November 2, 2022

Traffic Safety Committee Shares Challenges, Accomplishments in Making Roads Safer

To the Editor:

We would like to respond to Mr. Kerachsky’s letter to share both the challenges and some of the measures we are taking to improve safety for diverse roadway users in Princeton.

The municipality has had in place a Complete Streets policy since at least 2013, establishing the principle that all roadways must be designed to consider and accommodate the needs of all users. After several abortive attempts to install bicycle facilities during a few roadway redesigns in the following years, in 2016, we hired an engineering consultant to develop specific recommendations for an entire network of bike facilities, so the entire community could see the rationale behind when and where specific types of facilities should be provided — bike lanes, shared side paths, bike boulevards, and other share-the-road signage. These were incorporated into the Community Master Plan in 2017. Subsequently we commissioned an in-depth study of the Robeson-Wiggins-Hamilton corridor to assess the practical aspects of how to achieve a truly viable design solution. Other detailed studies are planned for other major corridors in the coming years, such as Harrison Street, Washington Road, and Nassau Street.

While the current Master Plan calls for improvements to be made on each road as they come up for reconstruction during the regular cycle of roadway maintenance, and as funding becomes available, Council has recognized that dangerous locations should receive priority, and has adopted a commitment to Vision Zero, which focuses on elimination of deaths and serious injuries on our roads through data-based decision making. The Vision Zero Task Force is working on recommendations not only for Complete Streets design changes to our road system, but also policies concerning micro-mobility, street lighting, traffic signal timing, and speed limit adjustments to further these safety goals. It is anticipated that many of these recommendations will make their way into the Master Plan, which is currently undergoing a long-awaited overhaul, and ultimately into our municipal code.

Why is it so difficult to accomplish these goals, and why does it take so long? At the root of the challenge lie our old and modestly scaled, tree-lined roadways. Newer suburbs which were mostly farmland only 50 years ago, were planned with generous public rights-of-way, which can welcome ample car travel lanes, parallel parking, buffered bicycle lanes, and dedicated pedestrian sidewalks all within the public realm. In Princeton, by contrast, we must try to squeeze all users into our much narrower rights-of-way, and if we don’t want to cut down our gorgeous, environmentally beneficial street trees, we are left working in even narrower existing cartways. Every new accommodation for a new class of user often means removing a convenience that longtime users are accustomed to and hold dear. Working out the details takes time.

We are all on the same side — please bear with us as we strive to make Princeton the welcoming, safe place for all roadway users we dream it can be.

David Cohen
On behalf of the Traffic Safety Committee
Witherspoon Street