Princeton’s attention is focused on potential changes to the Dinky train line, but the committee tasked with examining traffic and transit on Alexander Street is also developing an all-new traffic model for Princeton. The so-called ‘Alexander Street / University Place Traffic and Transit Task Force’ recently hosted a public meeting at the Carl Fields Center at Princeton University. In addition to proposals to upgrade the Dinky with a streetcar, light rail, or Bus Rapid Transit, the group of residents who attended also heard alarming projections about traffic along the key Alexander Street corridor.
Based on a detailed analysis of current traffic and future developments in the region, a team of consultants retained by the ASUP task force have been able to develop simulations of how much traffic is likely to be using Princeton’s roads in future. The study reveals a dramatic increase in traffic throughout Princeton (see video of the full presentation at bottom of the page). The worst-impacted street in the study is Alexander Street, which will see an extra 1,285 cars per hour at peak times (see map below). At the intersection of Alexander Street and Mercer Road, drivers are expected to have to wait 17 minutes to pass through, because of traffic back-ups- and this is expected to happen in the next 5 years:
These findings will not come as a surprise to people who have observed the local traffic situation. Central Jersey traffic has been steadily getting worse for years, and according to the Route 1 Growth Strategy report (which we reported on earlier this year), we can expect gridlock in the near future under current development trends. The findings of the ASUP Traffic Report demonstrate that doing nothing is not an option: something must change or we will not be able to get from one place to another. The local economy will also suffer as employees struggle to get to work and deliveries are delayed.
What is to be done? The Task Force are considering several options, which might come as a surprise to local residents. First, a one-way system might be developed to funnel traffic in a single stream around Alexander Street, University Place and Mercer Road. According to the model, this will help traffic flow better through the town. Another possibility is to close a section of Mercer Street between Alexander Street and Nassau Street. This would reduce the need for through-traffic to make difficult turns, but is likely to increase traffic on Library Place, as cars look for another way through. As Council Member Patrick Simon (a member of the Task Force) said, “All of these solutions come with trade-offs.”
For many people in Princeton, the solution is improved transit. This ties in to the second part of the Task Force’s mandate, which is to examine transit options for Alexander Street. But transit may not be the cure-all that advocates imagine. Building and maintaining efficient transit is expensive. Residents may desire improved transit, but are unlikely to welcome higher taxes to fund it. Even a reliable transit service like the Dinky only carries 1.5% of Princeton’s commuters to work. The Route 1 Growth Strategy suggested zoning reform to allow higher density living, which would make transit more economical. This would fit with the goal of expanding housing opportunity to Princeton employees, so that they can live near where they work. Commuting studies show that people who live in central Princeton are far less likely to drive to work.
Clearly, the option of doing nothing is not going to work. We must act, or be swamped in traffic. In the short-term, Princeton would do well to avoid being drawn into a fixation with level of service for cars. When considering road ‘improvements’, it is essential to weigh the advantages for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users as well as motor vehicles. In 2013, a solution is only viable to the extent that it makes it easier for people to use other transportation modes other than their automobiles. Planning for cars only gets more cars. It’s time to plan for people instead.
The ASUP Task Force continues to hold public meetings advertised at the municipal website. The full video of their public presentation is below (thanks to Princeton Community Television). What solutions do you think would work for easing traffic along Alexander Street? Do you like the idea of a new one-way system? Please leave a comment using the form below!