Council Decision Means Princeton’s Brick Crosswalks Will Disappear

International-type crosswalk at Nassau St and S Tulane in downtown Princeton. (Click to expand.)

International-type crosswalk at Nassau St and S Tulane in downtown Princeton. This type of crosswalk is the new design standard in Princeton based on this week’s decision.  (Click to expand.)

A common site in downtown Princeton- ornamental brick sidewalks- looks set to disappear following a Princeton Council decision earlier this week. As we reported in October, there have been behind-the-scenes discussions about standardizing the mixture of different types of crosswalks found in Princeton. The ‘international’-type standard white-striped crosswalk has emerged as the champion, and will be the default style for crosswalks installed in all municipal engineering projects going forward. Why?

The Princeton Traffic and Transportation committee introduced a resolution to the Princeton Council meeting calling for the white-striped crosswalk to be the new Design Standard. Representing the Committee, Anton Langston told Council that the international design was ‘the most visible and safest’, ensured consistency, and cost one fourth the amount of brick crosswalks to install and maintain.

Princeton Police Department’s Traffic Safety Officer, Sergeant Thomas Murray, backed up Mr Langston’s presentation, adding that embedded glass beads in the white thermoplastic stripes improved ‘retro-reflectivity’. (In other words, the white stripes are much easier to see at night than brick crosswalks.) Referencing the ‘Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices‘ (MUTCD), Sergeant Murray extolled the virtues of consistency, using ‘Stop’ signs as an example of how standardized, easily-recognized roadway infrastructure made driving easier and safer. He also pointed out that Princeton University had replaced brick crosswalks on Washington Road with white-striped crosswalks, a move he supported.

These arguments came under sustained questioning from Council member Jenny Crumiller. Council member Crumiller pointed out that the MUTCD also allows for the brick crosswalks, providing they are bordered by two parallel white stripes. She added that in all her research, she could find no evidence that the striped crosswalks increased pedestrian safety, and in fact one large federal study indicated that marked crosswalks led to, if anything, a slight increase in pedestrian-vehicle accidents. Sergeant Murray replied,

‘I try to be fair and objective in everything I do; I’m familiar with the study you were referring to. I’ve read it numerous times. Do I agree with it? No. That’s my personal and professional opinion.’

When Jenny Crumiller protested that the study involved data collected at 2,000 intersections, Murray replied that there was also data suggesting that speed-humps reduce pedestrian accidents too, but his professional opinion was that they only work to a certain extent. (Installation of speed humps in Princeton was banned by Council earlier this year on Sergeant Murray’s recommendation.)

'Brick' crosswalk near Westminster Choir College in Princeton. (Click to expand.)

A brick-effect crosswalk near Westminster Choir College in Princeton. Crosswalks like these will eventually disappear based on the Council’s decision this week (Click to expand.)

Crumiller also worried about the impact of international-type crosswalks on the ‘downtown aesthetic’. As she put it, “I don’t see safety being improved, but I do see character being compromised.” There was some discussion about what passing the resolution would mean. The brick crosswalks will not immediately be ripped out, but in future engineering projects, striped crosswalks will automatically be installed, unless there is special discussion for an alternative in the Traffic and Transportation Committee.

Council member Lance Liverman proposed the motion to pass the resolution, stating that the advice of the Traffic and Transporatation committee and police Traffic Safety Officer was good enough for him. Mayor Liz Lempert noted that other cities are moving to a  striped crosswalk standard, and also observed that when the Beatles were pictured walking across a road, it was at an ‘international’-type striped crosswalk. The motion to make striped crosswalks the new Design Standard was carried 4-2, with all voting in favor except Jenny Crumiller and Council Member Patrick Simon, who voted against.

Princeton Council no longer provides typed minutes, but you can watch the debate using the video below (courtesy of Princeton Community TV). The relevant section starts with Anton Langston’s testimony at 1hr 18:42:

What do you think? Is it a good idea to get rid of brick crosswalks? Do you think striped ‘zebra’ crosswalks will be safer? Or do they detract to much from Princeton’s historic character? Have your say with the comments box below!

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3 Responses to Council Decision Means Princeton’s Brick Crosswalks Will Disappear

  1. Wow says:

    Definitely not scientific, but I find the international style crosswalks easier to see when driving, especially at night. With the lower cost of installing the crosswalk itself, perhaps monies can be diverted to better overall engineering – eg. improved lighting or ‘bumpouts’. One simple thing I’d love to see is removal of street furniture around crossings to make pedestrians easier to spot. Yes potentially even those yellow ‘crosswalk indicator’ signs – if they are positioned badly they only serve to obstruct the line of sight for drivers.

    As for the asthetics the brick crosswalks might look ‘pretty’ when first installed, but they seem to get beaten up really quickly and crumbling, broken or missing bricks do nothing to beautify the town.

  2. Good riddance!!!!! I see so many supposed bike/ped “experts” talk about totally unsubstantiated claims about how brick crosswalks calm traffic. Total BS if you ask me.

    Officials in Germany, a country knows a thing or two more about highway engineering and traffic safety that the US, would never use faux brick crosswalks, NEVER EVER!!! They always use the international “piano style” that also means that all traffic must ALWAYS yield to pedestrian traffic at such a crosswalk. The “piano style” crosswalk are NOT used at signalized crosswalks BTW, only at mid-block crossing and possibly at unsignalized intersection crosswalks (not 100% sure o that detail).

    I will say however, that one study that shows some increase in crashes at piano style crosswalks could be because pedestrians feel more embolden by the crosswalk but drivers might not see them or forget that they also need to stop for pedestrians.

  3. Standardization is good. The brick-style “diagonal stripe” sidewalks must have had some technical benefits we don’t know about, maybe lifetime cost. The most visible crosswalks of this type are the ones where Walnut/Chestnut and Linden traverse Hamilton. The one at Hamilton will always be fairly dangerous, no matter its design style, due to the vehicular speeds on that arterial street, and the awkward bend (northbound) causing very poor visibility. Check it out: http://goo.gl/maps/URYMd

    However the most dangerous crosswalks in town remain Nassau/Vandeventer, Nassau/Harrison, and Harrison/Valley near the shopping center, from what is published in the monthly accident reports.

    PS Common site = common “sight”. Anton Langston = Anton “Lahnston”

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