Loose Ends 11/15: Walking toward a better future

From left, Assemblyman Roy Freiman, Barbara Golden, Governor Phil Murphy, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, walking in Princeton on Monday, Nov. 4.PHOTO COURTESY OF PAM HERSH
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From left, Assemblyman Roy Freiman, Barbara Golden, Governor Phil Murphy, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, walking in Princeton on Monday, Nov. 4.PHOTO COURTESY OF PAM HERSH

By Pam Hersh

Helping residents “skip the trip,” two New Jersey legislators, representing New Jersey’s 16th district, partnered with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC) to bring the NJMVC’s handicapped accessible Agency on Wheels to Princeton on Friday, Nov. 8.

In light of the current construction projects making it challenging to get in, get out and get through town, this move on the part of the Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker and Assemblyman Roy Freiman was particularly smart and prescient.

The stated motivation for the initiative was to help seniors, residents and veterans with disabilities, to have “a hassle-free experience.” In fact, the mobile Department of Motor Vehicles may have served some able-bodied residents of all ages who are exhausted by the invasion of orange signs and cones that are thwarting vehicular mobility in town. The disabilities among drivers are raised blood pressures and increased Maalox consumption. I only wish I had been prescient enough to have bought stock in a luminescent orange paint manufacturing company.

I would like to propose that state and local governments should continue the ‘skip the trip’ theme and focus on another mode of transportation – feet. For those of us who fortunately are able to move by means of feet, walking is a superior way to get from point A to point B.

In addition to the well-known and well-documented health benefits of moving rather than sitting, walking in this town often is faster than driving, creates no pollution, is driven by renewable energy (the individual can refuel with a simple power bar), is fiscally prudent – no gas or parking costs, and is the most democratic mode of transport in that it discriminates against no ethnicity or socio-economic class. And finally, I believe that walking has a holistic benefit to society by increasing civility. Instead of road rage, people may actually engage in being pleasant to one another by saying ‘good morning’ or by noticing the beautiful orange leaves on the trees, instead of the orange paint on the detour signs.

During his visit to Princeton on Monday, Nov. 4, Gov. Phil Murphy probably wanted to get out of his limo and walk into town. His motorcade, on the way from the Zwicker/Freiman campaign headquarters on Route 206 and Mount Lucas to Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Street, was trying to navigate the Mount Lucas construction orange-cone maze, at the same time as Community Park School kids were being dismissed. I was walking the same route, actually following the limo, and I almost beat him to Small World Coffee.

I know from first-hand and first-feet experience that Princeton Council is devoting some attention to the health and well being of the pedestrian. Walkers have their own set of challenges in Princeton – certainly nothing like driving in town, but still no a stroll in a manicured park. Mayor Liz Lempert and the Princeton Council at the end of last year appointed Sam Bunting and Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller and yours truly to an Ad Hoc Task Force on Sidewalks and Pedestrian Safety. We were charged with analyzing the pedestrian experience in Princeton and making recommendations for improving the safety of using the sidewalks and crosswalks of Princeton. We should have a final report by the end of the year.

Logging thousands of miles on Princeton’s walkways over the past 40 years, I am a lucky survivor of pedestrian mishaps, yielding a broken nose, broken shoulder and several broken wrists but nothing more serious. I have tripped and fallen because of poor snow removal and uneven sidewalk surfaces. Three times cars have hit me (no major injuries) when drivers failed to see me in crosswalks. And on numerous occasions, I have almost but thankfully not quite collided with a pedestrian, when I was driving and turning into a crosswalk.

Unwilling to rely on subjective and anecdotal evidence, my committee partners and I embraced the accident report data and the professional advice of the experts from the engineering department and police department before coming to any conclusions. Our report will identify the high use pedestrian corridors, flag particularly troublesome crosswalks and walkways, and make some specific recommendations for improving them.

Bottom line is that the municipal and state officials and all the residents must embrace walking as a mode of transportation with the same gusto as they embrace driving, parking and mass transit. There should be no excuses that some roadway or crosswalk remains unimproved, because it is under state jurisdiction. I have seen Princeton officials participate in extremely persistent advocacy with the state on road and mass transit issues. Feet transit deserves the same noise as the Dinky.

Also, the walkers must take responsibility for their safety – use a flashlight, wear sneakers/shoes with the same ubiquitous orange paint that now decorates all those motor vehicle signs. Furthermore, I look forward to smiling and saying ‘Hi’ to you the next time you pass me walking on the street.

Anyone with an observation about a particularly troublesome crosswalk or sidewalk in Princeton, please let us know through Access Princeton.