Let us now praise famous men and women of the future — the students of Princeton University.
Most of us never really get to know these young beautiful minds but we hear about them (rated No. 1, we recall, in the U.S. News and World Report survey of top colleges and universities) and we get to see them (most prominently criss-crossing Washington Road, engrossed in conversation or lost in thought).
Washington Road, which we traverse at least twice a day seven days a week, is our personal window into the world of Princeton University undergraduates. What those thoughts and conversations are about we can only imagine: the latest breakthrough in genomics, the new English course on the "Curious Aesthetics of Musical Theatre," the economics professor who won the Nobel Prize, or the latest exploits of one of the many varsity sports teams.
So we don’t know what they are thinking about, but we do know one thing they probably are not thinking about: The cars that are bearing down on them as they blithely cross Washington Road.
On Wednesday, October 16, two more of Princeton’s finest were struck down by auto traffic as they attempted to cross Washington Road. Freshmen Jessica Case and Mary Spencer, both members of the swimming team, were returning from practice and crossing the road near Fine Hall (the towering building near Princeton Stadium) at around 7 p.m. when they were hit by a car traveling down the hill toward Route 1.
One of the first people passing by was another Princeton student, senior Amanda Neely. This being Princeton, Neely’s extracurricular activity happens to be leading students on Outdoor Action wilderness trips and she is trained in wilderness first aid and CPR. She stabilized the accident victims until the ambulances arrived.
But the lingering question is who will stabilize the flow of cars and pedestrians criss crossing each other every day on Washington Road. The university and municipal officials keep thinking they have a solution — a pedestrian crossing here and there, flashing blinkers to alert motorists to the crossing, a stern sign warning that state law requires motorists to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, and a new light opposite the Woodrow Wilson School fountain.
Still the accidents continue. Princeton Borough police, quoted in the Daily Princetonian, the student newspaper, report an average of five pedestrian-related incidents a year on Washington Road.
Now, on the occasion of the latest accident, the Princetonian reports that the university has a new scheme in place — a pedestrian bridge that would allow students to walk over Washington Road near the spot where the latest accident occurred. While that bridge would require county and state approvals, the university has other suggestions that might be implemented sooner, including better lighting at the crosswalks, a lower speed limit, and rumble strips to force cars to slow down as they approach pedestrian crossings.
While all those ideas are worthy, we have to say that none will be the magic bullet to protect the preoccupied undergraduates from the rushing motorists. The pedestrian bridge, we predict, would provide little more than false security. Students would be asked to climb a bridge while at the same time they see a jaywalking opportunity on either side. Princeton students’ heads may be in the trees, but their bodies follow the universal path of all college-age youth — the shortest and easiest.
So what are we motorists expected to do? As a veteran member of the Washington Road Dodgers, I have the following suggestions:
1.) Be especially wary at the two crossings that are not governed by traffic lights.
2.) When you do stop for one or more of these beautiful minds, do not make that sweeping gesture that suggests they are free to walk in front of you. Remember that motorists coming in the other direction may have no intention of stopping. Let the students make their own determination.
3.) Remember that many Princeton students are pre-law, and as they step out into the pedestrian crossing they are smugly reminding themselves that they are entitled — it’s state law, you dumb motorist! — to be in that space and you are required to stop for them.
4.) When you feel an ounce or two of road rage welling within you, remember that these soon-to-be-famous men and women are also soon to be affluent. As I remind myself: "They are the future. And they will pay for my Social Security." Thanks, kids.