30 August 2007
When people talk about preventing tragic events, they often use phrases like "If we can save just one child" or "If we can prevent just one death". When it comes to auto safety, there are all kinds of ways to save lives. How about reducing all of the speed limits, everywhere, by half? Sure to save lives. How about increasing the driving age from 17 to 25? That would surely save some lives. Here's another one - how about a huge rubber bumper encircling the widest part of every car, truck, and van, so we can just push off each other like on the bumpercars at the amusement park?
Let me assure you that we will never do any of those things. In driving, as in many other aspects of our lives, personal liberty trumps personal safety. And that's how it should be. The best we can do is nibble around the edges, like enforcing seat-belt laws or banning cell-phone use - and there are plenty of "libertarians" out there who are against even those measures.
Tomorrow I'll reprint a news article from Hillsborough's past about an accident at one of our busiest intersections. Can you guess which one? In the meantime, let me know in the comments area what you think are Hillsborough's most dangerous roads.
Oh, and drive safely!
28 August 2007
A letter to the editor in one of the newspapers today expressed surprise that the fee for a NJ license was just $24. I agree that this is a bargain - what else can you get for just $6 a year? The letter writer suggests raising the fee to $100 - in order to raise money for highways and bridges, etc. - a fee that he believes is in line with other fees and expenses incurred by New Jersey residents.
I tend to agree - with one exception. That $100 license should be good for 10 years, not 4. This would still nearly double the yearly fee, but would save drivers the needless aggravation of the 4 year renewals, reduce the crowds at the MVC offices, and reduce the expenses associated with processing the renewals.
And as Governor Jon Corzine has reminded us, New Jersey residents expect more for the fees and taxes they pay - so why not a 10 year license. We promise to drive the speed limit!
26 August 2007
A couple of years ago the non-profit corporation Historic Philadelphia, Inc. began a unique partnership with the National Park Service at Independence National Historic Park. Their mission is to interpret the park's historic attractions - Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross House, etc. - and the history of Philadelphia, in fun and engaging ways, enhancing the overall visitor experience.
One of the most interesting ways they accomplish this mission is the Once Upon a Nation program. There are thirteen designated "storytelling benches" located at each important site in the mile square historic district. At each bench, storyteller/actors tell 5 minute stories related to colonial America, the Revolution, or the history of Philadelphia. Kids receive a flag, and are awarded a star for each bench they visit. Completed flags can be presented at Franklin Square Park, the site of bench number 13, for free ice cream and carousel rides.
Do you need any more incentive than the promise of ice cream and carousel rides? Even on the hottest, most humid day of the year, my kids were eager to make it all the way to number 13 - a journey that took about 5 hours, with stops to see the Liberty Bell and the Betsy Ross House, and to be officially mustered in and drilled by a sergeant in the Continental Army.
Along the way we learned about Philadelphia's 17th century witch trial, the inventor and entrepreneur David Rittenhouse, Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, and south Jersey's "dinosaur bone wars". The storytellers were all excellent - each offering the kids a choice of three stories - and generally performed all-out even under yesterday's extreme weather conditions.
Could a program like this work in New Jersey? It helps to have an abundance of historic sites all within walking distance, so I'm not sure if it could be made to work in the Princeton to Morristown revolutionary corridor. But it does show how a public/private partnership - even with an entity like the National Park Service which is traditionally very protective of its parks - can absolutely enhance visitors' understanding of historic sites. Honestly, now that I have seen what Historic Philadelphia brings to that city, I can't imagine Independence Mall without Once Upon a Nation.
24 August 2007
What do you think of this plan? I think it is a fine, modest proposal which fits well with our modest municipal building. Hillsborough has always been very conservative (ha!) when it comes to its municipal buildings - there are no palaces here. Unlike what we see in Branchburg, or the new plan in Bridgewater, Hillsborough essentially houses four separate entities - municipal offices, police and courts, library, and Board of Education - in one humble building.
If spending a few thousand dollars is all it takes to make the complex more attractive and more useful, I think it is money well spent. Yahoo!
23 August 2007
One of the best time-tested sit-com plots can best be described thusly: A couple - husband/wife, brother/sister, roommates - suddenly can't stand each other. In fact, they can't bear to share the same living space. So they decide to divide the house in two, usually by painting a white line right down the middle of the room - "You stay on your side, I'll stay on mine".
They've used this story on I Love Lucy, The Odd Couple (obviously), Gilligan's Island (I think they divided the entire island in half), and countless others. Oh the laughs.
What does this have to do with Hillsborough? It's the first thing I thought of when township officials announced last week that they were taking the under-utilized storage room near the library, and, with a little help from Congressman Mike Ferguson, turning it into the new Senior Center. Here is where the comedy potential comes in. Hillsborough has two seniors groups - Chapter A and Chapter B - and they don't mix.
Chapters A and B are divided loosely, and unofficially, along political lines - yes, our seniors are partisan! Each group participates in its own activities and organizes its own events - with not much sharing. But they will be sharing this new room.
How will this work exactly? Well I'm not sure, but it's bound to be contentious - and comedic - as long as someone remembers to bring that big can of white paint. "Virginia, I'm home!"
21 August 2007
20 August 2007
Mr. Swackhammer on Local Option at Harlingen
There was a large company of the friends of local option gathered in the Harlingen church Friday evening, the 11th, to listen to the Honorable S.S. Swackhammer speak for more than an hour on the timely subject of "Local Self-Government." The speaker has very strong convictions in the matter and succeeded in presenting a very strong argument therefor to his audience, who listened with undivided interest to the array of apt quotation, beautiful poetry, and personal experiences which enlivened his masterly address.
Certainly, as the speaker said, New Jersey does not occupy an enviable position on this question of local option, standing as she does in the ranks with Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah without any law granting to the people the right of protest in this traffic which has proved such a demoralizing power in our state.
The movement in Somerset county is spreading. Hillsborough Township is to be organized. A meeting will be held in the chapel of the Millstone church Friday evening, the 18th, at which an able speaker will set forth the claims of local option.
18 August 2007
My two month excursion through Hillsborough's park and recreation facilities has brought me to the intersection of Amwell and Pleasantview Roads - one of our dead-ends, and a sign reading "Ann Van Middlesworth Park". If you've lived in Hillsborough for any length of time at all, you've passed that sign hundreds if not thousands of times. Yet it was recently remarked to me that this 1993 New Jersey Recreation and Park Association Design Award winner was an unknown entity to many of Hillsborough's residents.
It's hard to understand why that is. Ann Van Middlesworth Park is Hillsborough's premiere recreation facility - fulfilling the promise of all of the smaller parks I've visited, and adding some unique touches. For instance, google "ann van middlesworth" and count how many hits you get related to skate parks!
It was just about a year ago that the Somerset County Freeholders and the Hillsborough Township Committee finalized plans to purchase and arrange for the cleanup of the adjacent Belle Mead General Services Depot. This property will allow for the future expansion of the park, and provide a link to the Sourland Mountain Preserve, and by way of the railroad right-of-way that once connected the depot to the railroad lines at Flagtown, a connection to the Raritan Valley Greenway. [Good article in today's Courier News]
Unlike some of the other mainly deserted parks that I visited this summer, there was a lot of activity today at AVM. The Faith in Action Church of Manville was having their annual church picnic in the park, making use of the basketball courts and baseball fields. This is a great place to have an outing - lots of tables under the covered pavilion and in the picnic grove, along with park grills and restroom facilities. Reservations to use the park for group outings can be made easily by calling the Parks and Recreation office.
There were kids on the playground, people strolling through the Sensory Garden, a man fishing and geese and ducks swimming in the pond, kids with bikes and skateboards at the skate park, deer in the field near the old water tower, and one eight year old girl on her bike while her 43 year old dad tried to keep up while taking photos and making notes:
- Residents need to know about this place.
- Facilities - 2 lighted baseball fields, 2 full size lighted basketball courts, skate park, covered pavilion, picnic grove with park grills and horseshoes, restrooms, playground climber and swings, sensory garden, fishing pond with fountains and ice-skating in winter, ample parking.
- Anyone who wants to know why Willow Road homeowners don't want lights at the Little League Complex should take a look at the lights over here.
- It will be great when all of these dead-end paths at the edges of the park actually lead somewhere.
- I hope they leave the water tower in place when they clean up the depot.
Now you know what's at the end of Pleasantview Road. It's not just some dead end street, but rather a road to Hillsborough's recreational future!
17 August 2007
14 August 2007
We simply wish that the theory which all admit in regard to our schools, should be reduced to practice. This theory is, that our Public Schools should furnish our children with thorough instruction in the rudiments of a good English education; i.e., that in them all our children should be taught to read well, write neatly, spell correctly, and obtain as much knowledge of geography, and grammar, and arithmetic, as is necessary to fit them to be intelligent and useful citizens.
The theory also requires that the higher branches should be taught to the comparatively few scholars whose parents desire it, and of course implies that the school rooms should be sufficient in number, convenient in location, well ventilated, and in other respects comfortable, furnished with all the necessary apparatus for teaching, supplied with competent teachers, adequately paid, and under the supervision of men interested in the cause of education, and earnest to be diligent and faithful.
Such is the theory. Is there anything extravagant in it, if our Common School system is to be anything but a name and a cheat? There can be but one answer. It is, then, for the good of all, that our Schools, where now they do not, should be made, as speedily as possible, to conform to his theory. To invite your attention and awaken inquiry, to give subjects for deep thought and efficient action, is the object of this Report."
[Introduction to the Annual Report of the Superintendent of Common Schools for Hillsborough Township, Dr. C.C. Hoagland, 1852]
12 August 2007
When I started writing this blog, I knew that being a member of the Board of Education might preclude me from writing about school topics. I asked for an opinion by a New Jersey School Board Association official, and he confirmed that I must be very careful when discussing the schools in the blog. What I didn't realize was how difficult it would be to stay away from a subject that was of the greatest interest to me - our children's education.
To be clear, I am allowed to speak about whatever I want - that right is expressly spelled out in the school board bylaws. The problem is that I would have to issue so many disclaimers, maybe even between each sentence! that the blog would read more like a radio commercial for a car dealer.
The individual opinions of board members don't count - and can't be made to seem like they do. Individual board members have no authority to do anything, and can't be made to seem like they do. All of the power resides in the board as a whole - and the spokesman for the board is always the board president.
Having said that, I may from time to time comment on something that is happening in our schools - generally not a "hot" topic, but hopefully something of interest. To use the blog to try to sway public opinion on school issues, or to pontificate in any way, just wouldn't be ethical.
11 August 2007
Do scenes like this exist in Hillsborough? You almost expect Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta to come strolling out of that cornfield. But this isn't Iowa, it's our own Mark E. Singley Park, located on Woodfern Road, adjacent to the school.
I visited the park today with my son for the second annual Hillsborough Softball Saturday. This wonderful event, organized by Hillsborough High School alumnus and Princeton University student Jenni Newbury, and others, follows from Hillsborough's inclusive recreation program and Camp Heart.
The event is designed to give kids with disabilities a chance to have a fun day playing softball, working one on one with volunteers from Hillsborough High School's Softball Team, and the youth softball team Hillsborough Hustle. Kids got a chance to work on their skills - hitting, fielding, throwing, running the bases - and split into two teams to play a game. Then it was all the popcorn and watermelon you could eat, before finishing with a trip down the water slide.
This is truly one of the best one day events for families and children with disabilities, and Mark E. Singley Park, with it's four immaculate ball fields, ample parking, and REAL restroom facilities, is the perfect place for it.
A real Field of Dreams.
10 August 2007
A quick study of Hagstrom's 1945 map of Somerset County finds these other place names in use in Hillsborough sixty years ago. Some are familiar, some are not, but they are all within Hillsborough's 54 square miles - and as Pogo might say "they is us".
Neshanic - centered around the Neshanic Reformed Church at the corner of Amwell and Zion Roads.
Higgins Mills - Just south of Three Bridges.
Montgomery - near the intersection of Montgomery and Wertsville Roads.
Rock Mill - in the extreme southwest corner of Hillsborough.
Zion - just east of Rock Mill.
Pleasant View - near Pleasant View Road and Route 206 (then called State Highway 31)
Frankfort - at the juncture of Amwell Road and South Branch Road.
Flagtown - west of South Branch Road, both the Lehigh Valley Railroad and the Central Railroad of New Jersey had stations here.
Woods Tavern - at the corner of Route 206 and Amwell Road.
Hamilton - a station on the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad (now CSX) between Hamilton Road and Amwell Road.
South Branch - the village in the northwest corner of the township.
Roycefield - the station on the Central Railroad of New Jersey line at present day Roycefield Road (then called Somerville Avenue).
Royce Valley - the station on the Lehigh Valley line where the railroad crosses Route 206.
Belle Mead - straddling the border between Hillsborough and Montgomery Townships.
Blackwells Mills - on Millstone River Road, south of Millstone.
Hillsborough - at the intersection of Hillsborough Road and Willow Road.
09 August 2007
To solve all of the problems, the grade crossings need to be eliminated. And we can do it.
Hillsborough has a long history of working to eliminate dangerous grade crossings - but we haven't done much lately. Hagstrom's 1945 map of Hillsborough shows numerous grade crossings on each of the three railroads, many of which have since been done away with - either by "grade separation", literally making the road go over or under the railroad so that they are on separates grades, or by closing the road altogether. And in the case of that third railroad, the Central Railroad of New Jersey, the complete abandonment of the entire line.
For instance, the grade crossing near Flagtown where the woman was killed in 1922 has since been eliminated by the overpass on South Branch Road. Route 206 used to cross the Lehigh Valley line at grade, near the present day Docherty Park, - and people were killed at that intersection also, until 206 was rebuilt to pass under the tracks. Mill Lane and Hodge Road were each dis-connected at their grade crossings, and are no longer through roads.
None of these projects was completed overnight. The railroads have been around for 150 years, and will still be here in another 150 years. And Hillsborough, unlike other towns where the railroad passes right through their downtown, has a unique opportunity to completely eliminate ALL of its grade crossings.
Not this decade, or the next, but certainly within 40 years or so - or about the same time as the Town Center is completed!
08 August 2007
This sounds like a good plan - residents have complained about the sound of the horns, "quiet zones" are an established program of the Federal Railroad Administration, and developer contributions to this project will defray some of the cost.
The troublesome part of this plan is that it addresses only one of the issues with grade crossings - noise. There are at least four other problems that won't be solved by quiet zones.
The first of these is the simple fact that grade crossings are not safe. USA Today reported last week that there were 368 deaths at railroad grade crossings last year. And let's be perfectly honest - eliminating the train horns makes crossings more dangerous. That's why it is necessary to install median barriers and other improvements on the approaching roads. If we really wanted safety, we would construct the improvements AND allow the trains to sound their horns. The construction of the improvements allow us to eliminate the horns and maintain the status quo on safety, not improve it.
The second problem is increasing automobile traffic. Auten Road and Beekman Lane are already backed up at rush hour if a train is passing, and this can only get worse - especially as Auten Road continues to become the "people's bypass", in place of the un-built Route 206.
The third issue is railroad traffic. The railroads generally look for ways to increase capacity and improve efficiency. Two of the ways they accomplish this are by constructing passing sidings and second tracks, and by improving signalling - allowing trains to run faster. But extra caution is always needed at grade crossings - thus slowing the trains back down.
The fourth problem may be the most serious - stalled or stopped trains. The four grade crossings on the Norfolk Southern line are all within 2 miles of each other. A stalled train of sufficient length can easily block two or even three crossings. This not only brings cars to a stop, but also forces emergency vehicles to find alternate routes - detours that could cost lives.
So - while I am in favor of proceeding with the "quiet zones", we should acknowledge that there is more to grade crossings than just noise. And that maybe the quiet zones should only be the first step in a more ambitious plan...
06 August 2007
Aged Woman Killed By Train
Mrs. Charlotte Stern, who resided on the road between Woods Tavern and Flagtown, mother of William Stern of this place [Hopewell], was instantly killed by the cars on last Friday afternoon.
The deceased, who was 72 years of age, was driving home from the store, where she had been doing some shopping, and was crossing the Lehigh Valley tracks when her horse and wagon was hit by the Black Diamond Express. The horse was literally cut to pieces and the wagon completely demolished. Mrs. Stern was not much cut or bruised [lucky for her she was only killed].
The road crossing at which she was killed is said to be a dangerous one, there being four tracks, with no gates nor signals. It is said she was watching a freight train as she was driving over, and did not see nor hear the express as it bore down upon her.
The funeral was held yesterday afternoon from her late residence. Interment was at Millstone under direction of F. K. Forsythe.
The Black Diamond Express was the Lehigh Valley Railroad's premiere passenger train, running from New York to Buffalo, with through coach service to Philadelphia. Apparently Flagtown was not a scheduled stop.
04 August 2007
Quick - What was the first post-war cluster-style housing development in New Jersey? I'll give you a hint - it's right here in Hillsborough.
To find New Jersey's first post-war cluster development you have to take a drive north on Route 206 all the way to Duke's Parkway East. Yes, you're still in Hillsborough, and you've found The Village Green - the development that started it all. Held up as a prime example of cluster housing - a planning concept that allows for smaller lot sizes with more communal open space - the development reportedly completely sold out in six months. A gentleman by the name of James Macris wrote his senior thesis for Columbia University about Hillsborough's Village Green 39 years ago in 1968, and several books on urban planning tout the benefits of the Village Green's clustered homes in a well planned suburb.
The first two paragraphs are my way of telling you that today I visited the Village Green Park and Ball Field located near that old development on Brooks Boulevard. Here's my thesis of the park, in pictures.
03 August 2007
Today we'll do the "minuses". Once again I'll start things off by listing my top five. and I'll be looking for another five from the comments section.
- Commissioner Georeg Ostergren - Sorry George, as much as I hate to disparage a former school board member, and someone who has given so much of his time to the town over the years, I have to say that your contempt for the public, and you use of profanity puts you at the top of my list.
- Not following Dr. Reock's Prime Directive - Charter Study expert Dr. Ernest Reock told the CSC explicitly that they must not make a recommendation based on what they think the public will vote for, but rather on what their study shows will be the best for the town. Yet at recent meetings, commission members based their recommendations on what would be most palatable to the public, and said so! even though they believed other choices were better - five council members rather than seven, for instance.
- The choice of towns for study - I think too much emphasis was placed on towns that had been through charter studies. I would like to have seen the CSC choose some townships that had never had a charter study - why does their government work so well that they have never even thought of changing.
- The Final Report - What a mess - based on a misunderstanding? Chris Jensen is concerned that the report holds up well to any legal challenges - after all, there are things that are required to be in the report, and he wants to make sure all the Is are dotted and Ts crossed. Glenn van Lier desires a report that is easily readable - one that almost acts as the first piece of campaign literature, if you will. Both viewpoints are perfectly valid and shouldn't be mutually exclusive - but so far we have seen walkouts, threats of walkouts, name calling, fist banging, and the like - Insane!
- The Pluses and Minuses themselves - Despite Mr. van Lier's recent assertion that no one from the public has been able to dispute the plus and minus lists, there indeed were residents who came to the microphone at meetings and did just that - Frank Herbert and Carl Suraci to name two.
I have more, but I want to hear from you! Where did they go wrong? Let me know, below.
02 August 2007
Now that the CSC has made their recommendation, I'd like to turn the tables on them and list the top ten pluses and minuses, or hits and misses, of the Charter Study Commission. What they did right, and what they did wrong.
I'll get things started, but I'll be looking for your suggestions in the comments section of the blog.
Let's start with the pluses:
- The selection of Chris Jensen as chairman - I don't see how any of the other four could have done as good a job, with the possible exception of George Fenwick, whose health probably precluded him from that position.
- The selection of Bill Page to replace Mr. Fenwick - Mr. Page was the third runner up in the election, but was the only one of those three willing to take on the job. He has proven to be thoughtful, studious, and most importantly even-tempered. A great choice.
- Public comment at all of the meetings - The commission was not required to have public comment at all of the meetings - only at the ones designated as Public Hearings. Yet they adhered to the long-standing Hillsborough tradition of letting the people have their say.
- Frugality - The commission has thus far spent only a fraction of their budget - which means a lot to a skeptical public.
- Videotaped meetings - I tried to go to most of the meetings - in fact I think I went to every one up through my election to the Board of Education in April. When I couldn't attend, I was able to catch the meetings on Channel 25, and later on the Township web site.
01 August 2007
Question 3, or Q3, was a question on the November 2005 ballot asking voters to approve a change in the form of Hillsborough's government from Township Committee to Mayor-Council, with a directly elected mayor and seven councilmen - three at-large, and one each from four designated wards.
Petition organizers collected thousands of signatures in order to have this question put directly to the voters. The petition signers focused naturally on the one provision of the mayor-council form that was of most interest to Hillsborough voters - the direct election of the mayor. They were much less focused on the other aspects of the proposal, such as the wards, and the separation between the mayor and the council.
Wards, however, were a factor in the election, and Q3 was narrowly defeated. There is no doubt that the Q3 petition led directly to the Charter Study ordinance the following year which established the Charter Study Commission, and for that reason you could say that Q3 was successful in its ultimate purpose of bringing the idea of government change to the public.
The admission last week that people "were not told - didn't read further than just directly elect your own mayor" is an important step in leveling the playing field for the upcoming campaign season. Charter Study Commission Chairman Chris Jensen has acknowledged that voter education is important prior to the November vote. He has said that the commission has a lot of work to do in this area over the next three months - but i think he would agree that a knowledgeable voter, with a proper understanding of all of the issues, isn't necessarily a pro-change voter.
The bottom line is that we should always trust a well-informed electorate to make the right decision - and know that an uninformed person on his way to the polls would do us all a favor by turning around and heading home.