July 28, 2021

Council Discusses Whether to Keep Kiosk at Witherspoon and Nassau

By Anne Levin

At its meeting Monday night, July 26, Princeton Council passed an ordinance that provides for parking improvements, and voted in favor of resolutions allowing a contract for interim free transit service in town, and a grant funding body-worn cameras for police, among other actions.

But most of the meeting was taken up with discussions and presentations on topics including whether to remove the kiosk at Witherspoon and Nassau streets, what to do with federal funding from the American Rescue Plan, and racism as a public health crisis.

The kiosk, and another at Nassau Street and Vandeventer Avenue, were  the focus of debate in 2013, when some wanted them replaced by electronic billboards. Others argued, at the time, that they are a community service allowing anyone to post notices, and the idea was dropped.

This time, the reason for possible removal of the kiosks is tied to the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s (NJDOT) plan to improve the traffic signal at Nassau and Witherspoon streets, making the intersection safer for pedestrians. Replacement of the traffic signal requires a larger controller box that is too big to fit inside the kiosk, and would not be properly ventilated, according to municipal staff and representatives of the NJDOT.

Andrew MacLane, NJDOT’s in-house design coordinator for the project, said the traffic signal is powered by a manhole owned by PSE&G. “They prefer that the controller and meter cabinets are located in the northwest corner, where the existing one is now,” he said, adding that the site is preferred because it affords an unobstructed view of the intersection, which is necessary, for safety reasons, when any maintenance is being done.

An alternative location would be across Nassau Street in front of Hamilton Jewelers, but it would not be as safe, MacLane said. The kiosk cannot be repurposed with the equipment inside of it because of concerns about ventilation of the controller itself, and access if anything goes wrong. “So confining it is not within our electrical standards,” he said.

Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros asked what the controller box would look like, and MacLane said it would be very similar to the one currently on the corner of Vandeventer Avenue, though slightly larger. Lambros suggested greenery be planted around the box.

Councilman David Cohen said the corner at Nassau and Witherspoon streets is very crowded with pedestrians, and suggested the box be located across Nassau Street in front of Princeton University. MacLane cautioned that might run into issues with the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office since FitzRandoph Gate is a historic site. Cohen suggested the box could be put off to the side, rather than in front of the gate. He added that louvers can be put into the box for ventilation. “So there are ways to address this,” he said.

Councilwoman Mia Sacks called the box “hideous” and asked if it would be possible to put it underground, but MacLane said that was not something the NJDOT would typically do.  Sacks spoke in favor of figuring out a way to keep the kiosk in place. “I know some people have problems with the kiosk because it is messy,” she said, referring to the notices that are tacked on. “But it’s consistent with a university town.”

At the beginning of the presentation, Jaimini Patel of the NJDOT said the project is in the final design stages. “Construction is planned for next year so time is of the essence,” she said. “We will use COVID relief funds for the construction. We hope to receive an answer to help us move the project along to deliver it by next year.”

It was decided that further discussion is needed before a final resolution is passed. 

Council was scheduled to reconvene on Tuesday night to consider an ordinance that changes zoning regulations for parking at Princeton Shopping Center. Another ordinance that prohibits cannabis business in Princeton will have a public hearing on August 9.