30 June 2007

"East is East...

...and West is West", lamented Rudyard Kipling in 1892, "and never the twain shall meet." Of course Kipling never visited Hillsborough Township's Woodfield Park. Located on the south side of Amwell Rd. between Beekman Lane and Marshall Rd., the park is divided into Woodfield Park East and Woodfield Park West. Not because of any philosophical differences (we're not talking about Anglo-Indian relations here!), but for more pragmatic reasons.

This well-maintained park is easily accessed from either Beekman Lane (the West side), or Marshall Rd. (The East side) - limited parking is available. Nearby residents can also access the park on foot through the adjacent Woodfield Estates development.

When I visited with my kids on Saturday, the park was quiet. Quite a change from the typical weekend morning when there might be four soccer games and two softball games going on. In addition to the soccer and softball fields, there are tennis courts, and two separate playgrounds with swings and the typical climbing elements - which both of my kids really enjoy. There is also a path for jogging or bicycling, and a decent amount of undesignated open space - great for throwing around a football or Frisbee. There are even a couple of picnic tables.

Oh, and why is the park divided East and West? Well, besides the fact that the grounds are naturally bisected by a small tree-lined (dry) stream, the park as a whole is BIG - about one million square feet. That, and the fact that there are softball and soccer fields on each half could make it confusing and difficult to meet up with friends. By dividing the park, it is easier to explain where you are, and where you are going!

Woodfield is an excellent neighborhood park that has grown by size and reputation into Hillsborough's "Community" Park. Prove Kipling wrong, visit today - both sides!

28 June 2007

The Power of Words

A few weeks ago I was asked to submit a sentence or two to be read at the Hillsborough Township High School Graduation. I was told it is customary for school board members to impart some "words of wisdom", or advice, in the form of a profound thought or a famous or meaningful quote. Something, perhaps, that I would have wanted to know 25 years ago at my own high school graduation.

Realizing that I would not be able to attend the graduation ceremony this year, I declined to participate in this tradition. But the power of the Blog allows me to reconsider!

When contemplating the impact of spoken language, one need look no further than the short dialogue "The Power of Words" by Edgar Allan Poe. Two angels, one "new-fledged", one older, discuss the physical power of words, and their ability to create. The poetry of the final exchange between the angels is beautiful.

AGATHOS. And while I thus spoke, did there not cross your mind some thought of the physical power of words? Is not every word an impulse on the air?

OINOS. But why, Agathos, do you weep- and why, oh why do your wings droop as we hover above this fair star- which is the greenest and yet most terrible of all we have encountered in our flight? Its brilliant flowers look like a fairy dream- but its fierce volcanoes like the passions of a turbulent heart.

AGATHOS. They are!- they are! This wild star- it is now three centuries since, with clasped hands, and with streaming eyes, at the feet of my beloved- I spoke it- with a few passionate sentences- into birth. Its brilliant flowers are the dearest of all unfulfilled dreams, and its raging volcanoes are the passions of the most turbulent and unhallowed of hearts.

But it is an earlier quote from this story that holds the most meaning for me. The young angel, Oinos, believes that since he has now graduated to immortality, he "should be at once cognizant of all things, and thus at once be happy in being cognizant of all."

The wise angel Agathos sets him straight: "Ah, not in knowledge is happiness, but in the acquisition of knowledge! In for ever knowing, we are for ever blessed; but to know all were the curse of a fiend."

Congratulations Class of 2007. Keep learning, be happy. Good luck!

26 June 2007

Hillsborough Mining, Montgomery Manufacturing, cont.

Thursday July 23, 1953 - Montgomery Township Municipal Hall. 8:30 p.m.

So much for drama. As the assembled crowd inside and outside the Municipal Hall waits impatiently to hear the outcome of the recent Planning Board meeting concerning the application by 3M to build their proposed quarry and roofing tile granule manufacturing plant, word finally comes from their neighbors to the north. By pre-arrangement with Hillsborough, Montgomery Mayor Ficken will not read the Planning Board vote until 8:30, when Hillsborough reads theirs.

The outcome of the Hillsborough vote is the only real drama here, as people have known for days, after word spread in this still small town, that Montgomery had approved 3M's plan. When the call finally comes, Mayor Ficken announces that Hillsborough's Planning Board has not yet reached a decision (they did indeed approve the plan a few days later).

The approvals in Hillsborough and Montgomery lead to a summer of unrest in both townships. Citizens' groups in each town - Montgomery's led by famed pollster George Gallup - collected petitions for a change in government. Petitions were delivered to the respective clerks, and questions were put on the ballot for later that summer.

Dr. Gallup compared the campaign season that summer to the Civil War. "Sometimes a father will be on one side and a son on the other. Men who have been good friends all their lives are arguing. Next door neighbors are no longer in agreement".

Ultimately both ballot questions failed at the polls - Hillsborough's voters declined to change to a Council-Manager form of government by a vote of 972 to 408 - and the 3M plant was built.

It is interesting to note that 3M's announcement last week that it would be closing its Montgomery/Hillsborough facility (amid continuing concerns about the accumulated rock dust and wastewater management!) come during a time when Hillsborough once again contemplates changing its form of government. Also interesting is the evolution of the relationship between Hillsborough and Montgomery - destined to be partners in geography (re: the 206 bypass) for at least another 54 years and beyond.

25 June 2007

Hillsborough Mining, Montgomery Manufacturing

Thursday July 23, 1953 - Montgomery Township Municipal Hall. 8:20 p.m.

The Municipal Hall is packed to overflowing, with residents outside on the porch and all around the building, listening intently at every window. They have all gathered to hear the Montgomery Township Committee read the recommendation of the Planning Board regarding the recent application by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing to build a plant and quarry for crushing stone and making granules for roofing tiles.

Opposition to the plan had been growing that spring and summer, with many experts coming forward to declare the dangers of the "rock dust" that would be created in the crushing process. There had also been allegations of political corruption in Montgomery and Hillsborough - and citizens of both towns were nearly ready to revolt over the 3M plan.

The original proposal by 3M called for a change in Montgomery zoning to allow "quarrying and other nuisance industry" - but that proposal was changed when it was determined that siting the plant on the border between the two towns would allow the entire quarry to be in Hillsborough. Therefore zoning would only need to be changed from "residential and agricultural" to allow for manufacturing.

As the crowd grew restless, Mayor Ficken explained that he was required - by pre-arrangement with Hillsborough - to wait until exactly 8:30 p.m., when both Townships would announce the results of their planning board votes.

Tick, tick, tick...

23 June 2007

Saturday, in the Park - part 1

Hillsborough is fortunate to have, within the borders of its 54 square miles, a good number of parks, playgrounds, ball fields, and other publicly accessible recreational facilities. Some well known to residents, others not.

Over the next several weeks I am going to get out to as many of the parks and playgrounds as I can - and try to give you the inside scoop on each one. For some of these reviews I am going to enlist the help of my two resident experts - my 8 year old daughter and 5 year old son!

Today we visited the "King" of the playgrounds, located at the municipal complex on South Branch Rd. Built in the mid 90s by community volunteers - whose names appear on fencing throughout the playground - it is still a kid-favorite. Resembling a castle with several towers, the playground has slides, swings, and lots of other play elements. There is plenty of parking, and even a few picnic tables.

My daughter says the best thing about this playground is there are lots of opportunities to run and climb up and down the towers and across the bridges. My son particularly likes the sandbox, and also finding friends for impromptu play dates (my words, not his!).

My favorite aspect of the municipal playground is that it is completely fenced with just two entrances, recently improved with gates that can be closed. This is an absolute necessity on a playground of this type because it is impossible to keep the kids in view at all times.

Overall, I give the municipal playground 4 stars. My kids never turn down an offer to play there, and that says it better than anything else I can say. Except to give a big thank you to all of the volunteers who had the foresight to create such a wonderful facility for our town.

21 June 2007

206 2.0 part 2

I've been thinking about whether or not the new Route 206 bypass proposal has all of the necessary attributes to perform as promised. Earlier this week I outlined my ingredients for a good bypass - and yesterday I started going through them point by point. Take a look at yesterday's blog to see how the bypass fared on: length, geography, and traffic volume - then come back here and we'll finish.

  1. Length? yes

  2. Geography? yes

  3. Traffic Volume? no

  4. Are traffic lights, stop signs and railroad grade crossings kept to a minimum? The addition of the lights at Hillsborough Rd. and near Amwell Rd. mean that the answer to this has to be no. I will say though that the clever design of the interchange at Amwell Road is a good compromise between a full-sized cloverleaf, and a typical signalized intersection. And there is another consideration. If you think about how traffic moves on the current Rt. 206 - especially northbound - you can see how the lights at Amwell, New Amwell, Andria Ave., and Triangle Rd. actually work to meter the traffic as it heads to the bottleneck past Triangle. The traffic lights on the bypass will serve the same purpose.

  5. Finally - Are the northern and southern ends of the bypass blended seamlessly into the current highway? For the northern terminus near Old Somerville Road the answer is yes. Starting at Farm Road, the highway will be reconstructed in such a way that the southbound thru traffic will flow nicely to the bypass. The same can't be said for the Mountain View Rd. area at the southern end. From looking at the plan, it is unclear to me what the incentive will be to choose the bypass over continuing straight on the old 206. Ultimately this may have more to do with psychology than traffic patterns!

I have a lot more to say on this topic, but frankly I am all blogged out. I think I'll "bypass" 206 for a while - at least until I hear some more of your comments.

See you at the next exit!

20 June 2007

206 2.0

If you're reading this you're probably aware that NJDOT has put forth a new proposal for a Route 206 highway bypass in Hillsborough. The current proposal makes a number of significant changes to the plan that has been on the drawing board since 2002, namely:

  • The southern terminus has been moved from Belle Mead-Griggstown Rd. to Mountain View Rd.

  • The southern portion of the bypass will be just one lane in each direction from south of Amwell Rd. to Mountain View Rd.

  • There will be an intersection with a traffic light at Hillsborough Rd.

  • The intersection with Amwell Rd. has been changed from a highway-style interchange to a modified design that includes a traffic light on Amwell Rd., and a second light where the bypass intersects Steinmetz Rd.

At first glance it's hard to see how this plan will fulfill the requirements needed for a good highway bypass. But if we break it down piece by piece we may find that we are not that far off.

So here goes:

  1. Is the highway of sufficient length to bypass the congested area? Yes - if the idea is to "bypass" Hillsborough's "Town Center", then this plan certainly does that. Even if it is shorter than originally proposed. The stretch of Rt. 206 between Triangle Rd. and the Day's Inn is still a problem, but that portion of the highway wasn't addressed in the 2002 proposal either. It is a part of a separate project, one with its own problems - and one that admittedly we have not heard a lot about.

  2. Does the route make geographic sense? I'm giving this a "yes" also. It may not make the MOST sense, but it is certainly not insensible. It solves the "Pike Run" problem, and if it is true that a good number of southbound motorists are headed for 601, it solves that problem too. It is also worth noting that this current proposal calls for a new bridge over the CSX rail line at the 206/601 intersection.

  3. Are there enough lanes to handle ALL of the traffic? For this one I have to say no. Making 2/3 of the length of the bypass just one lane in each direction seems incomprehensible. However, it is curious that this stretch of the bypass calls for a "grass median" between the two lanes. I suppose if the grass median is wide enough, elimination of the median at some future time would allow for two additional lanes. But I don't know if we should be giving the DOT credit for being that forward-looking.

And on that note - let's pick this up tomorrow. In fact let's WRAP this up tomorrow. I'll be forward-looking to that!

19 June 2007

Two Oh Six

If you've been following the blog, you know I used a couple of entries last week to detail the issues surrounding the latest plan for the Route 206 bypass. I've wanted to give you my opinion of the new plan - but I must admit that I have had a hard time getting started. I haven't been able to get a feel for the central question that needs to be answered.

I think I have a handle on it now, but first - some "other" questions.

What makes a good highway bypass? First, it needs to be long enough to actually bypass the congested or dangerous area. That doesn't mean it has to be very long at all - the Amwell Rd. bypass is less than a mile long and still does a great job of moving traffic.

Second, it needs to make geographic sense. A bypass can't loop around in such a convoluted way as to add a significant amount of mileage to the route. This is of course relative to the length of the original route, but certainly a bypass that is three times the length of the direct route would be hard to take (pun intended).

Third, a bypass needs to have enough lanes to handle ALL of the anticipated traffic. A driver should never have to consider taking the old route because the bypass is congested. Indeed there are some highway bypasses in New Jersey that may even be OVERbuilt - Rt. 133 in West Windsor comes to mind. That relatively short highway that connects Rt. 571 in west Windsor to Rt. 33 in East Windsor, bypassing Hightstown, never seems to have any significant amount of traffic.

Fourth, traffic lights, stop signs, and railroad grade crossings need to be kept to a minimum - but there may be an exception to this, which I'll get to you later.

Last, the bypass needs to be seamless. The two endpoints should be invisible to the driver. A typical thru-traffic motorist should not be aware that they are on a "bypass" - again, think Amwell Rd. between East Mountain Rd. and Marshall Rd. In fact, the new highway should be able to quickly lose its "bypass" designation, as it takes over from the old route.

How does all of this fit into the latest 206 bypass proposal? And what question should we be asking ourselves now? Check in tomorrow to find out.

In the meantime, what other attributes must a good highway bypass possess? Let me know.

16 June 2007

House Call, part two

When we left Dr. House, he was consulting with his team concerning the prognosis for Route 206 in Hillsborough. Dr. Cameron had just suggested a four lane elevated highway bypass from Old Somerville Road south to the Montgomery Township Municipal Complex - but House has some reservations. Let's listen in:

House: There's just one little problem with your plan Dr. Cameron - it can't be done. To run a bypass from Old Somerville Rd. to Belle Mead Griggstown Rd. we'll have to cut right through the Pike Run development - that's a major organ.

Chase: So? These people knew we might need to run a bypass through there some day - and the right of way is already in place!

Forman: Cutting through Pike Run will cause severe neurological side effects. I wouldn't even think about going through there.

House: Forman's right, Chase is wrong - as usual. We need another option. Come on people, is there anything else on the patient's chart that could help us?

Cameron: The area around the old GSA depot on Mountain View Rd. has recently been re-zoned. Planned uses call for recreation, and research and development. I also see that recent traffic studies show that a significant amount of southbound drivers don't continue on 206, but rather turn off on 601.

Forman: If that's true we should end the bypass at Mountain View Rd. We'll still reduce traffic congestion in the proposed Town Center area, and provide access to the GSA site. And we'll save money too!

Chase: I can't believe what I'm hearing! With that plan we'll have to cross the CSX rail line TWICE - and we'll have to scale down the southern portion of the bypass from 4 to 2 lanes. Plus we'll have to put a traffic light at Hillsborough Rd., and an additional light near Amwell Rd! And we haven't even talked about Triangle Road to Duke's Parkway, that's where the real traffic is!

House: Thank you Dr. Chase for stating the obvious, but this may be our last best option to save the patient.

So, what will it be? Should House and his team begin treatment? Leave a comment with your thoughts - or write the final segment to this drama! It's up to you.

15 June 2007

House Call, part one

The office of Dr. Gregory House, Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital. Dr. House and staff, Drs. Cameron, Chase, and Forman, assemble to discuss a new case.

House: Who's the patient?

Chase: Route 206 in Hillsborough, southern portion.

House: Symptoms?

Cameron: The artery is almost completely blocked - traffic is barely getting through - weekends are as bad as rush hours.

House: And why do I care about this?

Cameron: They've been working on this for over 30 years - we are their last hope.

House: All right then! What's the differential diagnosis for slow traffic?

Chase: It's obvious - the road is too narrow - there are too many traffic lights, too many driveways. Thru-traffic has nowhere to go.

House: Treatment?

Chase: Just widen the road - 2 lanes in each direction - turn lanes - jughandles - a complete overhaul.

Forman: Can't do it.

Chase: Why not? It's a good plan.

Forman: We can't touch the existing Rt. 206 because Hillsborough is planning on turning that into their "Main Street" - a pedestrian friendly Town Center.

Chase: What? That mess?

Cameron: It won't be a mess once we fix the traffic problem. I think we should bypass 206 completely.

House: Really?

Cameron: Yes - a full four lane elevated divided highway from Old Somerville Rd. to the Montgomery Township Municipal Building.

House: Fine. Only one problem....

What does Dr. House know that the others don't? Log on tomorrow to find out!

14 June 2007


“I heard that lonesome whistle blow.” If you’re a Hillsborough resident you know that there are at least two things wrong with that refrain from the old Hank Williams tune. The first is the use of the word “lonesome”. There’s nothing lonesome about freight trains in Hillsborough. In fact it seems like there’s another one passing through every few minutes.

It wasn’t always like this of course. When I came to Hillsborough in 1993, railroad traffic was infrequent at best. I live near the Norfolk Southern Railroad grade crossing at Beekman Lane. The Norfolk Southern is one of two railroads that pass through Hillsborough. They operate on the old Lehigh Valley Line that cuts across the northern portion of the township from Neshanic Station to Manville. The other company is CSX, which runs east of Rt. 206, from the Montgomery Twp. border to Manville.

Maybe 1993 was a down year for railroad traffic, or maybe the novelty of living so close to the grade crossing hadn’t yet worn off, but the train sounds didn’t bother me a bit. There were one or two trains during the day, and maybe one or two at night, (which we quickly got used to), but that was it. In fact, many of the grade crossings in the Township were ungated!

As the years went by, rail traffic increased, and gates were installed at the crossings. Instead of one or two trains a night, you could sometimes hear one or two an hour! For safety purposes, trains need to signal their presence as they approach each grade crossing. Because the crossings at Beekman Lane, Auten Rd., Valley Rd., and Roycefield Rd. are in such close proximity, there is almost no let-up in the sound.

The Hillsborough Township Committee, responding to residents’ complaints, has been moving forward with proposed “quiet zones”. The Federal Railroad Administration allows specific improvements to be made at grade crossings that would allow passing trains to not signal at each crossing. The improvements will be funded through an off-site contribution by a developer, and through the Township’s capital budget.

This is a great idea, but I have an idea of my own. I’ll share that idea with you another time.

Oh, and if you’re wondering – trains haven’t used whistles in 50 years. Maybe the new lyric should be “I heard that all too frequent horn sound!”

13 June 2007

Clap On, Clap Off

If lighting expert and Township resident Philip Alcone had his wish, there would be a lot more stars out at night for wishing. At the May 21 Township Committee meeting, Mr. Alcone gave a 30-minute presentation in recommendation of an ordinance to curb light pollution. He believes that poor outdoor lighting plans and unnecessary lighting in many residential areas not only brightens the night sky, but also wastes money.

I wonder what central New Jersey's own Thomas Edison would say? Certainly it wasn't his intention to stifle star-gazers when he started all of this. Many of Edison's inventions - phonograph, motion picture camera, as well as the electric light bulb - were "quality of life" inventions. And light pollution, like noise pollution, (and odor pollution?) is a quality of life issue.

Unfortunately for us, as much as we might like a night sky as dark as a Norwegian winter, dark streets are also a safety issue. At the meeting where Mr. Alcone made his presentation, Hillsborough police Lt. James McConnell spoke out against any reduction in lighting, as it would necessarily mean a reduction in safety for Township residents.

Nevertheless, the cost-savings component of the proposed "lights out!" ordinance is intriguing. We need to see more of what the plan would be - how much money could we save? how dark will it get? - before we can determine if it's time to "clap off".

And before we get too overwhelmed by our bright-nights, remember, Norway has a summer too.

12 June 2007

Hair Care

What makes people give? The easy answer is that it makes them feel better about themselves. People have a need to feel important - the less empowered people feel, the more they give. Surveys have shown that families earning around $10,000 donate an average of 4% of their income. Families earning $100,000 donate just 1%.

How about kids? On June 1, thirty-six students in first through fourth grades, along with a small number of parents, teachers, and staff members, gathered at Amsterdam School for a "hair- snipping" ceremony. The purpose of the cutting was to collect hair - at least 10 inches long - to be donated to the Florida-based charity Locks of Love. Locks of Love uses the hair to make wigs for children suffering from permanent medical hair loss.

The Amsterdam School program, spearheaded by third grade teacher Lisa Jacobsen, has grown from three student participants four years ago to 36 this year. That kind of success shows us that children want to give. But why? - and why something so personal? Even a child as young as 7 or 8 years old can understand why this program is worthwhile - and they can certainly identify with children like themselves who need help and will benefit from Locks of Love.

But there may be a deeper psychological need to give. Children, being the least empowered members of society, really have the most to gain by giving. And by giving away so much of themselves, they are truly enriching themselves!

Way to go girls! Let's hope your example enriches us all.

09 June 2007


I had the opportunity to attend the D.A.R.E. Graduation Ceremony on May 23 at the Auten Road Intermediate School. D.A.R.E., which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, is a 5th grade program taught by Hillsborough Twp. Police officers in conjunction with the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office.

Besides factual information about drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes, students are taught refusal techniques, and self-esteem. Another large component of D.A.R.E. is the idea of the police officer as trusted friend and adviser.

But probably the most important part of the curriculum is the graduation itself. Each of the 601 5th graders had the chance to come up to the stage, shake hands with the police officers and others, and be cheered by their friends - and most importantly by the hundreds of parents that came out that day. Let’s hope all of that great positive peer pressure carries them through the rest of their school years and beyond.

Congratulations graduates!

07 June 2007

Welcome to the new Hillsborough blog

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the new "On Hillsborough". I'm eager to get started writing, but first I thought you might like to know how I came to be doing this.

A few weeks ago I was contacted by an editor from the Courier News who informed me that she was looking for candidates who would be interested in writing a new "On Hillsborough" blog. We discussed what the blog should be about, and I reviewed other Courier news sponsored blogs - as well as blogs from other Gannett newspapers. I sent three samples of my writing, and was told several days later that I was "good to go"!

I have never done anything like this before, and in fact I have been something of a "reluctant" writer in the past - but that's all over now! I need to do this because I am excited about Hillsborough - its people, its past,what it is, and what it can be.

I expect to be writing about all of the topics of interest to Hillsborough residents - but I also need your help. Your responses in the "comments" area will help me know which items are of the greatest interest to you.

Your feedback is what will ultimately make "On Hillsborough" a success!