February 16, 2022

Council Votes to Take Another Look At a Handicapped Parking Ordinance

By Anne Levin

Following a public hearing for an ordinance establishing a restricted zone for handicapped parking at a residence at 51 Hawthorne Avenue, Princeton Council voted 5-1 at its Monday, February 14 meeting not to approve the measure. Instead, plans are for the ordinance to be reintroduced after a more detailed set of criteria is created.

Council approved an ordinance closing a loophole related to stormwater regulation, and took part in a work session on Phase 2 of the Witherspoon Street Improvement Project, which covers Green Street to Franklin Avenue.

Bruce Lawton, who lives at 51 Hawthorne Avenue with his wife, who needs the handicapped parking designation, told Council that the topography of the property makes it especially difficult to get in and out. Several of his neighbors wrote letters to Council in favor of the passing the ordinance. The couple already have traffic cones and signage in front of their house, but it is not official and the space is often taken, Lawton said.

While all of the Council members sympathized with the couple’s request, some expressed concern that the ordinance could set an unfavorable precedent. “I certainly wish no harm to them, but I think they already have their designated parking place in front of their house,” said Councilmember Leighton Newlin. “It seems clear to me that if we adopt this ordinance that will identify a particular home and parking space, we should be prepared to set ourselves up for many, many requests for the entirety of the town of Princeton. I’m just cautioning the people who are going to make this decision not to look for a problem that already has a solution.”

Councilmember David Cohen said, “In certain neighborhoods, there are large numbers of residents who do not have on-street parking. Will residents see that as an opportunity to get a reserved space on the street, which has never been possible before?”

Councilmembers Eve Niedergang and Leticia Fraga stressed the importance of making it known that the ordinance, if passed, would make designation of a handicapped space available to anyone meeting the criteria. “Having the official space would be a great improvement for what is there, but only if it is something we do for all,” Fraga said.

With work on the first phase of the Witherspoon Street Improvement Project underway, Council got a progress report from the town’s Assistant Municipal Engineer Jim Purcell about the second segment. The main purpose, Purcell said, is to provide some additional pedestrian-friendly streetscape between Green Street and Franklin Avenue. The third phase of the project will stretch from Franklin to Valley Road.

Phase 2 is in the final stages of design. Plans are to narrow the road to some degree, which has not yet been determined. Parking will continue for residents and businesses, but some of the pavement will be taken away to expand the width of sidewalks and areas where trees are planted. A bump-out at Green Street, and possibly a raised intersection or crosswalk at Clay Street are being considered. “We’re looking at ways to add traffic-calming to this area which a lot of school kids take to Community Park School,” Purcell said.

Staff is also looking to improve the sidewalks so that they are five feet wide, allowing for wheelchairs, strollers, and more room for trees to thrive. “The idea is to keep smaller trees that are more utility-friendly, on one side, and on the other side put in larger shade trees,” Purcell said.

Cohen asked about the challenges of grade changes. “There are some really significant challenges,” he said, from safety and accessibility standpoints. “Will there be an opportunity to eliminate some of them by redoing the street, or will there be other strategies?”

Purcell said it is too early in the design process to determine that. Deanna Stockton, deputy administrator for engineering, said the staff is looking at mitigation efforts, possibly with sidewalks at two different levels, as they are in Pennington.

The plan does not have a provision for a bicycle lane. “We looked very hard at trying to accommodate bicycles in Witherspoon Street, but we just don’t have the space to do it safely,” Purcell said. “It would require us to reduce tree planting space, and the width of the sidewalk.”

During public comment, residents of the neighborhood near the crosswalk on Rosedale Road, where an elderly man was fatally struck by a car last August, voiced their frustrations that no changes have been made to improve safety at the site. The crosswalk intersects with the driveways to Johnson Park School and Greenway Meadows parking lot.

“We ask that the Council take two simple steps,” one of the residents said. “Implement traffic calming, and use the influence at the county level to speed improvements.”

Rosedale Road is a Mercer County artery, and is therefore not under the aegis of the town.

Stockton said she and Purcell have been in touch with the county and are hoping to have some information about a solution in the near future. Niedergang encouraged residents to register their concerns with the county. “It is my understanding that there are very few people who show up at Mercer County commissioner meetings,” she said. “You can reach out to county commissioners and County Executive Brian Hughes, and I plan to do the same.”