Planet Princeton

Princeton Campus Plan: Collaborating to Achieve Shared Goals

Princeton University recently presented the Princeton Planning Board with some early ideas about the direction its 2026 Campus Plan will take. A follow-up presentation is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 5th at a municipal meeting in West Windsor.

The campus plan’s support for sustainable transportation, bike and pedestrian investments, and campus housing give local leaders an opportunity to partner with the school to achieve mutually desirable goals. Such goals include: 1) reducing and calming local car traffic 2) strengthening area businesses and 3) improving walking and biking conditions.

The campus plan has been widely reported, but there has been surprisingly little public reaction. This post aims to stimulate further thought and comment about the plan. It also aims to prompt local leaders to collaborate in order to maximize the benefits the campus plan offers for the university’s neighbors.

Sustainability

Princeton University’s sustainability principles state that “planning and development related to the physical campus have sustainability as a core priority.” The university’s draft campus plan presentation gives that principle added detail.

In the campus plan, these principles extend beyond limited ideas about “green buildings” to include a holistic view of land use and transportation. Treating land use and transportation as a system has greater importance in sustainability planning now that greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector are reported to exceed those generated by coal- and gas-fired power plants.

sustainability-slide
Sustainability Principles Addressed in the Draft Campus Plan

I hope that local sustainability advocates would, at a minimum, applaud these principles in concept, and to the extent they have concerns about details, articulate goals for their application in practice.

Network of Walking and Cycling Paths

Investing in new walking and cycling paths is one specific way the draft campus plan proposes to implement sustainability principles. The public presentation made by Princeton University Vice President Bob Durkee shows an expanded network of trails, including new pedestrian bridges across Lake Carnegie, to connect with future campus uses on the University’s West Windsor lands.

Part of the idea of a network of biking and walking paths is to re-cast Lake Carnegie as a campus feature, as opposed to a campus edge.

Another part of the idea is to make it easier for faculty, students, and staff to move around without requiring cars; to give the university community more non-auto options for how to get to campus; and to reduce the need for parking spaces in the campus’ academic core.

For the greater Princeton community, the potential benefits of this campus plan element are:

  1. Less vehicle traffic in town due to Princeton University in-commuting
  2. New opportunities to cross the lake (and hopefully eventually Route 1) compared to today’s truly awful Harrison Street, Washington Road, and Alexander Street options
  3. Complement and strengthen the Town Bike Plan currently being developed
trails-slide
Walking and cycling paths in the Draft Campus Plan

Campus Housing

The draft campus plan makes good on the sustainable transportation potential of an expanded trail network by giving priority to new campus housing locations that are close to the proposed trails network. These locations include the Butler Tract, multiple locations along Alexander Street, and locations on campus lands in West Windsor (see the yellow areas in the housing opportunities map).

Key points about how housing in-town is better than housing far away from town include:

  • Forcing members of the campus community to live further from campus means more cars, and more congestion, in town
  • Accommodating members of the campus community in-town is better for local businesses. People who walk and bike in town are people who will spend their money in town, and who will help keep town businesses serving diverse needs and a diverse range of customers (not just high-end eateries)
housing-slide
Priority locations for new housing in the Draft Campus Plan

Conclusion

The university’s draft campus plan — in both its stated principles and its specific proposals — offers the prospect of benefits to our greater community. As a result, our community has a chance to reset relations with the university to achieve specific quality of life goals we communally want, and to achieve those through constructive engagement with the university.

A stance of opposition to university plans would have simplicity and clarity, but an approach of collaborative engagement might have a better chance of yielding outcomes that are positive for the university and community alike.

What are your thoughts on the plan as it relates to the areas outlined here? Please post in comments.

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.

  • You know I laughed and then I considered the history of the two “Princetons”. Would be possible for the University, after becoming the largest landowner, to push for a separation along new boundary lines?

  • Peter Marks

    The University’s expansion is not “mutually benefitting”, nor would it “improve the community”. I consider that expansion does not even benefit the University.

    As for the PILOT, it does not begin to compensate our town for the burdens imposed by the University’s expansion. And the suggestion that the PILOT represents payment for favorable zoning confirms the belief of many that the University is grasping, self-interested, and utterly disdainful of the interests of the town from which it gets its name.

  • Nat Bottigheimer

    @Khurt Willams

    You’re right, the inserted graphics ARE too small. I’ll work on that in future. That said, they’re full size in the full presentation that’s linked in the first paragraph (and here: http://campusplan.princeton.edu/sites/campusplan/files/media/2026princetoncampusplan_0916presentation.pdf)

    I don’t believe the majority of traffic is due to Princeton U commuters, but either way a reduction in auto travel to the campus would be a reduction — both in the peak periods and in other car travel during the day.

    The new opportunities to cross the lake are shown in the campus plan materials, but I’m sure they’re highly conceptual at this point. Any lake crossing would certainly need to address environmental impacts, but recall that any environmental impacts to the watershed would be weighed against environmental benefits of an overall more environmentally sustainable campus.

    To your question about the adjoining communities: it’s an excellent question. I hope these communities will begin to engage with the University to collaborate on plans that will be mutually benefitting.

    Regarding property taxes, that’s both related and not related, but I see this as a “cutting off your nose to spite your face” issue. Not working with the University to improve the community is supposed to be a strategy to improve the PILOT contribution the University makes? That seems like the very opposite of a win-win negotiating strategy.

  • How do these plans affect the nearbouring towns? How do we know that the majority of traffic around Princeton is due to Princeton U. commuters as opposed to nearby township residents (Montgomery, Hopewell etc. ) whose most efficient path to Route 1 invoice a drive through Princeton Township? Where would the “new opportunities” to cross the lake be placed and what would be the environmental impact of doing so? Lake Carnegie abuts Plainsboro, Kingston and West Windsor. What do these towns think of recasting the Lake as a Princeton University campus feature as opposed to a feature of the greater area community?

    Why are the map images embedded in this website so small?

    If you want to strengthen area businesses, how about the University pay property taxes as though it were a for-profit school? That way, local residents and businesses would not bare the burden of supporting the entire town budget.

  • lol!

  • Peter Marks

    Quite a sales job. Masterful use of buzz words.

    The promise of “sustainable transportation” is particularly underwhelming, coming as it does from an entity which recently truncated a rail line that many of us had previously found a convenient alternative to taxis and driving.

    Let us also not forget that the University has recently introduced a fleet of buses to accommodate students who in happier days could simply walk to classes and dormitories.

    And please spare me the tired line about additional business for downtown eateries. Any such benefits are more than offset by the additional taxes required to accommodate a surging population of students — many of them the children of University grad students, faculty, and staff.

    In fact, there is nothing remotely sustainable about the University’s grandiose expansion plans. Nor is there anything in those plans which should induce Princetonians to grant the necessary zoning approvals.

  • Show Up!

    Will this new community be called South Princeton?

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