also need to better understand how our sidewalks are being used.”
Other residents interviewed Monday included a homeowner who rides a bike to work and downtown but finds the plan “ill-conceived,” having seen relatively little bicycle traffic on Hamilton.
Hornor Lane resident Peter Thompson, who has lived adjacent to Hamilton for 50 years, is also a frequent bicycle rider. Besides being concerned that the surrounding roads (Hornor, Stanley, Harriet, and Leavitt) are going to be relegated to the parking role that will be prohibited on Hamilton and will make the side streets “even less child (and bicycle) friendly,” he is afraid that this seems like a “bike path to nowhere” and thinks “the municipality should be spelling that out clearly now rather than presenting the overall plan in a piecemeal fashion.”
A message from Princeton Joint Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee (PBAC) addressing the fact that the number of cyclists on the streets seems to preclude the need for the bike lane ordinance suggested, “Many people in Princeton are cycling already, but other college towns have higher rates of cycling. Why is this? Research shows that safe street design is the single biggest factor in determining numbers of cyclists. When streets are designed with all users in mind, many more people choose to cycle.”
Patrick Simon ended his January 21 letter in terms that still hold true except for the date: “Please consider attending the February 18 neighborhood meeting to hear about what is being proposed, to share your own concerns, and to listen to the concerns of others within the community regarding this issue.”
The meeting will take place at 7 p.m., Wednesday, February 18, in the Main Meeting Room at Witherspoon Hall. The Council, Mayor Lempert, and members of the Traffic and Transportation Committee, and the Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee will attend. Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance at its meeting on Tuesday, February 24, at 7 p.m.