February 24, 2021

Council Updated on Plans For Streetscape and Traffic

By Anne Levin

During a work session at its February 16 meeting, Princeton Council was updated on a master plan to improve Witherspoon Street between Nassau and Green streets, and possible changes at the two main traffic signals in the downtown.

The meeting also included passage of an ordinance for modification of bicycle parking; the introduction of an ordinance adding a third member to the Affordable Housing Board; and establishment of a Vision Zero task force dedicated to eliminating traffic crashes that result in serious injuries and death. David Goldfarb, chair of the Princeton Sewer Operating Committee, made his annual presentation to the governing body, speaking strongly of the need for more resources.

“The mayor and Council must devote more of Princeton’s resources to sewers,” Goldfarb said. “The system is in disrepair. Princeton’s aging system demands a greater commitment. The sewer management position remains unfilled.” The illegal dumping scheme revealed in 2019 was “a clear warning,” Goldfarb added. “We must have increased staffing in order to maintain the system properly. Sewers are an essential part of our infrastructure. You are responsible for them.”

Mayor Mark Freda said a committee should be formed to meet with the town’s sewer design engineer, Andrew Filippi.

Since Council approved an ordinance to make traffic one way going north between Nassau and Spring streets last December, the town’s Engineering Department has been working with traffic consultants and the Historical Preservation Commission (HPC) to develop the plan, said Municipal Engineer Deanna Stockton. McMahon Associates Transportation Engineers has been reviewing the traffic signal at Nassau Street, Washington Road, and Vandeventer Avenue to try and move vehicles through more quickly. Changes to provide pedestrians more time to get across the intersection have had mixed results.

“We have made great strides with pedestrians, but there has been an impact on traffic movement,” Stockton said. “We will make a recommendation to the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) to save 12 seconds on the timing on Washington and Vandeventer.” Freda commented that if the signal at Nassau Street is changed, there must be some educational signage advising pedestrians who are crossing diagonally. Also being evaluated is a proposal to switch South Tulane Street from one-way going north to one-way going south. The change would create a clockwise rotation of traffic and relieve some of the pressure off Vandeventer Avenue.

Freda said that buildings on Spring Street are too close to the street to allow for trucks to turn safely. “Are there somehow people that believe that with the buildings being so close, that somehow you’ll get traffic past the sightlines and not have collisions?” asked Freda. “I’m just voicing serious concern. This just seems to be a recipe for disaster to me. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying it better be really well thought out.” Stockton responded that pedestrian safety was the focus. “In a few weeks, we anticipate having information to meet with local businesses and property owners in that corridor,” she said.

The NJDOT also has a project to replace the signal at Witherspoon and Nassau streets, which will come to Council next month. The changes would involve curb extension and bump-outs, possibly in front of Princeton University’s FitzRandolph Gate or Hamilton Jewelers. Stockton said she is working with the HSP subcommittee on the idea, because the HSP is usually not in favor of curb extensions or bump-outs. “We will be seeing this again in March and have a discussion as to whether Princeton is in support of such a change,” she said.

Showing renderings of how Witherspoon Street might look after improvements, Stockton said widths of the roadway range from 20 to 25 feet, allowing for the possibility of it being changed back to two-way traffic if ever needed. No parking spaces will be lost as part of the plan. The Engineering Department is considering what kinds of pavers to install, making a change from the current asphalt and concrete. Trees and green infrastructure along the street would help with stormwater control as well as beautification.

The department plans to request Council to make a resolution of support next month for the NJDOT’s intersection concept at Nassau and Witherspoon streets. A final design will hopefully be ready for bid by summer or fall, and construction could begin next January. Stockton said she will return in a few months to provide another update.

The next meeting of Council is Monday, March 8 at 7 p.m.