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Valley Road Improvements: It’s Not “Neighbors Versus People who Bike”

bike lanes PrincetonMonday  evening’s Valley Road Improvements Community Meeting started haltingly, with a detailed discussion of the condition of the London Plane trees along Valley Road and with attendees increasingly anxious to discuss the widened shared-use paths proposed by municipal staff members that would have consumed space in residents’ yards.

Eventually, it became clear that the shared-use paths proposed by Princeton staff members were artifacts of outdated municipality plans that were as strongly opposed by bicyclists as by residents. This recognition of shared concern was followed by a useful discussion of other possible improvements within the existing roadway along Valley Road that could improve safety for all road users – cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists – and community concerns turned to issues around the feasibility of those on-road options.

Looking ahead, municipal staff members will evaluate the on-road options discussed, and will return to the community after the summer with their conclusions. The Valley Road improvements are being funded by state dollars that require a construction contract to be awarded by the end of 2015.

A few observations about the Valley Road conversation Monday night and about this kind of planning more generally:

The reason that municipal staff members initially focused on widened side paths to support bicycling is that the town’s current master plan designates Valley Road for that kind of improvement.  If the municipality eventually wants to advance options that DON’T include side paths, planning board approval would be required.

·    Residents and supporters of bicycling and safety improvements – two categories with considerable overlap – were in total agreement that widened shared-use side paths were NOT desirable along Valley Road (though on routes with fewer intersections and driveways, such as Quaker Road, they are an appropriate solution).

·      Speeding cars and traffic safety are legitimate concerns for residents of Valley Road.

·      It is possible to design road features that reduce auto speeds; make street crossing safer for pedestrians; and make travel along the road safer and more comfortable for bicycling.

·      The options available for on-road improvements range from sharrows – viewed by cyclists as “better than nothing;” all the way to protected bikeways with greatly narrowed auto travel lanes – viewed as the best possible improvement for cycling, other issues held equal.

·      Narrowed car travel lanes are part and parcel of designs that increase overall safety and give more on-road space for bicycling (and that don’t impinge on resident’s yards).

·      There is much evidence linking narrowed lanes with greater traffic safety (lower speeds, fewer, and lower-speed crashes for drivers and pedestrians) AND with increased bicycling activity.  However, many in the community still associate wide car travel lanes with greater safety and convenience.

·      There are tradeoffs between traffic safety improvements and the availability of parking for residents and home services; for events parking; for the unhampered movement of emergency response vehicles and buses; and for the disposal of leaves and brush.

·      The important questions are:

a) whether traffic safety and bicycling improvements are broadly desired (by Valley Road and residents of the municipality more broadly);

b) whether negative effects we can foresee can be mitigated; and

c) whether the potential positive effects associated with traffic safety improvements are worth the potential negative effects.

·      Traffic safety improvements along Valley Road might not result in large increases in bicycling activity for many reasons – among them the need for a more extensive, continuously connected network of routes safe for bicycling – but might be worth it anyway for the traffic safety improvements they offer.

·      Low observed rates of bicycling are regarded by some as evidence of the futility of planning for bicycling safety, and by others as evidence of the NEED for improved bicycle safety – but with the preponderance of evidence suggesting that improvements to bicycle comfort and safety strongly correlate with increases in bicycling activity.

·      Safety improvements along Valley Road are not intended for Princeton’s hardiest cyclists, for whom sharrows are adequate, but for Princeton’s less confident bicyclists, for whom a greater degree of protection and comfort would make the difference between cycling or not cycling.

 

Nat Bottigheimer

Nat Bottigheimer is a professional transportation planner and consultant with a background in public policy and real estate economics. He is currently working on TOD, streetcar, and bus dedicated lane planning projects in the Washington, DC region. He was a member of the Alexander Street University Place Task Force, and is a current member of the Princeton Traffic and Transportation and Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committees. He’s married to Eve Ostriker, an astrophysicist at Princeton University; and has two daughters, one at PHS. The most recent family addition is Basil, a one-year old labradoodle who gives the term “active transportation” new meaning.

  • Girl928

    The people who live on Valley Road do not even have a safe place to walk, let alone ride bikes! I am in favor of that but not at the expense of the residents and their lawns… they need to LISTEN!!

  • SFB

    Just to be clear, absolutely nobody is talking about taking down the trees. The only trees that will come down are dead ones, which are few in number.
    Beyond that, the obvious solution (to me anyway) is to substitute the planned sidepaths with a safe cycle facility in the road. That ought to satisfy everybody. It just has to be something that allows cyclists to operate reasonably safely. The Masterplan can be changed, but if the ‘solution’ is just some painted mid-lane bike arrows, then there is likely to be opposition before the Planning Board.

  • Girl928

    How ridiculous is this… working with an outdated and unsafe plan! Things have changed ” municipal staff members”!!! Masterplans can be changed, they are not written in stone! Why not review the comments of the towns residents and “hurry up” to spend that money by 2015 on a street that really needs it… VERY FEW people bike on Valley Rd and parallel to Valley there is an asphalt walk/bike path already. It is only busy during shopping center peak hours; evenings and holidays, there isn’t a soul! Seems to me a road that is perpendicular to Valley – going to and from town – would be much more useful to ALL parties concerned… AND TO EVEN THINK ABOUT TAKING DOWN ALL THOSE MATURE TREES… Arborist??!! Whaaaaat??!!?!? Helloooo Municipal Staff Members, that’s what makes Princeton so beautiful… it’s why we live here, PLEASE don’t take that away…

  • Pat Palmer

    Valley seems to me to be exactly the kind of street that needs provision to encourage bicycling: it crosses the entire town, it’s flat, and the speed limit (and actual traffic speeds) remain fairly low. I think there ought to be sharrows at the least.

    I live on Harrison, which connects with Valley, and IMO Harrison has significant speed problems–most vehicles traveling on Harrison St are speeding, many significantly. And I can tell you that there IS a fair amount of bicycling up and down Harrison, even though I personally consider it quite hazardous for cyclists.

    I would like to see the town, and residents, embrace modest preparations for cyclists a little more. I can only increase the liveability of our town for all.

  • Tara Oakman

    I so appreciate this balanced article– other coverage and discussion has been so skewed but this lays the issues for discussion out fairly and succinctly. Thank you.

  • SFB

    I’d support a dedicated bike facility on Paul Robeson, but the Princeton Community Masterplan calls for sidepaths on Valley Road, and Valley Road is where the engineering is taking place right now, so that’s why it is the focus of discussion. Although this article suggests the sidepath proposal is ‘outdated’, the Circulation Element of the Masterplan, which includes the mandate for sidepaths, was re-adopted less than 2 years ago.

  • Edward R. Percarpio

    Not really sure why folks are fighting this battle for Valley Road in particular. If you want to make the effort worth it, let’s talk about creating a dedicated bike path on Paul Robeson Pl through Wiggins and on to Hamilton Ave up to Harrison as a parallel back road to Nassau Street for bikers. That would be worth the energy. I’m really not sure what Valley Road buys you frankly.

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