To the Editor,
Recent news coverage of the Dinky issue has raised concerns in some minds about potential costs to taxpayers from efforts to preserve the Dinky right of way. From the vantage point of Princeton’s future transit needs, however, the Princeton community will lose if the right of way is not preserved for eventual use for light rail.
The light rail option to be studied under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is wasteful, environmentally problematic, and not cost-effective. The MOU option involves building a rail link from a relocated Dinky station along a new east-west easement to Alexander Street. Tracks would then be installed on Alexander for a “big dipper” route that would go north and then snake around and up University Place to Nassau. There are three obvious problems with this option.
First, it would not be feasible to connect light rail to Alexander from the location the University proposes for the new Dinky station. With the Arts Complex shifted to the south, as is shown on the current plan, the turning radii required for light rail to get to and up Alexander Street would be well below standard. In order to accomplish this shift to Alexander Street, the transition would have to occur much further to the south. The new state-of-the art station the University proposes would have to be abandoned, and the orphaned WaWa would not survive, hidden from Alexander Street, without passenger traffic, university traffic, and local support.
Second, tax dollars — local, state or federal — would be unlikely to be forthcoming for a light rail plan involving tracks on Alexander Street. There are too many obvious drawbacks. Even in flush times, a circuitous route up an already congested road is suspect. Light rail would have to share the street with commuter traffic and would increase, not ease, congestion. Traffic to the Lot 7 garage via the University’s new access road would also have to cross the light rail tracks.
Third, in the University’s currently submitted plan for the Arts Complex, a direct pedestrian walk is shown from their new Lot 7 Rail Station to the current Dinky Plaza. As a future light rail line, this converted walkway would be an ideal location and make this walk unnecessary. Preserving this right of way for mass transit would require little if any change to the University’s current design.
On balance, if we are to be guided by sound fiscal, transit and environmental policy, we would all be much better off with a plan for the Arts and Transit campus that accommodates the Dinky in its current location and preserves a viable future light rail option.
If we don’t preserve what is the Right Way, future generations will question how we could have been so shortsighted.
Michael Landau, AIA
Mr. Landau is the head of Michael Landau Architects, a multidisciplinary architecture firm based on Princeton.