Playhouse Square: Parking Paralysis

For years, a pair of shopping centers — Compo (CVS, Gold’s, etc.), and Compo Acres across the street (Trader Joe’s, Silver’s, etc.) — reigned as Westport’s Worst Parking Lots. Parker Harding gave it a valiant effort, but no other place came close.

Suddenly, a challenger has emerged.

Over the past couple of weeks, Playhouse Square roared out of control. A combination of the holiday post office rush, the opening of the very popular Granola Bar, and snow that makes the narrow lanes even more congested, created — well, the perfect storm.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s an email from an exasperated “06880” reader:

Today as I drove east on the Post Road, I noticed an enormous line of cars waiting to enter the Playhouse Square parking lot. I’ve made several visits to the post office in the past couple of weeks, and the situation has gotten progressively worse.

Cars stack up on the Post Road, waiting to enter Playhouse Square. It happens both westbound and eastbound.

Cars stack up on the Post Road, waiting to enter Playhouse Square. It happens both westbound and eastbound.

There are not enough spaces, and when you park near the entrance, it is difficult to exit from your space due to the line of cars entering the lot. But today was the first time that I saw a line on the Post Road itself.

Once they enter the lot, drivers face a long -- often unmoving -- line of cars. This photo shows at least 7.

Once they enter the lot, drivers face a long — often unmoving — line of cars. This photo shows at least 7.

This is a traffic hazard for everyone, and the police should be concerned too. I thought about ways to avoid this problem but even if I found a parking spot somewhat nearby and walked, there are no snow-cleared sidewalks, nor is there a reasonably close crosswalk for the Post Road in the vicinity.

They can't move because the cars in front of them are waiting for spots. And there are no spots, because drivers can't back out because cars can't move!

They can’t move because the cars in front of them are waiting for spots. And there are no spots, because drivers can’t back out because cars can’t move!

I am not sure where to direct a complaint, so I hope our selectmen will take notice. How long does the post office lease last? This is not a good location for a post office. At least the old one was surrounded by many lots, and one could walk there easily.

Sometimes, 2 exit lanes work. Often, they don't.

Sometimes, 2 exit lanes work. Often, they don’t.

This location has only one access point, in a very busy area in the best of times. When you add snow to the holiday season, it is abysmal. Is it not possible for the postal service to open a satellite location like we used to have near exit 17?

There are 2 answers. One is to use the Green’s Farms post office — but that’s way out of the way, for anyone not in the neighborhood.

The other is to use the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot. At least for now, the gate is open to Playhouse Square. But leaving via the narrow Playhouse driveway is no picnic either — because there is no traffic light, and cars may be lined up in front of you waiting to enter, yes, Playhouse Square.

Meanwhile, there are more problems in the "upper" lot. These 2 drivers parked illegally by the left curb, creating even narrower driving lanes -- and more chaos.

Meanwhile, there are more problems in the “upper” lot. These 2 drivers parked illegally by the left curb, creating even narrower driving lanes — and more chaos.

Should I even mention the dozens of Dattco buses, spewing smoke as they stack up outside the tiny entrance to their yard across the street?

Nah.

And, past the post office, the sidewalk juts unnecessarily into the lot, near the flagpole. That funnels drivers into yet another bottleneck.

And, past the post office, the sidewalk juts unnecessarily into the lot, near the flagpole. That funnels drivers into yet another bottleneck.

21 responses to “Playhouse Square: Parking Paralysis

  1. Dan, Thanks again for observing and pointing out this obvious problem. When my wife and I need something from Achorn’s, either one of us stays in the car and jockey’s for position and often circle around to ease congestion. Yet another example of poor planning. Great suggestion regarding the removal of that peninsula jutting out.

  2. Another problem is that light leaving the parking lot is a long red and it is one lane out. So it is rare that one can make a “right on red”. This backs up traffic going out, which prevents cars from leaving their spaces, which prevents cars from getting in the spaces, etc. etc = gridlock.

    However, this can be remedied. Either a variable change to the traffic light times (requires CT DOT as Post Road is a state highway, so this will happen when the PO lease expires); or — a traffic officer keeping the exit traffic moving. Of course, this will back up traffic in both directions on the Post Road, which will etc. etc.

  3. I make every effort to NEVER go to Playhouse Square for just this reason, whether during the snowy holiday season or balmy spring. Getting in and out of the parking lot is a huge hassle and I feel terrible for the people like Dan who live in the condos behind the Square and for the businesses that I would like to patronize but cannot be bothered to deal with the parking lot. It’s a schlep, but if I am going to be in upper Fairfield, I try to go to the post office near Pepe’s Pizza – it is large, has many service providers, and has decent parking. And the people who work there are far friendlier than their Westport counterparts!

  4. While traveling around the country I’m always amazed to see large, new post offices in Podunkvilles, population 500! How did Westport end up with a broom closet post office?

  5. Yes, the Playhouse Square lot is now the Westport equivalent of the Costco parking lot in Norwalk.

  6. Julie Van Norden

    Playhouse Square was the worst possible location for the post office. Everyone said it when it was first announced and it’s turned out to be even worse than anticipated. Was anyone thinking when they made this decision?

  7. I was there yesterday and a car was illegally parked by the flagpole. I couldn’t back out until he came out of the post office. I stayed calm since I had just come from a relaxing massage and was full of the Christmas spirit!

  8. Problem is not just post office but the new exercise studio and popular Oats. Every hour many people park to attend a class and then the next class overlaps with one already in session. I frequented this shopping center for years and can’t get near Organic Market and other shops. Post office had been doing just fine being located to right if the complex.

  9. The Westport Country Playhouse lot should have been mentioned earlier in the description, because it is so easy, lots of room. Ok, maybe one needs to wait a bit to make a left turn, but a right isn’t that much of a problem.

  10. Went to the PO on Monday (the busiest mailing day of the year per the USPS). Thanks to Mr. Woog, I looked to drive from Playhouse Square through the gate to the Country Playhouse lot. The gate was open, but a rental truck was parked in the entrance, blocking the gateway. Watched through the PO window while in line, and the truck – unattended – didn’t move during the 30 minutes that it took me to get to the front of the line. Tuesday I went to Greens Farms.

  11. The Greens Farms post office may be “out of the way.” a Dan said, but you’d probably get there and finish your business faster than trying to park in the Westport PO lot. And you can always go to Stop & Shop, which is close by. Or the Shake Shack.

  12. And Southport has a sweet post office just a short drive from Stop and Shop.

  13. Stephanie Bass

    Didn’t the PO do a traffic study before moving here? Common sense would have also worked.

  14. Michael S. Brown

    It’s almost as if there was plan to make downtown Westport as inconvenient as possible for people who actually live here. I eagerly await the Downtown 2020 Plan, because it’s about time non-residents had better access to the river.

  15. Happy holidays everyone. Our town’s incredible vibrancy also leads to these types of issues, particularly during the busy holiday season. (One of those cars actually looks like my daughter’s heading to the Granola Bar – she says all of her college friends home for the holidays are going there. My son says Instagram is loaded with photos from the Granola Bar.)

    Regarding the Post Office – as a Federal entity, it is unfortunately not subject to our town’s zoning and permitting regulations. It is only subject to the private lease it signed.

    We will set up a discussion with the private shopping center owner, just as we are meeting with other Westport business owners and employers. The police department is also looking at the timing of this light and others with the State. We should also soon get the traffic study and recommendations from the Downtown 2020 project. We will do our best to help improve the traffic issues.

    Once again, best wishes for the holidays and the New Year.

    Avi Kaner
    Second Selectman

    • I suggested a change in the lane alignments on Bridge Street east bound at the intersection of Compo South. Both the then First Selectman and the Police Chief supported and, since route 136 is a state road, petitioned the state to make the change. THREE YEARS later, the intersection was improved. Good luck dealing with CT DOT!

  16. In March 2011, Dick Lowenstein wrote to the US Postal Service, regarding the proposed relocation of the post office from downtown to Playhouse Square. His letter is below:

    Sir:

    I am writing to you as an elected member of the Westport Representative Town Meeting, the town’s legislature.

    I oppose your plans to relocate the Westport post office to Playhouse Square for two reasons:

    If the Post Office is moved east of Myrtle Avenue, it will have a negative effect on Westport’s downtown vitality.. This is not an opinion, but based on my previous encounter with a post office move. In the early 1980s, I was on the Carmel (N.Y.) Planning Board. The post office wanted to move from the center of the hamlet of Mahopac (10541) to a state highway site several miles away. I opposed – unsuccessfully – that decision and if you were to visit Mahopac 30 years later, you would agree that their downtown is shabby and the post office’s departure was one reason.

    Parking. Daytime parking at Playhouse Square has always been a problem, both finding spaces and entering and exiting the lot. Did you research the parking at your present location? I did. On Bay Street and on the Post Road, there are almost 20 15-minute parking spaces for postal patrons. Many times, all these spaces are occupied. Fortunately, other nearby short-term spaces are readily available and postal patrons use, but do not abuse, them. You will never find that many short-term spaces at Playhouse Square.

    I urge you to cancel your planned move to Playhouse Square and find a more appropriate location in downtown Westport.

    Sincerely,

    cc: (by Email)

    Tom A. Samra, Vice President Facilities, USPS
    First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff
    Congressman Jim Himes
    ——————————-
    The USPS replied, saying basically that they were asking the Playhouse Sq landlord to designate a number of 15-minutes spaces, which could not be done because it is violation of P&Z regs.

  17. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    How Westport’s traffic/parking problems always make me giggle!
    I figure that:
    -one should avoid all parking.
    -Westport should hire a bylaws officer to serve out tickets.
    -If the above should fail, Westport should serve out Christmas Punch.

    Merry Christmas to my childhood home.
    May the New Year bring good traffic tidings. Amen.

  18. As I recall, we were told, in a breathless news release from the Post Office, that the new location would feature plenty of parking. I guess that’s technically true – it’s just that it’s all taken. But hey, look at the bright side, at least we no longer have to endure that fussy old post office building; with all the Vermont marble and those brass trimmed oak mailboxes…now we have the chic East German border crossing look – complete with synthetic everything. Cheers !

  19. Two thopughts:
    1. owner should make deal with playhouse to open thier parking lot during holidays.
    2. Isn’t this an ideal time to open a new pop out restautrant in four of the parking spaces?