November 8, 2017

Planning Board Approves Bike Plan, Removes West Drive From Master Plan

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton Planning Board voted unanimously last Thursday night to adopt Princeton’s first official Bike Mobility Plan. “After many decades of patient pushing, and two long years of intensive civic engagement, history was made,” the Princeton Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) announced.

Councilman Tim Quinn, who is also a Planning Board member and liaison to the BAC, described the landmark decision as “the most significant milestone in our efforts to put pedestrians and cyclists in Princeton on the same footing as motorists.” 

He continued, “This articulates our aspirations as a community to be a place where people can choose multiple means of transportation — a significant step in building a bike and pedestrian culture in Princeton,” he said.

Adoption of the Bike Mobility Plan into the Circulation Element of the Municipal Master Plan does not mean that the Bike Plan recommendations will all necessarily be implemented — they are goals or recommendations for the Council to consider. But Quinn pointed out, “This decision sets us on a course where we can achieve a balance. We’re increasingly aware that we’re not the car-dominated culture that we once were. Increasingly people who live in this town prefer to walk or bike around town.”

In reviewing some of the recommendations of the Bike Plan, Quinn noted that the engineering consultants’ report revealed that many more people said they would take up biking if they felt safe.

The BAC cited the adoption of the Bike Plan as “a huge development for sustainable transportation in Princeton,” and BAC Chair Janet Heroux added, “What’s also really positive is that the Planning Board agreed to adopt performance measures to track progress (e.g. bike and walk traffic counts, miles of sidewalk and bike lanes installed, congestion measurements).” She mentioned that for both public health and environmental reasons, “There has been much more attention paid to walking and biking recently.”

She continued, “Before it was just about cars. But the idea of the Complete Streets Plan is to make the roads usable for all users — cyclists, pedestrians, scooters, wheelchairs, and motor vehicles. We also hope to make the streets safer for kids riding to school. The municipal leadership has been very forward-thinking on this. I’m thrilled.”

Planning Board Vice Chair Gail Ullman observed that biking advocates had been disappointed in the past at the slow pace of change, but that there had been a gradual shift in the text of the Circulation Element reflecting shifting priorities in the town. Ullman explained that over the past 15 years the Circulation Element has been revised many times. “Early on, the first section in the Element dealt with cars,” she said. “Pedestrians and bicycles fell to the end. Over time, that priority has been largely reversed, along with the values of the town.”

West Drive

In another widely-acclaimed decision, in response to concerns of the Springdale Community, the Planning Board voted unanimously on Thursday to delete West Drive from the Circulation Element of the Master Plan, blocking any future plans to connect Springdale Road to West Drive and open the combined road as a major artery into and out of Princeton.

“It was an enormous victory for the neighborhood and the whole community — not having traffic coming through,” said Carl Mayer, officer pro tem of the Springdale Institute Neighborhood Association (SPINA), recently created to oppose development of West Drive. “The road would pass right through wetlands, Rogers Wildlife Refuge, the D&R Canal, and the Institute Woods. It’s a very important area for the environment and history. The Planning Board elevated preservation and protection over development and traffic.”

At an October 11 public meeting, after hearing from numerous members of the community, the Master Plan Subcommittee of the Planning Board had voted unanimously to recommend the deletion of West Drive from the Circulation Element of the Master Plan.

In commenting on last Thursday’s full Planning Board confirmation of that decision, Quinn said, “I was pleased to see that Springdale Road residents came out and thanked the Planning Board. West Drive shouldn’t have been in the Element in the first place. It was a good outcome for everyone, an accomplishment.”