Princeton’s long-time municipal engineer, Robert Kiser, has announced he is to retire, and it’s likely to cause quite a shakeup at 400 Witherspoon. Kiser predates basically all of the Governing Body, and it is not much of an overstatement to say that he has literally built the town. Being municipal engineer is a massive, massive job. Kiser regularly flips between building sewers, overseeing complex demolitions and designing new road layouts. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of code and, importantly, is also an absolute gentleman. His calm and meticulous demeanor is a big asset for the many long public meetings he has endured while addressing local residents’ concerns about engineering projects. Many nights, he is finishing work at 11 p.m. or after midnight. And yet, it is possible that Kiser’s replacement could fill a big unmet need for the town.
Princeton has over one hundred miles of roads, most of them municipally-owned. And yet, almost none of these roads qualify as ‘Complete Streets’. Neighbors all around the town complain about speeding traffic, lighting is inadequate, and cycle facilities are primitive. Not all of this is Kiser’s fault. It can be argued that he builds what people tell him to build. Yet despite Council making an official commitment to ‘Complete Streets’ several years ago, some recent road projects, such as the Park Place-Vandeventer project, have apparently gone ahead without much, if any, Complete Streets consideration. As Council members are often highly deferential to staff on engineering matters, the outlook and recommendations of the chief engineer can become defining.
To give Kiser the credit he deserves, he has regularly pushed through sidewalk projects when neighbors were screaming at him not to do it, most recently at Poe Road. He is also responsible for many of the mixed-use sidepaths that are found throughout the former Township. But Princeton’s next chief engineer should ideally be somebody who lives and breathes Complete Streets, and has extensive experience of creating livable streets that balance the needs of all users. Princeton’s Council members face a really tough challenge to find somebody with half of Kiser’s know-how, and the emphasis will rightly be on getting a serious, highly-qualified candidate who knows how to make things happen within the crazy New Jersey system. A proven track record of Complete Streets accomplishment should also be given great weight.