Can We Make More Space For People On Princeton’s Witherspoon Street?

Outdoor dining at Terra Momo Bread Co...can we maybe get a bit more of this in downtown Princeton? (Click to expand.)

Outdoor dining at Terra Momo Bread Co…can we get more of this in downtown Princeton? (Click to expand).

Kevin Wilkes, Chair of the Alexander Street Task Force updated Princeton residents last Saturday about plans to revamp circulation and transit around the Dinky station and in downtown Princeton. Speaking at a meeting of Princeton Future at the public library, Wilkes presented possible concepts that his committee are considering. One exciting possibility relates to street use along Witherspoon between Nassau Street and Hulfish Street in downtown Princeton. The Alexander Street Task Force have been studying a traffic model, with which it is possible to predict the effect of changes in traffic circulation.

At a previous public consultation, Wilkes suggested that the group had considered the possibility of closing Witherspoon Street to vehicular traffic, but had ruled it out. Last Saturday, the mere mention of the possibility of closing Witherspoon Street brought a round of applause from the audience. Clearly this option has support in the town- and who can be surprised at that? Princeton has few streets dedicated to people. Much of the downtown is given over to cars on their relentless quest to find that one super-convenient parking spot. There are relatively few spaces for outdoor dining, like the little tables from the Terra Momo Bread Company shown in the picture above. Pedestrians are squeezed on narrow sidewalks.

At this latest presentation, Wilkes suggested several potential options for Witherspoon Street. At present, the street is laid out with two-way drive lanes and on-street parking on either side. Is collecting two or three bucks an hour for on-street parking the best use of the space?

Witherspoon Street- existing layout with two-way drive and park lanes. (click to expand.)

Witherspoon Street- existing layout with two-way drive and park lanes. (click to expand.)

Although closing the street altogether would bring some issues with deliveries, another option is to close off just one lane. That would free up substantial space for sidewalk dining, street trees, and many other potential non-car uses. Wilkes did not show specific plans, but just some sketches about potential layouts. His report is not ready yet, and it’s not clear that it will contain recommendations about any one specific layout. But we have put together a potential concept for what Witherspoon might look like with one driving lane and one parking lane taken away in favor of increased sidewalk space (see below):


One possible concept for a remodeled Witherspoon Street, with more space given over to people instead of cars. (Click to expand.)

The space is definitely there to make a much nicer environment for people. Imagine a patio seating area in front of Small World Coffee. What about a sandwich from Olive’s al fresco? Does that sound good to you? Or would the loss of on-street parking be too much to bear? Back in the 70’s, Princeton gave up on an attempt to pedestrianize part of Palmer Square. At the time, Borough leaders fully expected to try again, but it never happened. Is now the moment to reclaim downtown streets for people? We’ll certainly be watching carefully to see what comes of this discussion.

Remodeling Witherspoon Street to increase sidewalk space: good idea?? What are the potential risks? Have your say in the comments section below.

This entry was posted in Complete Streets, Downtown Vibrancy, Placemaking, Princeton, The Parking Question and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Can We Make More Space For People On Princeton’s Witherspoon Street?

  1. Wow says:

    I love sidewalk cafes/dining, so I am in favor.

    I guess if this went through as in the picture it would mean places on one side of the street would ‘win’ while on the opposite side would ‘lose’. What would I prefer to have al fresco options: Small World or Agricola? Its a tough choice, but either one would better than neither!

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