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.
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.
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:
- Less vehicle traffic in town due to Princeton University in-commuting
- 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
- Complement and strengthen the Town Bike Plan currently being developed
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)
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.