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A Survey: Talking Walking in Princeton

Recent “alternative transportation” conversations in Princeton have tended to emphasize improvements for bicycling. However, events such as last October’ shocking accident at Washington Road and the canal towpath call for additional attention to pedestrian needs in and around the town.nassau witherspoon

Last June, Planet Princeton readers provided lively feedback on a survey about bicycling issues. I thought I’d repeat the experiment with questions specific to walkers. The more perspectives on this, the better:

  • Long-time residents
  • Recent arrivals
  • People who live “downtown” and those who live in less walkable areas
  • People who are aging in place
  • Members of the ADA community
  • People who need to walk (i.e., don’t have a car)
  • Young people up to 18
  • Young adults
  • People who HAVE young kids
  • People who work, but don’t reside, in town
  • Employers
  • Pet-owners
  • Everyone else!

dogs on towpath

Herewith, my questions about walking in Princeton, whatever your purpose and wherever you walk. Please feel free in your comments to add your own questions and answers.

  1. Where do you walk in Princeton?
  2. For what purposes do you walk?
  3. At what time of day do you walk?
  4. Is walking mostly functional for you, or something you do for pleasure?
  5. What do you like most about walking in Princeton?Nassau street sidewalk
  6. Would you walk more if you could? And if so, what prevents you from walking more? Is walking not fast enough? Not pleasant or safe enough? Not interesting enough?
  7. Do you think walking in Princeton is safe? Where is safe, and where is unsafe? If there are things that concern you, what are they? (e.g., quality of paths, lighting, public safety, traffic safety…)
  8. Is walking in Princeton interesting or boring? What would make it more interesting? Where interesting, where boring?
  9. If you have children, do you let them walk for transportation, or do you discourage them? Why or why not? And where do you let them walk, and why?
  10. Do your children, if you have any, walk more or less than you did when you were growing up?
  11. Do you wish your children could be more independent?   Do you think street safety is an obstacle to their being more independent? Are you more concerned about crime safety or traffic safety?
  12. Do you wish your children would walk to school more, or that they had walked to school more?
  13. Are there any scary pedestrian accidents that are seared in your mind? How has that accident changed your behavior, whether as a walker, driver, biker, etc.?

14.When you think of nice places to walk, what places come to mind? Where are they and what makes them enjoyable?Kids walking to school

15. What do you think it would take for cars to drive more carefully around pedestrians?

16. Would you personally mind driving slower yourself if that meant everyone else were also driving slower?

17. What kinds of drivers pose the greatest challenges to walking in our town? Do you think these drivers are “outsiders” or neighbors?

18. Overall, do you think pedestrian safety and comfort is an important issue? Why or why not?

19. If a genie offered you three wishes to improve conditions for pedestrians and walking around town, what would you wish for?

Specific questions:

20. Do you like the idea of turning Witherspoon between the library and Nassau Street into a pedestrian-only plaza? Why or why not? Are you reacting to this idea as a walker or as a driver?police car

21. How do you feel about an “all-directions” walk phase for the traffic signal at Washington Road and Nassau Street (a phase where no cars are moving and pedestrians can cross anywhere)? Are you reacting to this question as a walker or as a driver?

22. Do you wish drivers would yield to pedestrians in crosswalks more reliably? Where is this particularly an issue?Should Princeton police enforce this more aggressively?

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.

  • FreshAir

    LowlyRenter, Thanks for caring so much about our town, and so much about the people in it, that you used some of your precious time to share here. I too bike & walk (& drive) & my kids have always done the same safely.

  • High Class Homeowner

    Wow, got some time on your hands, huh? Get a job and you needn’t rent any longer.

  • LowlyRenter

    1 & 2. Everywhere. I ride my bike and walk to work and back. I walk to CVS, restaurants, the library, my children’s school, every park, local stores, community events. We bike to the grocery stores. We walk and bike the canal and woods. You name it: if it’s in town, we walk. Family walks are important to us.
    3, 4, 5 & 6. All times of day and night. Walking is for business, education and pleasure. With so much near us in a short distance, we are mostly able to do what we need without leaving town. If the weather is bad or we need a faster way somewhere, we have one car for a family of four.
    7. Walking in Princeton is very safe, except for a woman alone at late hours on some occasions (just read the police blotter), and any areas that lack sidewalks. Every neighborhood should have sidewalks.
    8. Princeton is not boring by any stretch. More community events would be nice.
    9 & 10. My children are very young, so we walk as a family. As they approach responsible ages, they will walk or bike to school on their own. I did this as a child, and they walk more than I did due to the type of housing I lived in.
    11. I’m concerned about people calling the police about children walking on their own despite if their parents have approved it. I don’t want Princeton to become a town that scares children with unnecessary boogie man legends that don’t reflect reality. So far, I am happy to see groups of older kids walking and enjoying the town on their own.
    Traffic safety is more of an issue. There are crossings all along Wiggins and Hamilton that are incredibly dangerous to pedestrians because of drivers who do not follow state law to stop for pedestrians. I have had to stop traffic myself for groups of children who could not cross Hamilton as car after car (driven by people who live in these neighborhoods) kept going. Pedestrians are not the problem in this town. I see these drivers every day, every hour, and they don’t care about pedestrian traffic laws.
    12. My children already walk more than most of their peers.
    13. Yes. I know the graduate student who was hit on Washington Rd. That was a terrifying wake up call to the University population. I also make sure to stop for pedestrians in town and near the towpath, and I don’t allow other cars room to pass me when I stop for pedestrians. Impatient drivers who pass cars stopped for pedestrians are a serious danger.
    15. Follow NJ traffic laws that regard pedestrians crossing roads. Stop thinking only of yourself, and instead, think of yourself as that pedestrian trying to cross safely. We are not cars, we are humans who should respect human life.
    17. Unsafe drivers in this town are a combination of locals driving fast and ignorantly in their own neighborhoods, commuters looking for shortcuts, and everyone else who disregards safety. I can safely say, as someone who lives along a busy stretch of residential road, that some of the worst offenders drive the most expensive cars. There are studies that show that higher incomes can result in less sympathy for other people and those with less money, and I see this with the make of cars that tend to contain rude drivers. Very often, the drivers who stop for pedestrians are driving less expensive and older model cars or work trucks/vans.
    19. Drivers who are concerned about pedestrian safety. Bicyclists who ride on the road instead of sidewalks — which would include safer bike lanes for them to use. Third wish, pedestrians who make way for others on the sidewalks. Often I encounter groups of walkers who won’t use common courtesy to let others pass; instead, they would rather plow through you so that their conversation doesn’t suffer. Walking two and three across is rude when these shoulder to shoulder buddies approach others. They are Gandalf, and you shall not pass.
    20. No. As a walker, biker, and driver, I see no sense in it all. Changing this arrangement would divert even more traffic into residential side streets.
    21. That’s an iffy intersection as it is for drivers and pedestrians alike. I don’t think it would work, but a better solution would be nice. I’d have to see a comparable traffic study to say one way or another.
    22. Obviously from my other answers, yes. Pedestrians need more safe crossings, drivers need to be less selfish and dangerous. I would be thrilled if police paid more attention to this, particularly along the Paul Robeson / Wiggins / Hamilton corridor. Too many irresponsible drivers take that as a speed-through alternative to Nassau. They honk all the time at each other, despite being surrounded by residents in their homes, and they ignore pedestrians to the point of extreme danger.

    Thank you for shining a spotlight on pedestrian issues!

  • janet giles

    I living easy walking distance to town. We walk for purpose to town, for pleasure in and around town.

    Walk to town to window-shop to complete errands, walk canal in both directions, neighborhoods for fun , to walk dog, to go to restaurants.

    We walk all times of day and night.

    I love walking in Princeton because you can walk in busy populated areas, quiet trails and neighborhoods

    7. It is particularly unsafe for my family as we live on 206 and have no crosswalk nor side walk on our side of the street so we and our neighbors must cross a busy road to get to sidewalk or walk in 206 on busy road to get to sidewalk. Often drivers do not realize we are crossing at abad place because we have no other choice.

    I encourage my children to take advantage of walking and they have become walkers due to the ease of getting to town, however our unsafe situation does give me pause and would prevent younger children from have that freedom.

    nice places to walk are certainly the canal, I like Pretty Brook for a walk although that is certainly treacherous. Provinceline through ettl has a great back paths does the Greenway. I love the different neighborhoods and town is awesome early in the day.

    Witherspoon as a pedestrian walk area is awesome.
    The intersection of Witherspoon and Nassau needs some serious consideration. There needs to be an all stop on both Witherspoon and Nassau so pedestrians can cross then each street in turn. I think you are explaining that for Nassau and Washington but mush more needed at witherspoon.

    Pedestrians seem to thin that a cross walk at a light means they still have right of way against light, I do not believe that is true. I believe pedestrians at a light must use a cross walk with the light right of way not just randomly.

  • FreshAir

    #20 This week I have walked, biked, and driven a car in Princeton. So, I’m responding to your idea to block off Witherspoon from the Library to Nassau street as a person who enjoys/supports all forms of mobility often. Creating a pedestrian-only plaza in the street from the Library to Nassau St. is a completely ridiculous idea. It is an idea that I cannot support because:
    -This is an iconic, historic view, drive or bike or walk up to the gates/Nassau Hall (especially in the Spring). It is a view that is excites and inspires everyone, just the way it is. Everyone should have an opportunity to experience it (even the nasty auto drivers you mention, truck drivers coming up town, and delivery folks servicing the stores), Everyone should be allowed to reflect on the history of all who have traveled that road. It is often a brief but beautiful part of one’s day in all seasons.
    -On the next block we have underused Tiger Plaza, plus oft usedNassau Inn Green
    – We have the newsstand plaza on the next block
    -Monument Dr. Park is nearby & it is barely used
    -Hines Plaza is in place
    -Witherspoon is main street & essential artery through town.
    -This is the center of the busiest part of our commerce district.
    – Full access for everyone keeps the street exciting/ever-changing/and useful.
    – Restricting access is an old, weird idea. It will be boring.
    -We need full access to the spring street garage.
    -We need the parking on Witherspoon Street.
    – It is a major town bus route.
    – NJ has harsh winters, which would make it a dead zone all winter long. How would you even plow it for the few souls who would sit outside to use it?
    – Are you just trying to extend the University grounds with an extended Nassau street shopping area, keeping working folks from the parts of town that Witherspoon corridor allows us to enter?
    – Do you realize how hard this would make it for all of us to use and move through town?
    In closing, Please keep full access for everyone, rich & poor, on wheels or on foot, to the busiest, loveliest street in town. Working people who don’t have time to stop, walk through, & sit in a plaza really deserve and need access to beauty too, as they grab their coffee, sandwich, sushi, or cupcake. If you are so in need of a new project that you want to develop a plaza or park, please start by improving the many we already have in place.

  • Caralien Miller Speth

    1. Everywhere. Campus, the D&R path, from our house to downtown, to/from the shopping center.
    2. I like walking. Exercise, tours for my kids, fresh air.
    3. Mornings, weekends
    4. both
    5. It’s pleasant, most of the time. Lots to see and do.
    6. I would walk more if it were not for time constraints (2 kids in school). We moved here and then bought specifically so my husband could walk to work, even though he has now changed jobs and can still walk (formerly at Nassau/Witherspoon, now at Tiger Labs).
    7. Definitely safe, at least during the daylight hours. More tree/hedge trimming for intersections would make it easier (Valley/Mt.Lucas/Witherspoon). At night, however, the drivers don’t seem to care if anyone on foot, with a dog, or on a bicycle have the right of way—even when we do have blinky lights everywhere.
    8. Interesting. I love architecture, foliage, public art, history, so it works for me.
    9. Our family walks everywhere, so yes, they are definitely encouraged to walk, holding hands across intersections, of course!
    10. Less. During the 70’s & 80’s, parents were not charged with child endangerment were they to send the kids to walk alone anywhere; with the current nanny state, it appears we have to wait until the kids have driver’s licenses before they’re allowed to walk without a parent!
    11. My kids are independent, but they’re 5 & 3. Street safety I’m not concerned with, but I am more concerned with it than crime, which I’m not at all concerned with.
    12. My kids are not allowed to walk/bike to school—even with me, even though the school is 1/2 mile away. Ewing/Mt. Lucas is considered horribly dangerous.
    13. No.
    14. Princeton, Paris, NYC, Madrid, Duke Farms, Sourland Mountains, VT, the beach at dawn and dusk, Chicago. Obviously, we like walking and being outdoors, rural, big & small cities. Not subdivisions–yuck.
    15. Trimming overgrown hedges, having functional walk/don’t walk signs.
    16. No
    17. Tourbuses, construction vehicles, minivans: both
    18. Yes. I’m biased & pro walking.
    19. I’d give the genie a pass. I think it’s quite good.
    20. I am not a fan of pedestrian-only places that were streets. As a pedestrian, crime does increase once the space is turned into a walking-only spot. It is costly to businesses who do need drivers to see their businesses, costly to the taxpayers, and inconvenient to people who can not walk. As a driver, I NEED THAT PARKING SPACE!
    21. That’s dumb. It does not work in NYC, and certainly wouldn’t work here. All it would do is back up traffic even further. What would work is having a delayed crosswalk so drivers could turn left/right so that everyone can move instead of the mess we get at both that intersection and Witherspoon/Nassau, where no one knows who has the right of way and pedestrians and drivers are equally frustrated.
    22. Most drivers do yield reliably. Pedestrians also should make a point of looking at the drivers and not just standing at the intersection. Again, as both a driver and pedestrian, there should be mutual respect.

  • Aardvark1

    Where do you walk in Princeton? Nassau St. and Witherspoon most of the time.

    For what purposes do you walk? Shopping and dining in town.

    At what time of day do you walk? Sunday afternoons or Friday nights

    Is walking mostly functional for you, or something you do for pleasure? Pleasure

    What do you like most about walking in Princeton? Nice blend of nature and storefronts

    Would you walk more if you could? And if so, what prevents you from walking more? Is walking not fast enough? Not pleasant or safe enough? Not interesting enough?
    Increasing walkability is always encouraged, so yes. Since I am usually in Princeton for leisure, time is not an issue.

    Do you think walking in Princeton is safe? Where is safe, and where is unsafe? If there are things that concern you, what are they? (e.g., quality of paths, lighting, public safety, traffic safety…)

    I see a number of tourists cluster in groups and cross against lights on Nassau St. by the main hall. In general, I do feel safe. Witherspoon St/Spring St. crosswalk visibility is sometimes blocked. People tend to ignore pedestrian crossing in front of Thomas Sweet’s despite signage.Need more lighting in alley leading to parking lot behind Thomas Sweet’s.

    The turn onto Moore St next to St. Paul’s Church also is risky with drivers not yielding to crossing as they turn off of Nassau onto Moore St.

    Is walking in Princeton interesting or boring? What would make it more interesting? Where interesting, where boring?
    Interesting for sure. Spring St. and Hulfish St. aren’t very interesting.

    If you have children, do you let them walk for transportation, or do you discourage them? Why or why not? And where do you let them walk, and why? N/A

    Do your children, if you have any, walk more or less than you did when you were growing up? N/A

    Do you wish your children could be more independent? Do you think street safety is an obstacle to their being more independent? Are you more concerned about crime safety or traffic safety? N/A

    Do you wish your children would walk to school more, or that they had walked to school more? Walk to School events have increased at the Princeton Public Schools due to Safe Routes to School programming. More school walks on a regular basis would be encouraging.

    Are there any scary pedestrian accidents that are seared in your mind? How has that accident changed your behavior, whether as a walker, driver, biker, etc.? A coworker was hit by a car on his bicycle. It is a great lesson in proper car driving space when passing.

    14.When you think of nice places to walk, what places come to mind? Where are they and what makes them enjoyable? Tree-lined sidewalks, open plazas to hang out, trail paths, neighborhood homes

    15. What do you think it would take for cars to drive more carefully around pedestrians? Flashing beacon signals, Lights, moreso than signage

    16. Would you personally mind driving slower yourself if that meant everyone else were also driving slower? I would not mind.

    17. What kinds of drivers pose the greatest challenges to walking in our town? Do you think these drivers are “outsiders” or neighbors? People that ignore the pedestrian signals or who fail to stop for pedestrians. Neighbors in their comfort zone come to mind.

    18. Overall, do you think pedestrian safety and comfort is an important issue? Why or why not? Absolutely essential. Young, old and in between. Everybody walks. It is also very important for health.

    19. If a genie offered you three wishes to improve conditions for pedestrians and walking around town, what would you wish for?

    1) Sidewalks and walkability around area schools
    2)Increased signals
    3) Check sidewalks for cracks or other ills

    Specific questions:

    20. Do you like the idea of turning Witherspoon between the library and Nassau Street into a pedestrian-only plaza? Why or why not? Are you reacting to this idea as a walker or as a driver?

    Yes, as a walker. The parklet was a success. The current open plaza is a nice feature already. This would extend it while giving visitors a relaxed feel in that they wouldn’t have to worry about crossings.

    21. How do you feel about an “all-directions” walk phase for the traffic signal at Washington Road and Nassau Street (a phase where no cars are moving and pedestrians can cross anywhere)? Are you reacting to this question as a walker or as a driver? Driver. No, I prefer green arrows for flow.

    22. Do you wish drivers would yield to pedestrians in crosswalks more reliably? Where is this particularly an issue?Should Princeton police enforce this more aggressively? Yes. Right in front of Thomas Sweets.

  • L4NJ

    I walk a lot, as do my kids. To answer number 19, here are my big wishes. Our sidewalks are incredibly poorly lit. So, number one is street lamps with a cone that reaches both the street and sidewalk. Our kids are coming and going from school at all hours, not just when crossing guards are on duty. My number two wish is more stop signs on roads leading to schools. A prime example is around the PHS and JW. Hamilton and Valley should have four-way stop signs at Moore and Walnut (and Linden at Hamilton).

    As I driver I know it is sometimes hard to notice the pedestrian waiting at the stripes to cross the road. Many drivers just don’t have the pedestrians on their radar, period. So, my final wish is illuminated pedestrian crossings (like on University near McCarter) on busier streets.

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