Princeton Council approves traffic study for Witherspoon Street


Should Witherspoon Street become a one-way street permanently, or should it become a two-way street again, or should it even be completely closed to cars and trucks?

That’s what McMahon Associates Inc. has been asked to analyze in its traffic impact study, which was authorized by the Princeton Council at its Oct. 12 meeting. The council awarded a contract for $19,800 to the Hamilton Township-based traffic engineering firm.

The need for the traffic study grew out of a $610,000 state grant awarded to Princeton for improvements to Witherspoon Street, between Nassau Street and Green Street. The study will take about six or seven weeks.

The improvements initially contemplated were limited to new sidewalks and curbs, road repaving and updated street lights. Streetscape improvements, such as benches, landscaping, bicycle racks and bicycle corrals, were also considered.

When Princeton officials asked residents for their input at a community meeting in February, they offered a range of suggestions aimed mostly at making the street safer and more welcoming for bicyclists and pedestrians.

But then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and the project was put on hold. Witherspoon Street was temporarily reconfigured to a one-way street northbound to allow for outdoor dining, once it was permitted by Gov. Phil Murphy in his statewide reopening plan.

Following a second community meeting last month, residents were polled in a non-scientific survey and asked to choose from among several potential configurations for Witherspoon Street, post-pandemic.

The most popular option was to retain the one-way configuration, with either one or two parking lanes. Closing the street to cars and trucks was the second most popular option, followed by making it a two-way street again.

Now, officials have asked McMahon Associates to conduct a traffic study that would review the scenarios and their potential impact on side streets.

The consultant will study the traffic flow at several points during the day – the morning and evening peak rush hours and the mid-afternoon peak rush hour weekdays, and the mid-afternoon peak hour on Saturdays.

The consultant will study four scenarios, starting with turning Witherspoon Street back into a two-way street with loading and parking lanes.

A second scenario calls for making Witherspoon Street a one-way street northbound between Nassau Street and Spring Street, as it is now. It would mean flipping S. Tulane Street from its current northbound direction – toward Spring Street from Nassau Street – to a southbound direction toward Nassau Street.

A third scenario to be studied would make Witherspoon Street a one-way street southbound between Nassau Street and Spring Street (toward Nassau Street). Spring Street would be changed from a one-way street eastbound, toward Vandeventer Avenue, to a one-way street westbound, toward Witherspoon Street.

The fourth possibility to be studied would be to close Witherspoon Street to cars and trucks completely, between Nassau Street and Spring Street. It would also flip the direction of travel on Spring Street from eastbound to westbound, so cars would be able to turn right onto Witherspoon Street at Spring Street to travel north.

Mayor Liz Lempert said the project is “exciting.”

“The community’s experience with that (one-way Witherspoon Street) really transformed the conversation we are having now. We look forward to the results of the traffic study,” Lempert said.