Thank you for your report in the January Echo on the Dinky’s history and the future of transit connections between Princeton and West Windsor, and for your profile of Ralph Widner, who has thought deeply about this subject long before the most recent Dinky service interruption.
Typically when people argue for one transit technology or another — whether in Princeton or elsewhere — their reasoning depends on all sorts of ideas that their favored technology symbolizes for them. But because the symbolism of each technology differs from person to person, arguments become mired in misunderstanding.
To counteract this potential for mutual misunderstanding, in thinking about the future of transit between Princeton and West Windsor, I suggest (and to a certain extent plead) that we think about the area’s transit needs functionally and quantitatively before ever thinking about specific technologies needed. How frequent should service be? What places should be connected? What, and whose, travel purposes should be served? What capacity does the service need? What hours should service be available?
In communities organized around transit (as opposed to communities that sprawl and then ask transit to perform impossible tasks), growth is organized around high-quality transit service, with the result that transit is valuable, valued, and well-used.
With the end of life of New Jersey Transit’s Dinky rail cars looming, a campus growth plan in progress, and new housing development obligations in play, Princeton, Princeton University, and West Windsor have a historic opportunity to organize future growth around a transit spine that would connect many types of people with many things they need to do — in ways that advance local sustainability, provide access to economic opportunity, and lend support for economic innovation. And I would argue for Princeton University and the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab that this is a chance to advance their strategic self interest while benefiting their host communities.
In follow up to the Echo’s excellent report, I would hope that the institutions and communities whose futures are bound up with one another would find a way in 2019 to establish a pro-active vision for their collective futures together, starting with the question of how they intend to be connected.
— Nat Bottigheimer, White Pine Lane
Bottigheimer, former director of planning at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, is currently New Jersey director for the Regional Plan Association.
Would NJT allow someone else to run the Dinky?
The story in the January Echo — “Is the Dinky best for the Dinky line?” — deserves comment. Yes, Dinky service needs improvement, and yes the new station could use some do-able improvements such as holders for paper schedules, improved handicapped accessibility, more flexible seating arrangements, and the relocation of the historic exhibit into the new station complex so that kids can see it without going into a bar.
But let’s step back and reflect on the institutional environment that has gotten us this far. Significantly, despite the negativity surrounding the Dinky there has been and continues to be private sector interest, the best possible vote of confidence in its future. To be clear, yes, there are people willing to put their money where their mouth is: for example, I am aware of an investor group with extensive railroad experience interested in operating the Dinky service with purpose-built equipment, along with additional stops and increased frequency. But they are not interested in investing in a political quagmire, and such initiatives will continue to go nowhere as long as the basic question of NJT’s governance stands in the way.
So, let’s take the Governor at his word, that change at NJT is coming, and let’s make that change work to our benefit. While not presuming to speak for the entire Princeton community, I remain a loyal Dinky rider and feel compelled to ask: NJT, if you are not prepared to operate the Dinky as it should be, could you please step aside and let someone else try?
— Yina Moore
Former Mayor, Princeton Borough