Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Clouds and Fountain

One of the more magnificent places to spend time in the summer, next to the Woodrow Wilson School. People still wade in the water, though it's kept shallower than before, and when we were there this past weekend, a monarch butterfly, as if a tourist visiting from Mexico, was exploring the space all around.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Marginalization of Thrift

We're livin' large at the Toyota dealership, waiting for an oil change. Ten cars in the show room, complete with celebratory balloons, with mpg's that don't go beyond the lower 30s. For comparison, our 1986 Camry hatchback got better mileage than the current diminutive Yaris.

Meanwhile, there's no balloon for the 50 mpg Prius, here shown in the foreground, tucked away in comparative darkness, back near the bathrooms. And, new in my experience at the dealership, the salesman tried to add all sorts of things on to the oil change. Didn't seem to be that way, back before the major renovation.

Rental companies also push the oversized cars. It's like entering a gun store and being smoothly ushered towards the assault rifles, with nature and our shared future as the target.

I thank Toyota for the engineering brilliance that created the Prius, but it's strange to live in an era, knowing what we know, when the one car in the dealership's showroom that tries to minimize its chemical assault on the planet's atmosphere is tucked away in a corner.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Trees Take a Hit for Pedestrians: the New Thoroughfare Along Walnut Lane

Back in early July, when local media were focused on four Norway maples threatened by construction on Hawthorn Avenue, there was considerable carnage going on just blocks away along Walnut Lane. About twelve mature London plane trees (or sycamores) met their demise.

The rings could be counted to tell the age.

Further down, across from JW Middle School, the roots of a row of hackberry trees next to the ballfield were dealt a considerable hacking when the old, uneven sidewalk was removed.

Soon, the only evidence that shade trees once stood near the highschool were neat mounds of woodchips left by the root grinder.

The reason for the logging and root disruption became clear in the weeks that followed, as workers removed the old curb and sidewalks and began installing new, along with upscale Belgian block curbs.

Judging from the double-wide sidewalks being installed on both sides of Walnut Lane, the trees were sacrificed as part of a vision for a broad pedestrian thoroughfare that, it can be hoped, will encourage walking and biking to school.

The new sidewalk construction includes the area where the highschool has been inundated by stormwater runoff twice in the past.

This is what the same spot looked like two years ago, after a flash flood sent runoff cascading into the school basement and onto the performing arts stage, requiring once again a replacement of the wooden stage. The recurrent damage is due to the school and its detention basin being lower than Walnut Lane. When the street's drain pipes become overwhelmed, there's no place for the water to go other than into the school.

A few of us had proposed a solution so that the high school would not be flooded the next time Princeton gets hit by another of those thick, heavy rains that all our earth-warming is making thicker and heavier. It's an approach influenced more by landscape thinking than engineering, and focuses on surface flow rather than putting faith in pipes that can clog and overflow. The solution would take advantage of a wonderful open field on Westminster property that Westminster's own consultant had declared unbuildable because of its wetland status. It might seem that Westminster would not be excited about having runoff directed onto its own property, but Westminster has a vested interest in preserving the high school performing arts center. I heard that they provided some of the funding for the construction of the facility, in exchange for access for periodic use. The idea, then, was to create a means--essentially a swale--for excess water from the street and the school to more easily flow into the adjacent Westminster property's field, thereby preventing the water from rising high enough to enter the school's basement and music facilities.

That idea seems not to have made much headway with the powers that be, and yet the sidewalk construction is still being used to make some positive changes.

Here you can see that the new curb is lower than the current street level. The street will actually be lowered,  knawed down by a giant asphalt-eating machine, so that the street can hold more floodwater. In addition, the town engineer informed me via email, "We are installing upsized pipes across Walnut Lane and adding an inlet to assist in getting overflow into the storm sewer system. All this increased capacity still runs into a smaller pipe that goes under the Westminster property.

The most positive change is that they lowered the sidewalk and driveway on the Westminster side of the street two inches. This is not as much as we suggested, but two inches could conceivably be the difference between inundation and preservation of the high school's basement and performing arts wing. As any beaver will tell you, when backing up water, an inch here and there can make a big difference.

A view down Walnut Lane, with hackberries on the left and Norway Maples on the right, in front of the middle school.

Though trees have been sacrificed or traumatized, the new double-wide sidewalks represent another of Princeton's improvements to the pedestrian experience near schools. It's a contrast with what many of us have to deal with in neighborhoods, ducking around shrubs left to grow by inattentive homeowners.

Some of the shade trees were saved along Walnut Lane, but it will take a lot of thoughtfully chosen and strategically placed new trees to eventually shade this new pedestrian-friendly corridor.

Update: With the passing of Aretha Franklin, the thought occurs: Why not name the walkway after her. "Aretha Way," perhaps. The sidewalk intersects with Franklin Avenue, and runs between two great centers of music.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Resourceful Californians Serve Themselves Gas

A trip to California for some gigs gave this New Jersian an opportunity to witness some remarkable behavior. People--young people, older people--were getting out of their cars, and doing crazy things. Like cleaning their own windows.

This driver managed to find a hole towards the rear of his car, and put something in it. I've never seen anything like this in New Jersey. The concentration, the resourcefulness, the skill to manipulate devices, indeed the courage to take on this sort of task was astonishing.

But I worried. What if a driver is unable to get out of the car, or it's too hot, or too cold?

My eyes grew wide as I looked around the corner of the station and saw the most amazing feature, a full service pump! With an attendant! Californians really do have it all.

(As of 2018, New Jersey is the only state that doesn't allow self-serve gas.)