Witherspoon Street improvements shared with Princeton residents

Lea Kahn/Staff
Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood residents review plans for improvements to Witherspoon Street.

Aiming to get as much input as possible on pending improvements to Witherspoon Street, the Princeton Engineering Department rolled out the plans before the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association.

Municipal Engineer Deanna Stockton and Construction Engineer Ian Baker fielded questions from attendees at the group’s Feb. 22 meeting, held at the First Baptist Church on John Street.

“We are in the process of getting comments about what Witherspoon Street should look like,” Stockton said. It has been about 25 years since any improvements have been made to Witherspoon Street, she added.

The town received a $610,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Transportation to make improvements to the upper portion of Witherspoon Street, between Nassau Street and Green Street, Stockton said.

The improvements will include new sidewalks and curbs, road paving and updated street lighting, plus rehabilitation to pipes and infrastructure buried underground.

Streetscape improvements will likely include benches, landscaping and bicycle racks and bicycle corrals, Stockton said.

Improvements will be made to the rest of Witherspoon Street – from Green Street to Valley Road – over the next few years, as money becomes available. Green Street to Birch Avenue is the heart of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood.

“We want a well-thought-out plan,” Baker told the attendees.

Attendees were not shy about sharing their thoughts. They offered suggestions that were mainly focused on making Witherspoon Street a friendlier place for bicyclists and pedestrians.

One attendee, who lives in Rocky Hill Borough and who rides his bicycle to work at Princeton University, asked whether Princeton officials had considered what users’ needs may be in 10 or 20 or 30 years.

“I am thinking about bicyclists and pedestrians,” he said.

Stockton said the Princeton Engineering Department is keeping track of trends, such as electric bicycles and electric scooters.

“We are considering it, but we understand that we are not there yet. We are taking it into account, but we realize we have to meet the needs now,” Stockton said.

When another attendee said she gave up riding her bicycle because she felt unsafe on Princeton streets, Stockton replied that distracted driving – looking at the GPS for directions, looking at the screen in the car instead of using buttons to operate the controls – is the “number one cause” of accidents.

There are measures that can be taken to improve pedestrian safety on Witherspoon Street, such as installing yellow flashing lights at crosswalks like the one on Witherspoon Street at Spring Street.

An “all pedestrian phase” traffic light at the intersection of Witherspoon Street, Paul Robeson Place and Wiggins Street to stop traffic in all four directions to allow pedestrians to cross safely also is under consideration, she said.

Princeton Council President David Cohen, who is the council’s liaison to the Bicycle Advisory Committee, said the advisory committee would like bicycle lanes on Witherspoon Street, but the road may be too narrow.

“The problem is, we have an old village with narrow streets. There is not enough room for everything – two lanes, parking, pedestrians and a separate bicycle lane,” Cohen said.

“What is going to give,” he asked rhetorically.

Turning Witherspoon Street into a one-way street to accommodate cars, parking and bicycle lanes would be possible, but then John Street would become a one-way street in the opposite direction, Cohen said.

John Street already is a one-way street, but it would have to absorb more cars.

“Think of the extra traffic on John Street,” Cohen said.

Princeton Councilwoman Mia Sacks said there is a bicycle mobility plan in the Circulation Element of the Princeton Master Plan, but “we are at an impasse.”

Older residents are accustomed to driving into the Central Business District and parking, while younger residents ride their bicycles, Sacks said. The businesses rely on people driving into town and parking, she said.

“We are having growing pains. We are not a small village anymore,” Sacks said, agreeing with Cohen’s assessment.

“We have to find a compromise. The Princeton Council wants to move this project along. We are not going to go around and around,” Sacks said.