Tag Archives: Riverside Avenue

Many Hands Make Lights Work

During COVID, Westport’s eerily empty streets were a joy to drive.

A sad joy, to be sure. The other side of our unimpeded ride was knowing that so many friends and neighbors were stuck home, inside, with nowhere at all to go.

Now — thanks to vaccinations, warm weather and pandemic fatigue — traffic is back.

And it’s worse than ever.

For hours a day, backups stretch everywhere: from Route 1 and 33 almost to Fresh Market. Canal and Main Streets. All of Saugatuck.

No one can say for sure why it’s this bad. But driving in Westport really, really sucks.

Waiting in line at the Imperial Avenue light. (Photo/Dick Lowenstein)

With time on my hands the other day — I wasn’t going anywhere — I tried to think of solutions.

I wouldn’t wish another townwide quarantine on anyone. Banning Waze is not an option. (I’m as hypocritical as the rest of Westport: I happily use the app to avoid highway traffic by driving through other towns.)

So I did the next best thing. I came up with a few ideas.

For example:

Alternate red and green lights at both Wilton Road and Riverside Avenue. The awkward dance between cars heading northbound and southbound doesn’t work. One car trying to turn left from Wilton Road onto the Post Road — or left from Riverside onto Post Road West — can hold up a dozen cars behind it. So why not have green for only northbound traffic; then only green for southbound traffic; followed by what we’ve got now (first a “left turn only” for eastbound and westbound drivers, then a full green for both).

What’s the holdup? Some dude at the front of this line, trying to turn left onto the Post Road. (Photo/David Waldman)

Add a “left turn only” for drivers on South Compo, going westbound on Bridge Street. Traffic now routinely backs up under the railroad bridge.

At the same time, change the timing of the light. It’s too long for Greens Farms Road and Bridge Street drivers, not long enough for those on Compo South. (I know; a long light helps ease traffic on Greens Farms and Bridge Street when it’s backed up with I-95 overflow. Maybe shorter lights would effect Waze’s algorithm of suggesting that as an alternate route.)

A “left-turn only” arrow from South Compo to Bridge Street will make traffic flow as easily as it appears in this image from Google Maps.

Reconfigure the turning lane from Kings Highway North (where the Willows/ “Fort Apache” medical complex is on the right), onto Wilton Road. Right now the right lane is for right turns and cars going straight on Kings Highway. When one car in that lane heads straight, no one behind can turn right on red. Make the left lane for left turns and straight ahead; the right lane should be “right on red” only.

Another reason Kings Highway North should be “right turn on red” only: The left lane lines up more directly with its continuation past Wilton Road.

All of these ideas are beyond the scope of Westport officials. They’re state roads. So yeah, I know, I have a better chance of walking to the planet Zork than I do of seeing meaningful traffic light changes.

But a boy can dream.

(Do you have an idea for easing Westport’s traffic woes? Click “Comments” below. It won’t do any good — but at least “06880” readers can appreciate your brilliance.) 

Photo Challenge #340

There’s at least one good thing about the traffic clogging Saugatuck: It gives drivers the chance to admire the fence in front of the home next to the VFW, on Riverside Avenue near the intersection with Saugatuck Avenue and Treadwell.

That intricate, whimsical fence — designed by Andrew Hamilton Reise — was the subject of last week’s Photo Challenge. (Click here to see.)

Tons of readers quickly identified it. They also noted the owners: Pietro and Janine Scotti. He’s the owner/chef of the former and still beloved Da Pietro’s restaurant, just down Riverside (and across the street) closer to town.

Janine reports that he’s “cooking up a storm” now at Vieste in Newport. It’s not that far! Just hop on I-95, a few yards away from the Scottis’ funky fence 🙂

Congratulations to Gerald F. Romano, Darcy Sledge, Nancy Wilson, Leslie Flinn, Lynn Untermeyer Miller, David Waldman, Karen Como, Arthur Hayes, Pat Saviano, Wendy  Cusick, Seth Braunstein, Michael Calise, Soodie Farley, Jamie Walsh, Maria Funicello, Jonathan McClure, Pete Powell and Melisa Didio. You all know that great fences make wonderful neighbors.

What about big wooden doors? If you know where in Westport you’d see this week’s Photo Challenge, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Mark Jacobs)

Cross Street Settlement Reached; Smaller, Safer Housing Set

One of Westport’s thorniest housing controversies has been solved.

A proposed 6-story, 81-unit apartment complex between Lincoln and Cross Streets, off Post Road West will be scaled back to 68 units. It’s been redesigned almost completely, eliminating a section that would tower over homes on Riverside Avenue. Fire safety and parking concerns have been addressed to the satisfaction of Westport’s fire marshal.

And the developer includes 30% affordable housing.

Tonight, after weeks of negotiations between the Planning & Zoning Commission, the developer Cross Street LLC and neighbors, the P&Z voted 5-0 in favor of the settlement. Newly appointed commissioner Patrizia Zucaro abstained.

The settlement substantially lessens the impact on Lincoln Street, just south of Cross Street.

In October 2018, the P&Z unanimously rejected the 81-unit plan. Their concerns included fire access, traffic and historic preservation.

Cross Street LLC appealed. Last July, a Superior Court judge sustained the appeal.

However, discussions between the P&Z, the developer and neighbors — many of whom live in historic properties that are some of the most naturally occurring affordable homes in town, with on-street parking that would have been lost — bore fruit.

The Fire Department is now confident they could access and fight any fires there. The new version eliminates the looming design that would have altered the look of the neighborhood. On-street parking has been saved.

And the 30% affordable units will help Westport toward the state’s 8-30g mandate for increasing that housing stock.

“With this settlement, Westport has not just turned the page but closed the book on all outstanding 8-30g related litigation,” says P&Z chair Danielle Dobin.

“I want to compliment the Lincoln Street and Riverside Avenue neighbors for working collaboratively with the Commission under the most challenging of circumstances; the developer for choosing to redesign this project to be both fire safe and less physically imposing, and my fellow P&Z commissioners who worked together as a team to negotiate an amicable resolution to this litigation.

“The redesigned project will provide mixed income rental apartments within walking distance of schools and downtown, further diversifying housing in a central Westport location.”

Traffic Cop, Traffic Light: The Sequel

Police Chief Foti Koskinas feels Westport drivers’ pains. He hears their pleas for a traffic cop on Riverside Avenue, at the Cribari Bridge. The Westport Police Department is on the case.

But there is another side to Westport’s traffic woes too.

Driving habits have changed dramatically during COVID, Koskinas and public safety officer Al D’Amura say. Though Westporters have returned to work, all but 1oo or so of the Saugatuck and Greens Farms train station parking spots are empty every day. Those folks drive instead.

The situation is the same at every train station from Greenwich to New Haven. That’s why I-95 and the Merritt Parkway have become parking lots.

Looking for every bit of help, drivers turn to apps like Waze. Offered an alternate route, they take it.

Which is why we see more and more backups on Riverside Avenue. As well as Wilton Road, Cross Highway, Long Lots Road — anywhere Waze says is even slightly better. It’s a problem at I-95 exits 17 and 18, and Merritt exits 41 and 42.

When William Cribari and other officers were posted at what was then called the Bridge Street Bridge, Koskinas says, they facilitated 100 to 200 vehicles to and from trains.

Traffic is no longer timed to trains, Koskinas explains. Moving traffic off the bridge in the morning, and through Riverside Avenue in the evening, sounds like a great idea.

But Waze and traffic apps would immediately sense the smoother flow — making the alternate route off I-95 even more appealing to highway drivers.

A traffic officer will immiediately take over the Riverside Avenue post made famous by William William Cribari (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

Still — starting immediately – there will be an officer on Riverside by the bridge, in the late afternoon.

“We’ll monitor the situation, to see if it helps or hurts,” Koskinas says.

“We may find that as much as people don’t like waiting through 4 or 5 light cycles, it’s better than having 300 more cars coming through Saugatuck. We don’t know what we’ll find for sure. We’ll study it.”

That’s not the only new traffic post in town. An agent will be posted from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Post Road/Wilton Road/Riverside Avenue intersection.

Actually, it’s not “new.” As a young officer, Koskinas once manned that corner.

Facilitating traffic there impacts other lights on the Post Road. For example, waving through more cars from Wilton Road might cause more of a temporary backup through the already congested downtown area.

“We understand the importance to merchants, and everyone,” Koskinas says. As with Saugatuck, he and D’Amura will monitor the situation closely.

As for another suggestion from an “06880” reader — installation of a light at the top of I-95 eastbound Exit 18 — Koskinas says, “we fully support it. It’s come up before.” His department — in collaboration with the Board of Selectmen — will make that recommendation to the state Department of Transportation.

Sherwood Island Connector is a state road. There will be engineering studies, and budget issues. It could take a while.

So for now, you might want to get off at Exit 17. A traffic cop there will move traffic along.

Or maybe he’ll inadvertently invite other I-95 drivers to join you.

[OPINION] Traffic Cop Needed At Cribari Bridge

For the past 8 years, Rick Rosencrans has commuted to work from I-95 Exit 17 in Westport, to Exit 7 in Stamford. Recently — as the pandemic has eased, and the drive has gotten longer — he’s had time to think. Rick writes:

For 8 years I have watched traffic patterns on I-95 ebb and flow, often based on the day of the week, time of day, construction projects and accidents.

During the early months of COVID, and into this past winter, traffic was light. My pre-COVID 40-minute commute turned into a 15 to 20-minute ride, door to door. Yet while the shorter commute was nice, I’m not selfish enough to think the trade-off was worth it.

Fast forward to late winter and this spring. While many offices and businesses between Westport and New York still work with limited staff, traffic seems to have returned to pre-pandemic levels.

I assume that since the train station parking lots are hardly used, many of the people who have returned to work now commute by car instead of train.

On my daily Stamford to Westport return trip — particularly on Friday afternoons — traffic seems worse than ever. Due to Waze, Google Maps and natural instincts, many drivers get off at Exit 17, head up Charles Street, turn left on Riverside Avenue at Tutti’s, make a right on Bridge Street, and continue on to Greens Farms Road towards Exit 18 and points north.

This backs cars all the way up on to the exit ramp, and often on to the right lane of northbound 95.  It can take 25 minutes to get from the ramp to the Cribari Bridge in Saugatuck, a distance of about 1 mile. 

Saugatuck, on a rare day with little traffic. It often backs up on Riverside Avenue, from Exit 17 to the Cribari Bridge.

The streets of Saugatuck were not meant for this volume of traffic. But one impediment makes the situation even worse.

With no “No Right on Red” sign by Dunkin Donuts, bridge-bound cars idle in front of the firehouse and Saugatuck Sweets, while traffic flows from the bridge into Saugatuck.

I have no problem with the sign, during normal hours. But what I have observed over the years is that a  traffic officer at the Riverside Avenue/Bridge Street intersection, safely waving drivers to make a right on red, has a significant effect on the overall traffic flow.

I would guess that an additional 15 to 20 cars could be waved around the corner of Bridge Square during each cycle of lights. That would also allow for adjustment in the timing of the lights so that cars coming from the other direction on Riverside Avenue have more time allotted to make a left on to the bridge.

The William F. Cribari Bridge. A police officer could wave more cars onto it, during rush hour.

We need a traffic officer at the intersection on weekday afternoons, and perhaps at certain weekend times when I-95 is backed up.   

Once upon a time, there WAS a traffic officer — every day — at that intersection. He was visible, efficient, and very, very theatrical.

His name was William F. Cribari. And yes, he’s the guy they named the Bridge Street bridge after. 

Bill Cribari, at work (and play). (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

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Meanwhile, “06880” reader Gary Shure has a solution for another traffic chokepoint, a couple of miles east:

During rush hour there is often a long backup at the northbound Exit 18 ramp (Sherwood Island connector). It goes down the whole ramp, continuing onto the right lane of the highway itself.

It would be so easy to fix. Just put a traffic light there, timed to be green 80% of the time for people getting off 95.

Right now, the 4-way stop sign puts everyone getting off the highway on an equal footing with the occasional perpendicular vehicle on the connector.

Furthermore, with a light you could have 2 useful lanes on the ramp: the left lane (only for left hand turns), and the right lane (for left turns, and going right).

Exit 18, at the Sherwood Island Connector.

Classic Westport Art For Sale

Longtime Westporter Martha Nachman is downsizing. She has a few items that might interest “06880” readers.

One is a nice Naiad Einsel framed poster of the Westport Schools Spring Art Show at Jesup Green.

She also has a number of Al Willmott’s small prints of Westport scenes.

Ned Dimes Marina (Don Willmott)

Church Lane (Don Willmott)

Many are in great shape. Some have stains.

]UPDATE: ALL THE PIECES HAVE BEEN SOLD!]

Saugatuck: Old Riverside Avenue (Don Willmott)

Greens Farms train station (Don Willmott)

 

Friday Flashback #230

I’ve always been fascinated by what Westport looked like before I-95 (known then as the Connecticut Turnpike or “the thruway”) came through in the mid-1950s.

Now I’ve seen some tantalizing glimpses.

Cliff Cuseo posted a 7 1/2-minute video on Facebook. It’s a digitized (in color!) version of home movies, taken at various points during construction.

The opening shots look vaguely familiar, but I can’t place them. Perhaps they’re part of Saugatuck — near Exit 17? — that has since been demolished, to make way for the road.

Where was this taken?

But — in addition to showing work on the Saugatuck River bridge and the road itself — there are glimpses of Riverside Avenue (including the long-gone Gault oil tanks), and the Hales Road/Greens Farms area.

Riverside Avenue, and the Gault tanks. The Bridge Street (now Cribari) Bridge is at top left.

Construction near Greens Farms Road, and the new Hales Road bridge.

There’s also the aftermath of a scary truck accident, on what seems like a lunar landscape.

Truck accident.

The movie captures scenes we take for granted today, in a unique way. But I’d still love to see film of Saugatuck — that thriving, compact and close-knit village — before the earth-movers arrived.

Click here for the full video.

The Saugatuck River bridge, before completion.

(Hat tip: Don Willmott)

 

 

Pic Of The Day #1252

The Saugatuck River and Riverside Avenue last week, framed by smoke from wildfires 3,000 miles away. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Friday Flashback #210

Over the years I’ve seen tons of photos of the Riverside Avenue/Wilton Road intersection, looking down and east from the Post Road hill.

But until I spotted this one — courtesy of Kathleen Kiska and Michael Tedesco — I’d never seen a view quite like this.

The wide, sharp shot — from 1914 — seems to capture turn-of-the-last-century Westport. A thriving business district existed right alongside residential neighborhoods. The little kid riding a bicycle looks straight out of Norman Rockwell.

But who was in charge of the roads? They look in even worse shape than they are today.

Pic Of The Day #1241

Riverside Avenue repair work, near Sunny Daes (Photo/Michael Chait)