West Windsor township’s plan to improve regional bicycle circulation north of Mercer County Park via a proposed Conover Road pathway has encountered fierce opposition from the Jefferson Park development.
More than 50 residents attended an Aug. 10 public meeting held by the township to discuss the plan, which at times turned hostile. Most of the attendees lived on Conover Road or Galston Drive.
The intent of the path is provide an off-road link to the sport fields at the corner of Conover and South Post, as well as to facilities and existing pathways in Mercer County Park. The proposed bike and pedestrian path would be on the south side of Conover Road and connect existing north-south bicycle lanes on South Post Road and Edinburg Road. Construction of an eight-foot wide asphalt pathway for two-way cycling, plus buffers, would begin at South Post Road and terminate at the intersection of Conover and Galston Drive. Cyclists would then reach Edinburgh via Galston or continuing along Conover.
On-road bike lanes on New Village Road already connect South Post and Edinburgh road, but the Conover Road pathway is intended to provide a safer off-road alternative.
There are two designs under consideration. The first would have the new off-road pathway run entirely along the South side of Conover Road until Galston Drive. The second would detour the bikeway along the edge of a wooded area, thereby avoiding the front yards of six properties on the curved portion of Conover Road, before remerging onto the south side of Conover.
Both designs were unpopular among affected residents, who opposed the additional cyclists the pathway would bring to a neighborhood in light of existing traffic conditions.
“Is it very safe to have your children ride into the woods?” said Donna Lucarelli, who lives on Galston Drive, one house away from where the street intersects with Conover Road. “Do you want undesirable people in there? Do you want drug deals in there?”
Lucarelli also presented a petition with 50 signatures opposing the bike path.
“Why penalize me where I will have to see asphalt, whereas now I see trees, deer and wild turkeys?” said Ruth Nieckoski, who lives across from the proposed pathway on the curved section of Conover Road.
The project cost is $450,000 and $275,000 is offset by a state DOT grant. The final cost could increase after the township provides additional fencing or landscaping to accommodate impacted homeowners.
Approximately 150 trees on the south side of Conover Road would need to be removed. The proposed path requires farm field and sewer easement access, but no private property is needed.
According to township engineer Francis Guzik, the proposed plan adheres to the township master plan’s “circulation element,” which promotes alternate travel via a network of cycling lanes. It would be an addition the township’s 17.2 miles of on-street bike lanes and 4.1 miles of shared pathways.
Residents from Jefferson Park pushed for an alternative pathway that would utilize an open swath of land, the JCP&L easement just north of the Mercer Lake, that runs parallel to Conover Road.
Township staff said they had considered the option, but decided it is unfeasible because the utility would not permit a paved path above the power line. In addition, the wooded area around the utility easement is located in a 100-year floodplain adjacent to the Assunpink Creek.
Before being shouted down by residents as an out-of-towner, Kris Grudt, executive director of the Caspersen Rowing Center, voiced support for the pathway, citing the numerous student athletes that currently run along the South Post Road bike path. He added that JCP&L is restrictive of the construction of roads on their easement.
Mayor Shing-fu Hsueh was in attendance for most of the meeting.
“I’m listening to your concerns,” Hsueh said. “Some may be correct, some may need clarification.”
At one point, council vice president Hemant Marathe stood up to conduct two straw polls. He first addressed attendees who lived in the area, and virtually no one supported the project. Then he asked those who lived further from the pathway, most of whom did support the project.
Tricia Fagan, whose property will be physically impacted, questioned the project, but also expressed discomfort at the vociferousness some of the attendees.
“Mayor and Council did come out to speak with us, and all the politicians have voted for it,” Fagan said. “Conceptually it sounds like a good idea for the kids, but in reality it is not. The neighborhood voice should have been heard a lot earlier.”
Her husband, tree farmer Willard Wright, said their property would have 300 feet of exposure to the bike path.
“Now there’s a grant clock ticking, and I feel like the town is slow dancing over the deadline,” Wright said.
In 2015 the council approved a $25,000 contract for engineering and survey design work on the project. In addition, last December the council approved a resolution that would extend the eligibility of the $275,000 state grant.
A second, and final, grant extension is expected before the council at the Monday, Aug. 15 meeting. The grant money would be forfeited if no action is taken. The township is accepting comments and concerns through Friday Aug. 19.