Crider’s presentation was one of five delivered during a meeting at the Princeton Public Library on Saturday, attended by more than 100 local residents, to discuss the future of mass transit in the Princeton area — and whether the historic Dinky will still have a role to play. During the three-hour forum, organized by the civic group Princeton Future, residents discussed a variety of proposals, including replacement of the Dinky with a BRT system, leaving the Dinky in place and a number of other alternatives.
“BRT is not just another bus,” former Borough mayor Marvin Reed said in his presentation in support of the proposed system. According to that proposal, BRT fares would be collected at the station instead of on the bus, reducing time spent at each stop. The buses would also be able to alter the timing of red lights along their routes. Reed said these features would enable the BRT to make faster and more frequent trips to Princeton Junction than the Dinky currently does.
Borough councilman Kevin Wilkes, who also spoke in favor of the BRT, said the system would be flexible and extendable. “What we seek to take advantage of is the capital investment in our roadways by using rubber-wheeled vehicles,” he said, describing a proposed route with stops including Princeton Junction, the present Dinky station, Palmer Square and the Princeton Shopping Center.
Members of the group Save the Dinky spoke against the BRT proposal, arguing that the system would be neither effective nor economical. “Without a dedicated right-of-way, it’s really just another bus,” Anita Garoniak, Borough resident and the group’s founder, said of the BRT. Garoniak said Princeton’s “colonial” streets are too narrow to accommodate large buses and that current bus routes, such as the University-operated Tiger Transit and the Borough’s FreeB shuttle, often run empty.
Garoniak also cited New Jersey Transit figures showing that the BRT would cost $87 million, including the loss of the Dinky’s $48 million value. The community would have to wait 155 years to recoup the costs of the proposed system, she argued.
“There is not enough population in Princeton to support a BRT,” Garoniak said. “They work in big cities with huge metro areas.”
As an alternative to the BRT proposal, Crider and Minnesota-based engineer J. Edward Anderson suggested that the Dinky be connected to a personal rapid transit system, a form of electric rail line that runs many small computer-controlled cars instead of fewer large ones. Although PRT projects are in varying stages of development worldwide, the world’s only fully functional system is the Nixon-era system serving the campuses of West Virginia University in Morgantown, W. Va.
Anderson said the system would be profitable and safe. “The chance of injury is incredibly remote,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe how remote until you go through the calculation.”
Residents who attended the meeting, many of whom were Save the Dinky members, were generally opposed to a BRT system.
“There is not a single individual that I’ve spoken to in town [who supports the BRT], and I’ve been [talking to people] for several months,” said Dorothy Koehn, a Township resident and Save the Dinky member.
But some expressed interest in investigating the feasibility of a PRT system.
“I like the PRT option; I think we need to do a study,” Borough resident Doug Mackie said, adding that he was worried a BRT system would suffer from the same ridership problems as other bus routes in the area.
Operations research and financial engineering professor Alain Kornhauser GS ’71, who directs the University’s Program in Transportation, and Borough councilman Andrew Koontz proposed re-laying the Dinky line along a progressively deepening cut in the earth, allowing it to pass under Faculty Road. The plan would effectively lower the present Dinky station by 20 feet, which would allow the University to construct the proposed Arts and Transit Neighborhood on top. Under this plan, Kornhauser suggested, the University could pay for the rights to build over the Dinky in exchange for rights to eventually tunnel under campus to a future Dinky terminal at Palmer Square.
During the meeting, the University faced criticism for its attitude toward the town’s transportation concern.
Several attendees characterized the University’s plan to move the Dinky station to make way for its Arts and Transit Neighborhood as a land grab, similar to the 1917 move of the station from Blair Arch to its current location. The University needs to work to give the impression that it cares about the community outside its walls, Koehn said.
“The relationship needs to be strengthened by better listening to the people,” she said.
The Regional Planning Board of Princeton will consider just one of these alternatives at a public meeting on Thursday evening, when it will decide whether a BRT system should be constructed.