Walkability Answers From Princeton Council Candidate Heather Howard

Heather Howard (click to expand).

Incumbent Princeton Council member Heather Howard (click to expand).

On November 3, Princeton will elect two Council members. The candidates are incumbent Council Members Heather Howard and Lance Liverman (both Democrats), and challengers Kelly DiTosto and Lynn Lu Irving (Republican party). As in the last two election cycles, we asked the candidates some questions about walkable living in Princeton. Today, we are pleased to publish responses from Heather Howard. We’ll be linking to responses from the other candidates as the week goes on. We are very grateful to them for engaging in this discussion and for running for office!

  1. With 21,000 people driving into town each day to work, what should Princeton do to reduce vehicle-miles-traveled and enable local living?

High housing costs are a real barrier for many who work in Princeton, and unfortunately there is no easy solution. We are working to hold the line on property taxes – the municipal rate is essential the same as it was in 2010 – but municipal taxes make up only about 20% of the property tax burden (the school district is 50% and the county 30%). We have instituted new budget controls to help manage expenses, but we face budget pressure from increasing costs, especially rising health care expenses and wages. To counter those pressures, we continue to seek efficiencies and should explore ways to expand the commercial tax base so we are less reliant on individual property taxes.

Public transit should play a role too. We are fortunate to have a distinguished researcher in our community, Ralph Widner, who has examined our census data and makes a compelling case that our traffic problems are not confined to our municipal borders – 160,000 vehicle trips pass through Princeton every day. So we must work regionally and with institutions like Princeton University on better biking and transit infrastructure. To that end, while we were disappointed that NJ Transit cancelled the 655 bus line, it’s helpful that Tiger Transit has expanded its routes to include more stops in Princeton and provide access to the hospital for employees who live in town. And I’m hopeful that we can harmonize our local transit system, made up of the municipal FreeB and the university’s Tiger Transit, so that we can make it convenient for even more residents.

  1. How can Princeton ‘entice people out of their cars’, as envisaged by the Princeton Circulation Plan?

I support the Complete Streets policy, which focuses on making neighborhoods and roads safer for all users – not just cars but also pedestrians and cyclists. We have a good sidewalk network, but not on all streets, and look to build new sidewalks when doing sewer and road work. Because sidewalks are a public good, we have a new municipal policy of funding the entire cost of installation, instead of assessing the homeowners where the sidewalks are installed. And we are undertaking a new bicycle master plan, which will take a comprehensive look at creating a bicycle network in Princeton, and identify capital improvements and potential ordinance changes to support such a plan. Implementing Complete Streets hasn’t been easy, and I hope the bike master plan process will generate more community support for bicycle improvements. We are also looking at a requirement to include bicycle parking in new developments.

  1. Do you agree that allowing increased density of housing in Princeton is a useful approach to easing development pressure on remaining green spaces in the local region?

It depends. Certain parts of Princeton, near transportation and other infrastructure, might be good candidates for higher density. But at the municipal level we need to balance neighborhood preservation, and it would be unfortunate to pit environmental and open space advocates against housing advocates. I support the use of cluster development in appropriate locations as a way of balancing both goals.

  1. What specific idea or policy is the thing that drives you most in seeking office? 

As a member of the Public Safety Committee, I’m passionate about strengthening law enforcement relations with the community. So far, our work has included re-instituting community policing, and extensive outreach to the schools and the immigrant community. Nationally, we are seeing a debate about the role of law enforcement in diverse communities, and I’m glad that in Princeton we have a real focus on building trust – which makes us a more humane community while making us all safer.

(Note: ‘Walkable Princeton’ is not making an endorsement of any candidate. Responses from other candidates will be published this week.)

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