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New Dinky Station Opens in Princeton

The new Dinky station opened today, Nov. 17. The new Wawa is slated to open Nov. 21.
The new Dinky station opened today, Nov. 17. The new Wawa is slated to open Nov. 21.

 

The familiar whistle of the Dinky train could be heard in downtown Princeton again this morning after a week of silence. Construction crews worked through the weekend to prepare for the opening of the permanent Dinky train station on Alexander Street, and the station opened this morning.

Construction equipment still covered a major portion of the new Dinky station parking lot this morning. Traffic was slow along Alexander Street during the morning rush as drivers tried to figure out where to turn in to drop passengers off and construction crews continued work on Princeton University’s $320 million arts and transit project. Pedestrians heading to the station from the center of town struggled to figure out the quickest way to walk to the station because of all the construction.

The opening of the new station was a relief to many riders, who spent the last week commuting by bus. Several riders said lines for the buses were sometimes long and trains often were delayed, especially during rush hour because of traffic. One Planet Princeton reader reported having to wait more than a half an hour for a bus that was late during the morning rush last week. Several readers reported that they were late to work because of delays. Some chose to drive to the main station in Princeton Junction rather than depend on the bus.

The new Princeton station and Wawa building, which both have a modern look, were designed by Architect Rick Joy. The 1,265-square-foot station building, which has concrete pillars and a sharp angled roof, will open 30 minutes before the first train each day and close 30 minutes after the last train. There are canopied platform along the tracks, and ticket vending machines are located on the platform.

The new station connecting downtown Princeton to Princeton Junction is about 460 feet south of the former historic station buildings on University Place.

The new transit plaza includes short-term parking for Wawa patrons and “kiss-and-ride” parking, a drop-off and pickup area for drivers, bike racks, a new bike rental program, bus stops for NJ Transit, the University-operated TigerTransit and the FreeB, and a taxi stand. Drivers heading to the station from the center of town will need to allow extra time for dropping off passengers or parking during rush hour because the turns are lefthand turns, and traffic in the oncoming lane is steady during rush hour.

Many Princeton University employees who park in the West Garage on campus will have an easier time driving to the garage, one of the school’s main reasons cited for moving the station.  A new road has been constructed leading from Alexander Street to the garage. The new North Station Drive will have a traffic signal at the intersection with Alexander Street. Access to the parking garage will be restricted to Princeton University drivers on weekdays from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., and open to the public in the evenings and on weekends.

The Wawa, which will open Nov. 21 without an interruption in service, will be open 24 hours a day and will have public restrooms. A planted “green roof” tops the new building. The building is a long, black box that looks like a more modern version of train freight car or large cargo container.

Construction will continue over the next few years on the dining and arts buildings that are joining the other arts buildings in the area, including McCarter Theatre Center and creative writing and dance spaces in the New South building.

The café and restaurant, to be operated by the Terra Momo Restaurant Group and designed by Joy, will focus on serving locally grown and produced fare. The eateries will be located in the historic former train station buildings.

In summer 2015, a 54-seat pizzeria-style café will open in the former north station building, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as wine and beer. A liquor license has not been obtained for the café yet, school officials said.  In fall 2016, the restaurant will open in the south station building formerly used for baggage handling. Terra Momo has proposed a farm-to-table restaurant serving lunch and dinner, with seating for 116 patrons inside and 60 outside. The University will expand the building before Terra Momo begins interior renovations.

Three arts buildings are slated to open by the 2017 fall semester. The arts and transit neighborhood will house the officers for the Lewis Center for the Arts, an art gallery, the Wallace Dance Building and Theater, practice rooms for music students, and a garden. Construction crews are currently working on the building’s concrete foundations and structure, and geothermal well drilling, officials said.

Two lawsuits filed by residents and the group Save the Dinky to stop the train station move are still active at the New Jersey Appellate Division level. One suit challenges the contract between New Jersey Transit and Princeton University for the sale of the historic Dinky Station and land surrounding the station. The other lawsuit challenges the legality of New Jersey Transit’s decision to truncate the Princeton Branch without any public hearing. Two other suits, filed by individual residents, are also still active regarding the zoning changes and the site plan approval for the arts and transit project.

More photos of the new station:

The inside of the new station. Photo: Amy Banner.
The inside of the new station. Photo: Amy Banner.
Wooden benches inside the new station, which is heated in winter. Photo: Amy Banner.
Wooden benches inside the new station, which is heated in winter. Photo: Amy Banner.
The new station offers bike storage and bike rentals. Photo: Amy Banner.
The new station offers bike storage and bike rentals. Photo: Amy Banner.
The Dinky train arrives at the new station. Photo: Amy Banner.
The Dinky train arrives at the new station. Photo: Amy Banner.
Electronic billboards at the new Dinky station. Photo: Amy Banner.
Electronic billboards at the new Dinky station. Photo: Amy Banner.
Ticket machines at the new Dinky station. Photo: Amy Banner.
Ticket machines at the new Dinky station. Photo: Amy Banner.
The entrance to the new Wawa at the Dinky station. The Wawa is slated to open Friday. Photo: Amy Banner.
The entrance to the new Wawa at the Dinky station. The Wawa is slated to open Friday. Photo: Amy Banner.
Construction workers pose for a photo op outside the new station. Photo: Amy Banner.
Construction workers pose for a photo op outside the new station. Photo: Amy Banner.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    And, like the empty buses that drive around town, this would be empty most of the time. A symbol of social politics, not reality.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    For anyone not familiar, the vast majority of commuters and residents are in favor of the development and the outlook for an improvement for this area of town.
    The number of people who attended these meetings was about the same as the gathering for the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Perhaps a little smaller at the Dinky hearings. I’ve seen bigger crowds for lots of topics, like property tax assessment and hospital site development approvals.
    The council members and other elected officials spanned more than one election cycle, indicating this was democratically determined. If a vast majority was this opposed to the Dinky move and associated development, there would have been a slate of opponents rushed into office and the whole affair would have been moot. That didn’t happen. So the properly elected officials deliberated and voted, and now they “rolled/caved.” If they had voted the other way, would we have loved them more and they would have been stoic? In other words, you lost and you’re sore.
    The small team of “no people” on this mirrored the people opposed to many other areas of progress in Princeton in recent years. They continue to be overcome, and will continue to be overcome. Princeton is a much better place to live than 20 years ago, and would be a blip on 27 without the University. We should celebrate where we live, and what we have, and embrace change and improvement, not regret and oppose it.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    So some of the activity was perhaps out of specific order, but the players were correct and the outcome would have been the same.
    Princeton University has created, renovated and developed more incredible architecture and space in Princeton than any other institution, and calling it a “craven developer” shows just how outrageous some expectations and viewpoints can become when people don’t get their personal way.

  • Democracy

    You may like the changes but they were not the will of the majority or determined democratically. Members of the town attended municipal and planning meetings in unprecedented numbers in support of the public right of way and preservation of the Dinky. The town gov reps rolled/caved because their seats are secure in this one-party town and they didn’t want to fight the U on behalf of the people, and the U has the resources and lawyers and PR folks to in the end wear out the majority of Princetonians who have busy lives taking care of their individual families and work. Whatever your opinion and your pleasure with the ultimate outcome, you can’t claim it was the product of Democracy, quite the contrary, these results were not democratic, they were the will of the institutionally and financially empowered in spite of the democratic and popular objection.

  • Mr. Pigden-Cadbury

    In the court of public opinion, the University has prevailed. Marketing Guru, as his or her ilk, forms opinions about the right and wrong of it accordingly.

  • Virginia kerr

    Marketing Guru – You need to get your facts straight.
    First, the public record shows clearly that elected officials were pressured and were told by NJT and Princeton University that the 1984 contract gave the Unversity the right to move the train station. The University said flatly that, zoning or no zoning for the arts buildings, they would move the station because they had the legal right to do this. By the time the trial court ruled that in fact the decision was NJT’s decision to make, the station had been abandoned and the tracks torn up.
    Second, the litigation has not delayed the project. The courts did not grant an injunction. They declined to do so in part because the University said it would pay to restore the infrastructure.
    Third, the fact that the University has prevailed so far does not mean the legal challenges have been frivolous and a “misuse of the courts.” You can be sure that if the litigation were frivolous the University would have tried to throw out the suits and get sanctions long, long ago.
    Fourth, the fact that there has been litigation does not mean that those who objected to the abandonment of the historic station are “sore losers.” There are principles at stake, and there are still plenty of people among us who do not believe that principles follow power . Fifth, and finally, it is worth repeating that the historic Dinky station and right of way are public assets acquired by NJT with the help of federal subsidies after the RR reorganization in the 1970’s. NJT agreed to the station move in a private transaction with the University with no public hearing to test whether the move was in the best interests of its riders. The issues still remaining in the litigation are whether NJT was required to hold a public hearing before agreeing to abandon a historic railroad right of way and station with a healthy ridership to accommodate the interests of a private entity.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    It says they’ll try. Given that even in a peak month the ridership was anemic, I don’t expect additional trains. We’re lucky we have the service we have. What other towns have a spur service off the main line? Without the demand from Princeton University students, faculty and visitors, they would have mothballed the Dinky decades ago.

  • Mr. Pigden-Cadbury

    Put more simply, residents should be grateful. Even if they had the shorter commute previously, before public right-of-way was privatized for campus expansion, walking an extra four minutes is a small price to pay so the University can expand.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Here’s a photo attached of an appealing new streetcar included in the consultant report for the Alexander Street Task Force: http://www.princetonnj.gov/ASUP/FINAL_DRAFT_SAG%20_2013_1109_Public_Mtg_Transit_Update.pdf

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    They took down 6-7 dumps, and the rest of the area wasn’t developed. I think regular Dinky riders are fine with the move. People who sit at home all day looking for things to pick on are the ones who opposed it. I went to the meetings, and I heard the arguments and pleas.

  • Alexi Assmus

    A large swath of Princeton is being disrupted by the Arts and Transit project — homes were taken down on Alexander. This would have been the time to improve rail transit to Nassau Street.

    The Alexander Street Task Force explored bringing light rail up to Nassau — I for one liked the jolly new light rail cars they showed in their consultant reports.

    I don’t believe you have the politics correct on the opposition in town to the Dinky move.

  • Alan Hill

    I’m sure they’re going to deliver on this. No. Really. I’m looking forward to all the new trains and local public transport integration.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    We’re back to moving the station into the center of town, ripping up everything in the process through campus and disrupting a tranquil area because a dozen people in town got their undies in a bunch? This is why I love Democracy! The majority gets to nudge out the radical minority of luddites.

  • Alexi Assmus

    The former Dinky Station was on the National Register of Historic Places as an operating train station. New restaurants, arts buildings, and open public plazas could all have been incorporated into an architectural plan that kept what the National Register recognized as unique — an operating train station.
    If there was to be change, progress could have been made by bringing rail up to Nassau Street — this would have actually restored a transit right-of-way that existed previously. Railway historian John Kilbride pointed out in Town Topics that the 2013 truncation of the line by the University was one of four that have occurred — in total these truncations of the track have pulled the train service half a mile from the center of town. http://www.towntopics.com/wordpress/2014/04/30/president-of-camden-amboy-historians-comments-on-decline-in-dinky-ridership/
    The current Dinky station is configured more as a Park and Ride than as a pedestrian station.

  • JustSaying

    Let me get this straight: The University appears to have hid the terms of their agreement with NJ Transit, and seems to have publicly misstated what those terms were for several years, and it’s the other people who are at fault?

    Yes, it’s sad that the courts had to be involved, but without them, the public wouldn’t have learned the true terms of the NJ Transit agreement.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    And driving to NYC takes an extra 30 minutes if I don’t use my head and just listen to Siri.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    Yes, Princeton and NJT had the ability to make the decision — and they did. Elected officials reviewed the proposals and the potential approaches and made the decision without any undue pressure, other than the lawsuits and threats of lawsuits from Citizens Against Progress. In a nutshell, the lawsuits and complaints about the new Station cost everyone money (taxpayers and the University) and kept progress from coming for several years. Luckily, the courts have sided with the University in every turn and that winning streak will continue. It is a misuse of the courts that the suits continue. But some people are poor losers.

  • Virginia Kerr

    Wrong Marketing Guru. The University claimed for 2 years that it had a unilateral right to move the station under the 1984 deal with NJT, and it leveraged its land use approvals with this claim. The NJ trial judge said that the University did not have the right, it was NJT’s decision all along . But NJT is under the thumb of the Governor who sits on the Univeristy Board, controls NJT, and pressured municipal officials to grant land use approvals with a threat to withdraw the Dinky subsidy. In a nutshell, the move of the Dinky station is all about money and power and a Governor intent on pleasing Princeton University (he sits ex officio as trustee) and on taking credit for a jobs program.

    The pity is that the University could have built its arts buildings around the existing station. Instead, the University–acting like any craven developer–moved the station to build an access road to a parking garage and to gain free development rights to station property that had been used for public transportation since 1865.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    I think the courts have consistently indicated the University did no such thing, and that it’s all perfectly legal. The lawsuit(s) continue because a number of people would rather spend money and time needlessly than admit they are flat out wrong.
    Are you a commuter? I am, and I’m not necessarily incurring more time because the eight minutes is if I park in the same spot as before and walk to the Station vs walk to the open air platform with no signs, no bathrooms, no heat, no seating.
    If we required everyone filing lawsuits or commenting on the Dinky move to have used it in the past week, I’m guessing the commentary would be silent.
    It all reminds me of the Princeton protesters who didn’t want the parking garage on Spring Street, or the apartments on Spring Street or Hinds Plaza and the adjacent commercial/residential building or the Library or the Arts Council or the Residences at Palmer Square. After the dust has settled, Princeton is a much better place to live from these improvements, which endured endless debate and additional costs from the malcontents.

  • Mr. Pigden-Cadbury

    MarketingGuru sounds like a marketing guru. Ask any commuter whether they’d willingly add 8 minutes to their commute for an improved Wawa. Only a sycophant with no life will say yes.

    The University shirked its obligations under the agreement it made when purchasing the land from NJ Transit to provide a station and restroom. It should not be congratulated for providing those, no matter how virtuous or generous it might be in other ways.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    Which is why I’m so glad we were able to keep the Dinky, convert the old stations to badly needed restaurants for that part of town, and do so in the context of a grand strategy linking the community to the University in a productive, robust way!

  • Alexi Assmus

    You keep what’s good and change what’s not.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    Because it’s about an overall plan and strategy, not about keeping everything the way it is. This is the hospital debate all over again. We’d still be using outhouses and outside pumps if some people had their say.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    Happy to help.

  • Alan Hill

    Thank you for illustrating my point. Couldn’t have done it better.

  • Alexi Assmus

    The university could have kept the beautiful old buildings an active station — why did they let them languish? You don’t have to build a new station to have an operating station.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    “… main street – public transport link like what used to exist in Princeton?” When was that? When Washington was crossing the Delaware.
    In terms of expanded services, there is now a STATION, not a platform, that is climate controlled, with significantly expanded and comfortable seating. One can argue about the architecture, but we haven’t had a station in decades.
    There’s an adjacent Wawa that has coffee, newspapers, snacks and quick bites, which has been a block away from the train station previously.
    There’s access to 24-hour modern, fresh restrooms. The prior platform had no restrooms, a major issue for families and others.
    There’s signage for the first time, advising when training are leaving and arriving. This might not seem like a big deal to people who don’t ride often — which, from the comments, I think makes up most of the people who have tried to stop the new Dinky — but that’s very helpful to those of us who use the train frequently.
    In terms of sustainability, without the demand from Princeton University there would be no Dinky. Ridership would fall well below the standards required to keep the Dinky running.
    As a Princeton resident, I’m happy and there’s no need for sympathy for us.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    These are all great ideas, and Princeton University has always been a great partner of following through on its commitments. (BTW, I am a resident of Princeton and not affiliated in any way with PU.)
    I hope the people who have dragged their feet on this project, and have dragged it all through court, will let Princeton and the rest of us get on with our progress now.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    Let’s face it: If Princeton University didn’t exist, the Dinky would have been gone a long, long, long time ago. I’ve been a regular passenger for two decades and at least 30% of the riders are either students, professors or others involved with the University. That’s the ridership that has kept it alive, and we are blessed by it.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Princeton University has promised increased bus shuttles from Dinky station and the marketing to build Dinky ridership. We need to make sure this happens. Here are the quotes from the 2011 Memorandum of Understanding between Princeton University and Princeton.

    October 30, 2011, Memorandum of Understanding between Princeton
    University and Princeton municipality.

    DISCOUNTS AND FREEBIES TO BUILD DINKY RIDERSHIP: “Upon approval of this agreement by the governing bodies of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, the University will work with the municipalities and local merchants to develop a formal plan to promote Dinky ridership, including but not limited to train ticket receipts being utilized to obtain discounts at McCarter Theater, University athletic events and local stores and restaurants.”

    ADDITIONAL DINKY TRAINS: “Upon approval of this agreement by the governing bodies of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, the University will work together with Princeton Borough and Princeton Township to encourage New Jersey Transit to provide additional
    Dinky service, including during off-peak hours and weekend hours.”

    UNIVERSITY BUS SHUTTLES MEET DINKY TRAINS: “The University will schedule it its Tiger/Transit shuttle system to meet all incoming Dinky trains and travel to Nassau Street during morning and evening peak commuter hours. During off-peak hours, TigerTransit shuttles also would stop regularly at the proposed new Dinky station. In addition, as it relates to this shuttle service, the University will:

    MARKETING OF BUS SERVICE MEETING DINKY TRAINS: Immediately develop a public relations program in conjunction with Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, including signage and other
    forms of promotion to alert residents that this service is ‘free and
    open to the public” for both past and future stations. The metrics of the
    public relations program and its scheduling shall be determined by mutual agreement of the three parties.

    ELETRONIC SHUTTLE LOCATOR FOR BUSES MEETING DINKY TRAINS: The University will pay for and install an electronic route map and shuttle locator system for TigerTransit at the new station that would inform arriving passengers when the next shuttle will be arriving.”

    TIGER TRAM SCHEDULE FOR MULTIPLE LINES IS IN PLACE FOR DINKY STATION (DOES NOT OPERATE IN SUMMER): http://www.princeton.edu/parking/TTRouteMap.pdf “The University
    will work with the municipalities to design and help fund a collector transit system that will bring passengers from collection points in both municipalities to the new station.”

  • Virginia kerr

    The University’s 1984 contract with NJT stated: “All work on any improvements shall be conducted so as not to unreasonably interfere with passenger service, and in no event shall such construction require any interruption in passenger service.”

  • Virginia kerr

    Pedestrian access to the new station along public streets, under current conditions, is via the traffic circle and the Alexander Street sidewalk along Forbes. According to a Google Earth calculation this route is an additional 1250 feet. The alternative is use of the University walkway along along New South to the Lot 7 garage and then over the garage access drive to the station. . According to Google Earth, the increased distance for the New South route is 1225 feet.

  • Princeton Rez

    Not to mention that it was Princeton University’s responsibility to maintain the two historic station buildings for the last two decades as part of the deal when they bought the station. They were supposed to maintain the buildings and keep them open for the public, but they didn’t until last year. The university is the one that made the historic buildings “dead.”

  • Alan Hill

    Hmmm … MarketingGuruNYC. Says it all.

    If you believe in something post in something other than an alias.

    Eight minutes? Walking? This is America ffs. And if you have mobility issues?

    Expanded services? I’d like to know what those are.

    Most US towns/cities/communities would give their back teeth for a main street – public transport link like what used to exist in Princeton. The Princeton/PU axis have thrown it away.

    Okay, so maybe it’s fine if you’re just Kiss And Drop. But a sustainable and efficient transport infrastructure. You’ve kissed it goodbye for good.

    Deepest sympathy Princeton

  • Julie Howson

    This morning I didn’t see a stop line in the westbound lane of Alexander Street at the new traffic light. I stopped before the crosswalk, but this is set back from the actual intersection and could be a bit confusing. I hope a stop line is added to make things more clear.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    Of course ridership has been down. There has been much confusion about the station, and periodic changes to bus service from Dinky service. After years of regular ridership, many of us have avoided the entire situation under the station was built and the traffic situation as settled.

  • MarketingGuruNYC

    I appreciate your viewpoint, but disagree completely with your assessment. The walk is only about 8 minutes away from the prior platform — and I write “platform” because we haven’t had a “station” in decades. The two buildings have been abandoned for longer than most of us can recall, and it’s great to have a new, modern platform and an actual building to protect riders from the elements.
    The two Gothic station buildings were dead, and I look forward to having them updated and brought back to life as restaurants, which are missing from the area completely. I will join many McCarter enthusiasts in welcoming a place for a snack or meal before or after a performance.
    In terms of the lawsuits, I’m thinking (tongue in cheek) about suing Save the Dinky — for the pain and suffering we’ve endured as Dinky riders waiting for the new station and expanded services!

  • We can only hope ridership will rebound with the opening of the new station. But if there is not adequate metered parking as close as what we had around McCarter (so close!), it will be a real disincentive to weekday day trippers, who come home with tired feet and lots to carry. I keep looking at the new maps to determine that, but will take a drive around soon to see.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Unfortunately there has been a significant decline in mass transit commuters from Princeton Junction to Princeton — a decline in both Dinky ridership only and also in the number of commuters using either the Dinky train or the free bus service from the Junction.

    1. Decline of 22% in Dinky ridership only for 2014 compared to 2013 (through August): Save the Dinky shared numbers with me that shows this decline month by month. I will attach this as an image to this post.

    2. Decline of 8.1% in Dinky train plus free bus ridership. The NJ Transit ridership report for Jan-March 2014 states that there was an 8.1% decline in commuter numbers that included both the Dinky train and the free university bus. This was the first time NJ Transit had bundled these two numbers together.

    From the NJ Transit report:

    “3rd quarter Princeton ridership on NJT’s Dinky and Princeton University’s free TigerPAWW (Princeton and West Windsor) shuttle was collectively -8.1% lower than last year when the Dinky alone had operated. The TigerPAWW service was implemented as the result of the temporary relocation of the Princeton station due to university construction.”

  • Anne Waldron Neumann

    University employees will have an easier DRIVE to their parking garage. But pedestrians will find WALKING to the new station more difficult. What’s wrong with this picture?

    I certainly regret the longer walk and proposed changes to the Dinky’s collegiate Gothic University Place passenger and freight stations. But the real loss, if various lawsuits don’t succeed (as they still may), is the public Dinky right-of-way between the new facility and University Place. This right-of-way could sometime soon have brought light rail gliding safely, silently, and expeditiously, all the way to Nassau Street in a dedicated lane straight up University Place.

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