A proposal to eliminate parking on both sides of Hamilton Avenue in order to make room for bike lanes has been put on hold until the town comes up with a master plan for biking.
The Princeton Council voted unanimously Monday night to table an ordinance that would eliminate on-street parking on the stretch of Hamilton Avenue from Harrison Street to Snowden Lane and replace the parking with bike lanes when the road is repaved next month.
A bike lane will be added on the side of the street heading into Princeton where parking already is not allowed, leaving the existing parking on the other side. Sharrows could be added to that side of the street. The council can still revisit the issue of adding another bike lane and removing the parking in the future.
The council heard public comment and discussed the issue for almost three hours.
Bike advocates called on officials to approve the ordinance as a step toward making Princeton a more bicycle-friendly town. They said the bike lanes would improve safety for cyclists and encourage biking.
Opponents complained that they were not given enough advance notice about the proposal, said the removal of parking would be a hardship, and asked what the town’s bigger plan is for cycling and how the Hamilton proposal fits into a larger plan.
Councilman Lance Liverman proposed tabling the ordinance.
“It is never easy to make a decision and then go to McCaffreys and some people will say hi to you and some will not. I love to bike. All my friends bike, but there are a lot of factors involved in this, setting precedent,” Liverman said. “If we don’t do it, some people say we will be a laughable community. I can truly say we are serious about protecting everyone though…I’d like to propose to table it until we have a bike master plan completed, and have heard input from lot people, and people are notified in a fair way.”
Councilman Patrick Simon has been an opponent of the bike lane proposal, saying it would be a hardship for some residents who depend on the parking, including a couple who uses a handicapped space on the street. He pushed for more input from the public about the ordinance and larger plans for a bicycling network throughout town.
Biking advocate Bainy Suri questioned whether Simon was allowed to vote on this issue since he lives around the corner from Hamilton Avenue. Trishka Cecil, the lawyer for the governing body, said there was no conflict because Simon does not live on the street.
The Princeton Traffic and Transportation Committee unanimously endorsed the plan to remove parking and add two bike lanes last fall after considering five options, including sharrows. Princeton area bicycling advocates spoke in favor of the bike lanes at the meeting, and a few parents also said the lanes would make it safer for their children to bike to school.
Mercer County Freeholder Andrew Koontz called the plan to add bike lanes a historic opportunity.
“You’re really being asked to choose this evening what is the greatest public good in this particular case. What is more valuable to public, to have parking on Hamilton Avenue or to have safety for cyclists?”
Koontz said not all of street parking is created equal. Metered street parking is the most valuable parking for the town because it generates revenue. Downtown parking is beneficial to merchants and visitors to Princeton.
David Cohen said that the council should not be myopic about the bike lanes on Hamilton Avenue.
“This is a community-wide issue. It can’t be focused on as a neighborhood by neighborhood thing. You’re talking about the public right of way…It was not intended to be obstructed by private rights being claimed by residents of the street. Just because they have always had it does not mean it is an intrinsic right.”
Dan Rappaport and other speakers said many cyclists do not feel safe biking on the streets in Princeton. “The streets are unsafe to pedal on, but the sidewalks are not made for biking either,” he said.
Hamilton Avenue residents voiced opposition to the proposal and said 98 percent of the residents on the street oppose the removal of the parking. The residents said they were not properly notified about the proposal when the town notified residents about paving. The town did not hold a neighborhood meeting until last week.
William Jones, who lives on Hamilton Avenue and bikes or walks to work every day, said there was a procedural failure regarding notifying residents.
“There should be a plan for the whole town,” he said. “I don’t think installing bike lanes along a small section of road way is a good way of doing things.”
George Cohen, who lives on Hawthorne Avenue, said parked cars act as a calming measure on Hamilton Avenue and slow traffic down. “If you take away that parking, I think you’re making it more unsafe,” he said.
Residents said the three accidents along the stretch of Hamilton Avenue over the last five years have been at intersections, and that the bike lanes would not solve the issue of crossing or turning at intersections.
Welmoet Van Kammen, a Hamilton Avenue resident, said while biking is in her blood and bones as a Dutch native, the ordinance should be tabled.
“It’s not really a plan that will add much safety…The intersection of Harrison Street and Hamilton Avenue is dangerous. What effect will bike lanes have on that? Table the ordinance, reconsider things, and come up with a better plan.”