On Saturday, February 22, I attended an excellent program on traffic and transit “issues and opportunities” sponsored by Princeton Future. The multi-faceted program, moderated by Anton Lahnston, featured well-respected speakers covering a spectrum of issues ranging from “Where are we now?” to 20 years hence.
I left with little doubt that our town’s professional staff, boards, and committees, working with various public sector agencies, had the enabling competence to find solutions in the long term. It may happen, but how long can we wait? What are the near-term consequences to our quality of life as well as our economy and the environment attendant to our continuing failure to act?
I conclude that all the presentations, save one, exhibited glacial progress as their key characteristic. Due diligence is laudable until it reaches the point of being an exhausting gauntlet in both time and cost. No real sense of urgency was apparent. One is reminded of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCEs) widely acclaimed report cards giving our nation’s infrastructure a D, and the stunning follow-on report on our progress titled “Failure to Act!”
Princeton’s current “near term” timeline for action is 10 years beyond the many years of studies already completed. Virtually nothing was addressed that is actionable starting today, except by the update from the Traffic & Transit Task Force including Princeton University representatives. Perhaps more studies?
Fortunately, there is much that we can do now to increase multi-modal mobility if we can find the leadership and political will to do it. Doing nothing is not an option. Doing anything of import now at least gives some sense of urgency and momentum to move forward. As someone said, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have!” Let’s get started.
First, get back to first transportation principles. At its core, transportation is simply moving people and goods. Performance metrics now ever more broadly defined go well beyond safety, cost, time/distance, and other easily measured criteria to something approaching a euphoria of so-called “complete streets” — creating streetscapes providing all things to all users.
Such grand visions start with small first steps in the right direction. Right now we can:
Improve overall vehicle circulation downtown by creating a few one-way streets, adding at the same time commercial vehicle parking serving businesses, plus more lane width for biking and pedestrians.
Reduce congestion and travel times by zero tolerance of Princeton’s nightmarish abuses within the traveled way — jaywalking, bikes, and other personal conveyances rampant failure to adhere to basic rules of the road, including paths and walkways.
Do not accept the inevitability of projected increases in traffic and numbers of vehicles in town. Take every legal action as the university has done to limit cars on campus. This may sound Draconian, but students do not require a car on a walking campus with timely bus service.
Condominiums and other private properties can impose strict limits on the number and type of vehicles onsite. Car use for many purposes is very sensitive to cost and convenience factors. Make other modes cheaper and more convenient and car use less so. Be imaginative in ways and means.
Eliminate traffic jams and safety risks around school opening and closing times by requiring capable students to ride buses where school bus service is mandated. Also, promote walking and biking. Crossing guards at crosswalks can facilitate traffic flow by enforcing reasonable wait times or cueing for students plus controlling jaywalking.
Further, stop using uniformed police officers as crossing guards and deploy them in traffic control during rush hours clearing congestion and enforcing a “Fender bender — Clear the traveled way “ rule.
There are more possibilities, including many proposed and proven to work in other jurisdictions. Some users will always be inconvenienced or their cost increased. Again, transportation and transit’s goal is to keep everyone and everything moving safely and on time.
Clearwater is a retired U.S. Navy engineer who moved to Princeton in 1984 and became involved in major infrastructure work and issues in New Jersey.