Category Archives: Transportation

Mt. Kisco Takes Our Tesla Taxes

The other day, David Pogue — the tech writer (Yahoo, New York Times, Scientific American), TV correspondent (“CBS News Sunday Morning,” PBS “Nova Science Now”) and author (“Missing Manual” series, “Pogue’s Basics”) — reported a Tesla story.

Pogue is also a devoted Westporter. He decided to localize his piece, exclusively for “06880.” After all, our town is (supposedly) the Tesla capital of Connecticut. He writes:

These days, we’re seeing a lot of Teslas on Westport streets. And no wonder: These electric cars are gorgeous, fast, and unbelievably smart. They’re far better for the environment than internal-combustion cars. You never need gas. There’s no engine and no transmission, so there are no oil changes, tuneups, or emissions checks. You get a total of $10,500 from the state and federal government, in cash and tax credits, to help you buy one.

And in Westport, there are free charging stations all over town — in the sweetest electric-car-only parking spots.

But every time you see a Tesla in Westport, remember that its owner drove to Mount Kisco, New York to get it.

That’s right: You’re not allowed to buy a Tesla in Connecticut.

Robin Tauck’s Tesla license plate sends a message.

Connecticut and 15 other states have an ancient law on the books. It bans a car maker from selling directly to the public, as Tesla stores do.

The law was designed 80 years ago to protect local franchises — the traditional car-dealership model — from having to compete with stores opened by the car makers themselves. Local Ford dealerships, for example, didn’t want Ford to open its own store across the street and run them out of business.

Of course, the law never envisioned a car company, like Tesla, that didn’t use the franchise system. (Why doesn’t Tesla use the normal local-franchise dealership model? It believes that electric cars require more explaining and patience than a traditional dealer would bother with.)

A number of states have recognized the anachronism and overturned the ban—but not Connecticut. Every time the ban comes up for a vote in our state legislature, our legislators continue keeping Tesla out of the state.

That’s a result of lobbying work by CARA (Connecticut Auto Retailers’ Association). “They’ll be the legislators’ best friends,” says Bruce Becker, president of the Electric Vehicle Club of Connecticut. “What some dealers do is, they’ll actually man the campaigns. They’ll have a campaign headquarters in their dealerships. There’s one dealer who’s actually running the campaign for someone who’s running for governor.”

He says that there’s a simple reason why car dealers want to keep Tesla out: because electric cars threaten their profits. Car dealerships make most of their money on service (3 times as much profit as they get from selling cars, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association). And as noted above, electric cars require almost no service.

“You’ve got these entrenched special interests that have really pushed hard, and they seem to be more entrenched every year, because they see the risks to them personally,” Westport state senator Toni Boucher told me. “There’s such an enormous amount of opposition.”

20 Saugatuck Avenue was considered recently as a site for a Tesla service center.

So what’s the result? Connecticut loses jobs, sales, and property tax to surrounding states.

This protectionism will make it difficult to reach Connecticut’s environmental goals (to lower emissions to 45 percent of 2001 levels by 2030).

“This is the unfortunate thing about CT politics: So much energy goes into creating these monopolies and protecting and limiting trade, as opposed to innovating and creating a more efficient economy,” says Becker.

I did a deep dive on this topic in my Yahoo Finance column this week. I interviewed not only Bruce Becker and Toni Boucher, but also Westport’s state representative Jonathan Steinberg; Tesla’s head counsel Todd Maron, and car-dealership lobbyist Jim Fleming, president of the CT Auto Retailers’ Association.

It’s a surprisingly fraught, sensitive, contentious issue, filled with back-room deals and arguments on both sides about what’s best for the consumer.

Meanwhile, next time you see a Tesla driving by, nod in acknowledgment to the trip its owner took to Mount Kisco.

Distracted Driving Event Set For Saturday

It’s a recent, and potentially fatal, phenomenon: a car crashes into a tree or telephone pole. It’s the middle of the day — often in fine weather — and there are no other vehicles around.

The cause is almost always distracted driving. And the driver can just as easily be an adult as a teenager.

Meanwhile, for decades, many other accidents — at all times of day — have been caused by impaired drivers. Those under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be any age too.

Staples High School’s Teen Awareness Group wants to do something about it.

This Saturday (October 13, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Staples football field), the club hosts a Distracted Driving event. It’s free, and open to all high school students.

Plus their parents, and any other interested people.

Drivers can be distracted by texting, as well as by alcohol or drugs.

The State Police will be on hand with a simulator. Attendees can experience first-hand the power of an impact by a moving vehicle — this time, fortunately, in a safe, controlled environment.

Westport police officers will create an obstacle course and other simulations. Using special goggles, participants can experience the effects of substances on depth perception, coordination, decreased reaction time and impaired decision-making.

You can also take a field sobriety test.

TAG has organized this Distracted Driving Day with support from the Westport Youth Commission and Westport Police-Youth Club.

It’s an important event. Drive safely — there, back and always.

(NOTE: Attendees should park by the Staples fieldhouse and pool. Staples boys soccer’s 60th anniversary celebration will fill the parking lot by the soccer field and baseball diamond.)

When You’ve Got It …

Parking is at a premium near National Hall.

Of the few spots, many are reserved by tenants in that building, and adjacent ones.

So it’s not as if this driver is taking up a space that’s available to us normal Westporters.

He’s just taking it from a co-worker.

Or — more likely, since Paganis start at $1.4 million — an employee.

PS: Let’s hope the owner checked the weather forecast before heading in to work.

Friday Flashback #110

For an otherwise unremarkable spot on Post Road East, #1700 has a long and storied history.

Today’s it’s the site of a thriving Goodwill store.

For many years before that, it was the Peppermill — one of the first steak-and-all-you-can-eat-salad-bar restaurants in the country.

Before that, it was a different steak place. Bonanza Sirloin Pit served up meat in a quasi-fast food way. You got in line, snaked through, and picked up your meal at the end.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

Dan Blocker — “Hoss” on the great “Bonanza” TV show — made a personal appearance there once. I was in elementary school. He seemed huge. Now I know it wasn’t just because I was small

But the site has a history even before steak spot and Goodwill. Back in the day, it served as Westport’s Greyhound bus depot.

It was called the Greyhound Post House. There must have been food available inside too.

If you’ve got any memories of the bus depot or Bonanza, click “Comments” below.

Peppermill: sure, why not?

As for Goodwill: Save them for a Friday Flashback in, say, 2048.

Friday Flashback #109

On Monday (October 1, 7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), a public information session explores Westport’s “Main to Train” study. The goal is to create better transportation connections between downtown and the Saugatuck train station.

Someone may mention trolleys. Cities and towns around the country are reintroducing the old-time vehicles as a way to move large numbers of people quietly and efficiently.

Westport had trolleys back in the day too. Streetcars carried passengers to and from Bridgeport and Norwalk — and beyond.

A trolley car on the Post Road (then called State Street).

Spurs operated from the town center to the railroad station and Compo Beach.

The trolley line to Compo Beach.

I’m not sure when service ended — or why. But the tracks remained at least through the 1950s.

If you remember Westport’s trolleys, click “Comments” below.

(Hat tip: John Kelley)

Marilyn Monroe’s Westport T-Bird

Marilyn Monroe spent a mid-1950s summer in Westport. She rented at Old Mill Beach, if the stories are to be believed.

Not up for dispute: She bought a black 1956 Thunderbird convertible — from a dealership here in town.

Now you can own it too. According to the New York Post, it will be auctioned off in November.

Marilyn Monroe’s Thunderbird (Photo courtesy of New York Post)

Of course, it’ll cost you. The Post said bids are expected to range between $300,000 and $500,000.

Monroe owned the T-bird from 1955 to 1962 — the year she died. She and Arthur Miller drove it to their 1956 wedding.

“In recognition of the car’s important provenance, special heed was given to the retention of original parts, with most driver and passenger touch surfaces left undisturbed,” the owner said.

Think this is #fakenews? The Post notes: “Julien’s Auctions is behind its sale and reportedly has documents from the current owner proving the vehicle’s authenticity.”

(Click here for the full story. Hat tip: Rob Corona)

Westport’s Newest Study: “Main To Train”

I’ve never gotten a press release from the Western Connecticut Council of Governments.

Actually, I’ve never even heard of them.

But they’ve got a website. A logo.

And this news:

The Town of Westport is hosting a public information session on Monday, October 1 (7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium) to introduce the Westport “Main to Train” Study.

The study will “identify improvements to vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian safety and circulation on Post Road East and Riverside Avenue. This will create better connections between the commercial center of town and the Saugatuck train station, and promote non-motorized transportation choices.”

Post Road and Riverside Avenue. The “Main to Train” includes the often-gridlocked intersection.

The meeting — one of 5 scheduled for the course of the study — will “provide participants with an opportunity to learn about the study’s purpose, schedule, and scope, and to share their observations, concerns and ideas with the project team.”

For more information, click here for the Westport Main to Train website. Or contact WestCOG associate planner Nicole Sullivan: nsullivan@westcog.org.

Raising Alarms On Saugatuck Shores

The new bridge to Saugatuck Island has gotten lots of press (and praise).

But area residents are less pleased about another project on Saugatuck Shores.

Gene Borio reports on a culvert replacement project that has closed off Canal Road since earlier this month.

“Somehow,” he says, “the construction company missed out on the idea that if they completely close off ingress and egress of seawater to the pond for 2 months of estimated work, the pond might stagnate and start dying.”

(Photo/Gene Borio)

When 3 eels floated to the surface, neighbors called the town. An emergency culvert was quickly installed.

But, Gene says, “the eels were so bad, even a gull wouldn’t eat them.”

This gull tried — and rejected — this eel, photographer Gene Borio says.

He adds, “It’s definitely affecting life around here. Even on weekends, people think they can’t cross to get to the beach.”

They can, he says — if they don’t mind mud and obstructions.

Still, drivers constantly see a sign saying the bridge is closed, and turn around.

Saugatuck Shores resident Jeff Manchester is also concerned. Hundreds — perhaps thousands — of cars, oil trucks, boats and trailers and school buses have backed down Canal Road, he says.

One of the many trucks that now backs down Canal Road. (Photo/Jeff Manchester)

They’re following confusing signs that should instead divert Canal Road traffic over the bridge on Harbor Road.

(Photo/Jeff Manchester)

He recommends a simple solution: replace the “Bridge Closed” sign with the one used when the bridge was being renovated.

Otherwise, he warns, “we’ll see a vehicle in the canal.”

Pic Of The Day #515

Bedford Middle School

Controversial Boat Runs Aground

Last month, I posted a story about a boat off Saugatuck Shores.

Some “06880” readers thought its condition made it an eyesore. Some called it “abandoned.”

Other readers defended it as a legitimate, seaworthy vessel with every right to be there, and defended its owner. He became part of the comments too.

When the back-and-forth became particularly nasty, I pulled the post.

The controversy is now moot. This morning, the boat ran aground off Harbor Road.

(Photo/Joelle Malec)