Many Hands Make Lights Work

During COVID, Westport’s eerily empty streets were a joy to drive.

A sad joy, to be sure. The other side of our unimpeded ride was knowing that so many friends and neighbors were stuck home, inside, with nowhere at all to go.

Now — thanks to vaccinations, warm weather and pandemic fatigue — traffic is back.

And it’s worse than ever.

For hours a day, backups stretch everywhere: from Route 1 and 33 almost to Fresh Market. Canal and Main Streets. All of Saugatuck.

No one can say for sure why it’s this bad. But driving in Westport really, really sucks.

Waiting in line at the Imperial Avenue light. (Photo/Dick Lowenstein)

With time on my hands the other day — I wasn’t going anywhere — I tried to think of solutions.

I wouldn’t wish another townwide quarantine on anyone. Banning Waze is not an option. (I’m as hypocritical as the rest of Westport: I happily use the app to avoid highway traffic by driving through other towns.)

So I did the next best thing. I came up with a few ideas.

For example:

Alternate red and green lights at both Wilton Road and Riverside Avenue. The awkward dance between cars heading northbound and southbound doesn’t work. One car trying to turn left from Wilton Road onto the Post Road — or left from Riverside onto Post Road West — can hold up a dozen cars behind it. So why not have green for only northbound traffic; then only green for southbound traffic; followed by what we’ve got now (first a “left turn only” for eastbound and westbound drivers, then a full green for both).

What’s the holdup? Some dude at the front of this line, trying to turn left onto the Post Road. (Photo/David Waldman)

Add a “left turn only” for drivers on South Compo, going westbound on Bridge Street. Traffic now routinely backs up under the railroad bridge.

At the same time, change the timing of the light. It’s too long for Greens Farms Road and Bridge Street drivers, not long enough for those on Compo South. (I know; a long light helps ease traffic on Greens Farms and Bridge Street when it’s backed up with I-95 overflow. Maybe shorter lights would effect Waze’s algorithm of suggesting that as an alternate route.)

A “left-turn only” arrow from South Compo to Bridge Street will make traffic flow as easily as it appears in this image from Google Maps.

Reconfigure the turning lane from Kings Highway North (where the Willows/ “Fort Apache” medical complex is on the right), onto Wilton Road. Right now the right lane is for right turns and cars going straight on Kings Highway. When one car in that lane heads straight, no one behind can turn right on red. Make the left lane for left turns and straight ahead; the right lane should be “right on red” only.

Another reason Kings Highway North should be “right turn on red” only: The left lane lines up more directly with its continuation past Wilton Road.

All of these ideas are beyond the scope of Westport officials. They’re state roads. So yeah, I know, I have a better chance of walking to the planet Zork than I do of seeing meaningful traffic light changes.

But a boy can dream.

(Do you have an idea for easing Westport’s traffic woes? Click “Comments” below. It won’t do any good — but at least “06880” readers can appreciate your brilliance.) 

26 responses to “Many Hands Make Lights Work

  1. Todd Ehrlich

    An additional idea:. Link timing between the light at Compo and Post and the one in front of Trader Joes/CVS. Cars are frequently stuck in the Compo/Post intersection causing it to often take three or four light cycles to get through.

    • Fantastic. And how about this: allow only one side to go at a time (first CVS, then Trader Joe’s) — that would help a LOT.

  2. all the State Dept. of Highways wants for Westport is to replace the Cribari (Bridge St.) Bridge with a huge monstrosity to accommodate even more overflow traffic from I-95.

  3. Aren’t our two State Reps (one of whom is now running for 1st Selectman) on the Transportation Committee? That should help give us an “in” to enact change?

  4. Dan, great ideas for solutions for the nearly impossible traffic problems that abound on Westport roadways. The helpful changes are possible and most every town driver knows they are needed except the state employees who can really make them happen. I also am referring to the elected officials at all levels that ARE STATE EMPLOYEES!

    If problems like these are going to be tackled and solved it is going to have to be done by the responsible elected employees requiring department heads to require the employees they manage to loose their CAN’T attitudes and replace that thinking with CAN DO attitudes and actions. Effective management starts at the top and if it is to be successful needs to demand excellence and ACCOUNTABILITY! We don’t seem to have this in our state goverment agencies, just a lot of excuse making.

    The frustrating traffic problems you pointed out so well are a real impediment to the economic well being and quality of life state of our amazing town of Westport! They are getting worse by the day and month and our residents should be putting REAL pressure on our STATE EMPLOYEES ( at all levels) to do their jobs and as Larry the “Cable Guy” said “Get’er Done!

  5. Matthew Mandell

    The left turn arrow or delayed green from Compo South onto Bridge has been submitted to DOT by the Town. Don’t hold your breath….

  6. Beth Berkowitz

    Maybe we need to widen the road on Wilton Ave and riverside to accommodate two lanes in each direction ? Maybe people need to start taking the trains more again. The train parking lots are still quite empty.

  7. Werner Liepolt

    Sorry—WAZE is the problem. Chatting with a NY couple who were stopped in traffic on Bridge St. WAZE was giving them a tour of Westport… imperial Ave next. Plenty of time for a chat.

    I95 slows to a crawl EVERY day and signals the beginning of heavy traffic in Westport.

    And BTW do you think cutting trains and adding hours to the metroNorth trains that are running to NYC has anything to anything to do with our traffic woes?

  8. Ken Bernhard

    Westport had two opportunities to improve the intersection of Riverside/Wilton Rd and the Post Rd (described by the State as the worst intersection in the state) and failed both times. First Selectman Marty Hauhuth (1980’s) rejected Jim McManus’s offer to buy the little house on the corner and give it to the town to make a right turn of red heading south. AND THEN OUR OWN P&Z (a few years ago) rejected David Waldman’s proposal to do the same thing. Now it is no longer possible. Ken Bernhard

  9. Mark Yurkiw

    What’s the one driving rule that would make the most difference in town? Let me quote it for you right from my DMV drivers handbook-

    “On any left turn, if approaching traffic traffic prevents your making your turn immediately, move into the center of the intersection in your lane and wait there for traffic to clear. This allows traffic behind you to proceed ”

    Ask yourself how many times you have been stuck in traffic or have waited multiple light changes because the car near the intersection is waiting to make a left turn won’t move to the center of the intersection blocking everyone behind them causing traffic backups?
    I’d bet traffic in town would improve enough without changing anything else. Wan’na bet?

    • Mark Yurkiw

      PS- Of course we can tweak things to make it better but the main problem Is not the roads, the lights, or even the cars… it’s the drivers (and the parkers.. hat tip to Dan).

  10. Cristina Negrin

    Does anyone want to comment on the population. How many “units” have been constructed in the past 15 years? Hundreds. Traffic has always been worse in the summer since the early 60’s when I was a kid. It’s still worse in the summer but the overall population has prob tripled and the roads haven’t changed.

    • No, the population has not “tripled.” The 2020 population was 29,235. Westport is currently growing at a rate of 1.29% annually; it has increased 10% since the 2010 census, when it was 26,443.

  11. Chuck Greenlee

    And the ongoing construction delays on CANAL STREET puts traffic delays on Kings Hwy North. Plus the construction burdens on Canal Street residents. Any reason for the construction delays?? Timetable on finished construction?

  12. Steve Stein

    Every Westport driver actually knows the solutions at every problem intersection in town- just like Dan has outlined. The disconnect is getting something done to fix the problems!

    If the state transportation department doesn’t take care of the problems in a timely fashion it means its system is broken and needs repair.

    But first- We need a study- to study the state transportation department’s
    system- and fix that first!!

  13. Elizabeth Steffen

    Could a temporary solution be traffic cops at these troubled intersections like they have at times on Bridge St when the train gets out? At busy times they can really clear a backup

  14. Jill Greenberg

    I know this might sound weird, but consider walking or riding your bicycle? Ask yourself this question: If you lived in NYC would you walk the distance you are now hopping in your car to traverse? Admittedly I live close enough to many of the resources our town has to offer, so maybe it’s easier for me to say, but still, it is worth asking one’s self how can I help limit congestion?
    Also consider carpooling. If you and friends are heading down to Saugatuck for dinner, why not drive together? What about consolidating your errands, and when ever possible make choices to drive at times that are less busy.
    I guess I am suggesting, ask yourself what you can do to relieve the traffic stress, not what the departments of public works can do to make it easier for you to drive (and burn fossil fuel).

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      I think much of the issue is that the town infrastructure is not supportive of walking and biking, in a safe manner. While we have asphalt sidewalks in some areas, the unevenness and narrow nature of them drive many pedestrians and most joggers into the roads.

      Bike lanes disappear around winding curves, and the potholes along the roadways are just as likely to take them out as a driver.

      Then, drivers on roads like Compo, Greens Farms, Saugatuck Ave, or Easton Road act like they’re qualifying for the Indy 500.

      It’s going to take a multi-pronged approach and dedication by local leaders to address these issues and encourage alternatives. Anything other than action is just lip service.

  15. Bobbie Herman

    You think traffic in Saugatuck is bad now? Just wait until the Hiawatha Lane development is finished!

  16. Richard W. Alley

    Elizabeth Steffen hits it right. The immediate solution is more traffic direction by Police Officers and/or Traffic Agents. Railroad traffic posts at spots like Bridge and Riverside or Rtes. 1 & 33 were always assigned and budgeted for. Could not those funds be shifted to overtime posts to alleviate current traffic problems. Lights at these heavy traffic spots are designed to be operated manually so an officer can clear these intersections faster than when the light operates in its normal cycle.
    Lots of years have passed and indeed, traffic has increased but certain times of the day are worse than others and placing additional officers at these locations during these times can and will help.
    Officers have to be available for emergencies, but checking out of the car to clear a traffic situation was understood to be part of the job in earlier times. If more officers are needed, then hire them. – Dick Alley

  17. Thanks 06680 for an interesting community conversation. I fully agree Westport needs to befriend bikers and pedestrians more so than I-95 commuters and real estate developers. Auto traffic congestion will ease with stronger zoning discipline (recently absent), increased transparency (of advocates’ self interest), and commitment to integrity in public deliberations so land use is not dictated by professional lobbyists and staff of mega developers fixated on monetizing Westport.

  18. I agree with Bobbie Herman but not just Hiawatha Lane, Wilton Road condos and Lincoln Street apartments will all cause so many more cars on the roads. Yikes

  19. David Rosenberg

    Dan, good commentary re traffic, since this is one area that SHOULD be more easily addressed and fixed. I agree that the Wilton/Kings Highway corner is a disaster and should be improved to alleviate traffic. Once you crossover over Wilton going north (away from Norwalk) you get stuck at the light at Kings Highway and Canal, and since they are still working on the bridge at Kings Highway it only exacerbates the problem. That light should be red for a few seconds if at all. You need to keep traffic moving on Canal towards Canal and Main Street. But the next problem is the light at Canal and Main Street. There is always more traffic coming from Canal than cars driving up and down Main Street. The light from Canal should be much longer to accommodate the overflow of cars crossing the bridge going north. I work at 191 Post Rd West and it takes 5-10 minutes during rush hour to drive 1 mile due to the back up. And it can easily be remedied.

  20. I am reading all the comments here and many good ideas and some reasonable solutions at some key traffic problem locations. The BIG problem is that most of the problem intersections and roadways are STATE HIGHWAYS! This means that NOTHING will get changed or done unless the State DOT moves off their arses to see it happen.
    Please try and understand that many in state government are not accountable for their actions OR LACK OF ACTION!
    Unless this changes you might as well wait for pigs to fly.
    Most major traffic issues in the State of Connecticut are not caused by what State departments have done, it’ s caused and amplified by WHAT THEY HAVE NOT DONE!
    Wake up Westporters and fix the root of the problem. Get the work and results you are already paying for!

  21. Wendy Crowther

    I keep wondering why no one has invented “smart, traffic signals.” If WAZE knows where my car is and exactly how to take me to my destination on the quickest route, why can’t traffic lights be synched to similar analytical tools that are constantly assessing how many cars are paused at each intersection, and could then direct the light to change with efficiency?

  22. Alex Kuhner

    Also – Smart drivers! Yes, it’s a long wait at some lights… so be ready to go immediately! If you are lagging behind and 3 cars could have passed through a green light, but you are slow and only 1 got through, that’s 2 more cars in the line waiting at the red. We are responsible for driving our vehicles, which also means being ready to go as soon as you have right of way. Stay off your phones, learn light sequences and anticipate what’s happening when it’s going green.