Everybody talks about Cranbury Road, a.k.a. County Route 615, and the need to make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. But it’s clearly going to be a major challenge to do much if anything about it. The nitty gritty details of what work would be necessary to make Cranbury Road a “complete street” for all concerned became apparent on August 13, when the Louis Berger Group of Morristown gave the second of three planned public presentations on how such a task might be approached.
The major challenges: Steep slopes, utility poles on both sides of the roadway, large trees, houses close to the road, and environmental constraints in the Bear Brook and Millstone River areas that would have to be overcome to allow reworking the road for safe pedestrian and bicycle use. Given these limitations, the toughest problem clearly would be how to provide both a sidewalk and a bike path (possibly combined) while preserving the two existing 11-foot travel lanes and avoiding property encroachments as much as possible.
Project leader Mike Dunn responded to questions from the public during and following his PowerPoint talk to a nearly full council chamber.
Dunn and the Berger Group came prepared with large-scale maps and aerial images that they posted around the room before the meeting, showing the full length of the road from Route 571 to the Plainsboro border and the five alternatives that they would be discussing. To view the presentation, click on the Cranbury Road Mobility link on the town’s home page, www.westwindsornj.org. All of the alternatives, their detailed end-to-end drawings, and presently existing conditions are available there as well.
The idea of making Cranbury Road one-way for car traffic was rejected early on, so any solution that accommodates all the alternatives would also maintain the existing two-way traffic pattern.
The total length of the road under study is about 9,700 feet from Route 571 to the beginning of the Millstone River bridge that crosses into Middlesex County. The road itself consists of two 11-foot travel lanes for cars. The existing right of way is as wide as 49.5 feet but narrows down to 33 feet — on paper enough space for the two 11-foot vehicle lanes plus some bike and pedestrian paths. But in reality it would clearly not be easy to convert that space into sidewalks.
The first alternative, at an estimated $12 to $14 per foot, would be a one-way “northbound” (on the right as you drive toward the train station) 5-foot bike lane at roadway grade with a curb, together with a 5-foot sidewalk and curb on the “southbound” side (on the right as you drive from Route 571 toward Plainsboro).
Second, at $17 to $19, would be the same layout but with another one-way bike lane on the southbound side between the roadway and the raised sidewalk with a 3-foot grass buffer between the bike lane and the sidewalk.
Third and most convenient choice for both bikers and walkers, at $20 to $24 a foot, would be a symmetrical design with bike lanes and buffered sidewalks on both sides of the road. But as one homeowner observed, the southbound sidewalk with a slightly wider buffer as shown would cut off a piece of his living room, even apart from the constraint that there is a steep slope between his front porch and the road. The second alternative would have much the same issues.
Dunn presented two other alternatives, numbers four and five, both of which could be considerably more economical because most of the work would be concentrated on the north side of the roadway (the left side as you drive on Cranbury Road from Route 571 toward Plainsboro.
In the fourth option, at an estimated $8 per linear foot, the southbound side would be basically left as is but both sides would have new curbs. On the northbound side would be an 8-foot paved multi-use path (one way for bikes but with a two-way sidewalk), separated from the roadway by a 2-foot grass strip.
The fifth option, at the same cost, would be a similar design but with some meandering into properties to reduce the numbers of utility poles and trees that would be impacted.
According to the Berger Group’s presentation, all of the alternatives would have at least some effects on individual properties. The right-of-way width varies along the road and this would have to be taken into account in any final design. Alternative 1 would have the least impact (11 properties affected out of the total of 107 along the roadway), followed by Alternative 2 at 14 and going all the way up to 64 for Alternative 3, which also would cause by far the largest impact on existing trees.
None of the proposed sidewalk work would be cheap. At $8 a foot, the least ambitious plans would cost $77,600. The most expensive alternative — $24 a foot — would be $232,800.
But those estimated cost ranges would be for preliminary discussion only and wouldn’t include costs for environmental permits, stormwater management, right-of-way acquisition, utility relocations, retaining walls, tree removals, and the like. Such site-specific costs could be determined based on a detailed review of the selected alternative. Also left unanswered at present would be how much, if any, Mercer County would contribute to these modifications and safety improvements of their own road.
And the Berger study itself is costing $131,167.
Reaction from immediate neighbors, who had lobbied strongly for more than a year to make Cranbury Road safer somehow for pedestrians and bicyclists, did not immediately come into focus. “All of us are taking our time to digest it,” said Sarah Thomson of 113 Cranbury Road, referring to the large number of maps and aerial views at the presentation. In addition, she noted, a number of the residents were on vacation at the time of the meeting or left for vacation shortly thereafter. She is hoping to schedule a neighborhood meeting before the end of the month. For information E-mail email@example.com.
Her own initial impression is that most of the neighbors don’t like options 2 or 3. “Some like 1, but with a ‘meandering’ option,” she said. “I like 5, which would protect more of the trees.” Even though she lives on the northbound side, Thomson sees the advantages of placing the pathways on that side. “With a meandering approach,” she said, “we can minimize tree removal and utility disruptions.”
Thomson thought that some residents might even donate land to help expedite the process. Others, she noted, had expressed concern that they would become responsible for clearing snow and ice from sidewalks on their property. The group might also investigate the possibility of narrower sidewalks than those presented.
Other residents commenting several days after the meeting, Heather Buchanan and Peter Stewart at the corner of Cranbury Road and Sunnydale, noted that options 1 through 3 were not viable. “We see something along the lines of 4 as most likely, possibly 5. We are very concerned that intrusion on peoples’ properties be minimized. And in our own case we would like to think that the 11 mature trees on our side walk will not be jeopardized.”
A mixed-use sidewalk/bike path on one side of the road, they said, would be “safest, most practical, and likely the most cost effective.”
If it should come down to a difficult choice between the rights of bicyclists and pedestrians because both could not be addressed within all the practical constraints including cost, which group would prevail, or would the status quo win and they both lose? Dunn did not address this sensitive Solomonic point and neither did anyone from the public. Also, the question of how to enforce a one-way bike lane was not brought up.
Key upcoming dates are the end of August for revisions to the above concepts based on public feedback, mid-September for the third public meeting, and the end of September for the final report.
Editor’s note: The article above is based on reporting by John Church, a West Windsor resident who was at the August 13 meeting, and the WW-P News staff.