Princeton Council is seeking public input into plans from NJDOT to expand Route 1 south of Princeton. You can now have your say directly by going to this site, where you can enter your address and leave feedback.
At this point there are several plans under discussion, so it’s worth considering them together:
1. The NJDOT ‘Fall 2012’ plan: This was an attempt by NJDOT in 2012 to close jughandle road entrances to Princeton, which was abandoned mid-way through the pilot amid resident opposition and reported risks to public safety.
2. The NJDOT ‘Intermediate’ plan (above): This is sometimes described as the ‘new’ plan, but it has been around since February (we discussed it then here). This plan also envisages closing existing jughandles, but would lead to construction of new jughandles and widening of Rt 1 to four lanes in each direction.
3. The ‘Princeton Concept’ Plan (above): This really is a new plan; we only heard about it today from Planet Princeton. Apparently this plan was cooked up following discussions between the mayors of local communities about the NJDOT ‘Intermediate’ Plan. The schematic was prepared by the West Windsor Engineering Department. This plan involves building a network of new roads running parallel to Route 1.
– Update 3 p.m.: Princeton Patch is reporting that the ‘Princeton Concept’ Plan is ‘for discussion purposes only’.
As we discussed before, traffic on Route 1 south of Princeton is definitely a problem. However, we have several questions that we think are pertinent before we commit to spending tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on another road construction project.
First – Why is nobody talking about transit or pedestrian improvements? It’s all very well to say that we’ll fix these things after we sort out the traffic on Route 1, but the reason why traffic is so bad on Route 1 is because we never make a serious commitment to alternative transport modes. If we had a proper network of transit and bike / pedestrian infrastructure, and a serious commitment to walkable housing, we wouldn’t even need to expand Route 1, because fewer people would be driving on it! The usual excuse, “there’s no money for transit or pedestrian improvements” doesn’t fly, because that way of thinking sees this kind of infrastructure as a luxury instead of what it really is: an essential cog in a joined-up transportation policy.
Second question – What is Route 1 trying to be? Is it a north-south through-way for medium/long-distance travel? (NJDOT seems to be measuring how good the road is as a function of how many cars go up and down it.) Or is it the Main Street of Central Jersey, where people from local communities go to shop and work? It’s hard for it to be both things, because cars cutting between multiple local malls and workplaces are always going to hold up drivers who are trying to get from Pennsylvania to the city. Our local mayors seem to be working together now to develop Route 1 expansion plans, but they have shown no inclination to plan regionally to decide a long-term plan for land use alongside Route 1. In many cases they seem to be competing to see who can develop most land along Route 1 the quickest, causing an inevitable increase in traffic.
Final question – Why will this Route 1 expansion cure traffic, when every other Route 1 expansion has led to more traffic? It has been recognized for decades that increasing road space only provides a ‘quick-fix’ to congestion, which is inevitably over-whelmed by an equivalent increase in cars. This phenomenon of ‘induced demand‘ is likely to result in even more cars and traffic on Route 1 in years to come if we give widening the go-ahead. That means there is every likelihood that widening Route 1 will not relieve traffic, but will give us an increased annual bill for road maintenance and will result in us paving over more fields to provide extra lanes and jughandles.
The ‘free’ state money that NJDOT is dangling in front of local mayors is likely to prove irresistible when traffic is a constant nuisance for all local voters. What politician would pass up an opportunity to be seen to be doing something to help people get around? (even if that action turns out to be self-defeating in the long run). Doing nothing is likely not an option. Therefore, we should aim to implement a solution that does least damage to our environment and limits the incentive for future car-dependency, while providing upgraded pedestrian and bike infrastructure.
In Central Jersey, we are addicted to our cars. At some point, we must realize that our requirement to get in a car for our every need is unsustainable, causing damage to our environment, and creating ever-increasing traffic. At that point, the convenience and advantages of walkable living, where we enable people to go to work, shop, and play without requiring a vehicle, will become ever more apparent.