On Monday, we wrote about Rachael Winfree, a local mom who is trying to encourage Princeton municipal officials to install pedestrian improvements on Chambers Street in downtown Princeton. When it comes to pedestrian safety, we can’t underestimate the importance of local individuals taking the initiative to demand that streets are made safe.
In Amsterdam, 38% of all journeys are made with bicycles. That is not because the Dutch are hard-wired to cycle– it is because of choices made since the 1970s to promote cycling and walking. In 1971, the road mortality rate in the Netherlands was 20% higher than in the USA, and 500 children were killed on the roads. Thanks to a grass-roots campaign, the Netherlands went in a different direction to the USA for road design. Moms and their kids came out into the streets to demand change. The result was that the Dutch prioritized safe streets, and now have a road traffic death rate 60% lower than in the US. It is estimated that there would be 22,000 fewer road deaths per year if the US could achieve Dutch levels of safety.
In Princeton, we now have an extensive sidewalk program, and can count our town as one of the most walkable in New Jersey. But we cannot afford to be complacent. Our town suffers from a big traffic problem. Part of that is because there are many jobs and other good things in Princeton, and people are driving here to access them. But we must ensure that this traffic enters our town in an orderly way. Unfortunately drivers do not always pay attention, and our police force are not able to enforce traffic laws. We need to put in place the best possible engineering solutions and signage to make traffic predictable and protect people trying to get around on foot– especially kids.
Rachael Winfree’s children are blocked from walking to their local elementary school by Chambers Street, a road that appears to be engineered for cars instead of people. For drivers connecting to and from Rt 206, Paul Robeson Place-Chambers Street is a convenient short-cut to skip traffic lights and the busy intersection of Rt 206 and Nassau Street. But should the safety of kids walking to school not be a higher priority? Is it fair to expect children to walk to school across a road with so few protections for pedestrians? Worse still, on-street parking on Chamber Street impedes drivers’ view of the crosswalk. Why are we prioritizing parking over a reasonable expectation of kids to be able to walk to school safely?
We shouldn’t route cars through central Princeton. The entire downtown area should move to a pedestrian zone, such as the central shopping areas of Boulder, CO and Charlottesville, VA– two American towns that regularly top the list of ‘Best College Towns‘. That doesn’t mean that cars would be excluded– it just means that we move from a system where cars have automatic priority to a system where pedestrians have priority.
If that is too much, then how about adding a central median? The US Federal Highway Administration recognizes central medians as a proven way to improve safety for walkers. There are multiple benefits, including calming vehicle speeds, providing a place to stop for pedestrians mid-crossing, and providing a space for improved lighting or signage:
Princeton recently adopted a ‘Complete Streets‘ policy, which means that all road users must be considered when redesigning streets, not just car traffic. But this policy is only worth something if it is implemented seriously. That’s the difference between talking the talk, and walking the walk. What way is Princeton going to go in future? If we want Princeton to prioritize walkability, we must make sure that our elected officials and municipal professionals understand that we take it seriously. In West Windsor, families are taking over municipal meetings to demand pedestrian improvements, with the support of the excellent West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance. We can’t be complacent here in Princeton!
Rachael Winfree is not asking for Chambers Street to be pedestrianized or significantly redesigned. She is just asking for a Stop sign and some ‘Stop for Pedestrians’ poles to be placed at one intersection so her son can walk to school more safely. Can you help her achieve that? Here are some actions you can take to support pedestrian safety in Princeton:
- Join us to attend the Traffic and Transportation committee meeting on Wednesday September 18 in the municipal building at 400 Witherspoon Street (former Township hall). A discussion and decision on these crosswalks is on the agenda for this meeting. Your presence will meaningfully demonstrate that you care about pedestrian safety, and if you are prepared to speak up, that is even better.
- Write to Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert (email@example.com) to express your support for pedestrian improvements at Witherspoon Street (you can use this example).
- Write to Traffic and Transportation Chair Anton Langston (firstname.lastname@example.org) to express your support (you can use this example).
Please, please get in touch to join us in this campaign. If we could get one or two or three extra people to attend the T&T meeting on September 18, or a few letter writers, that could make all the difference. Rachael would also be glad to tell you more about the efforts she has already put in to try to make this street safer. Thanks for your support!
Please leave your comments below…we’re particularly interested in what measures you think would most improve pedestrian safety in Princeton and how we can work together to make Princeton more walkable. Is there another crosswalk or street where you think pedestrian safety is taking second place to cross-town traffic? Let us know.