On Franklin Avenue, the consequences of one of the biggest land use decisions in Princeton can now be seen. The 8-level building that formerly housed Princeton hospital is in the final stages of demolition. With the other, lower buildings already demolished, the half-wrecked structure looks desolate against the winter sky. It’s a sight which is sure to trigger mixed emotions among the many Princeton people who were born, treated or worked at the old hospital. Over ten years ago, the hospital management made a decision that expansion to meet the needs of current medical practice would be too difficult at the central Princeton site, setting in chain the process that led to relocation to Plainsboro.
The arguments about whether it makes sense to have an in-town hospital or one at a remote location have long since played out, and while not everybody is happy about it, the old hospital site will soon become apartments. In the meantime, it is disappointing to see that the sidewalk adjacent to the old hospital site has been closed. It is not at all clear why barricades and tape have been placed to keep pedestrians from their allotted space on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, closing off sidewalks is often one of the first things that happens when work is taking place. Crews place a very low value on maintaining direct walking routes. In response to this, the Circulation Element of Princeton’s municipal Masterplan directly specifies “IV-10: Make provisions for pedestrians and bicyclists when closing roads, bridges or sidewalks for construction projects.”
In this case, pedestrian right-of-way has been taken away without making alternative provision, and for no apparent reason. On the day the photo above was taken, there wasn’t even any demolition going on. Princeton authorities should aim to keep sidewalks open unless there is a clear threat to safety or the ability to compete the job. And when that happens, alternative provisions for walkers must be provided. For a great example of how to provide for pedestrians during construction see the recent work to complete a new Elements restaurant at Witherspoon Street.