This post is part of a series reviewing the effectiveness of bicycle facilities in Princeton. In this post, we discuss off-road cycle trails. The previous entries in this series discussed regular roads, sharrows, paved shoulders, on-street bike lanes and multi-use sidepaths.
The photograph above shows an off-road trail that leads from Elm Road in Princeton around the back of Johnson Park Elementary School. It is a designated bike route, and allows cyclists to get around without encountering car traffic. Whether somebody is cycling for transport or recreational purpose, a separated trail like this can be one of the most enjoyable and safest places to ride. Unlike with sidepaths, off-road trails are much less likely to encounter issues with vehicle conflicts at intersections, or with cars exiting from driveways.
In Princeton, we have relatively few separated cycle trails. There is a short segment of off-road trail along Guyot Stream, which connects Moore Street to Carnahan Place. Another connects Snowden Lane and Terhune Road to Barbara Smoyer Park. The D&R Canal Trail, which runs along the border of Princeton and Plainsboro/West Windsor, is probably the best example of a long piece of off-road trail. The D&R Canal Trail forms part of the East Coast Greenway, a network of bike trails running the entire east coast of the USA.
Ideally, we would like to have a much wider-ranging network of off-road trails. Neighboring municipalities have had invested significantly in bike trails, most famously at the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail, which runs close to the western town line of Princeton, near Province Line Road and the ETS site. The Lawrence Hopewell Trail now includes 11.8 miles of dedicated facilities, and is an excellent alternative to cycling on busy roads. Adding new trails in Princeton could substitute for, or complement, on-road cycling facilities. In some cases, new trails would be a great opportunity for encouraging cycling mobility. Notably, Princeton has huge tracts of open space, most of which are inaccessible to bicycles. Upgraded trails through our parks and open spaces could significantly improve access to these sites, and improve options for green transportation.
In other cases, adding trails runs into significant challenges owing to existing land uses. Land in Princeton is generally used more intensively than in surrounding municipalities, and land owners may see little advantage in setting aside part of their property for a bicycle thoroughfare. Clearly, we need to examine possibilities for new off-road trails, but also be aware that on-road cycle facilities will sometimes be essential.
Off-road trails have a number of disadvantages. They are shared-use- for pedestrians and cyclists- and therefore there is a risk of pedestrian-cyclist conflicts. At low traffic volumes, pedestrians and cyclists can usually self-segregate on multi-use trails, but it is necessary for trails to be sufficiently wide so that pedestrians and cyclists can happily co-exist. At present, many of our trails are quite narrow, and are often narrowed further by encroachment from bushes and plant growth. Maintenance is important on trails, particularly in winter, when fallen trees and snow can block the trail or render it hazardous. Finally, lighting is often inadequate along our cycle trails for really safe night-time cycling. To encourage year-round use of off-road trails, some investment in lighting will be necessary.
Where do you think Princeton should add cycle trails to improve bicycle mobility? Or should we just focus on getting more bike lanes? Please let us know- your feedback is essential to planning the next phases of Princeton's bicycle facility network.