The Princeton Merchants Association has asked the Princeton Council to commission a new traffic study of the Central Business District, citing the difficulty of navigating through the town.
Princeton Merchants Association president Andrew Siegel approached the Council at its Aug. 22 meeting to seek the traffic study, pointing to the council’s decision to turn Witherspoon Street from a two-way street to a one-way street headed northbound (away from Nassau Street) as part of an overall redesign of the street.
Work on the reconstruction of Witherspoon Street is under way.
Siegel said residents and visitors alike are “frustrated” due to the difficulty of getting around in the Central Business District. There are seven streets between Bayard Lane and Vandeventer Avenue that funnel traffic north and south through town, but six of the seven streets are one-way streets headed north, he said.
Bank Street, John Street, Palmer Square East, South Tulane Street, Witherspoon Street and Chambers Street are currently one-way streets headed north. Chambers Street was a two-way street, but it was reduced to a one-way street headed north while construction work goes on at the Graduate Hotel project at the corner of Nassau Street and Chambers Street.
Palmer Square West is the only street of the seven streets that is a one-way street headed south, toward Nassau Street.
Siegel said the traffic pattern creates backups and chaos for drivers as well as danger to pedestrians as they navigate through the intersections. Vendors also experience issues as they make deliveries to the businesses.
He said there is “anecdotal evidence” from customers that the difficulty in finding their way around town is “disincentivizing” Princeton residents from coming to town as options to negotiate the Central Business District have diminished.
The result is that merchants are struggling, and some have experienced year-to-year sales decreases, Siegel said.
“The current situation is not tenable and demands your immediate action and attention,” he said.
The Witherspoon Street redesign was undertaken “with a few assumptions that proved to be false or that were incompletely analyzed,” Siegel said. The traffic study for a one-way Witherspoon Street did not consider Palmer Square East and Palmers Square West – “key components of how traffic moves around the town,” he said.
The traffic study assumed Chambers Street would be a two-way street, but it is currently a one-way street, Siegel said.
He also said the traffic study and redesign of Witherspoon Street also relied on pre-pandemic traffic data and does not represent the current traffic patterns on weekends and holidays.
“The merchants said they would support initiatives to improve the pedestrian experience on Witherspoon Street and the visitor experience. But in doing so, we also urged the Princeton Council to consider solutions that maintained two-way traffic on Witherspoon Street and improve the pedestrian experience,” he said.
“With the opportunity to find that true balance well behind us, it is now well past time for the Princeton Council to institute a study, conducted by third-party professionals, to see how your decisions are impacting traffic, and to make the appropriate adjustments as necessary,” he said.
Siegel said the merchants are requesting the Council to immediately commission a traffic study to find solutions to the problem “and to avoid further devolving our town into a traffic-choked district that shoppers loathe instead of love.”
Time is of the essence because “we need a solution as soon as possible before our beloved merchants close or leave town,” Siegel said.