Category Archives: Transportation

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It’s B-a-a-a-a-c-k!

Merritt Parkway Work: The End Is Not Near

Construction work on the Merritt Parkway — from before Exit 41 to beyond Exit 42 — has been going on, it seems since dinosaurs and Studebakers roamed the earth.

The $56 million project includes upgrades to pavement, guardrails and drainage, and restoration of “historic concrete.”

It’s bad enough for drivers (who must navigate frighteningly tight concrete barriers, including on- and off-ramps) and residents (who have endured noise, dust and the destruction of acres of woodlands).

Concrete barriers and no shoulders make driving on the Merritt Parkway a life-in-your-hands experience. (Photo/Bob Mitchell)

But right now, work seems stalled. What’s happening? When will it resume? And how long will it take?

I asked Jonathan Steinberg, Westport’s state representative. He sits on the Transportation Committee, and lives not far from the endless mess.

A Department of Transportation representative told him that right now, there’s a restriction: Work cannot proceed after 11 p.m.

Because of that, the contractor — Manafort Brothers — has stopped work altogether. They say that with just a 3 1/2-hour night window, the project is not feasible. (Work cannot begin until 7:30 p.m., after rush hour.)

“It’s a tough spot,” the DOT rep wrote to Steinberg. “Everybody bought houses there due to the woodland setting and close proximity to a major travel way. The Parkway is over 75 years old and a project of the magnitude may come only once every 30 years. It’s safer if we cut the rock back for all of the travelers.”

However, the DOT official continued, “I agree that the noise we are making now is probably the worst, and this is only Southbound there is another opposite in the Northbound shoulder.”

DOT is “looking at various options that include reducing the amount of rock removed and beefing up the guide rail. Compensating the Contractor for his lost production. Utilizing day time lane closures. Allowing full shift work but on limited nights.”

However, he concluded — ominously for all — “as of today we do not have a solution.”

Wave Down The Winfield Delimobile

Since replacing Art’s on Post Road West a couple of years ago, Winfield Street has made a name for itself as a legendary Italian deli. (The coffee is not too shabby either.)

But you don’t have to go there to enjoy the mouth-watering menu.

Owners Breno and Jeanette Donatti have just purchased a “Delimobile.” It’s their way of servicing their corporate clients, mostly in Westport but throughout Fairfield County too. (They serve breakfast and lunch, mainly for meetings and sales presentations.)

On weekends they cater family parties, graduations, birthdays, baptisms, grand openings, real estate showings, wedding receptions — and everything else.

Winfield Delimobile

I’m a big Winfield Deli fan. I know this sounds like a promo. But here’s the hook: When you see the Delimobile, honk and say hi. If it’s safe, the driver will hand you a $5 coupon — or a cup of coffee.

Mmmmm …. Mamma Mia!

PS: In more Winfield news, they’ve been selected to run the food stand for Westport Little League this year. They’ll serve a limited menu weekdays (5:30 to 8:30 p.m.) and Saturdays (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.).

What’s on the  menu? You can help! Click here to request your favorites.

Idle Talk

Alert — and concerned — “06880” reader Tracy Newman writes:

Last Sunday night marked the start of the Jewish holiday Tu B’Shevat. It originated as a way to calculate the age of trees. Today it’s evolved into a time to celebrate nature, and protect the environment.

The backdrop of this holiday is a good time to remind Westporters of one small change they can consider making, to help the earth.

One of our town’s greatest treasures — its beautiful coastline — is accessible to Westporters of all ages. Children crowd the playgrounds. Kiteboarders ride the waves on windy days. Sun worshipers soak up rays. Picnickers, shell collectors, fishermen, sand castle builders — the list of people and activities at Compo goes on and on.

Even during winter’s frostiest days, people still come to Compo. They walk their dogs. They gundle up and stroll the shoreline. They perch on benches, or sit in their vehicles and take in the view.

No matter the weather, the Compo Beach view is gorgeous. (Photos/Betsy P. Kahn)

How fortunate are we that even those who prefer to stay inside their car, admiring the dynamic vista — from sunrise to sunset, low tide to high, bright sun to stormy clouds — can enjoy Compo? It is to those people that I make my heartfelt request.

Please, turn off your engine.

Chilly? Bring a blanket.

On the phone? Switch your headset to speaker.

Listening to music? On most newer cars, the radio continues until you open the driver’s door.

Why bother making these adjustments?

Because idling your car is bad for the earth.

The Environmental Defense Fund says, “For every 10 minutes your engine is off, you’ll prevent 1 pound of carbon dioxide from being released.” Carbon dioxide is the primary contributor to global warming.

Running your engine also costs you money. The EDF calculates that an idling car uses between 1/5 to 7/10 of a gallon of fuel an hour.

Idling your car makes people sick. It emits hazardous pollutants linked to asthma, heart disease, chronic bronchitis, and cancer.

Idling your car can even damage your engine. The California Energy Commission says idling leads to “the build up of fuel residues on cylinder walls that can damage engine components and increase fuel consumption.”

Finally, it’s against state law. Unnecessary idling for more than 3 minutes is illegal.

Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies (RCSA) 22a-174-18 prohibits vehicles of all kinds from unnecessary idling for more than 3 minutes.

So whether you do this for the earth, your wallet, your health, your car or your civic duty: Please, turn off your engines. Together, we can all make the planet a little greener.

And Happy Tu B’Shevat to you all!

Friday Flashback #126

I’m never sure when it will happen. But certain “06880” posts elicit dozens of comments. Naturally, some of them wander far from the original topic.

A recent post on commuter train etiquette is a great example. One reader cited a 1975 New York Times story about a private railroad car “serving about 65 top NY business executives on daily trips from Southport, Conn, to Grand Central.” The price was quite a bit higher than the regular commuter fare.

In 1949, Life magazine showed Westport commuters enjoying a card game, in an elite railroad club car.

That brought a reaction from another reader. He said:

The New Haven/Penn Central provided several club cars for private membership-only groups who leased them. They featured more spacious seating and had a private attendant serving food and drinks. The cars were discontinued when the state took over in the early 70’s and bought new equipment that was incompatible with the existing club cars and declined to configure new equipment for new club cars, though the Southport Club members offered to pay “any price” for a new car.

And that brought an email from Bonnie Bradley. The Westport native and longtime resident now lives upstate. But she recalls the Southport Car well.

Many Westporters rode it — including her grandfather, James P. Bradley.

He started as a clerk at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Fifty years later, he retired as secretary of the entire firm. Bonnie writes:

“Every workday from the early 1930s through the early ’50s he rode the Southport Club Car (which stopped in Westport). He and his cronies, including Fred Bedford, played poker every day in the Southport Club Car.

Bonnie sends 2 photos. Here, her grandfather is the handsome man in the center:

Here are the cards he held on December 3, 1956, when he won a hand with a once-in-a-lifetime event. His poker mates took the cards, signed their names, and had them framed for him.

Does anyone play cards on the train anymore?

Does anyone talk to anyone else, in fact — beyond someone Very Important on the other end of a cell phone?

Why should they? We’ve got podcasts, Spotify, laptops and tablets. There’s work to be done, or so many ways to entertain ourselves.

We’ve come a long way since 1956.

Or have we?

VanGo Paints A Pretty Transportation Picture

Once upon a time, parents (aka “mothers”) hauled their kids all across town, to all their different activities, all the time.

Then came Uber. It’s a great, easy-to-use driving service. The downside is: You’re never really sure who is driving your kids.

Enter VanGo.

The app is — well, an uber-Uber. Aimed specifically at the pre-teen and teenage market, it addresses the sketchy-driver question head-on.

Drivers are nannies, teachers, babysitters — and especially mothers. In fact, 85% of all drivers are moms.

Each is carefully vetted. They must have at least 3 years of childcare experience. They’re fingerprinted, and their driving records checked. They must supply references. Their vehicles are inspected too.

VanGo is the brainchild of Marta Jamrozik. (The app’s great name was her husband’s idea.)

Marta Jamrozik

Marta lives in Norwalk; her parents are Westporters. A former management consultant with a Fortune 500 company and a Forbes “30 Under 30” honoree, she’s intimately familiar with the pressures of suburban parenting — including how to get your kid from Point A to Points B, C, D, E and F, then home for dinner.

While dads do their share of driving, Marta knows the burden falls disproportionately on women. By easing it for them — and hiring so many women as drivers — she calls VanGo “a feminist company.”

Since the June launch, the app has been downloaded over 1,000 times. Many of those users are Westporters.

“There are so many working parents” here, Marta notes. They use VanGo not just to manage their schedules — to stay later at work, for example — but to manage their personal lives too. A parent who is not chauffeuring can squeeze in a yoga or fitness workout, she notes.

VanGo is not just an after school service, Marta says. Parents also use it during those stressful mornings, when driving a child to school may clash with an early train or meeting.

A VanGo screenshot.

More features: Parents can schedule “recurring rides” (say, ballet every Wednesday from 4 to 5 p.m.) with ease. They can book in advance. And they can track each ride from start to finish, via GPS.

Feedback has been strong. A single mother of a pre-teen son was frustrated with Uber. “They often get our address wrong, do not wait, and are really not geared toward younger riders,” she says.

VanGo’s drivers wait. Her son often has the same drivers. And when she speaks with them, “they’re parents themselves — so they get it.”

It is a little more expensive than Uber. But, this mother says, “the peace of mind is worth it to me.”

Slide over, Uber. There’s a new driver in town.

All Gone!

Chipper B was grounded for more than 4 months.

It took just 24 hours to turn it into just a memory.

Here are 2 photos from earlier today, off Harbor Road

(Photo/Mary Anne Mayo)

(Photo/Jill Delaney)

A hole was found in the vessel’s hull. It was declared “derelict.” Now it’s all been hauled away.

Happy sailing!

Chipper B’s Saga Ending Soon?

It’s been over 4 months since a nor’easter caused Chipper B to break from its mooring.

It washed up on the shores of Saugatuck Shores. It’s been there ever since.

Today, neighbors were pleased to see heavy equipment surround the vessel.

(Photo/Jeff Manchester)

It’s not clear what’s happening, or whether the machines belong to the town or an insurance company.

But — to the relief of many residents — Chipper B may soon have a new home.

Photo Challenge #212

Maybe it’s because relatively few Westporters wait for trains on the eastbound platform.

Maybe it’s because after eating at Donut Crazy, you’re on such a sugar high you can’t sit down.

Whatever the reason, only 2 readers knew that last week’s Photo Challenge — Seth Schachter’s shot showing the word “Welcome” — was actually a bench for riders taking Metro-North toward New Haven. (Click here for photo.)

Lynn Untermeyer Miller and Andrew Colabella were the 2 eagle-eyed — or perhaps travel-weary — eagle-eyed readers. Their responses were quite “welcome.”

So how about this week’s Photo Challenge? If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Elaine Marino)

Remembering Leo Keehan

Leo Keehan died on Tuesday, at 89. He was a lifelong Westporter, a 1947 Staples High School graduate — and a man with an intriguing connection to our town’s transportation history.

Leo Keehan

Leo owned 3 businesses here. One — Teddy’s Taxi — was located for years on the eastbound side of the Saugatuck train station.

It shared space with the local Avis rental agency — which he also owned.

Noticing growth in the number of trips to New York airports, he added a limo service: Teddy’s Limousine.

Leo’s son Kyle says, “Leo had many amazing and sometimes scandalous stories about famous people who rode in his fleet of vehicles. He had ‘Taxicab Confessions’  before HBO came up with the idea.”

In the 1970s, Westport was selected by the state government as an ideal town for an experimental local transportation system. In the first phase, Mercedes “minnybuses” followed fixed routes to and from the station, taking commuters to the train each morning and bringing them home at night.

In between, the buses ran routes connecting downtown with outer neighborhoods.

Inexpensive passes allowed Westporters to ride minnybuses without limits. Parents quickly realized the buses were cheap babysitters. They put their kids on, and waved goodbye, occupying them happily for hours.

The second phase — “maxi taxis” — was a van service. Several customers sharedrides to points around town. 

A Minnybus at Jesup Green.

Leo was recruited as president. Both programs ran successfully, until funding ran out.

Leo sold his businesses in his early 50s. Retirement lasted only a year. The family that purchased Teddy’s wanted his expertise to grow the business. Twenty-five years later he retired permanently from Teddy’s’ — a job he truly enjoyed.

A young Leo Keehan

Leo was a Korean War veteran, stationed in Germany. After returning to Westport he began working in the auto parts industry. He married Beverly Breault, daughter of Gilbert and Breault — original owners of Ye Olde Bridge Grill.

Leo lived at Compo Beach for more than 45 years. He loved the water, and sailing.

The Keehan family has been Westport residents for over a century. His sons  Kyle and Scott both live in town, and hope to keep their family here for another 100 years.

A celebration of Leo’s life will be held on Friday (January 25, 10 a.m., St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, 1719 Post Road, Fairfield). In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project.