April 10, 2019

Council Appeals DOT Decision On All-Pedestrian Phase Traffic Lights

By Donald Gilpin

In a resolution adopted unanimously Monday night, Princeton Council is asking the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) to reconsider its denial of a request for an all-pedestrian phase for traffic lights at the Nassau Street at University Place, Witherspoon Street, and Washington Road intersections.

“All of the Council is united in thinking this was a mistake by the DOT,” said Council President Jenny Crumiller.
“Pedestrian safety should be just as much a priority as traffic movement, if not more.”

Over the past six years there have been more than a dozen pedestrians struck at these intersections and one pedestrian killed, according to Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert. In October 2017 a woman died after being struck by a cement truck turning left onto Washington Road from Nassau Street.

In discussing the Council’s request and the DOT’s denial, Lempert described “a disconnect with the DOT. They seem to have been evaluating Nassau Street as State Highway 27, not a street in the middle of town.”

“This was a mistake,” Crumiller continued. “I hope it’s a problem due to a response from an engineer rather than a policy maker.”

In a February 21 response to the Council’s request, DOT Bureau of Traffic Engineering (BTE) Supervising Engineer Syed Kazmi stated that the BTE had prepared simulation models to compare the current situations at the three intersections with the proposed all-pedestrian phases.

He added that the models with the pedestrian-only phase forced the traffic signals to run over capacity, increased intersection delays, increased queue lengths, and decreased the operation LOS (level of service). “BTE is not recommending the installation of the pedestrian-only phase at the three intersections,” he concluded.

“Their decision seems to fly in the face of our complete streets policy,” Lempert said. “Their analysis of traffic signals seems to have been only from the perspective of vehicles.”

“It’s dangerous to cross the street on Nassau,” Crumiller added.

Lempert noted that the DOT would be doing further traffic studies in the near future, and ”I hope those studies will show how important pedestrian movement is on Nassau.”

According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), a leading pedestrian interval (LPI), giving pedestrians a 3-7 second head start when entering an intersection, is “critical at intersections where heavy right or left turning volumes create consistent conflicts and safety concerns between vehicles and pedestrians.”

The NACTO website reports that LPIs have been shown to reduce pedestrian-vehicle collisions as much as 60 percent at treated intersections.