Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 6
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
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Shuttle Route to Extend Transit Coverage

Dilshanie Perera

The town may see a shuttle route linking key areas like the downtown, Elm Court, Witherspoon Street, and the Shopping Center within the next three to four months.

Residents and members of the governing bodies, Princeton University, and other local business and non-profit institutions gathered together on Tuesday morning for a Princeton Partnership meeting on mobility and transportation during which a presentation was made regarding extending the Free B jitney shuttle service to the aforementioned areas.

The Princeton Partnership is a collaboration of businesses, institutions, governments, and community NGOs established by the non-partisan volunteer organization Princeton Future.

Township Deputy Mayor Chad Goerner explained how the improved integration of the various shuttle and public transit services in town had been a key item of discussion and research since the spring of last year by a working group comprised of himself, Chair of the Borough Traffic and Transportation Committee Anton Lahnston, University Director of Community and Regional Affairs Kristin Appelget, and University Director of Parking and Transportation Kim Jackson.

“We want to better coordinate our efforts to create some synergy and cost-savings,” Mr. Goerner explained at the meeting, which was held at the Princeton Public Library, observing that providing transit service to major population clusters was the main goal.

Princeton University hired consulting firm Gannett Fleming in the winter of 2009 to determine how to best integrate the transit systems. The conversations led to a trial run of a holiday weekend shuttle, which was described as “hugely successful” and something that “demonstrates the need for some kind of transit service” that links major hubs in town, said Ms. Jackson.

Characterizing the process as one in which housing, shopping, medical, governmental, and educational institutions were considered as “potential transit generators,” the group and consultants mapped existing routes, and gathered data about ridership on the Free B, as well as New Jersey Transit and suburban bus services, as well as transit time over a four-month span.

“The spring through the fall was ‘massive data collection mode,’” joked Mr. Lahnston.

Subsequently, the team considered how to best serve communities with relative lack of access to transportation.

Ten initial routes were narrowed down to one, called “Alternative D” which connects Elm Court and the Harriet Bryan House to Nassau Street, Harrison Street, Wiggins, the downtown, Witherspoon Street, Valley Road, and the Shopping Center, as well as municipal and public institutions, like the Suzanne Patterson Center and the Medical Center, along the way.

The shuttle would likely be operated jointly by the Borough and Township, with the possibility of outside contracting, or developing an interlocal agreement with funding.

Ms. Appelget noted that the schedule is currently constrained by an agreement with NJ Transit, which stipulates that the free jitney be used to transport commuters from downtown to the Dinky station from 5:30 to 9 a.m. and from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. She mentioned that they are currently evaluating the benefits of running the shuttle for eight hours versus six hours.

A final report will be made to Council and Committee within the next few weeks, and plans are in the works to partner with the merchant community to create an incentive for riders.

Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi advised that the group collect ridership data for particular origins and destinations, and set goals to be able to measure success. He also noted that the route would have to be approved by NJ Transit authorities.

“This will have an enormous impact on the town, and the way people think about the town,” said Princeton Future Chair Robert Geddes.

“This goes beyond transportation we’re linking together the very fabric of the community,” Mr. Bruschi said of the partnership between the two municipalities, University, and other institutions.

Master Plan Subcommittee Chair and Regional Planning Board member Marvin Reed also spoke about a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system during the meeting.

NJ Transit had approached the planning board to consider a BRT system, gain endorsements from the municipalities, cooperate in a larger regional rapid transit network, establish initial phases, and identify locations for transit delivery, Mr. Reed said.

Such a system may replace the Dinky over the next three to four years if a dedicated roadway is provided for a bus running from Princeton Junction to Nassau Street. “The existing system will be replaced by a much more efficient system,” Mr. Reed suggested.

A preliminary look at a Bus Rapid Transit system will be presented at the Borough Council meeting on February 23 at 7:30 p.m., and at the Township Committee meeting on March 8 at 7 p.m. Both meetings are open to the public.

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