By Anne Levin
By this time each summer, bushes and shrubs tend to be at their fullest. While these lush landscapes are aesthetically pleasing, those located at street corners and intersections can create blind spots for motorists that cause serious or fatal accidents.
To combat the problem, Princeton’s Engineering Department is asking some homeowners to trim back the bushes and hedges on their properties. The municipality recently sent a letter to property owners whose corner locations are encroaching into the municipal right-of-way and obstructing sight lines. Those who receive the letter have seven days to trim back or remove the hedges that are causing the problem.
If they don’t comply, “then the Princeton Department of Public Works will remove or trim the hedge,” reads the letter. “Also in accordance with section 22-7 [of the Princeton Code], if Princeton performs this work you as the owner will be billed for the cost of such work and will be required to reimburse the municipality within 60 days of its completion and receipt of such bill.”
Keeping sightlines clear is one goal of the Vision Zero Task Force, which was formed two years ago to work on specific improvements to roadway design standards, traffic signal policies, street lighting policies, and other ways to eliminate the pedestrian deaths and serious injuries caused by traffic accidents. Princeton is the third community in New Jersey to have a Vision Zero program.
“All of us residents who drive around town are aware that this is a problem,” said Councilman David Cohen, who chairs the task force. “I often feel when I pull up to an intersection that I cannot proceed safely because I can’t see beyond the bushes or shrubs.”
Jim Purcell, Princeton’s assistant municipal engineer, said the Engineering Department works on the premise that streets should be safe for all users, and that includes pedestrians on sidewalks. “While we can’t engineer personal behavior, we can work to minimize the conflicts between pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists, and this is one way we are trying to do that,” he said.
Clearing obstructions will help reduce crashes, including those where bicyclists have run into cars, or cars have struck bicyclists or pedestrians. “So, if you receive a letter from the municipal engineer, please know that your compliance may save a life or reduce an injury to a minor bump instead of a broken leg,” Purcell said. “Letters have already been sent to many homeowners, and Princeton thanks those who’ve done the right thing by trimming their landscaping. More letters will be going out over the coming weeks until we reach every homeowner with a corner lot that needs trimming.”
According to Cohen, the current effort to get property owners to trim hedges or shrubs blocking views is an enforcement of existing Vision Zero policy. “We’re all drivers,” he said. “While we’re not all property owners, many of us are. Let’s put two and two together and make it safe for everybody.”