September 4, 2013

Moving the Dinky In Spite of Widespread Community Opposition Is Bad Public Policy

To the Editor:

The manner in which Princeton University has gained approvals to dismantle the Dinky station and tracks has been shockingly dishonest for an academic institution. I believe it is important to set the record straight.

At the beginning of the rezoning process in 2011, University Vice President Bob Durkee and Director of Community and Regional Affairs Kristin Appleget invited me as a Borough Council member to view and discuss an architect’s model of the development. The buildings appeared to be located away from the path of the existing train tracks and it looked like a bridge for the tracks over the parking garage driveway would allow pedestrian and vehicle access. Mr. Durkee told me that the University had tried to find a solution that saved the Dinky, but that it was not possible. This strained credulity, given the University’s Washington Road overpass and similar architectural solutions to such challenges elsewhere in the world, but it was the University’s official position, and it was an important argument: there was no other way. However, University architects and engineers later stated in Planning Board and Borough Council meetings that none had been asked about preserving the station and no such alternatives were explored. No reasoning has been offered as to why a bridge is not feasible.

The University also claimed its plan would protect the Dinky in light of uncertain state funding. Former President Tilghman stated: “We have been told that if we fail to take advantage of this opportunity to improve the area around the Dinky it will remain vulnerable to further cutbacks.” The implication was that opposition risked losing train service entirely. Again, this was important to decision-makers. Yet NJ Transit officials later informed the Borough Council, on record in a public meeting, that the truth is the opposite. The Dinky is one of its better-performing lines and funding cuts were never being considered.

Most significantly, the University vowed in public and in a May 2011 letter that it would move the Dinky whether rezoning was approved or not. (There was, therefore, no need to explore alternatives, including a claimed request for state approval for a grade crossing, of which there is no record.) Elected and appointed representatives worked to make the best of the situation, given the University’s unequivocal position; it was no use to deny rezoning. Nearly every official who approved rezoning expressed opposition to moving the station. Yet, in testimony to state agencies and in public communications, the University cites rezoning approval as evidence of community-wide support for moving the Dinky.

At every opportunity the University characterizes opposition to moving the Dinky as the complaints of a small group of objectors. It is purposefully deceitful in equating community support for the arts campus with widespread support for moving the Dinky. The truth is that there has been widespread objection in the community and nearly universal opposition among elected and appointed officials to moving the Dinky for a very good reason: it is bad public policy.

Jenny Crumiller

Princeton Council, Library Place