This week we learned that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have broken 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. 97% of atmospheric scientists believe that this is likely the cause of rising global temperatures and extreme weather events similar to what we saw last year with Hurricane Sandy. Admiral Samuel J Locklear III, Commander of the US Navy Pacific Command recently described climate change as the greatest threat to security in the region, and this is coming from somebody who has to deal with China’s growing military ambition and North Korea! Reducing CO2 emissions could reasonably be described as the #1 priority facing our society. Global warming raises the risk of catastrophic deterioration in our living standards. Locally, the Jersey Shore risks getting washed away, and efforts to protect beaches will grow ever more difficult and costly.
According to the EPA, transportation accounts for an amazing 31% of US CO2 emissions. Reducing car use is therefore one of the best ways to attack the problem of rising greenhouse gas emissions. In other countries, governments have banned or restricted people from using cars. That’s not how we do things in the US. Instead, we should look for ways to make it easy for people to get to work without using a car. In the Princeton area, a huge number of jobs are in Princeton itself. 3 out of every 4 Princeton employees lives out of town, and Princeton attracts 24,000 car commuters every morning. This is clear from traffic statistics, but anyone who drives local roads will not need statistics to recognize that traffic in the region has grown. The picture above shows traffic heading towards Princeton on Highway 27 on a typical weekday morning.
This happens every day. Here’s another photo:
Traffic didn’t get like this by accident. The region built for traffic instead of for walkability. As the economy and population of Mercer County has grown, the former township and borough of Princeton saw a disproportionately low increase in population. This is a real shame, because people who live in Princeton show a much higher rate of walking and biking than surrounding municipalities. If we had allowed measured population growth around the Princeton urban activity center, commensurate with population growth in Mercer County, then many people who currently drive to work in Princeton would instead be able to get there by walking/biking. If Princeton was a ‘walking town’ instead of a ‘drive-in/drive-out’ city, we would reduce CO2 emissions and improve the quality of life for residents and people who currently have no choice but to drive their cars into town.
Princeton can choose to favor walkable development and it doesn’t have to cause radical change to the historic layout of the town. If we allowed measured, controlled addition of walkable residential units within walking distance of downtown Princeton, we would be able to offer homes to commuters who currently are choosing to drive. We are absolutely not talking about building skyscrapers in Princeton. But by favoring mid-rise redevelopment on infill sites that increases people’s ability to choose active forms of transportation instead of driving, we can contribute to the fight against global warming, and increase the vibrancy of our town. We are talking about more mid-rise, preferably mixed-use development, such as that seen around Hinds Plaza next to Princeton Public Library:
In 2013, it is simply not acceptable to oppose all change and demand more low-density development in Princeton. We cannot continue to build for cars and global warming.