High School North sophomore Alex Inkiow appeared before the West Windsor Town Council on August 5, to ask the Council for support of his proposal to extend the Trolley Line bike path and build the Knight Trail bike path, which would connect High School North, Community Middle School, and Millstone River School to the Trolley Line Extension.
Inkiow’s proposal is not completely new; long-time resident Peter Weale outlined a similar proposal in 2010 (see WW-P News, June 11, 2010).
“I think it is important that West Windsor students who attend Millstone, Community, or North (in Plainsboro) have a safe way to bike or walk to school,” said Inkiow. “Right now there is no safe way for them to do so. By building the Knight Trail as well as the Trolley Line extension, students could safely bike back and forth between West Windsor and Plainsboro schools, and residents of both towns would be better connected. Also, sports teams such as the cross country teams would have a safe place to train. It would help reduce traffic congestion on Grover’s Mill Road, especially during times when people are driving to the schools; it promotes a healthier lifestyle, and would increase property values.”
The Trolley Line trail already exists today over a 2.5-mile stretch in West Windsor from Penn Lyle Road near Village Road West to Rabbit Hill Road near Cranbury Neck Road. That trail was created after Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh negotiated an easement with PSE&G, which had acquired the right of way for the old trolley line in 1937 for installation of its high tension power lines.
The existing line includes the “Pig Town” bridge in Community Park, constructed in 2007 at a cost of around $200,000, financed by a grant championed by Congressman Rush Holt. But then it ends, about 2,000 feet away from the Plainsboro border and the concrete and steel structural remains of the old trolley line bridge across the Millstone River.
Inkiow’s plan calls for the Trolley Line trail to continue along the PSE&G easement, from Rabbit Hill Road, over the Millstone, to Grover’s Mill Road — a total of about three-quarters of a mile. The Knight Trail would branch off and run behind the Camas Court housing development to the fields behind North, for a distance of one-half mile. The proposed cost, which he emphasizes is just an estimate, would be $266,500. One of the unknowns is how much repair would be needed to the old trolley bridge framework still spanning the Millstone.
Inkiow concedes there are many challenges to getting the project completed: potential additional costs, obtaining use permits and easements from PSE&G, and convincing the WW-P school district and the Township of Plainsboro to support the project, since much of the proposed trails lie within the borders of Plainsboro.
In 2010, when Plainsboro mayor Peter Cantu was asked about the possibility of the project continuing through Plainsboro, he said PSE&G would not sign off on the project for “issues about security and safety. They did provide a pilot project in West Windsor, but they were certainly not very positive about further expansion.” In fact, Hsueh said then he had hoped to continue the trail along another two miles of the PSE&G right of way toward Mercer Lake, but that PSE&G was willing to go no further with the trail.
Inkiow hopes to make a presentation to Plainsboro Committee soon. In the meantime, there are other challenges.
“We also need to address concerns of residents whose properties are adjacent to the proposed route,” he says. “I think a combination of fencing, and protective and decorative shrubbery and landscaping will eliminate most of the residents’ privacy concerns. I spoke with a group of property owners who live adjacent to the current trail, and only one expressed serious concerns about the possibility of trespassers. I plan on talking to every one of the property owners who live along the existing trail, to find out what some of the issues are, so that we can address them before we build the new trail,” he said.
The biggest challenge to the project may be the concerns of one owner whose property lies on both sides of the proposed trail: Bettie Greber, long-time owner of Wildflowers horse farm.
“The trail will impact us greatly,” she said. “Our horses are 1,200 to 1,800-pound animals that spook easily. We have fencing, but the horses have been known to break through the fences. Plus, we use both sides of the property and walk the horses back and forth several times a day. We have small kids taking lessons, some as young as eight years old. We let them get the horses themselves, and to ask an eight-year-old to cross the trail with an 1,800-pound animal is a recipe for disaster. Our liability insurance is already through the roof.”
“I am concerned about the safety of our horses, first and foremost, our students, and all of the students who may use the trail. I have a problem with privacy, too. I have already chased the cross-country team off of the trestle [on the path] and was told that the next time I should just call the police and have the kids arrested.”
Greber continued, “We have a lease on the PSE&G property for agrarian purposes, with the right to permanently block the trail if needed. I am asking the Council and Alex not to speak with Plainsboro and others about this plan, until our farm is taken out of the proposal. Consider other alternatives, like sidewalks on Cranbury Road. Otherwise I will pursue legal action to protect my property rights.”
All five Council members praised Inkiow for his well-thought-out proposal. Said Vice President Kristina Samonte: “I like the fact that you addressed the challenges head-on. Please let us know if we can facilitate anything for you.”
And Council President Borek noted, “You have really put a lot of time and effort into this. As you know, the town has been trying to open up bike trails around town for years. Maybe we can finally get this project going.”
“Alex, don’t get discouraged,” said Council members Kamal Khanna. “All projects have problems. Keep persevering and you will be successful. You have the support of the whole Council and the administration.”
Council member Geevers praised Inkiow, but said to Greber, “we hear you — we don’t want there to be issues with the farm, especially with the horses. We will come and tour the property, to make sure we understand your concerns. The end result for this project may look very different than the proposal that was presented here.”
“I have already toured the property,” said Mayor Hsueh, “and I do understand your concerns. You are right that the trestle bridge is too dangerous to use — this is a public safety issue. From a township perspective, it is a good thing to have a horse farm here — it is a benefit to the kids. I am a big supporter of bicycle paths as well. Alex, if you come to my office, I will personally discuss the options with you.”
Added Borek: “There are two valid issues here, and no one on the dais wants to do something that would hurt one option or the other. We will look at all of the options as Alex moves forward with his project.”