The future of Princeton’s Dinky train, which connects Princeton Junction station to Princeton Borough and the university campus, could be decided on Thursday, September 30, when the Regional Planning Board votes on whether to support a Bus Rapid Transit system as an alternative to the train.

To explore the ramifications of that decision and other possible mass transit scenarios in the downtown area Princeton Future, a nonprofit planning group, will present six concepts for the future of mass transit and the Dinky system on Saturday, September 25, at 9 a.m. at the Princeton Public Library. Visit www.princetonfuture.org.

The Planning Board is expected to vote on a resolution supporting NJ Transit’s bus rapid transit, or BRT, system on September 30. BRT would replace the Dinky with a bus service that would run on the Dinky lines and around downtown Princeton, making stops on Nassau Street, the Princeton Shopping Center, Township Hall, and the Arts Council before heading back to the main line of the railroad. Proponents claim the system will provide greater access to more parts of Princeton than the Dinky, which now stops at the far eastern end of Princeton University, across from McCarter Theater.

Opponents, however, worry that underpopulated buses will be a waste of money and will lead to more congestion downtown.

The Dinky system has come under attack in the past, but attempts to end the service were usually poorly coordinated affairs that served to stimulate conversation but not much else.

Now, however, the Dinky has two major strikes against it: the possible support of the Planning Board for BRT and the university’s wish to see the Dinky station moved from its present location to a new site about 500 feet to the south. The university has plans to build an arts district surrounding McCarter Theater — a $101 million plan that the university argues would work only if the Dinky station were gone.

A third strike against the Dinky could be the economy itself. The state, NJ Transit, and the Dinky all are in bad financial straits, and even if the BRT idea fails to be the solution, there is a growing list of reasons why the Dinky station is on shaky ground.

Still, there are other ideas to be heard and Princeton Future wants to keep the dialogue going. The timetable for the September 25 presentations:

9:05 a.m.: Marvin Reed, former Princeton Borough mayor and chairman of the Master Plan Subcommittee of the Regional Planning Board, and Councilman Kevin Wilkes, will present their case for the BRT system.

9:25 a.m.: Princeton residents Anita Garoniak and Lieve Monnens will present “Save the Dinky.” Garoniak and Monnens are two of the most adamant supporters of the Dinky. They cite that the train serves 1,100 riders per day and runs on electric power. They contend that Princeton should not abandon the Dinky in favor of an untried bus scheme that may work on Route 1 but not for downtown.

9:45 a.m.: Alain Kornhauser, founder of ALK Technologies at 1000 Herrontown Road, and Borough Councilman Andrew Koontz will present their case for not just saving the Dinky, but extending the line into Palmer Square. The original Dinky terminus in Princeton was near Blair Arch, in the center of the university campus. While ideal for riders, the line became a nuisance to a growing university and was eventually truncated. But as the university continues to expand, Kornhauser and Koontz see the extension of the Dinky line into Palmer Square as an opportunity to modernize the line and substantially enhance mobility for the Princeton Community.

10:05 a.m.: Carlos Rodrigues of the Regional Plan Association will discuss plans for a modern street car system to replace the Dinky. Streetcar systems have curried much favor in cities around the country recently. Proponents say such systems are clean, scalable, customizable, and able to operate in tight geometries. Critics of this plan, however, say that without a concerted land use plan to go with it, the streetcar will never work in Princeton

10:25 a.m.: Princeton resident J. Edward Anderson will present his ideas for an intelligent transportation network system (ITNS), a new form of public transportation designed to run on electricity and operate when it reaches a certain passenger weight.

10:45 a.m.: Chip Crider, owner of a scientific instruments company in Princeton, will present his ideas on personal rapid transit, or PRT (U.S. 1, March 24, 2010). PRT is a system of small vehicles, like shuttle cars at airports, that can come and go more frequently and operate on a right of way, thereby keeping more vehicles out of general traffic.

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