Despite promising to add a bike lane on the north side Hamilton Avenue earlier this year, Princeton Council last night waved through a plan to re-stripe the road with no bike lanes at all. The switcheroo was discussed in the ‘reports’ section of the regular meeting, and therefore was not even listed on the official agenda. This is the second ‘Complete Streets’ project that has been axed by the town in the last three weeks. But the news may not be all bad, as municipal engineer Deanna Stockton announced that the town’s application for an NJDOT grant has been successful. The grant, through the ‘Local Technical Assistance Program’, will allow the town to engage a consulting firm to work with the community to devise a holistic bicycle circulation plan. This plan is intended to guide future engineering projects, to make streets as safe as possible for all users.
Hamilton Avenue between North Harrison Street and Snowden Lane has been a site of resurfacing work this year. The town’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee and Traffic and Transportation Committee both unanimously recommended that the resurfaced road should include bike lanes going in each direction. The bike lanes were to be a demonstration project for the town’s “Complete Streets” program. But Council back-flipped after initially introducing an ordinance to create the bike lanes, and ended up recommending the installation of just one bike lane heading toward town, with ‘sharrow‘ markings in the other direction. Last night, however, town engineers advised that their standards made this layout impossible. (There was no explanation about why it took 4 months for this issue to be spotted.) Instead, there will be sharrows in both directions.
Sharrows are a very weak treatment from a ‘Complete Streets’ perspective. They do not create any safe space for cyclists to operate out of the flow of motorized traffic, and they do little to encourage ‘interested but concerned’ cyclists onto the roads. But nobody on Council suggested that it might be worthwhile to revisit the original bike lane recommendation in light of the new information. Instead, the question will be deferred until the Bike Masterplanning process starts (which should be in September).
Providing safe facilities for people who choose to get around without cars is a key goal of the Circulation Element of Princeton’s Masterplan. But so far, very few steps have been taken to provide safe facilities. The question remains about whether the new grant from NJDOT will provide an opportunity for the community to collectively plan how to create a safe network of bike facilities. Despite the sentiment that local roads are too narrow to safely accommodate cyclists, there is often sufficient right-of-way to make top-grade bike facilities. But doing so requires a measure of political will. In the past, elected officials have seemed reticent, or outright hawkish, when hard decisions have needed to be made to make good bike facilities. For Princeton to embrace true multi-modal transport in future, they will need to show leadership during the coming planning process.
Watch the announcement about Hamilton Avenue at Princeton council from last night. the relevant discussion starts at 55′:10″