This article was originally published in the June 2018 Princeton Echo.
While parking and parking meters will be high on everyone’s agenda during the transition to the smart meters, Deanna Stockton and her engineering department continue to have some other concerns, including several that could make a major impact on accessibility throughout the town.
One of Stockton’s priorities is the implementation of “complete streets,” which involves “looking at roads as something other than exclusively for cars” and considering “the ability to move people, pedestrians, and bicyclists as a central place in people’s lives.”
One specific achievement in this program was the bike lane on Mountain Avenue. With the “complete streets” perspective, Stockton says, “every time I do a project I look at it through a different lens: how to accommodate pedestrians better and how to implement a piece of the bike master plan.”
The town took away parking spaces and installed temporary bike lanes on Wiggins Street during the last two weeks in May. An upcoming project is to make Spruce Street a “bike boulevard.” Stockton has worked with the police on speed limits as well as signage and pavement markings that “let drivers know this is a space where bikes have priority”—although there are no bike lanes per se.
Another project involves widening the Walnut Lane sidewalk on the Westminster side to eight feet “so it can accommodate pedestrians and bikers.” Stockton notes a big shift a few years back when Council decided that instead of charging residents 50 percent of the cost of replacing sidewalks, the town would assume the full cost. It’s a recognition that “walking is a viable, important method of transportation in our town,” says Stockton.
Paying for infrastructure like sidewalks, she says, gives the town control of decisions that affect more people than the residents of a particular house. Instead of replacing a single piece of concrete to make the cost lower, for example, they have the ability to say, “Let’s replace all of it.” Or they can decide to make a sidewalk wider to accommodate two people or a wheelchair and a person.
“If you were adding in a new sidewalk, there was always a fight,” she recalls, or a request to put it on the other side of the road. But, Stockton says, “that doesn’t accomplish the goal of getting people safely to where they want to go.” It can lead to a situation like on Mt. Lucas, which, past Ewing, has a sidewalk on only one side of the street. “If you look at school kids trying to walk to Community Park, they would have to cross a road with a 35 mph speed limit,” she says. “It doesn’t really make sense. We can look at situations like that and have the power to make the change.”
Perhaps, she adds, there are also opportunities for pedestrian malls—not full time, but doing short-term closures for activities.
At present Stockton also is enjoying working with downtown merchants on the Nassau streetscape, where they have redesigned the sidewalk space, with benches, landscaping, and signage. She also wants to extend streetscape planning to Witherspoon Street, figuring out “what are community needs for these roadways and how can we re-envision them. Why just repave the roads when we can look into the future to see how the space will work?” That question becomes even more intriguing when you consider that cars and drivers are not the only participants in the “complete streets” of the future.