For those of us who look forward to new ways to safely walk and bike around Princeton, events at the Princeton Council meeting of October 27 were pretty hard to watch. Council member Bernie Miller voted against a 500-ft sidewalk project that was part of the Sidewalk Masterplan, and a proposal to add bike lanes was shelved after several Council members- most notably Patrick Simon- spoke out forcefully against it.
We wrote about the sidewalk proposal on Poe Road previously here. It’s fair to say that the neighbors were not impressed with the idea of having a new sidewalk, to connect to the sidewalk that already exists along the street. Sidewalk construction in Princeton has regularly been opposed by local residents in Princeton. Council member Lance Liverman pointed out that many residents who opposed sidewalks subsequently come to like them and thank him for putting the sidewalks in. But Council President Bernie Miller still said ‘no’. He argued that the sidewalk could be built at some indeterminate time in the future along with future construction. (see video at bottom)
Mr Miller’s opposition to the sidewalk is very problematic. As a senior member of Council, he surely knows that sidewalks are always built as part of existing capital projects such as that on Poe Road. The sidewalk is also a straightforward interpretation of the town’s “Complete Streets” policy, which was supported by Mr Miller. According to this policy, road construction is supposed to support all users, including pedestrians and cyclists. It’s very hard to understand how voting against a sidewalk could ever be consistent with Complete Streets, particularly when the sidewalk in question is part of a pre-existing municipal masterplan. Mr Miller is up for re-election to Princeton Council today, November 4, 2014.
Meanwhile, Council member Patrick Simon argued forcefully against adding bike lanes on a section of Hamilton Avenue between Snowden Lane and Harrison Street. The bike lanes would involve a new restriction on on-street parking, but parking in this area is hardly used. Local residents have large driveways and there are no big local traffic generators. Mr Simon accepted this, but argued that people need the parking for their guests and that bike lanes was “Complete Streets gone too far”.
But Mr Simon’s arguments show little enthusiasm for making safe facilities for all road users. Making a safe facility for cyclists and walkers is exactly the intent of ‘Complete Streets’. That doesn’t mean putting draconian restrictions on parking all over town, but if ever there was a place where bike lanes could be accommodated, it is this section of Hamilton. It’s true that people have guests to occasional parties, but there are hundreds of parking spaces within a few seconds walk on neighboring side streets. One of those side streets- Harriet Drive- happens to be where Mr Simon lives. Asking a small number of people to walk a small distance on special occasions is surely a price worth paying for making Princeton a place where people can safely get around by bike every day?
In both of these cases, we see that local interests can trump the aspiration of many people in Princeton to take advantage of safe walking and cycling facilities. Unsafe streets stop people from cycling more in Princeton. People who do cycle often use sidewalks because Princeton’s existing ‘shared lane arrows’ (sharrows) provide no protection or safe space on the street. The sidewalk is not a safe place for cyclists, and trying to squeeze bicycles and pedestrians into a 4-ft path is a recipe for trouble. Princeton needs to do better, and to make that happen, we need elected officials who can see the bigger picture and take good decisions that will ultimately benefit the whole town. Residents needs should certainly be considered, but if we aren’t willing to make small sacrifices for alternative transportation, we are encouraging and consolidating use of the car for almost every trip.
To give credit where it is due, Council member Jenny Crumiller had no problem endorsing the sidewalk on Poe Road, seeing it as a straightforward matter of principle. “This is about the present and future resident,” she said, “Sidewalks are a public good that we as a Council have decided to support.” Jo Butler, who is also up for reelection today, had the courage to stand in front of the angry local residents in the Council Chamber and still make a case for adding the new sidewalk, to allow safe walking routes and safe routes to the transit stops on Route 27.
The Poe Road sidewalk ordinance was passed by a vote of 4-1. The bike lane ordinance was tabled and may see further consideration on November 24. Below you can see the video transcript of the meeting, and you may want to skip to some of the key moments as listed below:
- 2hrs 02 mins 01″ – Public hearing starts on Poe Road sidewalk.
- 2:53:08 – Bernie Miller says he will vote ‘No’ on Poe Road sidewalk ordinance.
- 3:08:15 – Jo Butler says she will support the new sidewalk on Poe Road.
- 4:20:20 – Patrick Simon speaks out against introduction of bike lane ordinance.
Is Princeton Council doing enough to make our streets safe for all users and make it possible for people to choose alternatives to the car? Which Council members have got it right on the facilities Princeton needs for the future? Have your say in the comments section below!