Thursday evening, November 12, the town of Princeton will host a public meeting (details below) to get input on the creation of a new ‘Bicycle Circulation Plan’. Earlier this year, Princeton successfully applied for a program to fund a team of consutants to work with members of the public to figure out how best to enable safe movement of people on bikes around the town. This will be the first of several public meetings between the consultants and local residents. The new plan offers an opportunity to help address traffic problems around Princeton, and to find safe places for people to ride without annoying walkers on local sidewalks. It also features a much greater push for public consultation than is typical for town planning exercises.
In November 2013, Princeton updated the ‘Circulation Element’ of the community Master Plan. Theoretically, this document should spell out town transportation goals. But although the Circulation Element had a central goal of ‘Complete Streets’, i.e. making roads safe for all users, it did not contain specific plans for how this goal would be achieved. This turned out to be a big mistake, because as the town has worked on regular road engineering and resurfacing projects, it has repeatedly stumbled in providing safe facilites for cyclists. As a result, the town is not achieving its full potential for two-wheeleed mobility, and many cyclists ride on sidewalks, annoying and occasionally threatening pedestrians.
In the early 2000s, the Princeton Planning Board did complete a planning exercise about bike circulation. Written by respected transportation consultant, Charles Carmalt, the report recommended widespread improvements in bike lanes and paths. But the Planning Board left the Carmalt report on the shelf, and never implemented its recommendations. The scale of the missed opportunity was subsequently demonstrated when Carmalt became the chief bike/walk coordinator in Philadelphia, and helped lead that city to a #1 ranking in bike commuting in the USA.
Several Planning Board members felt that Carmalt’s recommendations were ‘unrealistic’, presumably reflecting the opposition that some members of the public have articulated toward making new bike facilities. Elected officials, such as Council Member Patrick Simon, have suggested that painted bike ‘sharrows’ are ‘good enough’ for local cyclists. Princeton was a leader in New Jersey in painting sharrows on local roads, starting around 2010, but the painted symbols don’t do much to advance bike safety. A cynic might argue that painted pictures of bicycles on roads do about as much to attract cyclists as the pictures of wild animals on cave walls did to attract good hunting for primitive people.
The question is whether Princeton can achieve a consensus in trying to do something better, such as bike lanes or protected cycle-tracks, which have been shown in many studies to be much more effective in promoting safety and attracting more people to make cycling a regular part of their routines. Good bike facilities would also give people on bikes a better alternative to riding on sidewalks. Creating such facilities is likely to require some compromise and potential changes to the current layout of Princeton streets. For example, to make bike facilities, streets might need to be widened in certain locations, or some streets might become one-way only, or on-street parking may be limited. Options like these require widespread support in the community, and that’s why the engineering department, working with the consultants, has organized for significant public outreach.
There are five different ways that local residents can provide feedback on the plan. These include filling out online forms, mailing in comments, or participating in an innovative online tool called ‘Wikimapping‘. All the details are available at the municipal website, and materials relating to the Bike Circulation planning exercise have been translated into Spanish language. This week, Mayor Lempert sent a letter to ‘Town Topics’, strongly encouraging local residents to leave feedback. Perhaps the easiest way to find out more, and make your voice heard is to attend the meeting at 400 Witherspoon Street tonight. It will start in the Community Room at 6.30 p.m. Hopefully the community will come together to find the best way to promote this clean and healthy alternative to car driving.
- First Public Meeting To Discuss the Princeton Bicycle Masterplan
- Time: 6.30 p.m.
- Date: November 12, 2015
- Place: Community Room, Princeton Municipal Building, 400 Witherspoon Street, Princeton.