Be careful what you wish for. When the West Windsor Planning Board gave approval to Boston Properties for construction of 701 Carnegie Center in November, 2007, one of the conditions was the creation of traffic management options to minimize congestion caused by the new building.
The idea was for Boston Properties to offer these traffic management options to tenants at the new building, but not force them to utilize them. While a few options have been discussed at the Planning Board level, one major tenant — Princeton University — has come up with its own sustainable initiative.
And that initiative — replacing some of its gas vehicles with electric cars — has raised some questions with the West Windsor Township Council, which will continue to discuss the idea and is expected to adopt an ordinance in support of it at its meeting on Monday, May 18.
Princeton University needs permission from West Windsor to allow those electric cars to travel on township roadways as university staff make their way from Princeton to other portions of the campus in West Windsor, including the new building it will be leasing at 701 in Carnegie Center.
That 112,000-square foot, four story office building located between Canal Pointe Boulevard and Route 1, adjacent to the Princeton Overlook property, will be utilized for administrative and informational technology purposes and for nonacademic pursuits.
The building will contain meeting rooms, offices, a cafeteria, an outdoor terrace for dining, and a fitness center. The application was part of an overall general development plan approved by the township in the 1970s. The building is scheduled to be completed later this year.
The university is seeking permission from West Windsor officials because the new cars can only travel between 20 and 25 miles per hour, but will need to access roads like Alexander, Harrison, and Canal Pointe Boulevard, which have speed limits of 35 miles per hour. State law already permits the low-speed cars on roadways up to 25 miles per hour, explained Kristen Appelget, Princeton University’s director of community and regional affairs.
The university is leasing 701 Carnegie Center, and university officials hope to be able to use the cars to go between the campus and the building. The cars, she explained, are not golf carts, but simply low-speed cars about the size of a Ford Ranger.
The university is seeking permission to operate the vehicles on Alexander Road from the West Windsor-Princeton border to the bridge over Route 1; on the entire length of Canal Pointe Boulevard; and on Harrison Street from the West Windsor-Princeton border to Route 1, where another one of the university’s properties is located, said Appelget.
Councilwoman Diane Ciccone had one concern: “Of you can only go 25 miles per hour in a 35 miles per hour zone, how can we ensure no backups or accidents with other vehicles?”
Roger Demareski, the vice president for facilities at the university, said that “it’s certainly not going to be a large volume” of these low-speed cars on the roadways. “If we found there were significant back-ups at certain parts of the day, we would want to work with your police department,” to find better solutions, he added. In addition, the university will be avoiding having its staff drive the cars during rush hour, and will mostly permit them between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., he added.
Appelget said that “by the nature of the work hours of the individuals who would be operating those vehicles, they generally work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. We would be working with the police to monitor these vehicles would be on the road if they would be causing any backups,” and staff would be willing to work with police and other township officials to remedy the situation, she said.
Councilwoman Linda Geevers asked whether the university could place stickers on the back of the vehicles to warn others that the low-speed electric cars can only travel at speeds up to 25 miles per hour.
Demareski said officials could look into the idea, but also said that the university was already thinking about placing flashing lights on the vehicles.
An ordinance will be on the agenda for Monday, May 18, and in the meantime, the matter is being sent to department heads for review.
The electric car is just one of many sustainable ideas presented with regard to the building at 701 Carnegie Center. In February, 2009, a list of six non-mandatory, yet innovative traffic management options for tenants of Carnegie Center West received commendations from members of the West Windsor Planning Board.
Sandra Brillhart, of the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association on Roszel Road appeared with Boston Properties in front of the board to fulfill the condition as part of the previous approval.
Because of state law, the board cannot require the various traffic management options, but Boston Properties will provide information for the alternative routes of transportation to the tenants to supply to their employees.
The first strategy was rideshare matching services, which utilizes the GMTMA’s database of close to 6,000 people. The GMTMA holds a contract with the state Department of Transportation for this, Brillhart said. The service is available to anyone who works in West Windsor who wants to carpool, and the GMTMA matches commuters with others similar commuters and includes incentives like free gas cards.
The ride matching service is free, and a person can call, register online www.gmtma.org.
The program, so far, has been well-received and has had high success rates, Brillhart said. “We have every reason to believe that if that program were implemented, Carnegie Center would” be another success story, she said.
One of the reasons why people may be wary of utilizing the service is because a lot of commuters worry that if they carpool, they would not be able to get home in cases of emergency, or if they have to leave work earlier or later than expected. But the GMTMA rideshare matching services includes an emergency ride home program to help offset these concerns, Brillhart explained.
According to brochures, the GMTMA’s “Makes Sense Bonus Program” would provide a four-person carpool with a $200 gas card a month. A three-person carpool would yield a $150 gas card per month, and a two-person carpool would yield a $100 gas card per month, based on the condition that the carpool must occur at least 24 days in a two-month period.
One of the other options is public transportation, Brillhart said. Using public transportation provides an IRS benefit of between $115 and $230, through a commuter’s paycheck. “It’s also a win-win for the employer because they don’t have to deduct taxes on it,” Brillhart said. The GMTMA also can help a commuter identify which services would best fit his or her needs and help him or her plan the route.
Like carpooling, another option is vanpooling, which is an option for commuters who travel further than 20 miles each way. “Greater Mercer TMA’s Commuter Services Department cannot only help you start or join a vanpool, we’ll map out a route for you as well,” brochures stated. “Once you’re in a vanpool. We can help you with commuter tax incentives, empty seat subsidiaries, and New Jersey Transit’s vanpool sponsorship program to cut your commute costs even further.”
Like the carpool service, the GMTMA would also take information to help match a commuter with other commuters, and help recruit new members to the vanpool.
Brillhart explained that NJT offers a $175 monthly subsidiary, and the GMTMA also subsidizes the costs if there is an empty seat in the vanpool until a new person can be found to fill it.
Another option is bicycling and walking to work, and the GMTMA can also help with personalizing a person’s bicycle and pedestrian routes to work. “Historically, it has shown to be effective in getting people out of their vehicles and trying other options,” Brillhart said.
Theodore Ehrlich, the board’s traffic consultant said he reviewed the various options provided by the GMTMA in coordination with Boston Properties, and spoke highly of the GMTMA’s reputation for running a successful initiative to get people to use these alternative means of transportation.
He said that in his research, he has found a person’s commuting habits, and the likelihood that programs similar to what GMTMA offers, aregreatly influenced by the employer.
“If the employer is behind it, it works,” he said, explaining that if the employee feels the employer is behind it, and would be lenient when it comes to understanding that carpooling and vanpooling may sometimes affect a person’s ability to get to work on time, it is more effective.
“I can see great things coming out of this,” he said. “Their reputation indicates that this will work.” Also, if it does work, other buildings in that area might want to try it as well, he said. In his research, he found that commuters like the incentives, and that 10 to 15 percent of cars that would have shown up if not for the alternative transportation options will not show up after the programs are implemented, which reduces traffic.
Board members asked whether Boston Properties had already discussed these traffic management options with Princeton University, which already has a reputation for embracing alternative means of transportation, and representatives for Boston Properties said it had been discussed, but reminded the board that it could not mandate that any of the tenants use these options.