February 12, 2020

Witherspoon Improvement Meeting Will Kick Off Concept Study

By Anne Levin

To most observers, Hinds Plaza appears to be in reasonably good shape. But the 15-year-old public space next to Princeton Public Library is up for some improvements, according to the town’s engineering and planning departments. Along with Witherspoon Street, the plaza is the focus of a concept study that will begin Thursday, February 13 from 6-8 p.m. with the first of three public gatherings in the main meeting room at the former Borough Hall, 1 Monument Drive.

The municipality wants ideas from the public on how to improve these two key areas of town. Feedback will be sought on pedestrian, bicycle, transit, and motor vehicle improvements; street lighting; tree and other vegetation additions; public art; seating and other street furniture; and any other features that will enhance Witherspoon Street and Hinds Plaza.

“The intention isn’t to totally remake Hinds Plaza, but since it’s a major space, we want to look at some improvements,” Mayor Liz Lempert said Monday. “We’d like to explore some additional opportunities for public art. We want to hear from the public. It’s a wonderful space, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.”

Witherspoon Street’s slope causes some problems along its mostly narrow sidewalks, which can be normalized, said Council President David Cohen, adding that the town is studying the Complete Streets plan as part of the process. “We’re more and more interested in green infrastructure — areas where water can soak in instead of being piped off somewhere.”

Plans of the roadway and plaza will be on display at the meetings. The February 13 gathering will begin with a short presentation to review the goals of this master planning process, design, and construction project, and to provide more details on the schedule.

The initial focus is on Witherspoon Street. Between now and April, the town plans to hold more public engagement events, surveys, and other outreach efforts regarding the roadway. In April, the schematic design drawings for the entire Witherspoon Street corridor reflecting the master plan for imminent and future improvements will be prepared.
From May through November, work will be done on construction plans for Witherspoon from Nassau to Green streets. The improvements are scheduled to be implemented next year in spring through autumn. And from 2022-2025, improvements to the rest of Witherspoon Street will be designed and built, “as priorities and budgets allow,” according to a press release.

Those who can’t attend the first public meeting who would like to provide written comments by email can send them to engineering@princetonnj.gov. More information can be found at princetonnj.gov/resources/witherspoon-street-improvement-project.

“Witherspoon is a really important street, and we want to reimagine it as a pleasurable, inviting experience,” said Lempert. “Everybody is familiar with it and has opinions, so we see this as being part of a broader community conversation rather than just talking to immediate neighbors. We are hoping to hear from a lot of people.”