Many people regularly bicycle between West Windsor and Princeton, and the WWBPA is frequently asked at the Farmers Market for the safest route to Princeton, which involves crossing Route 1.
We generally recommend Washington Road (CR571) because the traffic circle slows down traffic and lets cyclists make themselves visible to motorists – unlike, for example, the high-speed ramps off Route 1 at Alexander, Meadow or Quaker Bridge roads.
Since West Windsor, Mercer County and NJDOT have all adopted Complete Streets policies, we were disappointed that no bicycle or pedestrian safety accommodations were evident in the jughandle concept design.
We recommend the following safety improvements to benefit both bicyclists and pedestrians who wish to use or cross Route 1:
1. Add a multi-use path at least on the east side of Route 1 from Alexander Road to Plainsboro, to connect the Dinky Line multi-use path behind the Alexander Road offices to the Penns Neck neighborhood and on to the hospital (and wellness center) in Plainsboro. Improved pedestrian and bicyclist accommodation for Penns Neck will prevent this stretch of Route 1 from becoming as deadly as further north in Middlesex County.
2. Create a safe bicycle route crossing Route 1 using Washington Rd/CR571, for example by reducing the design speed of the jughandle linking southbound Route 1 traffic to CR 571/Washington Road, or by creating a stop from the jughandle before turning right on CR571, to allow drivers an opportunity to look for bicyclists. The current highspeed jughandle merge design will create a dangerous condition for bicyclists traveling the bicycle route between Princeton and Princeton Junction train station.
3. Add marked crosswalks to all legs of the intersections.
4. Add bicycle lanes or sharrows to the improved intersections to guide bicyclists and alert motorists to the safest lane positioning while using the intersections.
5. Add a westbound bicycle crossing at Harrison even though there is no motorized vehicle crossing in that direction.
We recently sent a letter to the editor to the various local papers thanking NJDOT Commissioner James Simpson for reopening the Route 1 jughandles in West Windsor, and encouraging our officials to implement Complete Streets to reduce local congestion and build livable, bicycle and pedestrian friendly communities, rather than encouraging further sprawl.
The West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance thanks New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) Commissioner James Simpson for re-opening the Route 1 jughandles last week. We applaud NJDOT’s leadership in recognizing the need to maintain a balance between local and long-distance congestion.
Transportation policy favoring long-distance traffic creates sprawl, which is not desirable for economic, environmental, public health and safety reasons. In contrast, Complete Streets policies encourage sustainable development by creating livable communities. NJDOT’s Complete Streets policy leads the nation, according to Smart Growth America, requiring roads to be designed and built for all users, including bicyclists and pedestrians. Mercer County and West Windsor Township have also adopted Complete Streets for roads under their jurisdictions. Implementation will create viable alternatives to driving that mitigate local congestion.
Implementing Complete Streets in West Windsor, including crosswalks, connecting sidewalks and bike lanes around the train station, has already reduced congestion. We recently counted 355 people biking and walking near the station during evening peak hours, up 18% over last year.
We encourage everyone to reduce congestion and stay healthy by biking and walking for short trips – we even think it’s fun. Although congestion is here to stay, Commissioner Simpson improved livability by reopening the jughandles – let’s do our part by biking or walking to school and work whenever possible.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) chose New Jersey as one of 13 states which “experienced pedestrian fatalities above 150 per year and above the national rate of 2.5 per 100,000 population.” These states receive extra attention in the effort to reduce pedestrian fatalities on our roadways. According to the article “Spotlight on Pedestrian Safety” in the current issue of Public Roads, “FHWA’s aggressive approach to reducing the fatality rate in 13 States and 5 municipalities is showing promising results.“
How can these proven safety features help West Windsor? The WWBPA recommends medians and/or pedestrian crossing islands for the new CR 571 design, along with a lower design speed and other measures, like a Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon (HAWK signal) at Sherbrooke Drive and 571.
A Rapid Flash Beacon, another type of pedestrian-activated signal, is planned for Sherbrooke and 571 – we hope it will greatly improve the safety of that crossing. Examples are at the trail crossing on South Mill and near the train station at Scott and Wallace. Studies of the Rapid Flash Beacon are promising, but of the 22 roadways in one study, only 1 had a posted speed limit as high as CR571′s 40mph, and only 2 had about the same volume (17K-18K average daily traffic), and only 1 had more volume. So we’ll hope for the best.
A Road Diet is when the road is reconfigured from 4 lanes down to 3, one travel lane in each direction and a center turn lane, plus bike lanes on each side. The WWBPA has long recommended road diets for Canal Pointe Boulevard and Alexander Road between Rt 1 and Vaughn Drive, and believes the treatment would be appropriate for Roszel Road and Carnegie Center Drive as well.
Why is the WWBPA for road diets in these areas but recommends medians and/or pedestrian crossing refuges for CR 571? The difference is in the number and density of driveways – our Rt 571 downtown area has too many compared to office park settings like Canal Pointe and Carnegie Center.
It’s not enough that the Transit Village will “make it possible for people to get out of their cars and walk, bike, and take the train to their destinations.” We must be able to safely walk and bike to and from the Transit Village.
It’s not enough to have compact development – we need a grocery store within walking distance, like the Acme that used to be in downtown West Windsor. Land use law and/or policies must require diverse uses – we need more than banks and real estate offices downtown, so that people have a variety of walkable destinations.
It’s not enough that compact development could be environmentally beneficial – we need specific open space preservation tied to specific dense developments like the Transit Village. It’s irrelevant that other space in New Jersey is already preserved.
It’s not enough that NJDOT and West Windsor Township adopted Complete Streets policies – Mercer County must also adopt the policy, which requires roadway improvements to support walking and biking. Otherwise major roads like CR 571 in downtown West Windsor are subject to expensive but counter-productive “improvements” that don’t meet the the township’s goal for “pedestrian-friendly, village scale development.” There’s nothing pedestrian-friendly about a wider road with 30% more cars going 45mph, with no place to safely wait in the middle when crossing.
The Rt 1 Regional Growth Strategy is not enough, since it doesn’t sufficiently support redevelopment in Trenton and New Brunswick, the two already-compact but underutilized “developments” anchoring the region. With the right policies, much of the region’s growth could fit into Trenton and New Brunswick with far less environmental and traffic impact. Without supporting our cities, the strategy’s Bus Rapid Transit system will effectively encourage sprawl in outlying areas, contrary to its stated goal.
Respectfully, it’s wrong to promise reduced congestion by implementing Smart Growth, even with Smart Transportation and the Bus Rapid Transit system. Like water, the transportation network balances itself as people choose to walk, bike, drive, or take the bus or train, depending on the cost and convenience of each. If there is less congestion, people will switch to driving until there is enough congestion to make it better to take another way.
The Transit Village is a good start, but doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We need complementary supporting policies to achieve the benefits of Smart Growth. If Smart Growth just means new and denser development, then it has already failed to achieve its goals.
WZBN reporter Rose Eiklor interviewed Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh and WWBPA President Jerry Foster and 2nd Vice President Alison Miller. The broadcast was on December 6, 2011.
Jerry made the case for a revised plan: “While the new plans will allow pedestrians to walk along Route 571 much more easily due to the new sidewalks, they won’t be able to cross as easily. And it’s not enough, in our view, to be able to just walk along a road; we’ve got to be able to cross it safely as well. Any median or refuge island that goes in the middle would be a huge improvement to being able to cross the road safely. The other main thing that we’re looking for is less speed through this section of our ‘Main Street.’”
There also are many, many commuters who will cross right here [the intersection of Route 571 with Wallace/Cranbury], because this is the way to the train station, and it’s expensive to buy a parking space, especially when you can walk. And commuters are always in a hurry, and we’re very concerned about commuter safety.”
Mayor Hsueh worries that any changes in the design at this point will require the Township and County “to go back to square one again…I have reservations about [their design], because they didn’t know that we’d already discussed with County about those concerns. But County…also has certain kinds of ground rules regarding a county roadway, and we have to compromise with them.”
The mayor continued: “The speed limit is decided by the state DOT, so my feeling is, once we have this design done and once we have people riding bicycles around, [there will be] opportunities we can request for reevaluation of the speed limits, and there are technical standards–it’s not even political negotiations, it’s all based on statistical analysis.”
Commenting on the YouTube site, WWBPA trustee Chris Scherer notes, “It is not financially or socially responsible to implement a ‘ solution’ that requires rework to be considered safe and effective.”
A new rapid flashing beacon was installed recently at the new crossing between Schlumberger and the Princeton Junction train station. The crossing, which is only accessible via a new sidewalk connecting to Route 571, flashes yellow strobes when a pedestrian presses the crossing button. Thanks to the township for including this crossing and sidewalk in the extensive set of new sidewalks installed over the past few months, with funding from a Safe Routes to Transit grant.
These pedestrian-activated beacons have been very successful in getting cars to stop for crossing pedestrians in studies, and have a significant cost advantage over other treatments, since they are solar-powered. A similar beacon was installed at the Trolley Line Trail crossing of South Mill Road.
Since it’s new, it remains to be seen if commuters will cross at this location once they discover it. Most have been crossing at or east of the Schlumberger driveway across from the Amtrak driveway and then walking through the station parking lot, which is more direct. When I walked it, one commuter was doing that while another pedestrian who was walking her dog used the crossing with the flashing beacon.
The WWBPA responded to the county’s proposed CR 571 Main Street design recently, maintaining that it is unsafe for everyone: motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians alike. In the past 10 years, two pedestrians were killed on this stretch of roadway (2004 and 2005), while no motorists were killed. A 17-year-old motorist was killed in 2006, however, just west of downtown Princeton Junction, when she lost control of her car on the curve coming off the bridge over the train tracks.
The proposed wider-straighter-faster design does nothing to address these safety issues. Instead, it preserves the current 45mph design speed and 40mph posted speed limit. Drivers don’t respect crosswalks when they have to slow from high speed, and the proposed design does nothing to provide pedestrian refuges in the center of the roadway to promote safe crossing.
Rt 571 Concept Illustration
The design also features a new two-way center left turn lane (TWLTL) that studies have shown to be unsafe; AARP calls them “suicide lanes.” One study even showed that artificially lowering the posted speed limit, but not the design speed, caused an increase in crashes.
Here’s a picture of Hamilton’s SR 33 that most resembles what is planned. The 45mph design speed is simply not appropriate for the pedestrian friendly Main Street that our Redevelopment Plan envisions. A survey of other Mercer County towns shows that Princeton, Lawrenceville, Hightstown, Hopewell and Pennington all have 25 – 30mph speed limits on their Main Streets. Why not in West Windsor?
The current design shows why Mercer County should adopt a Complete Streets policy to complement the state and West Windsor township policies – our transportation network needs jurisdictions with consistent policies to benefit our taxpayers.
Thanks to everyone who has gotten involved to support our position! We appreciate all of you who have signed our petition at the Farmers’ Market, or who have contacted the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, which recently conducted public outreach on this and other federally-funded projects.
More help is needed. Please contact our public officials to support our position. With a lower design speed and pedestrian refuges, our senior residents can cross Route 571 safely to the new Rite Aid, and our children can cross Route 571 safely to the new ex-Acme shopping center, as well as to the high school. And our teenage drivers should be able to keep control of their vehicles when going more slowly. Everyone benefits.
We’ve organized an educational walk, we’ve advocated and campaigned, we’ve waited and waited, and now with the completion of the new Rite Aid we finally have pedestrian crosswalks across all four roads at the Cranbury/Wallace/Route 571 intersection in Princeton Junction.
This intersection had the dubious honor of being top-ranked (or maybe bottom-ranked) in the 2008 WWBPA intersection inventory. As with many of the recent sidewalk and intersection improvements, this huge addition to walkability and safety was done with relatively little Township money; in this case the funds were largely state, county and private.
Is the intersection now perfect? It’s certainly a lot better, but lack of pedestrian refuges on the Route 571 crossings, poor visibility for vehicles coming off the bridge and turning right onto Wallace, and countdown lights that are still unreachable for wheelchair users forces us to give the intersection less than a triple-A rating.
In the “you can’t get there from here” department, lack of sidewalks on either side of Route 571 mean that it’s not possible to walk safely from the new Rite Aid to the soon-to-be-remodeled Acme shopping center. Well that’s technically not quite true: the safe route is now along Wallace, up Scott and along Alexander.
Sometimes things move slower than we’d like, but this intersection, along with many other intersection and sidewalk improvements over the last six months, is making West Windsor a better place to walk, or in the case of our wheelchair-bound trustee Michael, roll.
Bicycle and pedestrian friendliness doesn’t have to be a win-lose battle between competing interests, but can be a win-win for everyone. The right design balances safety, capacity and livability for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians in a way that makes all groups comfortable sharing the space.
Notably, the roadway design should make motorists comfortable traveling at the posted speed limit, which should be 35mph or less so drivers will stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk.
One nearby example of pedestrian friendliness sometimes discussed is Mercer County Rt 526 in Robbinsville, where recent development included all the design items to make a pedestrian friendly area.
Does it work? Check these pictures – they apparently need a lighted sign board to remind drivers re: the speed limit, and to watch for pedestrians. Why might the roadway design not support the speed limit?
The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) is putting out the New Jersey federal transportation improvement projects for comment, including the Route 571 project between Clarksville and Cranbury roads. You can find details here:
The West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance’s recommendations for the project are here:
The current design calls for adding a center left turn lane, sidewalks and a bicycle-compatible shoulder, maintaining the existing design speed (45mph).
The problem is that the combination of same design speed, the additional center turn lane and roadway widening, but no pedestrian refuges halfway across the road will make it harder, not easier, to cross the street.
Essentially, there will be 30% more cars to dodge when crossing, which will be going faster than today, since they wouldn’t have to slow down for left-turning vehicles (which will be in the new center turn lane).
In our view, Route 571 is already too hard to cross, and this design will make it worse. Please join us in adding your comments to the DVRPC by following the instructions on their web page.
The stated goals are for a bicycle and pedestrian friendly main street, but the design details do not support the goals, according to the NJDOT Smart Transportation Guidebook. On the plus side, the recommended changes will save money and most importantly give us a Main Street we can be proud of, while still increasing capacity.