Category Archives: Transportation

Tuesdays @ The (T)rain

Call it a “dry run.”

Except a sudden, unexpected thunderstorm sent dozens of commuters, parents, kids and random Westporters scurrying for the safety of tents set up by food vendors, local organizations and the sponsoring Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — while knocking out the live music that had just kicked in.

And except for a storm-related Metro-North overhead wire problem that created delays of up to 30 minutes, and caused trains to shuttle back and forth between Westport and Rowayton.

Apart from those glitches though, the 1st-ever “Tuesdays @ the Train” event went swimmingly, at Luciano Park next to the station.

The sun came out. There were games and eats. Everyone relaxed, went with the (still-wet) flow, and had a great time.

Mark your calendars for the next 2 Tuesdays @ the Train: July 18 and August 8.

First Selectman Jim Marpe checks out the “Tuesdays @ the Train” tents in Luciano Park.

Some kids played …

… while others tried to.

Meanwhile, all around town, a rainbow lit up the skies. Here’s a sampling:

Compo Beach (Photo/Rich Stein)

Burying Hill Beach (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

The downtown view, from iFloat (Photo/terry Stangl)

Driving Miss Jenn

If there is a hell on earth these days, it’s La Guardia Airport.

For Jenn Cohn Falik, a flight there the other day turned exponentially worse than even most travelers’ nightmares.

But then an unlikely hero emerged.

Joe Biden compared La Guardia to an airport in a third world country. He should apologize to all those nations. La Guardia is much worse.

The 1997 Staples High School graduate — who moved back here 5 years ago — and her family had just finished a 5-night cruise, celebrating her mom’s birthday. (Read all about it here, on Jenn’s great blog!)

Arriving at the Orlando airport “ridiculously early,” they found their flight was delayed 3 hours. So Jenn and her girls made the best of the next 7 hours in the terminal.

When they finally boarded, they endured a very rough flight. The plane circled for an hour over Virginia, trying to wait out a storm and heavy traffic at LGA.

Fuel was getting low. Controllers wanted to divert the flight to JFK. (I know; don’t ask.) But bad weather there caused a diversion to Bradley, in Hartford.

Jenn was in constant contact (“yay for JetBlue’s WiFi!”) with Frank Pataky. He owns the airport driving service that was supposed to pick her up.

“In between hyperventilating and trying not to cry in front of my kids every time we hit a bump, I was texting Frank with updates, and he was communicating with his driver,” Jenn reports.

Jenn Falik communicates calmly when she is not on a flight from and to hell.

“When I told him we were going to Hartford, he knew his driver would never make it. He could probably tell from my doomsday texts that I was in a fragile state, and 3 hours waiting at Hartford would not have turned out well.”

So Frank went to Jenn’s house, got their 2nd car, put car seats in and headed north himself.

The plane landed. But — this is the state of air travel in the US these days — passengers were told they had to stay on the plane. It was being refueled — for a flight back to La Guardia.

Jenn texted Frank. She said there was NO WAY!!!! she was staying on the plane for another minute.

He pulled off in New Haven, to see if she could talk her way off the plane.

She could. And she did.

Her girls and she were escorted onto the tarmac. They rode to the terminal in the truck bringing fuel and paperwork to the pilot.

Jenn texted Frank from the runway. He drove to Bradley, and picked up 3 very tired, very cranky girls (“one age 2, one age 6, one age 38”).

Goldie and Alexa Falik, somewhere between Orlando and Hartford.

He offered to stop so they could get dinner. They just wanted to get home.

Finally — one bathroom stop, and one frantic call to Jordan’s to order a large salad pizza, later — they were in Westport. It was 9:30 p.m.

But Frank’s day was not done. He helped Jenn get the girls and bags inside.

“We were all in one piece. And we felt much more relaxed, thanks to his understanding and patience!”

You go, Frank!

(Jenn didn’t ask, but I’m happy to provide contact info for Frank Pataky. His phone number is 203-767-1083.)

Tuesdays @ The Train

One of the enduring images of postwar Westport was Mom rounding up the kids, tossing them in the back of the station wagon, and driving down to Saugatuck to pick up Dad as he stumbled off the bar car — I mean, got off the train — after a hard day of work.

Times have changed. Mom now commutes; Dad works from home. One-car families gave way to 2 (or 3, or 4); the “station car” is now likely to be a BMW or Tesla. The bar car went the way of the 59-minute train ride (it’s now 68 — at least).

But the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce pays homage to those days. Starting this Tuesday, June 27 — and continuing July 18 and August 8 — they’re sponsoring a new event.

“Tuesdays @ the Train” are family-friendly (and free). From 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., you can meet Mom (or Dad) at the train, then cross under the tracks to Luciano Park (for 25 years the home of Festival Italiano).

There will be live music; food for purchase from Dunville’s, Tarry Lodge and Viva’s, plus Phil and Tom’s ice cream; a beer-and-wine garden, and games like bocce, bean bag target toss and badminton.

Chamber of Commerce executive director Matt Mandell built 2 giant Jengas and a Giant Kerplunk.

There’s a playground right in the park too, with a basketball hoop.

NOTE: You don’t need to be a commuter — or have a family — to enjoy “Tuesdays @ the Train.” Local workers, those who drive to work or work from home, retirees — and singles, divorced, flown-nest and childless couples — are warmly welcome too.

(For more information on Tuesdays @ the Train, click here.)

Best Worst Parking Job. Ever

I have no idea what went on here, earlier this afternoon:

But it goes without saying:

It happened in the Compo Shopping Center parking lot.

[OPINION] Saugatuck Resident Thanks P&Z For Tesla Response

Last night, the Planning & Zoning Commission heard public comment on a text amendment to allow an electric car service center — and possibly a dealership — on Saugatuck Avenue.

Most of the public was not in favor of the plan. The P&Z heard concerns loud and clear. They’ll revisit the proposal on July 6.

Opponents of the plan — which involves Tesla — took heart from the meeting. Saugatuck resident and “06880” reader Marilyn Harding writes:

Last night the residents of Saugatuck did a brilliant job — through strategies that encompassed fact-based data, tell-tale photographs and their passion of purpose— that saved Saugatuck from a future of more traffic chaos, more misuse of land, and more reckless change to a historic community. Their presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission fully demonstrates how local communities can work together successfully to preserve the town of Westport.

20 Saugatuck Avenue — the site where Tesla hoped to build a service facility.

The P & Z deserves bunches of kudos for their sound judgment in steering an electric car company away from the already overcrowded streets of Saugatuck, but did embrace the innovative brand.

P &Z members extended welcoming invitations to Tesla, alerting them to locations on the Post Road where the required commercial zoning is permitted for car dealers.

The P & Z took yet another step forward, acknowledging the value of their predecessors’ work when town regulations were written and designed to safeguard Westport’s authenticity as a historic New England town.

Congratulations to the Saugatuck residents, members of the P & Z, and to the wonderful, creative Westporters who have gone before us!

[OPINION] Keep Tesla Out Of Saugatuck!

Alert “06880” reader Mark Kirby is an organizer of Saugatuck Neighbors. As outlined below, he is opposed to the plan for a Tesla service facility in his neighborhood.

Two months ago I got a letter from Mel Barr, former Westport Planning and Zoning director, now a zoning consultant. Tesla Motors wanted to change town zoning to allow a “service center” at one of two sites in Saugatuck, including one that abuts part of our backyard. Would I attend a meeting to learn about the proposal?

I had mixed feelings. I was excited to have Tesla in Westport. I support its vision for a less carbon-reliant future; I signed up for a Model 3 before it was officially announced.

But as a neighbor, I worried about noise from tools like compressors and pneumatic wrenches. A service center isn’t what I’d imagined in the neighborhood—in fact, it’s prohibited. But because it was Tesla, I wanted to keep an open mind.

20 Saugatuck Avenue — the proposed site for the Tesla facility.

The meeting was held on a Tuesday night. Mr. Barr was there, along with the building’s landlord, Bruce Becker (a Westport architect and Tesla enthusiast), 4 Tesla representatives, and Tesla’s realtor.

Mr. Barr handed out his proposed zoning amendment. Something jumped out immediately: the zoning change was for a dealership. I asked him and the Tesla representatives about it.

Me (reading their amendment): “Said establishments may also provide vehicle sales of new and used electric motor vehicles, subject to a State License.

Them: Well, we can’t actually sell cars in Connecticut right now.

Me: But I’ve just signed a petition supporting legislation that would allow you to.

The conversation went on from there, but you get the idea: It was a challenge getting forthright answers from this group. At one point, I asked whether Tesla would be willing to go forward without the dealership. Their answer was no.

What’s so bad about a dealership? I’ve heard lots of reasons from neighbors but I’ll share only mine here.

My wife and I settled in Saugatuck because we liked the easy access to transit, and that it was a walkable neighborhood. Many families in Saugatuck have done so for similar reasons.

It’s not just the immediate neighbors who want to preserve this area. Creating a walkable Saugatuck is a priority for both the current Saugatuck Transit-Oriented Master Plan and the town’s draft 2017 Conservation Plan of Development.

I can’t think of a single example of a walkable neighborhood with a car dealership smack in the middle. Our kids are young, and we’re especially concerned about test drives in cars that are fast, silent and accelerate in ways that startle new drivers. While there may be virtues to having a pioneering company like Tesla in town, I wouldn’t count bringing car dealerships to residential areas as one of them.

I realize that some people will read this and cry NIMBYism! But the kind of zoning change proposed here isn’t just bad for Saugatuck; it’s bad for Westport.

Some Saugatuck residents fear this is what the Tesla facility will turn into.

Saugatuck is already a chokepoint for the town — and that’s predominantly from local trips. Tesla would mean additional cars from out-of-towners hopping off I-95 for gas, a rush-hour service appointment or a test drive.

The fact that Saugatuck has the village character it does today is the result of decades of zoning decisions aimed at keeping highway services out of the area. There’s also the question of why we’d want a car dealership (which even for green cars aren’t pollutant-free environments) either on the river or alongside a stream feeding directly into the river.

While learning about zoning rules and knocking on neighbors’ doors weren’t things I anticipated doing this spring, I’m glad for it. It’s been a great way to meet neighbors, get to know town officials, and learn about the many fights over neighborhood preservation that have made Westport what it is today. We’re pleased that Save Westport Now and the Greens Farms Association are supporting neighbors in protesting this zoning change. If you’d like to support us too, you can here.

Westport is investing a lot of time and effort into studying Saugatuck. Will it be a well-planned, cohesive community with local businesses and residents supporting each other, or will we pre-empt all that by dumping a dealership right in the middle of the village?

My hope is that the Planning and Zoning Commission will listen to the neighborhood at the hearing tomorrow (Thursday, June 15, 7 p.m. Town Hall), and make this decision wisely.

Pardon His Westport

After graduating from Staples High School in 1988, Chris Pardon headed to Marquette University.

“It was good to get out of the Northeast,” he says of the Milwaukee school. “I saw a part of the country and met people I wouldn’t have if I stayed in the area.”

But as a journalism and broadcast communications major, most work was on the coasts. His first job was as an NBC page — so he moved back home.

Then it was on to Turner Broadcasting, where he’s been ever since. He now works on the business side, with CNN.

Pardon’s career and personal lives followed a path familiar to many Staples grads. He lived on the Upper East Side, got married, had a kid, and landed in Brooklyn.

Though his son was in a “decent” public school, it was crowded. A year and a half ago Pardon and his wife Ria decided the time was right to move to the ‘burbs.

Chris and Ria Pardon, with their son.

Her family is from Scarsdale. Pardon’s parents still live here, in the same house they raised him in. So he and Ria started looking in Westchester and Fairfield Counties.

They spent a lot of time searching for the right spot. But Westchester property taxes were “staggering.” And, Pardon says, “there are places like Chappaqua, with great schools. But there’s nothing to do there.”

In Connecticut, they did everything they could to avoid Westport — mainly because of the long commute.

But the homes they saw in Greenwich did not appeal to them. In Darien, everything affordable and likable was next to 95 or Metro-North. New Canaan — well, it’s not on the water.

It took some convincing for his wife to agree to look at the town where Pardon’s brother Doug had just bought a house, and where his parents live too.

A couple of open houses opened her eyes. And, Pardon says, “We were surprised how much further our money went in Westport.”

He knew about “great music and arts in the schools. Compo blows other Fairfield County beaches away.” But, he admits, “If I didn’t know what I was getting into, I wouldn’t want to be this far out.”

Two days before Christmas, they moved into the Old Hill neighborhood.

One surprise was the 4-year wait list for a train station parking permit. Fortunately, the shuttle bus travels along Pardon’s new street.

The Westport transit bus is a great — and unexpected — Westport perk for Doug Pardon.

“The realtor told us, but I didn’t realize how important that is,” he says.

“I thought I’d just pay $5 a day for parking. But I take the bus every day. We didn’t have to buy a 2nd car. That’s the greatest thing ever.”

He uses the app to see where the bus is in the morning. In the afternoon, it drops him off in front of his house.

Some things have changed — there’s a “new” high school, and Bedford Square “is amazing” in place of the old Y — but Pardon settled quickly into his old/new home town.

His wife took their son to a Coleytown Middle School play. “They were blown away!” he says. She has gone to school breakfasts, and met other parents.

Pardon is also surprised by the number of people he recognizes. Far more than he realized have stayed around — or, like he, returned.

“I feel like a bit of a townie,” he says. “I know there are new restaurants, and I look forward to going. But so far we’ve only been to the Duck and Dunville’s — the towniest places around.”

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There Were 3 Empty Spaces At Starbucks. Then This Guy Grabbed ‘Em.

Pic Of The Day #41

William Cribari (Bridge Street) Bridge (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Pic Of The Day #33

Waiting for the train (Photo/Dave Curtis)