[OPINION] And The Traffic Solution Is …

Thad Eidman has lived in Westport since 1986. Co-founder and COO of the Acreto cyber-security company, and a member of the committee that overhauled the town’s website several years ago, he cares deeply about the “open and inviting culture of our community.”

Like many “06880” readers, he has followed recent stories on traffic in town with interest. He writes:

Recent comments on “06880” regarding traffic included cheap shots at our first selectwoman.

These comments were not only mean in spirit, but show a complete lack of understanding of what the problem is and how we can fix it.

You want Jen to wave a magic wand? In the last election Jonathan Steinberg ran on his ability to fix the traffic problem because he had “special resources” in Hartford. He is still our representative. Why hasn’t he fixed it?

There must be something more to it. What is the “something”?

Riverside Avenue traffic, near Assumption Church. (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

I believe that traffic in Westport can be segmented into 4 main types/causes.

  1. The morning and evening commute.
  2. School drop-off and pick-up.
  3. Significant new construction of apartments/condos in Westport
  4. I-95 and Merritt Parkway construction and accident diversion.

Commute time. Westport is a pass-through rather than a destination for commuters. AI-driven traffic optimization applications such as Waze, combined with Westport’s unique position as the ideal cutover between the Merritt Parkway and I-95, create the perfect storm for traffic aggregation during rush hour.

The challenge with these applications is that they are smart, really smart. And dealing with them is counterintuitive.

If Westport undertakes a road expansion/optimization program, and it works, Waze and other applications will just send more cars because we have become a more efficient route. The traffic will not get better; it will stay approximately the same or get slightly worse. It’s a zero-sum game.

School drop-off and pick-up. In our post-COVID, work-from-home world, parents increasingly drive their children to school.

I sought specific statistics on how many of our 5,305 K-12 students ride the bus, but I could not find a reliable source.

Yet sit outside any elementary or middle school during drop-off and pick-up, and see the large number of cars lining up including major streets like the Post Road.

So quickly a 2-lane major road becomes 1 lane. Traffic from these cars is concentrated, because large numbers of cars are headed to the exact same spot at the exact same time.

We just spent $35.3 million on a new 5-year school bus contract to serve our community. These will be state-of-the-art buses. How can we support our community to use this new bus service, rather than private transportation?

Waiting for pick-up at Kings Highway Elementary School. (Photo/Dick Lowenstein)

New construction. New apartments and condominiums are going up everywhere in town, primarily along the Post Road corridor.

Over 308 units on the Norwalk side of the Saugatuck have been approved, but not built yet. At 1.5 cars per unit, that is another 462 cars on the Post Road on a daily basis.

Zoning for our town has effectively been turned over to the legislature in Hartford and the courts in Waterbury. This is because the “representatives of the people” in Hartford have determined that affordable housing takes precedent over every other factor when considering a new building project. Preserving the character of Westport is not even a factor for consideration.

This is not a statement on the goodness of affordable housing. It is a statement of fact that builders can include a small portion of affordable housing in their proposed complex. When they do, all practical zoning considerations go out the window.

The fire chief can go on record that the buildings cannot be effectively protected. Not an issue for the court to approve the project.

If Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission turns them down, the State Court in Waterbury (where appeals are heard) will approve. Pack in the units; not a problem.

Remember, this law was created by legislators in Hartford who don’t live here. and don’t care what you think.

Construction/accidents on I-95 and Merritt. Have you ever seen truck after truck coming through town on the Post Road, along with heavy traffic?

You immediately know the cause: an accident or construction on I-95. Same holds for cars and the Merritt.

For accidents and construction delays, or just Sunday afternoon getting home from the Cape, traffic applications send people right through Westport whenever there is a disruption.

Get off the Merritt! Drive through Westport!

What Can You Do Now to Help Solve This Problem?

  1. Encourage residents to put their children on the bus. Every child on the bus is 1 morning and 1 afternoon car off the road.
  2. Talk to Jonathan Steinberg about creating a coalition in the state to fight for local control over zoning. Get active in support our P&Z’s right to manage how many units can go on a piece of property. Affordable housing is great, but let’s not have that be a driver for creating these dense monstrosities of projects.

PS. I am an independent voter, and did not discuss this article with any elected official.

(Have an opinion? Click “Comments,” or email 06880blog@gmail.com. Want to support this hyper-local blog? Just click here. Thank you!)

44 responses to “[OPINION] And The Traffic Solution Is …

  1. Bob Colapietro

    Spot-on. Thank you for your insight!

  2. Richard Bortolot

    Well stated

  3. Thad: my wife and I lived in Westport for many years until recently.

    Our two homes were not far 95 (so we witnessed over the years up close the incredible rise in local traffic spilling over from 95 during the increased congestion on the highway—which seemed to be happening throughout the day, not just a rush hour).

    A recent study showed that 95 between Greenwich and Westport is THE most congested highway in the country (topping even the worst highway stretches in LA)—and the Merritt was among the worst as well.

    This would seem to be far and away the cause of the biggest traffic problems. And, again, from our experiences and observations, the simplest answers seem to lie in local solutions—namely increased use of effective traffic officers.

    Our former neighbor, Gerry Waldron, was recently recognized as an Unsung Hero for his work directing traffic by the Cribari Bridge. I can tell you I absolutely noticed the difference when someone like Gerry was working the lights and moving the cars along at the right-hand turn onto Bridge Street.

    So…why not have higher budget allocations for even greater use of traffic officers at times other than rush hour and at other intersections when that spill-off happens from 95? For example, I can’t begin to tell you how many times we witnessed cars blocking the intersections at a) Bridge Street/Compo/Greens Farms and b) Charles Street/Riverside.

    Even though we have moved, we’re still impacted by this with our dentist and a couple of our doctors still being in town.

  4. Before 1957, every truck on I-95, drove down the Post Road through Westport center! Think about 18 wheelers passing through town day and night. Across from what’s now Regent Condos there was a diner owned by Sam Greco and you’d see 6 or 8 trailer trucks parked on the edge of the Post Road as the drivers ate in the diner. Parts of the Post Road were crowned so trucks and cars would slide off when conditions got slippery due to ice and snow. There was a trolley on the Post Road that ran from Norwalk to Bridgeport, but that was well before my time. I know my father used to tell me how bad the traffic was in the early 1930s before the Merritt Parkway was built.

  5. All of these are probably correct. I’d add to the list the timing of traffic signals. There are innumerable intersections at which a major road is crossed by a minor road and both get equal time with green lights, with traffic piling up on the major road while no cars pass through on the minor road (the light outside Fresh Market comes to mind). And driving through town on the Post Road, I will experience that a light will turn green only for the next to turn red so no progress can be made. I don’t know if light timing is a state or local issue but it’s something that places with high traffic routinely adjust to optimize flow (e.g., every Avenue in Manhattan).

    • One badly mis-timed light: South Compo/Greens Farms/Bridge Street (referenced by Fred Cantor above).

      Not only is it VERY long for east/west (Greens Farms/Bridge Street) traffic, but it needs a left-turn only light, for both northbound (South Compo onto Bridge Street) and southbound (South Compo onto Greens Farms) traffic.

      • “Don’t block the box” marking with ticketing of noncompliance would do a great deal to help with many of the problem intersections. Towns across the nation use it with good results. Officer? Cameraed auto-ticket programs? Why not pilot with both? Pick two intersections and try them.

  6. Beatrice Crane Baker

    The issue is, why do people still drive their children?

    • Alex wennberg

      1 – safety/well-being. The bus is unsupervised, so bad language, bullying and the like are rampant.
      2 – traffic. Yes this is circular, but especially for the afternoon buses, it takes some bus routes close to an hour to drop everyone off – this often interferes with after school activities.
      3 – reliability. Everyday cancellations/consolidations due to driver availability, combined with limited updates from the district made it impossible to know where your kids are, what time to expect them, etc.

      • Russell Gontar

        Yet somehow, we survived unsupervised daily bus trips which included bad language, bullying and plenty of other shenanigans. And parents didn’t need (or probably didn’t even want) to know where their kids were at all times. The parents knew when to expect them: Precisely at dinner time when they mysteriously appeared with demands for more meatloaf:


      • Alex, Westport doesn’t have school busses anymore? I rode on ole #1, which was a 1939 school bus.Bill Lockwood was the driver and he drooled chewing tobacco all over his shirt, but one didn’t dare fool around on his bus. Anyone remember Bill Lockwood?

    • I think a few earlier comments are worth revisiting. The school start time shift (which impacted the elementary population the most with the LATEST start & end times) and lack of efficient bussing is hugely impactful here. Caregivers are effectively forced to choose between your child being late to an activity or waiting in an absurdly long line so that you can have them change/eat a snack in the car and then race down the Post Road to get to X, Y or Z on time… no one is enjoying this process, I assure you.

  7. The Merrit Parkway needs to be widened! 2 lanes in Fairfield county is absurd!

    • Bobbie Herman

      The problem with that is that many private properties border the Merritt. I know because I used to have one. Eminent Domain would require taking the land from these properties, which would take many years to accomplish.

      My suggestion would be to add a second deck to I-95. It worked for the George Washington Bridge; why not here?

      • Werner Liepolt

        We are already subject to constant, hearing-damaging noise and foul, asthma causing air quality (among the worst in the nation) double decking would exponentially increase both.

  8. Stephanie Bass

    My ex used to say you hire a consultant to tell you what you want him to tell you – but this analysis from Mr. Ediman was a present from a long time Westport resident who loves the town and has an overview and smarts that are remarkable.

    So now how are we going to proceed?

  9. Eleanor Wilson

    Mr. Ediman’s comments are spot on. Widening lanes and making room for more cars is not a solution-it will only create room for more cars. We do need to have more children on school buses and use our representatives to get solutions at the state level.

  10. Richard Fogel

    Who has allowed so much development ? Everywhere you look stores are larger. Corporations are taking over our town. Medical facilities and banks keep expanding. How many coffee shops and restaurants do we require ? Does anyone cook at home Our lifestyle has affected the volume of traffic It’s similar to global warming. I doubt either can be solved.

  11. Diane L Lowman

    Bravo! Spot on.

  12. Many people ask “why do people still drive their children?” I do not have to drive my child in the afternoon anymore (thank goodness) because she is older. But previously, I had to start picking her up from school to get her to afternoon activities simply because of the later start/school time change in the morning. I have a feeling that is the case with a lot of parents of the younger kids whose activities start immediately after school.
    For instance – elementary school soccer practice is at Long Lots or Coleytown and starts at 4:15. Kings Highway does not let out until 3:45 now (ugh). Even as a pick up – and if you are lucky enough to be near the front of the line (but I refused to sit and idle for 45 minutes so I was always near the back of the line) – it is a race to get across town (hello traffic!) Even though we live a mile from KHS, the bus doesn’t get here until 4:10ish (on a good day!) so pick up was the only option to get her there (sort of) on time.
    So in short – the small school time change made a big impact – many families who would normally utilize the bus are now forced to pick up. This is just our situation. I’m sure there are other explanations. Hope this helps. 🙂

  13. Mr. Eidmans assesment of the traffic problem causations in and around Westport is a concise work. Well done!
    It is a somewhat depressing truth because the actual solutions almost seem almost unatainable for many of the definable reasons. The real questions now are where do we begin!!
    Well in my humble opinion we move this problem to the top of the town’s priority list. Parker Harding rework project should pale in comparison to this more important damaging traffic condition.

    I suggest and strongly hope that because of the many exact reasons Mr. Eidman has put forward that Westport officials and maybe even state DOT management DECLARE A TRAFFIC EMERGENCY IN WESTPORT AS WELL AS THE SECTIONS OF I 95 AND THE MERRITT BETWEEN FAIRFIELD AND GREENWICH !!
    Why an emergency because it has become one! The traffic congestion, accident and dangerous driving as well as accident delays on I95 & the Merritt Pky have reached epidemic levels. This condition alone is one of the larget threats to Connecticuts economic well being and quality of life for our region.

    We have a current government malaise where a culture of legislation and methodology is to slow and stymie timely action to start, fund and take action to solve these issues.

    The recent approval requested and required of our Public Works department for 2 year, $530,000 for a traffic safety study is a perfect example of how the system of solutions is delayed and ” kicked down the street”. This type of legislation and consultant driven program is the way we suffer with short term bloated spending and long term misguided and ineffective solutions.

    This is why ” EMERGENCY” status is needed now. This type of declaration can help put the breaks on misused and abused affordable housing development. This type of action can put project solutions on a fast track from both a funding and implementation status. It will also help realign priorities at the State level where most change for the better is hamstrung with the “Old” system of retoric, studies and consultant spending.

    I know this type of action seems uncomfortable for many but the traffic problems in Westport have become very uncomfortable and only stand to worsen.

    Quite a few Westporters like myself realise that the “Old” ways of tackeling and solving these type of issues effectively don’t work anymore. I hope Westport will seriously consider this type of EMERGENCY DECLARATION”! I know some may disagree with this idea but if there is a bigger emergency in Westport, please enlighten me and others! That excludes of course those who drive much less or not at all.

    I as well as some other Westport residents will continue to try and contribute to help work for suggestions to help solve this traffic problem.

    • Mr. Broady, thank you for your commitment to mitigating traffic congestion. However, I would respectfully caution you about declaring an emergency and throwing ourselves upon the tender mercies of CT DOT. This is the agency that wanted to blaze a four lane highway from exit 18 to the Merritt (aka, the Sherwood Island Connector). Eventually, it threw into the towel and only went as far as the Post Road. Then there was the massive, LA style, elevated clover leaf proposed for the west side of (an elevated) Cribari Bridge – which would not land until it hit Saugatuck Ave. I could go on, but you likely get the idea: utterly destroy the place in order to save it. With that said, I think it’s important to point out that the Parker Harding controversy is, as much as anything, about not making congestion worse. Remember, residents – especially downtown residents – pointed out that the lot in question ALSO has a vitally important bypass road at its periphery. They noted – correctly, in my opinion, that the proposed elimination of the bypass road would have a negative impact on traffic flow.

      Short of turning what’s left of Westport into a massive heat island of asphalt and concrete, there’s likely not much of a material nature that can reasonably be done to address what we’ve gotten ourselves into – except to find ways to (somewhat) adapt.

  14. Well said Thad. Spot on.

  15. Cristina Negrin

    I agree completely with Mr. Ediman. He brings up topics like the forever construction of huge apartment buildings which I’ve been told have no effect on the population of the town or the increase in traffic. 🤔 His letter has left me wondering are we the victim or the culprit?

  16. Joe Strickland

    Thad, missed another important point regarding school transportation….follow a school bus sometime and watch how we provide concierge drop off service at every driveway along the route. We have sidewalks. Kids can walk to a collective bus stop and save the time it takes to start and stop at multiple contiguous driveways. Dare I report that I had to walk 1/2 mile to my bus stop when I was a bus rider?

    • I call it the Westport Limousine Service and it is ridiculous. Getting stuck behind a bus is something I dread especially since each stop requires some sort of lengthy conversation between the adult picking up and the driver or monitor.

  17. The issue of cars driving through Westport (as well as our neighboring towns) in order to get between the 95 and the Merritt is a legitimate concern. Unfortunately it is a issue that was largely created by the state and our local communities. Consider this: The 7 connector between those two main roadways does not have a Northbound onramp for the Merritt. Coming from the 95 the only onramp on the Merritt is going South back to NYC. You can not go Northbound on the Merritt via the 95 then to the 7 “connector.” It was intentionally not built. I guess the thinking was if you don’t build it they wont come North. Unfortunately, they do come – but just through our towns.

  18. Mr. Boyd

    Please understand my suggestion for a TRAFFIC EMERGENCY for Westport is for a Westport identified and managed concpt and not a State or DOT driven program. Let’s face it the State and the DOT have had at least 40 or more years to work on solutions needed as traffic demographics on I95 snd the Merritt worsened.
    They did nowhere near what should have been planned and implemented. So I as well as most other Westporters are NOT going to give them carte blanc to solve our traffic issues! We as well as all others need to realize that almost all major streets and highways in and serving Westport are STATE HIGHWAYS! and as such nothing and I mean NOTHING will be modified, changed, or reconstructed without DOT involvement or APPROVAL!
    Getting DOT to work with Westport can best be accomplished by making DOT acknowledge the TRAFFIC EMERGENCY and work WITH us to have realistic workable solutions.

    As sort of a closing thought for me is that we have to accept that we cannot fix all the traffic problems in Westport but we also must not think a couple of big massive projects will be the fix. We should take the tact that a bunch of small things can be done in all areas much easier. Under an EMERGENCY declaration like what I am suggesting it will be much quicker and easier to secure approval, funding and implement a bunch of “SMALL STEP” solutions.

  19. John D McCarthy

    Agree we are near an emergency traffic situation. And at the risk of being a broken record, we (the town) are about to throw a can of gas onto the traffic fire by removing the cut through road in Parker Harding. The ripple effect on traffic across all areas that touch downtrown will be extremely high. And at a $6 million price tag, that is an expensive can of gas…..or an expensive Own Goal, pick your own metaphor. And this is a project and decision that is entirely in the hands of the First Selectwoman, not Mr. Steinberg or anyone in Hartford.

  20. Great post, Thad, and great comments from all!
    It sounds like the school bus issue might be able to be addressed by adjusting the timing of either after-school activities or the end of the school day, though I’m guessing that’s easier said than done.

  21. Jonathan Prager

    By referring to our First Selectwoman as ‘Jen’ and our state representative as ‘Jonathan Steinberg’, Thad reveals his subjective allegiances.

    While the discussion proves for the most part constructive, it’s just plain silly to propound that a state representative — one member of a large representative body — has the same resources at his disposal and ability to impact local issues as Westport’s First Selectwoman — the elected leader of our beloved Town.

    With Love,

    Jonathan : )

  22. Jo Ann Miller. USMC

    We have too many cars for the same foot print as 50 years ago. Thank you Thad for your good work. But the town has already commissioned a 20$K “study” of the intersection of Cross @ North. That should solve everything (sic).

    • The same footprint as 100 years ago. Dan shared a picture from 1919 with horses drinking water at the intersection of Main Street and the Post Rd.

  23. Richard Fogel

    It’s our life style. Too many take outs. Too many restaurants. Too many coffee shops Too many stores. Too many gyms. People can’t make coffee and food at home despite having the most gourmet kitchens in the universe. Parents even drive their kids around staples to the athletic field for exercise. They have to be driven by large suv and souped up big engine cars to the closest point to exercise. Let alone the garbage that the kids and anonymous leave How lazy are we ? How spoiled are we.

  24. Sam Carpenter

    Thad, you have laid out the issues very clearly – thank you. In some ways, Westport is a victim of its own success. We have created a community where people want to live and, in today’s world, people bring traffic. People wanting to live here is a good thing, but the associated traffic does need to be managed.

    As far as Waze goes, in 2017 Los Altos, CA (Silicon Valley) declared some of the streets Waze was sending traffic on as “No through traffic, residents only”. Accordingly, Waze was not able to suggest those streets as alternatives. I am not sure how that has worked 6 years later and I would suppose it might not be possible for all streets (the Post Road, for example, is State owned), but it might be a solution worth looking at.

    Thanks again

    • So is the traffic because people want to live in Westport or drivers use the town as a cut through?

      You know the answer, it’s the latter.

    • Elisabeth Keane

      Leonia, NJ, did the same thing. I have no idea if the Residents Only street plan continues.

  25. Stephanie Bass

    Wait: $530,000 for a traffic safety study??? Waste of time and money.

  26. Jonathan Prager

    Would a magic wand’s wave eliminate traffic!

    It seems to me that suggestions which employ easily implementable local solutions — like adding traffic officers and designing efficient lights, perhaps, managing school scheduling, maybe (as Sam suggests) the Town communicating with Map applications — will prove more useful than addressing traffic through consternating state politics.

    By the way, Dan, at the Bridge Street/Greens Farms/Compo Road South intersection — the 4-way light you correctly call attention to — the wait to proceed along Compo Road South from the Post Road toward the Beach can be unnecessarily interminable.

    Especially in the evening — say after about 8pm — with precious little vehicular activity.

    While we’re at it, how about the light at the intersection of The Post Road and 33? The other afternoon, heading East (away from Whole Foods), what seemed to be more than 100 cars lined up waiting to get through.

    That light might be more difficult to redesign than the one you mention, yet I’m sure a traffic efficiency expert might prove of great service.

    How ‘bout it ‘Jen?’

    With Love,

    Jonathan : )

  27. The school start time changes (for those who don’t know, the schools pushed back start times 30 minutes later starting in Fall of 2020) made a huge impact on traffic.
    We now are forced to pick our kids up most days so that we can race to make a 4:15 or 4:30 start time for sports and activities. We can’t utilize the bus to drop off (although we WOULD if we could!) as the bus doesn’t drop off until 4:05-4:10 when it’s actually on time (which is not usual!)
    When the schools got out 30 minutes earlier a few years ago, the elementary school kids had time to get off the bus, change for their sports, AND we had time to pick up friends so we could carpool (even more cars off the road!). Now afternoon school pick ups are every man for himself! Wolfing down snacks, changing in the car, and frustration all around because we are sitting in the same traffic that you are!

    • THIS. Thank you for articulating what so many are experiencing. If you don’t have a student in the lower grades it’s easy to overlook how impactful this change is/has been on the traffic patterns. Irregular bus pick ups/drop offs also force our hand to do individual driving. It’s all inter-related.

  28. Phillip Perri

    Not sure of how to address the traffic issue but I can tell you the Town has no one to blame but itself for the issue of forced affordable housing projects. For decades (and currently) Westport has “kicked the can” down the road in addressing affordable housing. A realistic approach would have the Town in compliance and not subject to the forced acceptance of ridiculously dense, poorly placed and dangerous projects that are now being rammed through. Flat out refusal, NIMBY, moratoriums and other P&Z tricks have caused the current situation. One affordable housing development on Baron’s South or along Greens Farms Road would have prevented the current nightmare in waiting. Restrictions on Barrons South? Move the Town Hall to Barrons South, renovating the mansion to be the new Town Hall, thereby preserving the mansion. Cost? Donate the old Town Hall property to the Westport Housing Authority for all affordable housing and have the WHA pay for the new Town Hall at Barron’s. Of course first Westport has to accept there’s no alternative to complying with affordability standards, that’s a huge ask.

  29. Werner Liepolt

    My understanding and experience of the increasing traffic, air pollution, and excessive sound leads me to believe that discussions such as this—while they may make many of feel better—are simply and solely venting.

    CT DOT is in the midst of a i-95/Saugatuck project not predicted to end until late in 2024. P&Z has allowed two potentially massive developments that will provide much construction traffic in the area and, upon completion, add hundreds of new residents and vehicles.

    It has taken strong, forceful, vocal, political opposition to quash state projects that would have been hostile to residents in the past. Cozying up to CT DOT with its mid-20th Century trained civil engineers is not going to improve life in Westport.

  30. Four important things to do when confronting an enemy.
    1. Study the enemy carefully before making quick plans.
    2. Listen to real experts. You can’t learn when you’re talking.
    3. Never tell your enemies what you plan to do.
    4. Take strong actions timely when you confront the enemy!

    The traffic problems in Westport are an enemy now and into the future!
    We should confront this enemy with cunning and wisdom.
    The traffic problems in Westport are an enemy now and into the future!

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