This article was originally published in the November 2017 Princeton Echo.
Early in 2016, some may recall, the Echo was more like a broken record complaining about the traffic light at Nassau, Vandeventer, and Washington Road. The intersection was a disaster for motorists and pedestrians alike. Motorists entering from Washington Road and turning left onto Nassau Street would get a left turn arrow to give them a head start on drivers coming into the intersection from Vandeventer. Then a game of chicken would ensue, with car after car trying to get one more left turn onto Nassau while the Vandeventer motorists tried to establish their right-of-way.
New, and presumably improved, lights were installed and then shrouded in black plastic for months. Finally the lights were unveiled and several improvements were implemented. But, as we noted in the August, 2016, edition of the Echo, it was not perfect. “A quibble from pedestrians: The system has buttons for pedestrians to trigger the walk/don’t walk signals. But if no one pushes the button the signal says ‘don’t walk’ through the entire cycle, even when it should obviously state ‘walk.’” Since the pedestrian signals change automatically at most other intersections in town, it doesn’t occur to pedestrians to push the one at Washington and Vandeventer. Pedestrians become confused, wondering if their turn will ever come.
On October 10 a pedestrian — the wife of a visiting professor at Princeton — was killed when she was struck in the crosswalk by a cement mixer making a left hand turn from Nassau onto Washington Road. As of October 27, when this issue of the Echo went to press, police still had not released more information on the cause of the accident.
But there are some signs of progress. Posters now have been taped to the posts supporting the walk/don’t walk signals. The new signs proclaim that this is a “Pedestrian Safety Zone” and orders pedestrians to “Wait for the Walk.” In small letters, three-eighths of an inch high and located nearly seven feet above ground level, the sign also notes, “Push Button for Walk Signal.” In a crowded urban streetscape, the words are hard to detect.
Another sign: On October 23 the town council passed a resolution requesting that the DOT install “all pedestrian scramble signals” at the Vandeventer-Washington Road intersection, and also at Nassau and Witherspoon streets and at Nassau and University Place. A similar system is already in place at Nassau, Stockton, and Bayard Lane. The signals would stop all vehicular traffic in all directions and give pedestrians time to walk across or diagonally through the intersection.
The request for such a signal had been made before, but the DOT had turned the request down, arguing that such a light would add to traffic congestion in town.
We will keep monitoring the intersection, by car and by foot, reciting the appropriate portion of our two-part mantra: Drive defensively. Walk defensively.