Tonight is a special moment for ‘Walkable Princeton’! For the first time (hopefully the first of many times!) our team will be getting together with local residents and members of the community to discuss walkability. We will be at Clocktower Cabana in the central plaza of Princeton Shopping Center tonight, Tuesday July 8, from 7.00 pm. – 9.30 p.m. Look for our ‘Walkable Princeton’ sign with our logo on it. Here are some of the issues that we hope to discuss:
What is Walkability?
The term ‘walkability’ can be defined in several ways. Many people think of walkability as being able to safely walk around– that is, how friendly an area is to pedestrians. This is certainly an important consideration. Even in Princeton, many intersections and streets are laid out in ways that put pedestrians at risk. A solution is to re-design streets to make them more friendly to pedestrians. Many engineering solutions are possible, and in fact Princeton has a ‘Complete Streets‘ policy which should mean that all road users- not just car drivers- are considered. But this policy can be interpreted in many ways, and transportation planners often place the emphasis on maximizing car flow.
What is the connection between walkability and land use?
Princeton’s historic downtown is a “walker’s paradise“, but outside a small core, Princeton tends to be a driving town. This reflects patterns of land use. Many local residents believe that low-density single-family homes are the best way to minimize traffic and promote a green, livable community. In reality, low-density zoning spreads everybody out, requiring long walks to get to goods and services. Most people prefer to drive instead of doing a long walk. Distance from jobs, goods and services is the single biggest factor sustaining car use in the Princeton area. Many Princeton and local residents can’t get their business done without a car. We are literally planning for traffic.
What can we do about all the traffic???
If there were fewer cars, it would be easier and more fun to walk and cycle around town. Princeton would also be more peaceful. We actually have a pretty good idea of where the cars are coming from and going to, thanks to Ralph Widner’s data-driven report on Princeton traffic. It revealed that the single biggest contributor to traffic is people commuting to work in Princeton. 24,000 people drive to work in Princeton each day. Clearly, if we are going to reduce traffic, we need to provide incentives for some of these people to use alternative transportation.
Where are our walking and bike trails?
Other communities have aggressively rolled out improved infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians. If we are going to do the same in Princeton- which would be to everybody’s benefit- then we will need to make sure our elected representatives recognize it as a priority, and take an active interest in making sure that it happens. Lack of money is often cited as an impediment, even as we spend tens of millions of dollars to ‘improve’ roads. Complicated state and municipal code, not to mention a fetishization of on-street parking, also acts as an obstacle to new and better street layouts. None of these problems are insurmountable if we take a solution-oriented attitude and are committed to implementation.
How can we make Princeton more affordable?
Affordability of housing is an impediment to more people living a walkable lifestyle in Princeton. Property is expensive, so people move to areas that are less expensive, then drive into town as required. This reinforces the car culture, and requires that we give over huge expanses of valuable downtown land to parking. Adding affordable workforce housing would encourage walkability, and cut down on the hours wasted commuting by many Princeton-area employees. It would also strengthen Princeton as a town that provides for all sections of society, and isn’t primarily set up to serve the wealthy.
How can we sustain and improve Princeton’s historic sense of place?
Princeton is a unique town, with a unique history and layout. What are the things that make Princeton special? Clearly, one is the relationship with the University and other institutions of higher education in the town. Our vibrant downtown area around Nassau Street and Palmer Square is also justifiably famous. How can we manage growth so as to minimally impact the historic character of Princeton, while at the same time providing for the needs of the future? Can we protect open space as the economy and population grows? Trying to prevent change in Princeton is futile, as change always happens, whether we want it or not. The goal must be to appropriately guide change to make Princeton the most vibrant, livable and fun place to live that it can possibly be!
We will be talking about all this, and any other topics that you think impact on Princeton’s future at Clocktower Cabana, Tuesday night, July 8, 7 p.m. – 9.30 p.m. Hope to see you there! Otherwise, if you have a question or comment, feel free to leave it below!