Q: Why does the University have to move the Dinky to build its arts campus?
A: The University does not need to move the Dinky station in order to build its arts complex. The University wants to move the Dinky in order to build an access road that will let its employees who commute by car to reach the Lot 7 garage from Alexander Road. The Dinky tracks are in the way. In essence, the University is giving a higher priority to automobile commuters than to train users. However, assuming that it makes sense to facilitate access to a campus parking garage from Alexander Road, the University could accomplish this by a grade crossing or by building an underpass. Because of the land elevation, a raised track above the road and pedestrian crossings are a viable option. If the Dinky stop is moved, that same land elevation in the proposed new location will mean that Dinky users will have to climb up steps to reach the platform.
Q: It’s only 460 feet. Why does this matter so much?
A. There are three reasons.
First, the proposed moved is a downhill move that will involve steps and/or a ramp to get to the Dinky. This may be easy enough in good weather on walks to the station. In bad weather, the picture is different. On trips from the station, whatever the weather, pedestrians headed north will have to go up the stairs or ramp.
Second, the figure 460 appears to understate the actual distance. On some GPS calculations, the move seems to involve a 500 foot move. At a minimum, the distance is probably 480. The University has been using 460 feet to make it sound less significant. But, whether we are talking about 460, 480, or 500 the distance isn’t trivial if we calculate the weekly additional walk times for regular commuters.
Third, the discussions of the distance ignore the marginal effect of increasing the walk to the station. Studies show that the optimal location for transit stops is within a half mile radius. If the Dinky is moved, it will be moved away from the population center and will make the use of the Dinky less attractive to people who are no longer in the zone that is considered an easy walk. These people will either drive to Princeton Junction or drive to the Dinky. In either case, this is not good public policy because it discourages pedestrians and creates an incentive to drive.
Q: Is the Dinky in danger of being unfunded by NJ Transit if the plan isn’t approved?
A: While NJ Transit supports the plan -- after all, let’s keep in mind that the Governor is a Trustee of the University -- NJ Transit has specifically told the towns and the University that the new station would have no impact on their decision-making on funding.
Q: Is the Save the Dinky group against the campus expansion?
A: Most people in the Save the Dinky group value the University’s contribution to the community and recognize its needs to expand. However, they do not accept that the University’s land use plans are good for the community simply because the University says so. They believe that the University can design an excellent arts complex without moving the Dinky.
Q: What about the new visitors and added tourism the development will bring to help support downtown?
A: New visitors and added tourism? We don’t see any justification for the University’s claim that the campus expansion would provide new visitors and additional tourism. The arts campus is for educational facilities, not professional theater, art galleries or museums. It is not Lincoln Center. Student performances and art, while often excellent, do not generally attract large numbers of tourists. From the University’s description of the development:
The neighborhood will support academic programs in theater, dance and music (which also will maintain its presence in Woolworth Hall) with new teaching, rehearsal and administrative spaces. (PU Arts Neighborhood)
But regardless, the campus expansion and Dinky movement are virtually unrelated issues.
Q: Won’t the “enhanced Dinky experience” of a new station and improved amenities increase Dinky ridership numbers?
A: Commuters, who sustain the Dinky and without whom the Dinky would cease to be viable, place a high value on their time. They are people who get to the station just in time to catch the train. They are not motivated by the prospect of waiting in a re-designed Wawa. The extra minutes for most walkers and drivers are much more likely to tip the time equation in favor of Princeton Junction for commuters than new amenities are likely to attract new riders.
Q: Won’t the University’s proposal alleviate congestion on Alexander and make it easier to park at the Dinky?
A: The University has acknowledged that its plan will not reduce congestion. In fact, the plan will probably increase congestion and increase the drive time to the Dinky parking and to other points south on Alexander. This is because the University plans to create a roundabout at the intersection of University and Alexander, to create a new student pedestrian crossing on Alexander, and to create a new lighted intersection for the left turn that cars will make to get into the new Diny parking lot.
As for the ease of parking, the new plan will not add to the spaces available for Dinky parking. Further, although the University says it plans to create new parking spaces near a relocated Dinky, it also has plans showing that in the future it wants to build another arts
building in that area. The University has so far not explained how it will provide for Dinky parking when it does this.
Q: What about the University’s claim that it got the “right” to move the Dinky under a 1984 contract with New Jersey Transit?
A: This is a legal question, and, as is true of any legal question, the final answer will be up to the courts if, in fact, the issue is taken to court.
The University’s claim is based on a 1984 contract it made with New Jersey Transit (NJT) when it bought the land under the Dinky. (New Jersey Transit retained an “easement”/right of way over the land to run the train service.) The contract contains a provision that reads as follows:
"Buyer has the right to move the existing terminus of the rail line southward coincident with the location of the minimum reservation of platform space. This relocation, which will include moving the bumper block, rail removal, cutting and measuring the catenary and signal relocation, must be done by Seller, its agents, or its designee, at the sole expense of Buyer."
Both the University and New Jersey Transit now say that the contract gave the University the right to ask New Jersey Transit to move the Dinky stop to the south so long as the University covered the cost and built a suitably sized platform to go with the new stop.
Others who have looked at the contract (including some attorneys) and at the history think that the University only received the right to ask that the train terminus be moved from the northern end of the current platform to the southern end. When the University bought the land, there was discussion about making this exact move. Just a few years later, in 1988, the University asked New Jersey Transit to shorten the tracks to relocate the terminus from the northern to the southern end of the platform where it is now. See University Proposes Renovations (Daily Princetonian, 1988). In light of this, it appears that the relocation of the Dinky stop referred to in the contract has already been made. The terminus was moved “southward” coincident with “the location” of the existing platform.
The University has not explained how the contract can be read to give it the right to ask for another relocation of the Dinky terminus.