Snow Makes A Princeton Commute By Rail Seem Much More Attractive

Jersey traffic stuck in snow, Jan 21, 2014. (click to expand.)

Jersey traffic stuck in snow, Jan 21, 2014. (click to expand.)

Yikes! Did everybody get home OK last night? That snow (sorry- ‘polar vortex’ will not be used around here as a synonym for normal winter weather) caused total cha0s yesterday, as car commuters got stuck in miles of jams. After traveling 1.2 miles in an hour, it dawned on me that I didn’t have to do this. It was time to make the switch to rail…
For most of us, driving a car to work is just the done thing. Transit doesn’t work…it’s too far away, too slow, too something. In Princeton, the overwhelming majority of people get to work by car, causing traffic, pollution, and wasted time. Few of us ever think about how we might get to work by an alternative method, but the snow yesterday made me think twice about driving.

After an hour and a half moving slower than walking speed, and with Google Maps indicating red-and-black roads (i.e. complete gridlock) ahead, I turned back, parked the car up at work, and resolved to take the train. As the nearest NJ Transit station to my work is 3 miles away, the train is not usually a good option- the car is far quicker. In fact, fewer than 2% of Princeton’s workforce use rail as their primary mode of commuting. But with yesterday’s traffic, it was time to break the ritual of the habitual, and I set out on foot for the station.

Walking in the snow can be pretty cold, but with some good boots and a warm jacket, it’s actually quite pleasant, and not just because you’re striding past all the cars stuck in traffic. Freshly fallen snow is not really slippy, and makes a satisfying crunch each time you take a step. In the snow, sounds are softer, colors seem different. You see things in new ways, noticing things that you would miss from inside of a car:

A wintry scene in the snow. (Click to expand.)

A wintry scene in the snow. (Click to expand.)

One good thing about trains is that they can keep going even in moderate snow. Last night, NJ Transit trains were running, albeit with something of a delay. After a brisk walk and a warm train ride, I arrived in Princeton Junction looking forward to a run on the little Dinky train. But alas! The Dinky wasn’t there! Was it running in the snow?? Unsure, I leapt on the free Tiger PAWW shuttle, which runs between Princeton Junction and the old Dinky Station. Surprisingly, the bus made light work of the snow, and we were soon at University Place.

Unfortunately, that still left a pretty long walk to my home- reminding me why I don’t commute by train more often. Like a lot of people in Princeton, the Dinky just doesn’t get me very close to home.. And the next day, with rail schedules still mixed-up, it is much easier to get a ride to Princeton Junction than take mess around with the Dinky. That’s kind of a shame: I would have liked my rail experiment to have involved the Dinky but like most people, unless there’s a compelling reason to do otherwise, I’m going to travel by the fastest, most predictable way possible.

Do you have a transit ‘Plan B’? When was the last time you rode the Dinky or tried transit to get to work? What would make you use transit more often? Let us know with the comments form below!

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7 Responses to Snow Makes A Princeton Commute By Rail Seem Much More Attractive

  1. Lieve Cash says:

    Mass transit works if it’s convenient: regular, on time, easy to get to, affordable & comfortable. If one of the elements gets taken away (for example easy to get to), it makes it less attractive. And as more elements disappear, people are less inclined to take it. People complained that the Dinky didn’t run regular enough when services were cut (weekend services suffered mostly), and made different arrangements for those days but still took it during the week. Moving the Dinky further away from the town center makes it less convenient, there is no doubt about it. And while its station is sitting in the middle of the Art & Transport (haha) clusterf**k, things can only get worse. You must have seen the report that said that Dinky ridership is down, but Tiger Transport is up. Why? The Tiger buses are FREE and pick up disillusioned Dinky riders, also going where the Dinky never went before (through town). And it can be quite romantic to walk through the snow, enjoying the fresh air and pretty views, but on a daily basis, in a rush to get to work, you just want to get there as quickly and easily as possible.

    Sadly, and despite all the fantastic effort of some residents, Princeton will only realize how convenient the Dinky was when it’s gone.

    • SFB says:

      The Tiger Transport bus only goes to the old Dinky Station right now so it doesn’t really provide anything more than the Dinky. The bus can get stuck in traffic especially when there’s snow, so a bus replacement of the Dinky would be a downgrade. If the bus connected to north Princeton or even Nassau Square, it might be an interesting option for getting more people to the main line rail line.

  2. Lieve Cash says:

    I believe you are wrong – this is the website with the Tiger Transport routes – for example, to and from P Junction. No need for that little Dinky anymore, is there?
    http://www.princeton.edu/transportation/ttroutes/

    I also just read in Town Topics that PU is spending $500,000 on Mass Transit Trust Fund to investigate & implement “transit solutions to meet the needs of the Princeton community.” Anyone with suggestions can submit them by 28 February via the website princeton.nj.gov. REALLY??? What is the point??? Valid suggestions by the Save the Dinky group as well as other community groups during the past, oh 4 years or so, have not only been wiped off the table but have been fought heart & soul (if PU had those).

    A pricey exercise in fake democracy.

  3. The Dinky is still valuable- it’s still the quickest way from the middle of Alexander Street to Princeton Junction. As for the RFP- looks like they messed up by sending the letter announcing it before they were ready to accept applications! You’ve got to suspect that any suggestions which involved running the Dinky through the new Lewis Center are unlikely to be considered…but that still leaves a lot of scope for valuable transit improvements and planning projects, right?

  4. Alan E Hill says:

    The rail line wouldn’t run through the Lewis Center anyway. However, it’s being removed to enable access to a parking garage, which really will only go towards contributing another focus for traffic jams around Princeton. The instigation of a “Mass Transit Trust Fund” is nice, but comprises less than 0.5% of the project’s budget, besides appearing to be a last minute salve. Anyway, who knows what further enlightening developments are due in this saga?

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