Princeton was recently certified as a ‘bike friendly community’, an award that should be cause for celebration but instead has raised questions about whether the town is really doing enough to make cycling a viable alternative to car use. Despite a low percentage of trips made by bicycle compared to other college towns, Princeton is slowly but surely becoming more organized about developing infrastructure for local cyclists. But a new development at the Princeton University ‘Arts and Transit’ construction zone on Alexander Street gives cause for concern about how seriously the town takes cycling as a potential mode of transportation.
As first reported at ‘Bike Princeton’, Princeton University has erected an electronic billboard on University Place, right by the old Dinky station. The sign cycles through various messages, including one that states ‘No Bicycles Allowed In Roadway’. If cyclists aren’t allowed in the roadway, where are they supposed to go? Princeton University has constructed a temporary walking path, with temporary fencing, floodlights and signage indicating a pedestrian route by-passing the construction zone. Is this intended to be a shared-use path, which cyclists can also use instead of the road? As seen in the photo below, it’s not clear:
A ‘Slow’ sign at the entrance to the walking trail seems to caution cyclists about the incline. But other signs painted at intervals on the ground (see photo at top) seem to indicate that cyclists are expected to walk their bikes, not ride, along the walking trail.
Princeton and Mercer County have adopted ‘Complete Streets‘ policies, which specifically requires the municipality to “make provisions for pedestrians and bicyclists when closing roads, bridges or sidewalks for construction projects.” (You can read the relevant section yourself by going to page 54, point 10 of this document.) At Alexander Street, if cyclists are not allowed to cycle on the roadway, and are not allowed to cycle along the walking trail, then cycling would appear, de facto, to be banned. It’s hard to argue that banning cycling is the same as ‘making provision for bicyclists’. The present situation looks like a clear violation of the town’s Complete Streets policy, and is potentially also a violation of New Jersey Title 39 4-14.1 (‘Rights and Duties of Persons on Bicycles‘).
The situation reflects badly on the University, which has otherwise gone to some trouble to make life as easy as possible for car drivers and pedestrians despite the challenges of building a large new addition in the middle of one of Princeton’s busiest streets. It also raises questions about municipal oversight. Who reviewed the University’s application for reconstruction of Alexander Street? Was the team which conducted that review aware of the requirements of the municipal ‘Complete Streets’ policy? Princeton recently re-stated its commitment to Complete Streets when updating the Circulation Element of the community Masterplan. That commitment must be judged by deeds- and the town of Princeton should insist that cyclists are given clear and reasonable accommodation at the Arts and Transit construction zone.
This issue could be argued to be a minor, temporary concern, but if it is safe for cars to drive along Alexander Street during Arts and Transit construction, then why can’t cyclists use the roadway as well? To prevent them from doing so demonstrates either negligence or outright hostility to cycling as a means of transportation. This is counterproductive, as we all benefit when more people choose to leave their cars at home and use an alternative means of getting to where they need to be. Supporting car-optional living is a necessary step to reducing traffic, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. No doubt the League of American Bicyclists, which has awarded ‘Bike Friendly Community’ status to both Princeton University and the town of Princeton, will take an interest in making sure this problem is fixed as soon as possible.
Is it OK for the University to randomly close roads to cyclists? Should cyclists just ‘deal with it’? Have your say in the comments section below!