Category Archives: Transportation

Pic Of The Day #308

Yesterday: View from the Sherwood Island Connector, looking west. (Photo/David Squires)

Rare Tesla 3 Purrs Into Town

Word on the street is that Westport has more Teslas than any other town in the state.

But only one is a Tesla 3.

That’s the new affordable electric sports sedan. After state and federal incentives, the Model 3 starts at $25,000, according to a press release from the Westport Green Task Force. (A Westporter who works for Tesla says the cost is actually $35,000 to $40,000.)

Over 180,000 people pre-ordered the car within 24 hours of its announcement last July.

Production is sluggish though. So far, only 2,500 have come off the line.

But Westporter Bruce Becker — an architect and member of the Westport Electric Car Club — took delivery of his on Monday. He says it’s one of only 3 Tesla 3s in Connecticut.

Becker brought his vehicle to Staples High School this afternoon. It was part of a “high tech show-and-tell” for interested students.

First Selectman Jim Marpe checks out Bruce Becker’s Tesla 3.

The event took place at Staples’ charging stations, outside the fieldhouse.

Becker calls Westport “a leader in the transition to electric vehicles — an important driver for environmental, public health and economic reasons.” He says that besides the highest per capita number of Teslas, our town also leads in per capita registration of all kinds of electric vehicles.

First Selectman Jim Marpe lent his support. Noting Westporters’ long support of sustainable solutions, he said, “The town is proud to support EV ownership through its network of public EV charging stations.”

Besides Staples, there are chargers at the library, Town Hall, train stations, and in a few commercial and private residential areas.

Electric vehicles lined up near Staples’ charging stations today (from left): Chevy Bolt, Tesla S, Volkswagen, Tesla X, Nissan Leaf,

Phil Levieff Is In The TecKnow

Phil Levieff takes his hands off his Tesla’s steering wheel. The self-driving car zooms up Sturges Highway. It avoids an oncoming vehicle. It does not crash into a mailbox on my (passenger) side.

We arrive safely at Levieff’s house. We get out in the driveway. The garage door opens. The car drives itself inside, and parks.

Phil Levieff

We walk around the back. Levieff talks into the air. The back door unlocks. We stroll inside. He commands the lights to go on. Instantly, they do.

Of course, there’s only so much that technology can do. Levieff has to light the logs in his fireplace himself.

But that’s about it. Levieff is an early adopter. His car and home are as cutting-edge as 2018 gets.

The house includes 177 connected devices, operating in 24 zones. His voice controls lights, locks, thermostats, TVs, music, security cameras, alarms, blinds, fans, garage doors, solar storage and irrigation.

But Levieff’s home is not just a one-off. His business —  TecKnow — works with leading tech companies to “build the home infrastructure of the future.” It’s an attic-to-basement, indoor-and-out service that customizes and integrates the best home automation technology for individual homeowners.

They design, install and program your “smart home ecosystem.”

And — this is key — they teach you how to use it.

Nearly everything in Phil Levieff’s living room — in fact, the entire house, inside and out — is interconnected, and voice-activated.

Think about how many features of your smartphone you don’t use — either because you have no idea they exist, or you can’t figure them out.

Now multiply that by an entire house: TVs, music, kitchen, HVAC. You may not understand it all.

But Levieff does.

A Tesla battery in the basement runs Phil Levieff’s entire house.

The 1988 Staples High School graduate has been a tech geek since his days  building the first networked gaming PCs. He spent 23 years working for Automatic Data Processing (ADP), leading sales, marketing and strategy teams.

Now he’s struck out on his own. All he has is an Apple Watch, Apple TV remote, iPhone, iPad, Mac, and a Dick Tracy-like, intriguingly technologically advanced home on the Westport-Fairfield border, where he lives and utters voice commands with his wife and 2 kids.

Well, okay. He’s also got a great logo. It suggests the power of a voice, a Wifi geofence and the sun to efficiently run a home.

And Levieff has clients, both for new construction and retrofits. He’s turned Robin Tauck’s new Old Mill home into a smart marvel. He’s working with other homeowners in the area, and Massachusetts. Oh, yeah: Ralph Lauren too.

Levieff has spent the past few months offering demos to builders, architects, brokers, developers and skilled workers.

“A lot of people have tried and failed in smart home technology,” he says.

He is adamant he won’t be one of those.

After all, when it comes to home ecosystems, Phil Levieff has the “tech know.”

TecKnow ties together every element of a smart house.

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

David Loffredo is a longtime Westporter. He recently moved to the Fairfield Beach area. The roads are wider and straighter there — and he still has a 3rd daughter to teach how to drive. He writes:

They’re so cute when they’re young.

You remember all the firsts. That first swim lesson at the Y, or the first time they’re independent on the Compo playground. The first kindergarten bus ride, the first time playing on a team, or the first time up on stage. And on and on and on.

Good times. Fun times. Great memories. Rites of passage.

Then they grow up.

And sometime toward the end of middle school their older friends start getting their learner’s permits, and the inevitable “will you take me driving?” question echoes at the dinner table.

Will you take me driving? Those might be 5 of the scariest words ever uttered by someone I’d much rather take back to her first swim lesson.

But we do it. We all do it.

This is not David Loffredo and his daughter. But it could be.

Most of us head to the parking lot at Longshore, or Compo, or Staples. We drive in circles and look out for joggers. And we think okay, mission accomplished, on to driver’s ed after you turn 16, with their professional instructors and brightly colored official cars.

Except that’s not exactly how it works. What you’ll learn (or what you’ve already learned, brave souls who have gone before) is that you are responsible for a bunch of hours behind the wheel with your newly minted permit holder, in your car, on our roads.

So we do it. We all do it. White-knuckled and tightly buckled, we strap in shotgun, turn off the radio, and guide our apprehensive yet naively enthusiastic novices out into the wild. We take comfort that we’re not alone, as each year roughly 600 Westporters turn 16 and get their permits.

Let that sink in. There are 600 of us out there.

But really it’s not so bad. They drive the speed limit, or within a few miles of it. They come to a complete stop at stop signs. They slow down when the light turns yellow. They yield. They’re courteous. They don’t text or talk on the phone. In short, they actually follow the traffic laws most locals have long since ignored.

So – stop tailgating my kid. And everyone else’s kid.

Almost every time we go out driving — and it’s almost every day now — cars race up behind us. They flash their lights, toot their horns, weave in some feigned attempt at passing. I wonder who they are, and what could be so urgent. When I see a Jeep in the rearview mirror, I assume it’s a Staples kid only recently removed from this process who quickly forgets how intimidating it was. When I see a big SUV with a parent behind the wheel, I wonder how they’ll react when the kid in their back seat is sitting in their drivers’ seat.

So please: Ease up when you see a driver strictly following the rules of the road. Pay it forward if you have young kids. Pay it backwards if you’ve been through this already.

We all win, if these kids learn good habits from the start.

[OPINION] Carolanne Curry: Public Must Keep Questioning Saugatuck Development

Carolanne Curry is a 20-year resident of Saugatuck. She’s concerned about possible changes to the neighborhood — and about the process. She writes:

It was painful to hear the response given to Helen Garten at the last Transit Oriented District meeting.

Speaking as a public member attending the 8 a.m. session, Helen questioned the gap of understanding between the TOD committee members appointed by the 1st Selectman, and the frustrated “Don’t ruin our community” members of the public, who have religiously attended this dance marathon of TOD meetings for over a year.

Helen said that public input is not acknowledged to any degree in the TOD report that is shaping up to account for the $450,000 in state money spent by Westport to create a design plan to improve transportation at our transportation center.

One of the plans from the Transit Oriented Design proposal.

The response from those conducting that TOD session was that Helen perhaps had not attended a sufficient number of meetings, or else she wouldn’t be asking that question.

A comment about attendance was nowhere near appropriate. The right response would have been:

The TOD committee members understand that 1) development, 2) intensity of development, and 3) the inevitable “overdevelopment” of Saugatuck Center is the pursuit of this TOD committee. Even if it results in the loss of identity, community and history.

This appears to be one more battle between the forces of artificially forced development, and those who encourage relevant and organic growth of a community.

Hats off to Helen for warning that community input was not being acknowledged.

One of the final 2 TOD meetings is again at 8 a.m. — tomorrow (Tuesday, January 30, Town Hall). The public must keep asking questions about increased traffic and development in Saugatuck center.

An aerial view of Saugatuck, from the consultants’ draft report.

Pic Of The Day #285

You can’t get there from here: The Cribari Bridge opens (Photo/David Squires)

Oops!

You have to be very wealthy to afford this Bentley Bentayga.

But that doesn’t mean you’re smart enough to read road signs.

Or notice that, for an entire block, every other car is pointed in the opposite direction.

All A(bill)board!

Last month, the Westport Transit District announced a new commuter shuttle marketing campaign.

Unlike many Metro-North trains, it arrived on time.

Recently — with the help of Police Chief Foti Koskinas and his team — the WTD installed new billboards at the Saugatuck and Greens Farms railroad station.

They’re eye-catching. And clever.

A much-needed route map helps too:

The WTD is also placing 5 x 7 route and information cards all around town: the stations, coffee shops, library, Town Hall and at real estate agencies, to name a few.

Meanwhile, they’ve sent emails to railroad parking permit holders, those on the wait list, and the Westport Parks and Recreation list. Those have generated interest in the WestportTransit.org website, which includes schedules and instructions on how to download the MyStop app. (Yes, it takes you to the Norwalk Transit District site. You’re in the right place.)

The Westport Transit District is making all the right moves to boost ridership.

Plus, those billboards give you something to look at while you wait for that overdue train.

Daybreak Development Dawns

When Daybreak was thriving, up to 800 vehicles a day pulled into and out of the small parking lot. The business included a nursery, florist shop and landscaping operation.

Daybreak closed in 2014. The buildings were demolished last spring.

The Daybreak property, after the nursery and landscaping business closed.

New owners hope to build 12 housing units — age-restricted, generating minimal traffic — on the 2 1/4-acre site. They’ve spoken with town officials, and adapted their plans several times to meet traffic and other concerns.

Still — on the eve of Thursday’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting — opposition remains.

The owner is Able Construction. During the past 25 years, the firm has built over 80 houses in town. Some are new; others are historical renovations, like 268 Wilton Road. They’re also redoing the old Three Bears restaurant — now Chabad — on Newtown Turnpike.

Able Construction owner Peter Greenberg (right) and partner Johnny Schwartz.

Able bought the Daybreak property at a foreclosure auction. At the time, owner Peter Greenberg admits, he had no clear plan for the land.

He could have built 4 gigantic homes on the 1/2-acre-zoning land. Or he could have put a grandfathered business — like a nursery or landscaping company — there.

“There” is important. The property fronts Main Street, near the heavily trafficked, highly visible and bizarrely complicated intersection with Weston and Easton Roads.

The area — including the now-vacant Daybreak site — is an important gateway to Westport. It’s a first impression for anyone arriving from the Merritt Parkway, and an early look for drivers from Weston and Easton.

Originally, Greenberg and Able partner Johnny Schwartz talked with town officials about putting a coffee shop or service station there. They also considered mixed-use — perhaps retail, with apartments or multi-family housing on a 2nd floor or behind.

The last of Daybreak Nursery was carted away in March.

The property is not served by a sewer. Greenberg asked if Able could pay to extend outside the blue line. The town said no.

Planning and Zoning members were interested in the possibility of smaller homes. But no town regulations encouraged developers to build such cluster-type housing.

Able proposed creating an overlay zone. Current zoning permitted 4 houses. Typically, Greenberg says, they’d be 5,000 square feet each, with 6 bedrooms.

Instead, his firm designed 8 2-bedroom homes, of 3,000 square feet. The total number of bedrooms was the same — 24 — but, Greenberg says, 2-bedroom homes would not typically sell to couples with children.

No kids means fewer in-and-out vehicle trips. No stop-and-start bus stops. And no additional children entering the school system, at a cost of nearly $20,000 a year.

The P&Z balked. 3,000 square feet was not small enough. The national average is 1,600 square feet. (Of course as Greenberg notes, “Westport is not average.”)

Able went back to the commission. Architect Bill McGuiness — who designed the Kensett community in Darien — envisioned 12 2-bedroom homes, averaging 2,000 square feet. None would be more than 2,400.

Designed for an older population, the homes included elevator shafts. Most of the living would be on the 1st floor, with sloped roofs and virtually no attics. Five duplexes would share a common wall. Two would be single-family units.

Front and rear views of an attached duplex.

P&Z liked the idea. But they asked Able to include an affordable or age-restricted component

Able proposed that 7 of the 12 units be limited to buyers 55 and older. (Greenberg says he’s willing to make it 100% age-restricted, if needed.)

The “smaller home development” text amendment was accepted. Public hearings were held, and a traffic engineer hired.

Able spent the past 8 months finalizing plans, and getting permits.

Views of one of the detached homes.

But at a hearing 3 weeks ago, neighbors voiced strong opposition. Major concerns were raised about traffic at that very dizzying intersection.

Greenberg notes that when Daybreak had up to 800 trips a day — including customers, employees and landscaping trucks — there were 5 driveways in and out of the property. He sited the new driveway — 1-way in, 1-way out — as far from the intersection as possible. (It’s the same direction as 1-way Daybreak Lane, to avoid cut-throughs by drivers seeking to avoid the 4-way stop.)

Able looked at ways to improve the intersection. They learned that a decade or so ago, the state Department of Transportation wanted 3 roundabouts — one there, and 2 others at the Exit 42 ramps. But Wassell Lane was a stumbling block. According to roundabout standards then in place, it was too close to other roads to feed into the mix.

Now, however, standards have changed. Wassell Lane could work. Greenberg says that town officials have contacted the state DOT about reopening discussions. They have not yet heard back.

A roundabout proposal that includes Wassell Lane. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

According to Greeenberg, a traffic study shows that at peak times, 3,000 cars an hour pass through the intersection. He says that Able’s new development will add less than .05% to the mix.

“Right now, taxes on Daybreak are about $30,000 a year,” Greenberg says. “If these 12 units are built, we figure Westport would get $180,000 a year.” He proposes that the town earmark some of those increased taxes for Westport’s contribution to intersection improvements.

“There’s no land left in Westport,” he adds. “We buy houses. We knock them down, and build new ones. That’s our business.

“But we hear from people all over town that after their kids are grown, they don’t want a big house. They want to stay in Westport, in a smaller one. These houses would help.”

Able Construction’s Daybreak site plan. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

He says his company has done everything to address concerns. A Phase II environmental study found no herbicides or pesticides left over from the nursery. There were, however, petroleum products in the soil. Greenberg promises to stockpile the soil during construction, and dispose of it if needed.

“We’re part of this town,” he says. “We want to do the right thing.”

The P&Z hearing this Thursday (Town Hall auditorium, 7 p.m.), is one of the last stops on the road to a permit for the Daybreak development.

“This property has been unsightly for years,” Greenberg says. “It’s at a very impressionable intersection. We want to put this property to work. We’ll build smaller houses, so people can age in place. It’s something the town wants, and needs.

“The P&Z told us they want more diversity in housing in Westport. This gets us closer to that.”

Pic Of The Day #237

The Cribari Bridge at Christmas. (Photo/Joel Treisman)