Local officials considering reversing the traffic flow on South Tulane Street in Princeton
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.
Mayor Freda is right. This is a bad idea. One of the busiest cross-walks in town is at Nassau and Tulane. If traffic were reversed out of Tulane, cross-walkers would not only have to watch out for traffic on Nassau, but also traffic turning out of Tulane onto Nassau.
On the other hand, trafiic heading north bound on Nassau St and planning to make a left onto North Tulane has to look for opposing traffic and pedestrians before making a left. At least with the new traffic pattern vehicles would have a stop sign when they reach Nassau St. It seems to me that reversing the direction of traffic on North Tulane is the safer route for pedetrians.
But there is plenty of distance for drivers to see the pedestrians whether the driver is making a left or a right from Nassau onto Tulane. If you would be coming from Tulane up to Nassau you have tall buildings right at the edge of the street on both sides, then the sidewalk where pedestrians cross, then Nassau. If the stop sign is where the buildings end just before the crossing, there is no line of sight yet. Once you get a line of sight the front end of your car will be in the crosswalk beause it’s right there. If the stop sign or a traffic light is after the cross walk, it doesn’t solve the problem.
It’s always good to hear concerns about pedestrian safety added into the traffic discussion. Pedestrians already have to be extra cautious at this crosswalk. One thing that would make it a little safer no matter the direction of traffic on Tulane would be to raise the crosswalk to the level of the Nassau Street sidewalk. It would be a physical reminder that motorists are entering the pedestrians’ space — a time to be extra cautious.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to have Witherspoon’s one-way direction be toward the south so there is a light where motorists make a left turn onto Nassau and have Tulane stay as it is?
It would make a lot more sense but would require our council to use logic. (If my memory serves me correctly a traffic consultant recommended switching the direction of Witherspoon but for som reason the council opted for this configuration because they like to make things more complicated and think they are smarter than everyone else.)
I am not sure if anyone has envisioned what the traffic flow on South Tulane will likely be under this plan. I would assume that this will funnel hundreds of cars a day up to Nassau Street from Spring Street, perhaps thousands on the weekends. The thought of all these cars crossing the extremely busy pedestrian crosswalk on Nassau Street without a traffic light is terrifying to me. We have mostly eliminated the crossing hazard at Washington and Nassau. Do we want to create another just one block away?
I encourage the town Council to put the brakes on this project and take some time to really think through the consequences of these proposed changes.
Princeton Record Exchange
Well said Jon Lambert.
The only reason that Witherspoon should be kept one way is to help the local businesses and restaurants accommodate more patrons. The current state of Witherspoon does not make it any more “pedestrian friendly”. There is still traffic and people still need to be careful. It’s not as though Witherspoon is completely blocked off to traffic. Once the Witherspoon restaurants can operate at something near full capacity or can survive without the outdoor dining we should go back to the way it was before the pandemic (shouldn’t that be the goal?). I also agree that changing the traffic pattern on South Tulane seems dangerous.
I am surprised that Eve Neidergang did not know that there were concerns about pedestrian safety if South Tulane was to be reversed. I voiced concern at the Zoom meeting most recent to the February 16th meeting. I believe that there were a few others with concerned. One problem with Zoom meetings is that a facilitator like Ms. Stockton, the Municipal Engineer, receives written questions and replies in writing during the meeting. Therefore, the people attending the Zoom meeting don’t actually hear either the concern or the response. In my case, Ms. Stockton did respond that “we are aware of the concerns and are looking at the issues”.
I agree that there is a pedestrian safety issue. I am glad that others also agree. I await the study and hope that it is truly balanced regarding the pros and the cons.
Related to Jon Lambert’s analysis: I wonder if reversing Tulane to enter Nassau could create weekend gridlock around the entire block — Tulane, Nassau, Witherspoon and Spring. Here’s the scenario: cars turn from Nassau onto Witherspoon from both directions, looking for parking, then turn right onto Spring, and then right again onto Tulane to ‘recycle’. Since, due to the high volume of pedestrians and cars at Tulane and Nassau, as well as the visibility problem, it takes extreme caution (and time) to turn right onto Nassau. Therefore Tulane empties cars onto Nassau much more slowly than cars enter Spring from Witherspoon (especially since Witherspoon empties cars onto Spring from both directions). So Tulane, Spring , Witherspoon, and even Nassau itself, come to a standstill.
And, cars that are coming out of the little parking area behind Agricola & Mezzaluna might be met with a line of traffic trying to turn right onto Nassau St, so there will be a back-up of traffic on that little lane entering into Tulane. The flow of traffic downtown right now is the opposite of flow.
I’ve lived in the Princeton area for a decade now, and I’ve never seen a bunch of people so determined to have cars inside what could be a pedestrianized nassau/chambers/robeson/vandeventer block.
If the direction of S. Tulane is changed, prepared to be sued when someone gets hit by a car which is highly likely given that the prohibition of bike riding on the sidewalk (north side of Nassau) is not enforced.
Marc Freda is correct. There is a major line of sight issue at this intersection (regardless of the bike riders).
I agree with Mayor Freda. Does not make sense one bit to reverse traffic direction. Whose ridiculous idea was this? Waste of time to discuss such a dumb idea !
The proposed change to South Tulane was presented by the consultants as a mitigation to making Witherspoon St. one way northbound. Why wasn’t the entire traffic pattern considered together instead of piecemeal? Not only is changing the direction of South Tulane unsafe, it will degrade the pedestrian experience on the Nassau St. sidewalk in the most iconic stretch in our town. In addition to nearly zero visibility on the approach to Nassau St., the traffic will be forced to turn right and immediately cross through another pedestrian crosswalk. And as someone else pointed out, traffic will pass back through the Witherspoon-Nassau intersection. There is a lot of garbage to be picked up from behind Public, Mezzaluna, D’Angelo’s, etc. Those garbage trucks will now be forced to head south on S. Tulane and exit onto Nassau St. How will that work out to have garbage trucks idling in the crosswalk while they wait for a break in the traffic so they can make a turn? So unappealing and so dangerous. The Plan A should have been to consider all of the recommendations together as they are interconnected.
And where do the cars go when a driver inevitably tries to make a left onto Nassau Street? Traffic will be backed up to Witherspoon
Observing the emergency responders to the gas leak problem at Nassau and Witherspoon the other week said it all. A police car went to Nassau and Witherspoon and shut it down and all of the emergency equipment came south on Witherspoon. Why? Because it makes sense. Getting out of Chambers south to Nassau is now is difficult even with light traffic. Tulane? I don’t even like to walk south on Tulane, the intersection is completely blind. So to keep Witherspoon north we’re ready to go to unnatural jury-rigs on Tulane. Just make Witherspoon south as recommended.
“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.” That only works if the two one-way streets are long and wide and are designed to carry significant traffic. South Tulane was never intended to carry heavy traffic in either direction; can you imagine an 18-wheeler or even a large delivery truck emerging from South Tulane on to Nassau? At a minimum, a traffic light would be needed at the intersection. Flashing lights along the Nassau St sidewalk that are triggered by pedestrians would be required to keep pedestrians safe.
Mayor Freda is absolutely correct and for all the right reasons. Traffic direction on South Tulane St should remain from Nassau to Spring.
Perhaps the Municipality is beginning to see the unintended consequences of making Witherspoon one-way from Nassau to Spring. Witherspoon is sized to carry two-way traffic, and the Nassau-Witherspoon intersection is controlled by a light. It is a major artery for traffic in and out of town. Making Witherspoon one-way may be favored by some merchants, but it is not in the best interests of the town. Witherspoon should remain a two-way street for the benefit of residents, visitors, merchants, and through traffic.
Enhancing the pedestrian experience in downtown Princeton is a great idea, but there are better ways to do it. Short of major construction or re-construction, the best approach is to get creative with traffic light timing, making the lights responsive to pedestrian and vehicular demands.
Did we forget about the poor woman who lost her life somewhat recently via a concrete truck on Nassau? Why risk even one more pedestrian injury/fatality…I think the safety factor of the revised traffic light pattern at Vandeventer metering one’s exit onto Nassau in either direction trumps any perceived positive by changing the traffic flow direction from Spring onto S. Tulane…
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