New Coffee Shop Stirs Controversy

The news that Dunkin’ Donuts is moving across the Post Road — from its spot near the UPS Store, to 2 vacant storefronts in Compo Shopping Center — was greeted not with joy, for its expanded space.

Instead, “06880” commenters expressed chagrin that the already chaotic parking lot opposite Trader Joe’s will become — unbelievably — even more gruesome.

In a town with too many candidates for Worst Traffic Nightmare, the twin lots near downtown win in a walkaway. As bad as the rest of Westport is, nothing comes close to these mis-aligned, cramped lots filled with aggressive, heedless drivers laser-focused on getting their pizza, dry cleaning or hemorrhoid cream, then getting the hell out.

Now we add coffee into the mix.

Arrow? What arrow?!

I don’t recall Compo Shopping Center always being so bad. Even with a McClellan’s five-and-dime, barber shop and luncheonette — remember “luncheonettes”?! — plus a supermarket where Awesome Toys is now, traffic flowed smoothly.

I might be misremembering, but it seemed that the traffic in front of the left side of the plaza was always one-way, headed south. You couldn’t come from behind the stores and head left through the lot. You couldn’t even back out and aim for the light at the middle; you had to keep going toward North Compo.

Now anything goes. Parking spaces are narrower than ever. Drivers are more distracted. CVS is always packed. And that’s just for starters.

Note the two — two! — cars entering the CVS lot the wrong way.

So here is today’s “06880” challenge. It’s probably a fool’s errand, but let’s say you had a chance to redesign Compo Shopping Center. What would you do?

You can reimagine the entire, horrific property: The tiny traffic island at the middle entrance that many folks ignore. The entrance itself, a few maddening yards away from its counterpart at Trader Joe’s. The cut-through to the back lot. The one-way hill leading to the Humane Society (which is moving soon, to Wilton). The rear lot. The traffic flow. The stores themselves.

You name it — it’s all on the table.

One way to solve the problem of narrow parking spaces.

This is a great country. We just launched a space telescope 100 times more powerful than its already impressive predecessor. We developed, manufactured and distributed a vaccine to combat COVID all in 13 months, even if some people are too batshit stupid to take it. We can do whatever we put our minds to.

Even fix Compo Shopping Center.*

Click “Comments” below to provide your solution. The winner gets a free coffee at Dunkin’.

There’s lots of room in the underutilized back lot — though people park poorly there too.

*We’ll leave Compo Acres — the Trader Joe’s lot — for another time.

25 responses to “New Coffee Shop Stirs Controversy

  1. Easy solution. Have the new Dunkin’ only sell decaf.

  2. Always room in the back lot and much easier to park. Plus you get a few steps on your Fitbit walking around to the front. Easy.

  3. I haven’t a clue what would improve this train wreck. I park in the rear lot to pick up pizza or a rare Rx at CVS – my least favorite place on earth. Maybe the owner “Westbrook Inc. c/o Torrey Brooks” can at least update the signage- simple things like “One Way”, “Stop”, “Do Not Enter” etc. might help.

    The comment in WJ by ARB Chairman Ward French was astonishing:
    “I think it’d be really exciting to have someone in those two spaces.”

    It will be about as exciting as a root canal. Thanks for the offer of a cup of DD coffee anyway, Dan.

  4. I would have all the front parking spaces angled so that it’s harder to go the wrong way and the spaces closest to the road would change and be parralel parking only and make it one way in front of CVS towards Compo Road. Then make the entrance near the light and entrance only with not exit there. They can exit Thru the back lot or at the bottom of the lot in the one way section where they can only turn right. Remove the island that’s just confusing anyway. Also, the only way to get from the back lot to the front lot will be at the bottom of the lot and make the middle section one way from the front to the back and the exit at the bottom is already only one way. If we only have to worry about people backing out in the front lot from near the store fronts it will be a little less harrowing, as I have witnessed many cars backing out without looking and almost hitting another car also backing out at the same time or hitting pedestrians walking without looking behind a car that is trying to back out.

    Then the lot in the back needs to have the parking spaces widened by about 6” each and put in curbs of cement for each space in the back so people can’t just pull Thru the space in front and turn down the wrong way. I would also angle all the spaces and make each parking row one way traffic encouraging the flow of traffic to go towards the one way exit in the front and encourage people exiting from the back lot to go out towards Compo Road and use the light there to go in the direction they wish from there. However, the light to turn left onto Compo Road there will need to be lengthened so there isn’t a large backup of vehicles there for very long. Make a clear left turning lane there.

  5. The real nightmare is trying to exit TJ’s to Compo road. You don’t have to wait very long for an accident to happen. It happens all the time.

  6. Evan Stein has a fantastic idea. Click the link below to see it in “action.”

    1. Close all connections from the rear parking lot to the front.

    2. Divide the lot with a barrier (giant planters with trees or shrubbery) into a south lot and a north lot. Each with one entrance and one exit.

    3. Enter the south lot from the south.

    4. Enter the north lot from the north.

    5. Each lot exit will have an independent traffic light.

    6. The exit from Compo Acres will also have its own traffic light.

    Five light cycle:
    • South lot green
    • North lot green
    • Compo acres green
    • Route 1 green (no turning allowed)
    • Pedestrian crossing

    • So many locally owned business to get great coffee … Aux delices, the porch at Christie’s, most delis, green & tonic for healthy mix-ins, the list goes on 🙂

    • Bill Strittmatter

      Only issue is that the two existing traffic lights already make a mess of traffic flow. Adding a third probably only increases the nightmare.

      I’m curious though. Presumably there is no drive through at the new DD so is this location really going to create that much more of a traffic nightmare than it did (or didn’t) at the old location? I never went to the old DD but did go to the UPS store and hardware store and it never seemed to be that much of a problem. Of course, maybe I was never there at peak DD hours.

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      Except if I’m coming from the East on Post Road, I would have no way of easily getting to the spots in the back, if the front is full. (It frequently is, which is why I try to avoid the front altogether.). I like Evan’s idea of making the traffic flow in one direction, but Post Road traffic frequently blocks the lights in the front and then you have to wait 2+ cycles to get out. Make the lights one way, going into the plaza and then flowing out the back. (If they don’t want to change the flow, then the state needs to at least paint a giant box in front and the WPD should have a 2 week enforcement extravaganza, which would surely bring about changed behavior. Ideal? No. Effective? Probably.)

      They really need to remodel the plaza buildings, to orient the entrances towards the “rear” to make those the main entries. Having the Post Road frontage is what makes the rents higher, I’m sure, so keep the glass windows and displays, but make the store layouts favor back entry.

      I like Evans idea of planters playing a bigger role in directing traffic. They could make it attractive enough to create an outdoor dining plaza on the west end of the property. (Probably not my idea of a great view, but al fresco dining is where it’s at.) They could up sell that section of the plaza to restaurants and make it an attractive option.

      Another option, along with the traffic redirects is to make the remaining front spots “5 minute pick up” or “car door delivery,” spots, so those of us needing to run in because we didn’t call ahead would have to park in the back.

      Take some changes, take all. But everyone knows the situation as it currently exists is untenable. I hope DD changes their mind about this location, it’ll make it a non-starter for us.

  7. My idea is based on reducing the number of cars trying to enter and exit from the same space and crossing each other. Having seen the comments above, I would further suggest putting in angled parking to make it crystal clear as to what direction traffic flows — north through the south lot and south through the north lot. I thought about the reverse direction of flow but that doesn’t solve what I think is the largest problem, people making a left off Route 1, going in the entrance and then immediately heading south toward CVS. I’m not a civil engineer but I think this intersection deserves much better pedestrian safety and traffic flow. Kudos to Dan to look for suggestions in a public forum.

  8. Just yesterday almost got into an accident with an older woman turning left out of TJ’s while I was turning left leaving CVS. She had no blinker on (typical!) and seemed horribly offended when I gently tapped my horn trying to figure out why she was turning into my car.

    In any event, I oppose adding more traffic lights to let cars in and out of these (or any) parking lots. It contributes to the huge traffic jams that back up all the way to Rt. 33. The existing traffic lights are also one of the reasons why the left at North Compo/Rt 1 is about half the length it needs to be, also leading to huge backups.

    Right turn only exits at stop signs onto Rt. 1 with continued use of the alternative exits from the back or side would solve the issue at CVS and TJ’s. Keep the left turn signals on Rt 1 to get into the lots. “But it would take forever to get out of the parking lots!” Oh well. Go at a less busy time of day, or don’t go at all. The rest of town shouldn’t be sitting in traffic, wasting gas, because a tiny subset of people just need to buy crappy coffee from a national chain. It’s basically a huge subsidy to these property owners where we all waste time and money for their customers’ convenience.

    But really, the best solution would be to tear down the whole horrid CVS strip mall and start over. Along with Playhouse Square, it’s one of the biggest eyesores in the downtown Westport area and is a terrible representation of our charming town.

    • What makes Playhouse Square uglier than any other strip center? Honestly, all shopping centers are unattractive. Compo Shopping Center does not need to be torn down. Its 50’s facade can be remodeled to be just as spiffy as Compo Acres across the street and the otherREIT-owned centers, , but there’s a tradeoff: Compo Acres has forced out all but two of the locally owned shops. If the same REIT took over Compo Shopping Center, we’d likely lose Golds, Little Kitchen, the liquor store, etc.

  9. My suggestion is to turn the front lot into a one way system,. Also, some remodeling of the ample back lot and store entrances — a la Main Street — would make it more appealing for shoppers to park back there. In the meantime, asking Dunkin to post signs directing customers to park in the back is a good idea. I have to say, Compo Shopping Center is by no means the worst place to park in town (Westfair, I think is the most treacherous) and it’s one of the few strip malls still owned by a local family and relatively affordable to locally owned business.

  10. It’s a complex lot for reasons that we’ve all acknowledged. The pending Dunkin’ move has thrown much needed attention on its inadequacies and risks.

    My hope is that the property owner will now feel impelled to improve the situation. The vintage proportions of this shopping center are challenging – today we have bigger cars, more distracted and entitled drivers, and higher traffic volumes. Something needs to be done there.

    Here’s one suggestion that could be executed immediately by the property owner: eliminate the parking spaces that encroach upon the lot’s main entrance/exit and also those that encroach upon the center driveway that passes between the two buildings. This would allow cars to enter and exit the lot without having to deal with cars trying to pull in and out of those parking spaces.

  11. Jennie G Pickering

    Record + Tape never had this problem.

  12. Gloria Gouveia, Land Use Consultants

    Abolish the “small car” parking standards in the zoning regulations.

    Strictly enforce the remaining design standards. We have good parking standards but they only work when Certificates of Zoning Compliance are withheld until ALL parking stalls are a minimum of 9 feet wide and ALL aisles are the required width and dimensions as confirmed in the field by the zoning staff.

    When zoning applications are submitted for commercial properties, have the engineering staff confirm that the parking design and layout meets the regulated parking standards as part of the engineering department review.

    Norwalk (yes, Norwalk) has excellent examples of well-designed commercial parking lots that comply with the regulations on paper and in the field. (With the unfortunate exception of the City Hall parking lots.)

    The reason that the parking works at the soon-to-be former location of the Duncan Donuts (across from the Fresh Market Center) is that there is parking in the rear generally used by employees that frees up the front lot for customers.

    Also, the center is tenanted by a good balance of businesses that rely upon short term parking and those that are longer term parking generators.

    Regretfully, the last is not a parking feature that can be readily enforced through the zoning regulations. Such a balance of “users” is best achieved by a thoughtful and engaged property owner. Too many short term parking generators (dry cleaners, coffee shops, take out food restaurants, liquor stores, etc.) will foster parking and circulation problems even in a center with the most efficiently designed parking areas.

    FYI – Retail uses like CVS or a hair salon are NOT short term parking uses.
    Encouraging short term parking at CVS or a food store is folly.

    Please note: None of these recommendations are revelatory. We have many of these tools available to us right this minute.

  13. Dan your comments are ALWAYS “spot on”. and its practically the same at ALL the other parking lots in Westport that are multiple shopping centers. And of course , like most of the other good suggestions from readers nothing is likely to be changed.

  14. I haven’t been in Westport in years, so I don’t know if this is feasible, but split the Post Road with each side going around it. Easy access will be from the inside lanes of the Post Road.

  15. Easy solution: get coffee at Shearwater (the old Clam Box/Bertucci’s location). Easy in, easy out via the Sherwood Island Connector.

  16. Here are four fixes, arranged from easiest to most difficult:
    1) Adjust the CVS-adjacent traffic signal so that it has three separate phases: a) Post Road both directions; b) Compo lot exit only, with cars able to turn east and west; c) Trader Joe’s lot exit only, with cars able to turn east and west. This will reduce confusion, accidents, and driver anxiety.
    2) Paint solid yellow lines down the center of the parking lots in front of CVS and in front of Gold’s Deli/Little Kitchen. This will help reduce confusion when cars approach each other.
    3) Close off the exit ramp next to Cohen’s Optical, and add a one-way entry lane into the parking lot in front of Cohen’s optical. The exit ramp is useless, and a new parking lot entry will reduce traffic going into the entry with the traffic light.
    4) Take space from the north end of the People’s Bank parking lot and create entry/exit access lanes between the back of the Compo Shopping lot and North Compo Road. People’s rarely uses this space, and an exit/entry here will reduce the traffic traveling through the front of the Shopping Center.

  17. Dan and I were just talking about this the other day. Not the DD move but the nightmare entering and leaving CVS etc. We always use the access road by the Humane society and go to the back but sometimes I leave through the front and inadvertently it’s either someone driving into the exit or driving up to the red light near Peoples to completely block the exit and making any of us eager to leave sit through sometimes several green lights. When u do drive out ur met with a car turning into u from Trader’s. Who gives permission for a busy business like DD to move into an already crowded and exasperating traffic filled shopping center and post road. My only suggestion would be coming out of either trader’s or CVS is to turn right on light only!!!!

  18. Jeanine Esposito

    I second Doug’s suggestions -#1 is a no-brainer – not sure why that hasn’t been done already…

  19. While I agree that the parking is not ideal, I also know that when Compo was built, the current building regulations as that time required that the building not be located any further from the road than it is. The same rules applied to many of the strip centers along the Post Road in Westport and were designed at a time when there was significantly less traffic. While changing the spaces to angled parking would be an improvement, it would also reduce the number of parking spaces. The number of spaces required per tenant is also determined by P&Z, not the landlord. If anyone is on P&Z and would like to adjust the required numbers, then maybe something could be done to improve the flow there.

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