Town of Princeton Advances Plan for Cyclists to Share Sidewalks with Pedestrians on Witherspoon Street

Witherspoon Street in Princeton, adjacent to Community Park Elementary School

Princeton Council has approved a plan from the Engineering Department for the next part of the multi-year effort to redesign Witherspoon Street. The so-called ‘Witherspoon St Phase 3’ project will be between Leigh Avenue and Valley Road, which includes the part of the road that runs past Community Park Elementary School. Once again, the new street design will contain no specific facilities for cyclists. Instead, cyclists will have the option to share the road with bus and truck traffic, or to use sidewalks, despite the sidewalks being too narrow to safely accommodate both bikes and people walking.

The plan presented by assistant municipal engineer Jim Purcell calls for the Witherspoon St roadway to be narrowed slightly in the Phase 3 work zone. The final layout will have 11-ft lanes in each direction for motorized traffic, and an 8-ft shoulder for on-street parking. The east side of the street (near Conte’s Pizza) would have a 5-ft sidewalk. The west side of the street (near Community Park School) would have a 6-ft sidewalk.

Proposed street design for Witherspoon St from Leigh Ave to Valley Road

The plan includes several features that will make conditions better for pedestrians, including ‘bump-outs’ to shorten the distance to cross Witherspoon St, and improved lighting. Cyclists will have the option to use the road, and new ‘shared-use arrows‘ (also called ‘sharrows’) will be painted on the roadway in an effort to remind drivers to expect cyclists to be present. These ‘sharrows’ are no longer endorsed by the Princeton Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, and were shown through surveys as part of the Princeton Bicycle Master Plan study to do little to make normal people feel safe riding in the roadway.

The narrower roadway may in fact make Witherspoon Street feel less safer for cycling for any potential riders, especially because it is used by a high volume of cars, buses and trucks. Purcell acknowledged that many cyclists would not find riding in the road to be comfortable, and noted that Witherspoon St is not a “primary route” for cyclists. It’s not clear what this means though, because there is no alternative route running into town from this area. John St, which runs in parallel to Witherspoon St, is one-way only, so it is unlawful for cyclists to ride up John St into town.

Instead, Purcell suggested that cyclists could share the sidewalks with pedestrians, but the sidewalk widths fall well short of the recommended minimums for shared-use trails. Despite 62 feet of available public right-of-way, it is apparently impossible to install bike lanes, especially because parking and truck movements are considered to be more important. Purcell treated the idea that a safe bicycle facility might be preferred to street trees as a literal laugh line.

Although municipal staff talk about “we have to balance the needs of everyone”, Phases 1, 2, and 3 of the redesign of Witherspoon Street have now been completed without any dedicated bicycle facilities, and the recent ‘corridor study’ of Wiggins St and Hamilton Ave also produced no dedicated bicycle facilities. The town of Princeton has now gone 10 years since consolidation without placing bike lanes in both directions on any street in the entire town. The upshot is that cyclists and pedestrians will inevitably come into conflict on sidewalks, especially in busy areas like Witherspoon Street, which is likely to produce bad feelings at best and an unsafe situation at worst.

Recording of the council meeting. Discussion of the Witherspoon St redesign starts at 1:02:00:

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2 Responses to Town of Princeton Advances Plan for Cyclists to Share Sidewalks with Pedestrians on Witherspoon Street

  1. Bob Schwartz says:

    Unprotected bike lanes on busy streets rarely feel safe enough to comfortably use for casual cyclists like me, or for kids. I’d say they are a last resort for blocks where, like on Wiggins, there is too much bike and pedestrian traffic, redundant parking, and no space to widen the sidewalk without cutting trees (a non-starter).
    So I’m happy Jim Purcell said the town is planning on a wider sidewalk near CP. A safe, 8+ foot sidewalk+bike path, like near the Choir College, would be ideal. (Or like this: )

  2. JW resident says:

    Thanks for reporting on this. The Witherspoon Street portion of the meeting video starts at one hour 1 minute. Here’s a link to the presentation pdf:
    Myself, I do bike on that section of Witherspoon, particularly returning from the pool in the summer, but also other times. As noted, the sharrows are useless, particularly as they were put in the gutters around town, where all the debris collects.
    Adding parking where there has been none, and pedestrian bump-outs, will make things worse for cyclists.

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