Following almost three hours of public comment, planning board members decided to send a resolution in support of the BRT plan back to a board subcommittee.
More than 150 residents packed the auditorium, including many wearing Save the Dinky T-shirts or pins and a young girl who waved orange-and-black pom poms and shouted “Save the Dinky, save the Dinky” whenever the crowd broke into applause.
Planning board member and former Princeton Borough mayor Marvin Reed suggested that the relevant subcommittee should discuss whether the current resolution was consistent with the goals of the community or whether it should be replaced with a new resolution supporting a plan incorporating continued Dinky service. His comment came only hours after he delivered a speech lauding the $87 million BRT plan as a cost-effective and innovative alternative to commuter rail.
Reed said the costs of the BRT plan would include $4 million to tear down current tracks, $35 million to build a bus path along the existing Dinky path and a $48 million write-off of the Dinky’s current valuation.
Planning board members also suggested that a survey of the Princeton community’s preferences for public transportation could help guide their decision.
After presentations by more than a dozen residents, University Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee ’69 rose from his second-row seat to say, “I don’t think this is a decision for the University; I think this is a decision for the community.”
“If the decision of the community is to sustain the Dinky, and I would associate myself with others and say that’s something I want to work with ... our concern is that there remain a rapid, reliable, frequent connection between Princeton and Princeton Junction.”
Durkee also suggested that the University could potentially work with the community to use TigerTransit buses as a link between downtown Princeton and the Dinky station — whether it is located in its current location or moved elsewhere to accommodate the University’s planned arts and transit neighborhood.
In an interview after the meeting, Durkee said that the University would move forward with its planning for the arts and transit neighborhood in a way that is flexible enough to incorporate the community’s final decision on the matter.
“We want to work with the community wherever they come out on this,” he explained.
Residents suggested a wide array of alternatives to the BRT resolution during the public comment session of the meeting, including a continuation of existing Dinky service and development of other public transportation systems such as personal rapid transit, light rail or an underground Dinky station in the arts and transit neighborhood. The proposal for an underground station was made by Andrew Koontz, president of the Borough Council, who designed the plan with operations research and financial engineering professor Alain Kornhauser GS ’71.
The meeting was held to hear residents’ opinions on the issue, several planning board members said before the meeting. Board member Gail Ullman explained that the planning board decided against voting on a resolution in favor of the BRT plan before learning “what people think.”
Several of the residents in attendance were University alumni, though no current students spoke on the matter.
The main benefit of the plan, Reed argued, would be that BRT would offer more stops — eight according to a map he presented of one possible route — that would go through the heart of downtown Princeton over a route that is estimated to run between 20 and 27 minutes depending on the time of day.
The resolution under consideration by the planning board would have supported a BRT system so long as buses would be offered that could go between the Princeton Junction and Princeton stations in 10 minutes, running an average of every 10 minutes.
Anita Garoniak, the founder of the group Save the Dinky, argued before the board that the BRT would be inferior to the Dinky because it would be slower and less reliable and would remove a historic aspect of the community. She noted that the smallest community in the United States with a BRT system is Santa Clara, Calif., with a population of 100,000. She contrasted that with a “generous” estimate of the Princeton community as 30,000.
Garoniak closed her argument by attacking the conception that the debate pitted sentimentalists in favor of the Dinky with pragmatists favoring the BRT, saying not only that the Dinky is more practical than BRT, but that considerations such as historic and intrinsic value are also valid. “Is Gothic architecture sentimental?” she asked.
Carl Mayer ’81, who formerly served on the Princeton Township Committee, questioned the planning board’s authority to act on a plan to tear down the Dinky, noting the board’s mission of preserving the Princeton community’s historic features while improving life for current and future residents.
Chatting with Durkee after the meeting, Reed said that the community would have to be cautious in relying on funding from New Jersey Transit on any proposal.
“We could come up with something and then wake up two years later and find that [Gov.] Chris Christie canceled it,” Reed said. “You don’t have very many line items left in the state budget.“