Last year, Princeton Council voted to advance a plan to permanently convert the downtown part of Witherspoon Street into a one-way traffic pattern. The decision was made ahead of a large engineering project to upgrade sewers, which will require the street to be dug up and re-laid. A 9-month public consultation showed enthusiasm for a more walkable street design, an idea that was further supported by a petition signed by more than 1,000 local residents and support from several downtown merchants. Princeton engineers have advanced design concepts for the project, and updated Council last month on their progress.
Chief municipal engineer Deanna Stockton discussed how the latest plan features pavers across the width of the entire street. Different colors of pavers would distinguish sidewalks, parking bays, and the roadway, ensuring a continuity of materials so that the street would feel like a cohesive place to visitors on occasions when it may be fully closed to traffic. The exact colors of the pavers to be used are under review by a sub-committee of the Historic Preservation Commission, who have suggested that they should match the colors of bricks in surrounding buildings. The public may have a chance to give further input on materials in the spring, when samples of potential building materials may be put on display. The design would also feature improved ‘tree-wells’ to protect street trees, and planted areas to help retain stormwater.
By switching to one-way traffic, the town will have more space for wider sidewalks adjacent to restaurants on Witherspoon St, allowing increased opportunities for outdoor dining. Curb extensions at Nassau St and Spring St would make it easier for pedestrians to cross the road, and a mid-block crosswalk would be striped next to the entrance to the Tulane Yard parking area. The total number of parking spaces would be similar to at present, with parking bays allowing for curbside pickup or parking next to stores. The road width would be 20-ft, and has been optimized to ensure safe emergency vehicle movements or temporary standing by delivery vehicles.
The design is intended to be flexible, to allow for potential road closures on either a short-term or seasonal basis, during which times the entire street would be dedicated for pedestrians or outdoor events. North of Spring St, the design of Witherspoon St would be more conventional, with two-way traffic and an asphalt roadway. The latest design for this area would slightly expand the number of parking spaces in this area. No bicycle lanes are proposed for any part of Witherspoon St as part of the current plans. The engineers discussed their concept with downtown merchants in more detail at a meeting on March 10.
At the same time as the engineers refine their plan, the New Jersey Department of Transportation is planning improvements to the intersection of Nassau St and Witherspoon St. A new traffic signal will be installed, with an exclusive pedestrian phase to allow people on foot to cross without being put at risk by turning vehicles. An 8-ft curb extension is planned for the sidewalk in front of the FitzRandolph Gate of Princeton University, with further extensions on the opposite side of the street next to Bank of America and the Hamilton Jewelers store. These changes are intended to promote safety, and make it easier for pedestrians to cross at this busy intersection. The town will have to vote on whether to support these changes in the coming weeks.
The engineers’ slides can be viewed on the Princeton municipal website at this link. The discussion of the plan by Council is in this video, starting around 57:10.