Witherspoon Street will remain a one-way street from Nassau Street to Spring Street as part of an attempt to create a more vibrant and pedestrian-friendly downtown in Princeton. Elected officials had to make a choice between having traffic flow south to north or north to south on Witherspoon as part of the plan, and opted for the current south to north configuration that has been in place since June.
With that choice in mind, they also want to switch the direction of South Tulane Street, which has been a one-way street for many years, Traffic flows from south to north, but officials want to reverse the direction. This would mean there would be no turns from Nassau Street onto South Tulane Street. Instead, drivers would take Spring Street and then make a right on to South Tulane. Once they reach Nassau Street, drivers would only be able to make a right turn onto the street.
At a recent council meeting where the plan was discussed, Mayor Mark Freda, a volunteer firefighter and Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad member for more than four decades, expressed concerns about the proposed traffic flow change and surprise that it was still being considered.
“The buildings are right up to curb line,” Freda said, expressing worry about blocked sightlines and pedestrian safety. “I’m voicing serious concerns about whether that is workable,” he said.
Councilwoman Mia Sacks asked Freda to explain what the difference was between each alternative and how pedestrians would be impacted one way as opposed to the other.
“The way it is now, you can see everyone on the sidewalk before you initiate the turn,” Freda said. “But if you are coming up toward Nassau, your view would be blocked. There are buildings on both sides of you. The likelihood of seeing much before the edge of the curb is very unlikely. This just seems to be a recipe for disaster.”
Sacks asked how the street is any different from other small streets that intersect with Nassau Street and run north to south. Freda said the location of the buldings wedged right next to the narrow street is what makes the difference on South Tulane. “The buildings are right there,” Freda said. “How someone explains how we can make the intersection safe…I’m not saying it is impossible but it better be really well thought out.”
Deanna Stockton, the town’s engineer, said one-way streets are typically paired with another one-way street in the opposite direction to create a clockwise rotation for people looking for parking or to wanting to move around in vehicles. She said the South Tulane Street direction change also would relieve some of the traffic pressure on Vandeventer Street, and added that physical barriers such as planters could be added near the crosswalks to create more distance between the buildings and pedestrians. She said it was unclear what the changes would mean in terms of parking spaces on the street, and also said truck turning diagrams are still being studied because the street must accommodate a certain size vehicle. The street also is used as a loading zone for area businesses.
“The turn off of Spring Street is extremely tight,” Freda said. “There would definitely be an impact on parking and loading.”
Councilwoman Eve Niedergang said she hadn’t realized there were concerns about pedestrian safety with the change. “I may be jumping the gun, but is there a plan B?” she said.
Stockton said a traffic study was still being reviewed. The council members will have to evaluate how comfortable they are with accepting traffic impacts at other intersections, as well as other options.