Will Princeton Build Bike Lanes? And If So, Where?


Hamilton Avenue project zone near North Harrison Street in Princeton. Note cyclist on sidewalk, an indication that cyclists do not find the street suitable for safe riding. (click to expand, via Google Streetview).

An interesting debate is underway in Princeton about whether the town should add bike lanes. Around a dozen people showed up to Council in January to support the introduction of an ordinance to repurpose on-street parking for bike lanes on part of Hamilton Avenue. Last night, about a dozen people spoke against the plan at a neighborhood meeting. But the opposition was not unanimous, and letters columns in local papers are filling up with arguments from both sides. Princeton Council is set to vote on the matter next Tuesday, February 24. They will have to weigh the costs and benefits, and consider their own policy on ‘Complete Streets‘. 

Princeton bike facilities today are mostly ‘sharrows‘, painted signs in the roadway that are intended to encourage cyclists to take a safe lane position. But the sharrows are often  in narrow travel lanes, where it is hard or impossible for cars to safely pass slower-moving cyclists. Cyclists must exercise confidence and skill to ride mixed in with cars, buses and trucks, with the greatest burden on the most vulnerable road user.  Many potential cyclists are undoubtedly put off by the risk of riding in mixed traffic, and cyclists who do ride often use sidewalks (see image above), annoying pedestrians and putting themselves at risk of collisions with cars at cross streets.

Adding dedicated space with bike lanes would make a safer and friendlier experience for people riding bikes. There is a substantial body of evidence from other communities that suggests that high-quality bike facilities are the most effective way to promote safety and increase the number of journeys made by bicycle. Princeton has traditionally failed to add bike facilities, citing a lack of space on local roads and streets. But lack of space is a problem that is regularly solved in other bike-friendly communities. Space can be found by repuporsing travel lanes, on-street parking, or unused land for bike facilities. The current proposal for Hamilton Avenue envisages dedicating space currently allocated for on-street parking to make new bike lanes. The question is whether Council agrees that this is in the community’s best interests.

At the neighborhood meeting last night, the most frequent objections were:

  1. The neighbors on Hamilton Avenue weren’t consulted enough.
  2. The on-street parking is essential and cannot be taken for another use.
  3. The proposed bike lanes wouldn’t connect to other bike facilities.

Getting the word out to residents about planning matters is always a challenge for the town, and not just for this project. Princeton has now held two neighborhood meetings to discuss the Hamilton Avenue project with residents, but many still feel like their opininons were not appropriately taken into account. Council recently adopted  a ‘Neighborhod Planning Program’ to electronically inform residents about land use applications. This approach might be further adapted to better inform neighbors about municipal street projects as well. Of course, the more information the town pushes out to neighbors, the less likely people are to read all the information. Details about the Hamilton Avenue project have been available on the municipal website since last June.

Google Streetview imagery shows just two cars and one van parked in the entire Hamilton Avenue project zone, with ample parking available on side streets. (click to expand)

Google Streetview imagery shows limited use of on-street parking on Hamilton Avenue (left) in the area where bike lanes are planned, and ample parking availability on side streets such as Gordon Way (right). (click to expand)

Losing on-street parking is presented as a major problem by residents on Hamilton Avenue. But a look at Google Streetview imagery shows just two cars and one van parked in the entire project zone, consistent with municipal estimates that parking occupancy is low. Side streets such as Gordon Way also have plenty of parking availability. Bike lanes on Hamilton would therefore not prevent anybody from finding parking, but in certain occasions they would have to walk a distance of up to 2-3 minutes from their car. The town has proposed exceptions for infirm residents, emergency vehicles, and certain contractors, but this is clearly still a potential burden. Whether you think it is a large burden or not depends on your point of view, but there are few places in Princeton where the parking situation is easier than here.

This takes us to what is potentially the most important point. Advocates and opponents alike agree that there is no point in adding bike lanes if they do not connect to other bike lanes, especially on Hamilton Avenue closer to town. Council members therefore have to ask where are we prepared to add bike lanes? Council is planning a new Bike Masterplan, but without an answer to this basic question, any new plan would just be an updated map of sharrows. A previous Princeton Bike Circulation Masterplan, commissioned at a cost of over $40,000 in 2001, recommended taking out parking all along the Wiggins-Hamilton corridor to make safe space for cyclists. That plan may be too radical even today, but the current situation where Princeton has 125 miles of roads and no bike lanes is hardly an example of balance.

If Council gives an idea of what conditions are suitable for bike lanes, then it will provide a basis for planning a joined-up network, and stimulate creative thinking for areas where parking is judged to be essential. It is not going to be easy for Council to limit parking at any location, but at some point we will need to plan for other transport modes if we are going to address the growing traffic problem. It has been said ‘plan for cars, get cars’. If we can find a way to build high-quality bike facilities, we will make an invaluable amenity for residents that will add to property values and support clean, sustainable, healthy transportation. Princeton would become a leader in Complete Streets in New Jersey and an example for other towns. It may not be easy, but it is a challenge worth meeting.

What streets do you think would be good places to add bike lanes? Should encouraging cycling be a goal for Princeton Council? Have your say in the comments section below.

This entry was posted in Alternative Transportation, Complete Streets, planning, Sustainability, The Parking Question and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Will Princeton Build Bike Lanes? And If So, Where?

  1. Srdjan Teslic says:

    The author is using a casual observation of low on-street-parking usage on this stretch of Hamilton Avenue to make a case for prohibiting it. What if Google Streetview was taken in early hours of a weekend? More importantly, no study has been provided by our municipal government either despite the author’s claim of “municipal estimates.” Would a painted area of the road make that girl on the picture feel safer? Actually, there wouldn’t be a bike lane for her to ride on near the intersection of Hamilton Avenue and Harrison Street (where the street parking is already prohibited) as per current ordinance proposal! The author even offers a solution for people that need to park in the area: park on Gordon Way. Gordon Way is a PRIVATE ROAD not a public street! Parking there is not allowed for general public but for Queenston Common residents only.

    Let’s even assume that most of the time there are only handful of cars parked on this stretch of Hamilton Avenue. If so, there is plenty of room to bike and absolutely no need to incur the high cost of changing the street layout in addition to taking away the option of street parking. Also, no data was provided for the current and potential bicyclist volume on this stretch of Hamilton Avenue. I personally bike there almost daily weather permitting and have rarely observed another biker. Hamilton Avenue further east, as well as all streets closer to the downtown, have much more significant bicyclist traffic, but this ordinance does not address these areas where the stakes are much higher. The affected stretch of Hamilton Avenue is “a road to nowhere.” It is further away from downtown or any more heavily bicyclist trafficked area, and doesn’t lead to any public or commercial building.

    Safety data presented by a resident and confirmed verbally by a police officer in a neighborhood meeting last Wednesday shows that all accidents that occurred in Princeton involving pedestrians or bicyclists and motor vehicles occurred in intersections. The current ordinance proposal does not cover intersections! Street parking is prohibited near intersections anyway.

    The current ordinance proposal has not been thought through in any meaningful way and is not supported by any data or study. While it may have good intentions, it is not resolving any real issue concerning biking but it is creating completely unnecessary friction between Princetonians at a high cost. It should be rejected by the Council next Tuesday.

  2. wow says:

    It seems, but perhaps I am mistaken, that most houses along that stretch of Hamilton Ave have some kind of off-street parking, which presumably fulfills everyday needs of the residents. Yes, it may be convenient to have parking available for occasional use eg when overnight guests visit, but should we put this level of convenience ahead of the safety of those who use the road everyday for getting around town?

    As some one who travels in Princeton by all 3 modes (foot, car and bike) I feel that cycle lanes will benefit all parties: as a pedestrian it will keep bikes off the sidewalk; as a driver it will keep bikes out of my travel lane; and as a cyclist it will give me a dedicated space on the road. Win. Win. Win!

    • Srdjan Teslic says:

      As a long term Princeton resident let me remind you that overnight parking is not allowed on the streets of Princeton. This stretch of Hamilton Avenue is not frequently used by bicyclist and is safe for their use. It also has a number of older residents that find “this level of convenience” a necessity: all houses have narrow drive ways and most houses on the south side toward Snowden have sloped drive ways un. There are other areas of Princeton with heavier bicyclist traffic than this relatively short stretch of a street away from the downtown area. As a resident of the area, pedestrian and cyclist I find this: lose, not affected and not affected! As a tax payer I find it a complete waist. This proposed ordinance is a solution to a non-existing problem. Our municipal government should focus instead on intersections that are proved to be safety hazards for bikers and providing more bike racks around town.

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