I received the gift I always wanted for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, birthday or any holiday for that matter.
Was it diamonds, furs, a lifetime supply of coffee, or even the two front teeth I wished for 65 years ago or the dental implants I wish for now? No, it’s even better than all those things and particularly wonderful because everyone in Princeton will benefit.
I was given a gift of shelter; a bus shelter, actually several bus shelters that will allow me and others to travel in a more civilized fashion. They are affordable shelters, thanks to the Princeton Mass Transit Trust Fund financed by Princeton University, NJ Transit, the Princeton Traffic and Transportation Committee, and the talents of the Princeton Municipal Engineer Robert Kiser working with Princeton-based urban-design consultants Jim Constantine and Michael Yaffe from Looney Ricks Kiss (LRK) architecture firm.
In the spring of 2016, Princeton residents will see eight new bus shelters pop up at eight popular bus stops in town. Each shelter will be the NJ Transit Fair Lawn style shelter, black, with the distinctive barrel roof, but will be “Princetonized” to include a solar panel to power LED lights in the shelter and a Princeton logo plaque, featuring the Princeton Mercer Oak seal, a.k.a. the “Princeton Broccoli.”
A ninth shelter — at Palmer Square — the highest-volume bus stop in town, is planned as a “flagship” shelter, larger and sleeker than the others with enhancements of not only the solar panel and the Princeton logo plaque, but also a “green” roof, as in living plant material roof. However, this hyper-sustainable shelter is going to require approvals from Palmer Square Inc. and from the Princeton Historic Preservation Committee — and thus will take longer to get it into place.
In year two of the grant, the remaining money will go toward installing more basic Princeton-enhanced shelters. The basic Fair Lawn shelters are free from NJ Transit, but the Princeton modifications will cost $850 each; the Flagship Shelter will cost an estimated $15,000.
At a recent Princeton Council meeting, Mayor Liz Lempert announced that the bus shelter program being advocated by the Princeton Traffic and Transportation Committee received a grant from the Princeton Mass Transit Trust Fund to enable the bus shelter initiative to move forward.
The Transit Trust Fund — as part of Princeton University’s ‘Dinky’ Redevelopment Memorandum of Understanding with the town of Princeton — was established to plan and implement initiatives responding to transit needs of the Princeton community. After a thorough review, the trustees of the fund approved supporting the bus shelter program with a grant of $50,000 distributed over a two-year period. This $50,000 grant was in addition to the $10,000 grant the Transit Trust Fund awarded a year ago to the Traffic and Transportation Committee to fund the hiring of a consultant to develop a practical yet inspiring bus shelter plan.
That money was well spent on the efforts of Jim Constantine and Michael Yaffe from LRK. The Transit Trust Fund trustees, who not only approved the funds but also provided thoughtful and valuable input into the proposal, are: Mayor Lempert, Council President Bernie Miller, Council member Patrick Simon, Princeton Land Use Engineer Jack West, and private citizens Anton Lahnston, and Scott Sillars.
Also providing input were representatives from Princeton University (which financed the Transit Trust Fund): Director of Public Affairs Karen Jezierny, Director of Community and Regional Affairs Kristin Appelget, Director of Transportation and Parking Services Kim Jackson.
When the mayor asked me to be on the Traffic and Transportation committee a few years ago, I had no idea that it could be the vehicle for me to achieve something about which I had been ranting for 20 years. Always a transit user, I would take the bus to Trenton whenever I had to meet with officials at the State House. And during the three-year lifetime of the 655 bus linking Princeton and Plainsboro, I was a loyal customer utilizing the bus to get to different spots in Plainsboro. Even though I love walking in good or bad weather, I became very irritable, when I had to stand motionless in the cold, rain, wind, sleet and snow without shelter while waiting for the bus.
As former member of the Princeton Civil Rights Commission, which morphed into the Princeton Human Services Commission, I went from irritation to infuriation, when I realized that the lack of bus shelters discriminated against the poor and the handicapped in Princeton. I learned from talking to the people standing with me that others using the bus did not have access to a car. I had a car, but was an obstinate fanatic about taking transit and doing the so-called right thing for the environment.
I was shocked by the incongruity of the situation for Princeton. This is a town whose residents advocate for open space, recycle everything (and make me feel very guilty when I dump something into the wrong slot), drive hybrids, operate a terrific senior transport service, embrace cycling (currently doing a Bike Master Plan), and love the idea of (even though they may not use it) Princeton’s neighborhood shuttle known as the FreeB.
Somehow, the comfort of those using mass transit got lost in the conversation that focused on the comfort of those driving their cars — thus the omni-present discussions about parking garages, parking spaces, parking meters, overnight parking, two hour parking, 10 hour parking, parking smart cards.
Whenever I would raise the issue of bus shelters, the first response always was a question: who would keep the shelters clean and free of advertising, litter and vagrants? I was in the process of asking other towns like Plainsboro how they deal with this problem, when I became a member of the Transit and Transportation Committee.
Maybe to shut me up or maybe because they agreed with me, or maybe a combination of both, members of the Transportation and Transit Committee embraced the bus shelter campaign and made the issue a priority. Bob Kiser, who sits on the committee, was the brains behind my madness, working with NJ Transit and LRK consultants Jim Constantine and Michael Yaffe, to develop a financially feasible plan for bus shelters throughout Princeton.
The program accomplishes the goals of providing attractive and functional bus shelters for those who take mass transit, while making a statement to the community, the state, and perhaps the nation that Princeton is a community that places a healthy and sustainable environment at the top of its list of community values.
Kiser indicated that Princeton has the resources to maintain the health and well being of the shelters. The green roof on the shelter in Palmer Square, if approved, would be maintained via contract by the installer of the roof. And just in case more shelter supervision is needed, I vowed to adopt a few shelters and visit them every week with Windex, paper towels (from recycled paper, of course) and a garbage bag. Volunteer shelter sustainer has a nice ring to it. My only regret is that there are no plans for any of the shelters to sell coffee... not yet, anyway.