At a public meeting last week, representatives of the Princeton Engineering Department discussed plans for reconstruction of Witherspoon Street in downtown Princeton. The project is scheduled to begin next year, and the purpose of the meeting was to get further feedback about ideas for how to redesign Witherspoon St. Several concepts were presented. Witherspoon St between Nassau St and Spring St was converted to one-way traffic earlier this year, to create additional space for outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic. Making this one-way concept permanent is one option that is being considered. Other options range from restoring two-way traffic, to closing the road to through traffic altogether. To evaluate which design option was preferred by the public, the engineers set up an online poll, and at the time of the meeting, the ‘overwhelming’ preference shown by preliminary poll results was for ‘Option C’, to close the street to traffic entirely.
Although the poll indicates strong support among the public for closing Witherspoon St to traffic, the reaction from local merchants was more mixed. Several merchants expressed opposition to the proposal, including Jessica Durrie, the proprietor of Small World Coffee, and Dorothea Moltke, the owner of Labyrinth Books. The possibility of closing lower Witherspoon St to traffic was however enthusiastically endorsed by Frank Armenante, of ‘The Alchemist and Barrister‘. Armenante said that the idea of closing Witherspoon Street to traffic was “the most outstanding thing I’ve seen in Princeton” after 46 years of living in town. He said that all of the challenges of closing the street to parking, including parking and deliveries, could be solved, and that closing Witherspoon Street was “the only clean option, without exhaust from cars…a green option and a business option”.
The municipal engineers will hold further meetings with business owners in private to discuss possibilities for redesigning Witherspoon Street. The new director of the Princeton Arts Council, Adam Welch, pointed out that getting people out of their cars, walking around downtown Princeton would turn them into “walking wallets”, who might support more local businesses, instead of doing “a five-second dash into a business and then leave”. Welch suggested that Witherspoon Street could be closed at weekends only, potentially using automatic bollards that could raise and lower to allow traffic at other times of the week, or access for deliveries or emergency vehicles. Notably, the Arts Council has extensive experience of enlivening pedestrian streets, as seen from the annual ‘Communiversity‘ street festival, which draws tens of thousands of visitors into Princeton.
Further public meetings to discuss the project are expected to follow later this year. Any substantial change to the streetscape or traffic patterns would require review and approval from the Princeton Historic Preservation Commission and the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
Slides from the Engineering Department presentation of September 15, 2020 can be viewed at the municipal website at this link. A video of the meeting can be viewed below: