This isn’t the first time that U.S. 1 has covered Princeton University’s proposal for its new arts neighborhood in the vicinity of Alexander Road and University Place. For several good reasons:
We devote a lot of editorial space to the arts, and we are heartened to see a bold new arts initiative. We are concerned about the strength of our town centers, and Alexander Road is one of the major gateways to the center of Princeton. And, even though we are named after the highway that is a daily testament to the private automobile and its single occupant, we nevertheless believe in the potential of mass transit. The new arts neighborhood straddles the Dinky rail line connecting downtown Princeton with the main line.
On top of all that, the discussion has turned into good theater, with town and gown drawing lines in the sand.
For a look at how the arts neighborhood could meet the desires of both the university and the Dinky train proponents, read Michele Alperin’s story, page 32. For some insight into the continuing negotiations between the university and the community that surrounds it, read this letter to the editor.
#b#To the Editor:#/b#
Thanks to our municipal officials who served on the negotiating team which put together the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding the future of the Dinky and mass transit in our community. I believe the document makes a good beginning at resolving the impasse over the Arts Campus Expansion Plan, but must be modified in order to satisfactorily address the needs of the community. I have three suggestions:
1.) The MOU states that most of the provisions contained within it, designed to maintain the viability of the Dinky, will take effect when the Arts Campus Expansion is approved by the Planning Board. But positive supports for Dinky ridership will be needed if the station is relocated, whether the Arts Campus is approved or not. The university has indicated both its support for the Dinky, and its intention to relocate the station with or without the Arts Campus expansion, so all aid promised by the University to the Dinky should be predicated on such a move, not on approval of the Arts Campus.
2.) The university undertakes in the MOU to reopen and operate the old Dinky Station for a period of six months, but according to the 1984 agreement to purchase the Dinky from NJ Transit the university committed to spend $400,000 at that time on upgrades to the station area and to “provide, as part of these general improvements, certain station-related facilities.”
They also agreed to maintain the station facilities in perpetuity. The improvements were never made, the station never re-opened, and I believe the university owes a debt to the residents of Princeton for 27 years of waiting in the rain, cold, and snow for their trains. The present value ($3,655,822.13 if invested in a Dow Jones-indexed mutual fund) of the dollars saved in 1984 by not implementing the upgrades to the station should be enough to operate the station for more than six months. The agreement should require the university to provide a functioning station in the current or future location.
3.) Many of the university’s responsibilities under the MOU are nebulous and unenforceable. How are we to judge whether they have made a good faith effort to increase the frequency of Dinky service? Who is to determine whether the passenger drop-off arrangements at the new station are convenient?
The university should have an explicit financial stake in the success of the Dinky — it should agree to make up any shortfall in receipts due to decreased ridership. This will incentivize efforts to promote Dinky ridership and mitigate any failures on this score.
I hope the university’s negotiators can step back from their adversarial stance to realize that these suggestions are meant to advance our common interest in mass transit, and only ask that they live up to former agreements and bear the costs of any change they propose.
David E. Cohen, DEC Architects, Terhune Road