Tag Archives: Westport Transit District

[OPINION] Regional Transit Districts: A Move In The Right Direction

The Westport Transit District is a vital, inexpensive and environmentally sound part of local life.

It provides on-demand, group ride, door-to-door service between homes and offices, and the town’s 2 train stations, plus door-to-door transportation for seniors and citizens with disabilities.

It’s also underutilized, underpublicized and — despite being a minuscule part of the town budget — a frequent target of financial watchdogs every spring.

Wheels2U.

 

Recently, Connecticut legislators formed a task force to study the consolidation of local and regional transit districts.

Last night, the Representative Town Meeting’s Transit Committee discussed possible implications for Westport, and — more broadly — transportation priorities for Westport.

Emil Frankel grew up in Fairfield, spent 30 years in Weston (including 2 on the Board of Selectmen), and lived briefly in Westport. He served as state Transportation Commissioner under Governor Lowell Weicker, and again as interim commissioner under Governor Jodi Rell.

Frankel and his wife Kathryn now live in Washington. He served there at the US Department of Transportation, under president George W. Bush.

Frankel sent this letter to RTM Transit Committee members, before last night’s meeting:

I hope that you will not consider it inappropriate or intrusive for me to express  my views about a matter which the Westport RTM is currently considering, that is, the future of the Westport Transit District.

Emil Frankel

During my tenure as Connecticut Transportation Commissioner under Governor Weicker in the early 1990s and again, when I served for a few months under Governor Rell, as interim transportation commissioner, I have consistently taken the position that there are far too many transit districts in the state and that they should be consolidated  and merged.

Indeed, during my time as interim commissioner, Peter Stangl, a native of  Connecticut and the former head of Metro-North Railroad and of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who was working with me, and I specifically recommended to Governor Rell that she propose that  Connecticut follow the model of NJ Transit and merge all of the state’s 20 or so transit  districts into a single Connecticut Transit.

More recently, as a member of Governor Malloy’s Transportation Finance Panel, I joined my colleagues in recommending the consolidation of transit districts (as well as of the State’s 11 or 13 Metropolitan Planning Organizations).

The transit districts are an accident of history: As private bus companies failed and went bankrupt in the 1950s and 1960s, local governments (and in the case of what is now Connecticut Transit, the state) took over these services.

The result today is a multiplicity of too many, too small, and under-resourced  providers of bus transit services. It is wasteful of taxpayer money and, in most cases, leads to fragmented, disconnected, and inadequate bus services for those who depend on transit systems for the quality of their lives and for their ability to work.

Obviously, you are not considering such a statewide consolidation of bus  services at the Westport RTM, but any incremental step that moves in that direction, such as the termination of the Westport Transit District and/or its merger or consolidation into a larger and more efficient transit system should, in my opinion, be adopted by the RTM.

Such action would be a significant step toward more effective and financially responsible bus transit services for the town of Westport, for the region, and  for the state.

Jessica Bram’s Invocation

Each month, a different Westporter gives an invocation before the RTM meeting.

Most are earnest, but unmemorable. (Trust me, I know: I’ve given one myself.)

Last month, Jessica Bram departed from the usual aren’t-we-all-lucky-to-live-in-Westport platitudes. Instead — peaking directly to her colleagues — the RTM member confronted important issues head-on.

I asked Jessica if I could post her words here, so au audience greater than a few dozen legislators and local policy wonks could see — and reflect — on them. Here’s her invocation:

I moved to Westport over 24 years ago. A single mother when I arrived, I didn’t know a soul here. I raised 3 sons who now have successful lives because they went through our extraordinary Westport Public Schools – that school system that we are here to talk about tonight.

Jessica Bram

(Incidentally, I will mention that one of my sons married his Staples High School girlfriend— he went to Bedford, she to Coleytown—  and they just had their second child.)

When Coleytown Middle School was shut down, I remember saying – because our school system is so critical in this town—that this was the single worst thing that ever happened to Westport in my 24-year memory.

To lose an entire middle school … to be forced to cram one entire school population in with another! Remember what a crisis that was? The worst that could ever happen.

Then came COVID.

And instead of being upset because our kids were in crowded classrooms after Coleytown moved in with Bedford (remember we were upset because so many had to have lunch so early?), now there was COVID. And now all our kids had to stay home from school.

Our whole town changed. Businesses failed, people lost jobs, restaurants shut down. Perhaps worst of all, we couldn’t be together.

Two years later, here we are, at our RTM meeting, still on Zoom.

Yes, we disagree on so many things. We all have opinions here (as you know I have opinions on everything, you’ve all heard them).

But let’s think about what our differences are about, and the values that they reflect.

We argued about using ARPA funds for beach repair. But wasn’t that about protecting the environment? Being responsible stewards of our shoreline, our town’s greatest asset?

Yes, we fight about gas-powered blowers. But isn’t that because each of us wants to hold so tightly on to the Westport that we all came here for, the homes and lives we built for our families, regardless of whether that’s quiet afternoons or beautiful lawns?

Yes, we have argued for and against offering public transportation. But what a gift we received from that conflict! That gift of having received over 100 heartfelt emails — each one different, each expressive, none of them boiler plate.

I learned so much that I didn’t know about … what it’s like to have an infant at home and only one car… what it’s like to be a worn-out commuter.  So because of that conflict we got to know so much about our neighbors’ lives, in personal, truthful ways.

The Wheels2U debate elicited many personal emails and phone calls.

We argue vehemently about P&Z issues such as affordable housing, 8-30g, and the zoning problems that that legislation causes. But although we may vehemently disagree about zoning issues, we do respect our town bodies that allow our disagreements to be spoken aloud and acted on in orderly, non-combative ways.

One thing I do know is that regardless of how we feel about 8-30-g, we all do care about, and have compassion for, families, either struggling or wealthy families, who all want to have safe, affordable homes where we can raise our children.

And don’t we all support our organizations such as Homes with Hope, that are working so hard to end homelessness — whether we offer that support philanthropically, or by cooking and serving lasagna in our newly renovated Gillespie Center?

Let me point out that we are, after all, a town that has a youth center, and homeless shelter, a block away from a Tiffany’s. All of which says something about what we in Westport care about. Not just the homeless shelter. But Tiffany’s too, because it does speak of the lives we unapologetically want for our children.

The Gillespie Center is a few feet away from Tiffany. (Photo/June Rose Whittaker)

Yes, some of us cling furiously to our causes and our pet issues and our political affiliations.

Yes, we may disagree on so many things.

Yes, our RTM meetings can at times stretch agonizingly long into the night.

But let’s remember who we are.

With all our disagreements, in all those exhausting, contentious, boring RTM meetings, we are all doing it just to make things right.

Let’s think about the values and principles that we share at the heart of it all – our families, our first responders, our overworked teachers. And yes, even our noisy neighbors.

Let’s remind ourselves – and applaud ourselves for — living in a town not of things and real estate, but of principles. That what we’re here for – especially those of us on the RTM — are principles of honesty and fairness —and what’s really important in our troubled world.

Because that’s who we are.

And know that in the end, we care for, respect, and yes, even  a little bit, love each other.

RTM members march in the 2018 Memorial Day parade.

There Once Was A Westport Commuter …

Wheels 2 Me, Wheels 2 U, Wheels 2 Us 
Transportation to the station by bus 
There and back in a jiffy 
In wheels super spiffy 
Convenience that’s a plus with no fuss

Jonathan Prager is not Ogden Nash. He’s not Dr. Seuss.

But — thanks to the limerick above — he’s the winner of the Westport Transit District’s limerick contest.

The goal was to increase awareness of Wheels2U — the on-demand, group ride, door-to train-platform shuttle service. Winners earn gift certificates to the restaurant of their choice.

Wheels2U

WTD director Peter Gold was “completely overwhelmed with the quantity and quality of the entries.” Over 75 limericks vied for honors. Other winners are:

Second Prizes—Dorian Barth and Paul Delano

The station is not very far. 
I wish I could just leave the car, 
and be picked up at home 
from an app on my phone. 
Well, you can! Wheels2U — there you are!   

In some places they commute in their trucks.
Here in Westport we travel deluxe.
Wheels2U comes right swift,
With a door to door lift.
And sets you back a measly two bucks!

Third Prizes—Marc Frankel, Alan Zipkin, Nicole Goldstein and Scott Weiner

There once was a Westport commuter, 
With a gym bag and laptop computer, 
Sick of walking up hills, 
He tried the bus for two bills, 
And said, “This is warmer than taking my scooter.”

If you need to go down to the station,  
Going to work or on a vacation. 
Are you driving? What for? 
You can go door-to-door
When you’re part of the Wheels2U nation.

A new family with only one car 
A commute that is suddenly far 
Wheels2U saves the day 
Just a phone tap away 
A swift ride to and from where you are. 

Want a green way to get to the train? 
Costly parking and taxis a pain? 
Choose Wheels2U Westport 
For a $2 escort 
From your home to the platform. (Insane!)

Honorable Mentions—Jonathan Prager, Emily Fair Weber, Dan Kail, Rich Hochman and Jeff Wieser

No car to park, or drive home in the dark 
Or navigate through the rain like an ark 
Much less pollution 
A commuting solution 
Wheels 2 U door to door service hits the mark.

A Westporter owned a fine Subaru 
And left home each day with a toodle-oo
But when she parked at the train
She had to wade through the rain
Why didn’t she call Wheels 2U?

Folks without a car 
Can’t get very far. 
By funding Wheels2U
Giving rides will do.
Good neighbors are who we are.

There’s a little blue bus in our town,
That gets you to your train by the Sound,
It’s cheap to ride,
And comfy inside,
The greenest way to go I’ve found!

Taking a bus can never grow old.
It’s a great way to stay out of the cold.
So change your commute;
The bus is a beaut.
And if there’s a problem, then call Peter Gold!

Roundup: Julia Marino, Oscars, Organic Krush …

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Welcome home, Julia Marino!

Westport welcomes our Olympic snowboard silver medalist on Saturday, April 2 (6:30 p.m.).

She’ll join fellow Westporter Dave Briggs — former CNN, NBC News and Fox News anchor, now with Yahoo Finance — for a wide-ranging conversation.

It’s a family event, with free ice cream from Shake Shack (for the kids) and beer and wine (adults). Of course, Julia will sign autographs.

To attend in person at the Library, click here. To watch the livestream, click here.

Co-sponsors include the Weston Westport Chamber of Commerce, Westport Lifestyle magazine, and The Grapevine.

Julia Marino, on the Olympic podium. On April 2, she’ll stand on the Library stage.

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A Westport hiker is missing in the Adirondacks.

Thomas Howard headed to Mt. Colden in North Elba, New York last Friday. He was reported missing Wednesday, after failing to return from his trip,

His last known location was at the Marcy Dam lean-to. State Police and forest rangers ask anyone who has seen him to call 518-891-2000

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Sometimes you have to put down a book, and see a movie.

The Westport Book Shop understands. So the Jesup Road institution has paired with its Imperial Avenue neighbor — the Remarkable Theater — to celebrate the 94th annual Academy Awards.

They’re co-sponsors of a “Guess the Oscars Winners” contest.

Starting Sunday, you can fill out a ballot for who you think will win, in 9 categories. The top 3 entrants receive a ticket to any drive-in movie this year. Plus a $25 Westport Book Shop gift card — and Remarkable Theater and Book Shop swag.

Ballots will be available at the Westport Book Shop, and by visiting the Book Shop website or the Remarkable Theater website. The deadline is 5 p.m. March 27. Only one entry per person.

 

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In 2016, a section of Smith Richardson Preserve was a thicket of weeds, and invasive shrubs and vines.

Connecticut Audubon envisioned an ecological overhaul that would transform it into a rich, coastal forest and shrub-land filled with birds, bees and butterflies.

Then they did it.

The story behind the project will be told at Aspetuck Land Trust’s next “Lunch & Learn” (March 22n, 12 to 1:15 p.m.. Zoom). CT Audubon steward and ALT member Charlie Stebbins reveals how that tangle turned into a mixture of meadows, shrubs, thickets, conifers and open woods. Click here to register.

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Teenagers love to eat.

Of course, they don’t always eat well.

Organic Krush can help

On March 29 (6 p.m.), they’ll kick off a “Cooking Health” series at their Compo Acres Shopping Center location.

They’re inviting all students ages 15 and up for the free event. They’ll learn fun cooking and knife skills, and how to make amazingly healthy bowls.

Of course, they can eat all of their creations.

Naturally.

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April is Autism Acceptance Month. It’s a propitious time for Westport author Sivan Hong to release her 4th book in the best-selling “Super Fun Day” series. “Avery G. and the Scary End of School” is a social story that helps children express their feelings about the end of school.

It’s perfect for neurodiverse (autism, ADHD, dyslexia, etc.), and also neurotypical, youngsters who struggle with change, worry about new things and are working on being flexible.

Avery G. teaches them how to tackle change, including movement breaks and belly breaths.

For more information and to order, click here.

 

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The March 25 entry deadline for the Wheels2U limerick contest is approaching, even faster than a Westport Transit District bus that comes to your door.

The goal is to raise awareness of the $2 pick-up request service (5:45 to 10 a.m., 4 to 9:30 p.m.), to and from Westport’s 2 train stations. Seven winners earn gift certificates to Westport restaurants ($100 to $25).

Enter as often as you like. Email pgold@westportct.gov by March 25; put “Limerick Contest” in the subject line, and include your name, address, and email address.

Some great entries have already been sent in. However, some are actual poems, rather than limericks. A reminder: This is a limerick…

A brilliant lawyer named Lena
Said be smart and commute greener.
Give the bus a try.
It’s as easy as pie!
If not, you’ll get a subpoena!

For more information about Wheels2U, click here. For more information about the Westport Transit District’s services for the elderly and people with disabilities. click here.

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Ken Bernhard — the longtime Westport attorney who taught law in Ukraine — has continued his friendships with people he met there.

Yesterday, he passed along this email from one of them:

“On February 24, I woke up to the loud noise of 2 rocket strikes on my hometown. A short whistling sound was followed 2 seconds later by a loud bang.

“It was terrifying. Of course, there was no trace of normal sleep after that. The whole following day was grim and stressful with people shocked in disbelief. Food started disappearing from grocery shelves and cash disappeared, with no credit cards accepted.

“Because of the imminent danger of night air attacks, we decided to leave our city to the village about 30 miles away and stay with friends. We haven’t been able to go home since. We are now displaced people living alien lives. There are shortages of food, fuel, medicine and most basic necessities.  There is no re-supply capacity. We have to watch how much we eat.

“The kids don’t understand what has happened to us. Due to a major gas pipeline damage near Mariupol (shelling), there is no gas anywhere in the region for residential heating or cooking. We use wood in a wheel barrel to make coffee. Electricity is spotty. with frequent power grid outages.

“About 10 days ago I personally witnessed a column of about 75 Russian military vehicles pass through the village, indifferent and threatening at the same time. We hear explosions regularly and see rockets passing overhead. It is terrifying thinking one of them might land on us. We are worried to death about people we know in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Sumy and other big cities under bombardment. We hear about heavy battles going on.

“Apart from the devastation (evacuations, killing and suffering), there is social devastation as well. We do not work; kids don’t go to schools; kindergarteners, pensioners suffer; there is no postal service or cell connectionl millions of active citizens leavr the country for safety – this all effects the Ukrainian economy, social life, education, healthcare. The longer the conflict goes, the worse such impact will be. This is especially hard, since Ukraine, like the rest of the world, has been badly hit by COVID for the past two years.

“My hometown is occupied for now, with Russian propaganda machine slowly but steadily infiltrating local minds. For now, locals protest daily in peaceful but organized ways and resist Russian humanitarian convoys. But how long will they be able to resist with not much food or any other opportunities available?

“My wife and I discussed her option to escape with the kids from the region toward Europe, probably Poland, but there are too many risks for our children. They could bring with them only the things they could carry. I am waiting to be called up for duty.

“At this point, nothing can be predicted for sure. Things are out of control. With God’s will, things will come to a peaceful end. Glory to Ukraine!”

p.s. Thank you for reading this and your continuous support of us. Your words and prayers matter!”

A graphic photo by Staples High School 1988 graduate Tyler Hicks. (Photo/Tyler Hicks for The New York Times)

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Here is the full obituary for Leonard Flom. The internationally known ophthalmologist, medical pioneer and inductee in the National Inventors Hall of Fame died Tuesday at Norwalk Hospital. He was 94.

The son of Polish immigrants Murray and Pauline Flom of Brooklyn, New York, Dr. Flom entered New York University at the age of 16. He received a medical degree from the NYU School of Medicine, where he studied ophthalmology and was certified as an ophthalmic surgeon.

He then became a first lieutenant in the US Army Medical Corps. He was stationed in Trieste, Italy during the Korean war conflict.

Following his service, Dr. Flom founded a private medical practice and surgical center in Fairfield. He served Fairfield County for nearly 50 years. With his colleague Dr. Aaron Safir, he conceptualized and patented an idea for an iris identification system, and co-founded IriScan. Today, this biometric is considered to be one of the most accurate in the field of biometric identification.

Dr. Flom taught and worked at a number of New York and Connecticut universities and hospitals, and remained a member of the faculty of the NYU School of Medicine after retiring from practice. He served on the Ethics Committee of the Connecticut Medical Examining Board, and was an active member of the Y’s Men and a frequent guest speaker at Camp Invention.. His passions included politics, photography, humor and faith.

Dr. Flom is survived by Marilyn, his wife of 74 years; children Cherie Quain, Jonathan Flom, Sara Goldstein and Rachel Chason; 12 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his oldest son, Murray.

A memorial service will be held at a later date. Donations in his memory may be made to Friends of Sheba Medical Center Tel HaShomer Guild or Congregation Beth El.

Dr. Leonard Flom

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Yesterday’s Roundup included an incorrect date for the Staples High School Guidance Department’s “Spark Your Future” virtual session on careers in business and computer science, with alums Georgia Fox, Megan Root and Jake McCambley.

The correct date is Tuesday, April 5 (6:30 to 7:30 p.m.). Click here to register. Everyone is welcome.

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Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo asks: “Why did the turkeys cross Partrick Road?”

(Photo/Jordan Hix)

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And finally … Timmy Thomas’s best-known hit was “a soulful, plaintive statement against the Vietnam War that he sang to his own accompaniment on the electric organ and drum machine,” the New York Times‘ said.

He was not a one-hit wonder, but that’s what led his obituary. He died last week in Miami. He was 77, and had battled cancer. Click here for the full obituary, and below for his memorable song.

Roundup: Outdoor Dining, Old Dominion, Billy Joel …

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Over the past 2 years, the restaurant industry has been rocked by COVID. Amid all the bad news, one bright spot was the rise — and popularity — of outdoor dining.

This Monday (March 14, 7 p.m. Zoom), the Planning & Zoning Commission meets to consider permanent outdoor eating regulations.

Under new state legislation, the P&Z can determine the size of an outdoor dining area, when it can operate, and what public safety protections are needed.

Planning and Zoning Department director Mary Young says, “The Planning & Zoning Commission looks forward to hearing from food establishment owners to help set reasonable standards, allowing the Restaurant Renaissance in Westport to continue and provide safe and secure dining options for patrons under the ‘New-Normal’ conditions.”’

Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce director Matthew Mandell predicts, “some restaurants are going to love this. Some are not going to like it at all. It depends on whether you have the land, an amenable landlord, a parking lot to use or a town road to be able to do it. The Chamber sees both sides to this.”

Monday’s public hearing will be livestreamed at www.westportct.gov, and on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020.  Comments can be sent to the meeting to PandZ@westportct.gov. Click here for the full text amendment.

Out door dining on church Lane. (Photo/Dan Woog)

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Lynsey Addario’s photo last Sunday — of a family killed by a Russian mortar attack — horrified the world.

Yesterday, the New York Times photojournalist — a Pulitzer Prize winner, and 1991 Staples High School graduate — spoke compellingly about that image, and the events surrounding.

In an in-depth interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper — at 3:30 a.m. Ukraine time — Lynsey talked spoke of her surreal feelings as she realized the Russians were targeting civilians. With mortars whizzing just 30 feet away, she witnessed the killings.

Cooper asked her thoughts as she took her photos. She felt she had to document the event for the world. With a 10-year-old of her own, she had to maintain her professionalism — even as she noticed the family’s luggage lying next to them.

She also talked about her feelings afterward, and what it’s like to witness such scenes over and over again.

It was excellent journalism from Anderson Cooper — and one more reason to pray for Lynsey’s safety, and that of everyone in Ukraine.

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Lynsey’s photo was also featured on “60 Minutes” this past Sunday. Scott Pelley used it to frame that night’s Ukraine story. Click here for the link. (Hat tips: Susan Woog Wagner and Hedi Lieberman)

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A bright young man from Westport
Who really cares about transport,
Said to get to the train,
Wheels2U is a gain!
It’s like your own private escort!

Okay, it’s not Keats. It’s not even Ogden Nash. But it’s a good way to introduce the Westport Transit District’s limerick contest.

The goal is to raise awareness of Wheels2U Westport, the on-demand, group ride, door-to-train platform shuttle service.

The top 7 entries win gift certificates to Westport restaurants of their choice, ranging from $100 to $25.

Want some info before writing your poem? WTD director Peter Gold calls Wheels2U “easy, inexpensive and convenient. It comes when you call it, picks you up at your door, and takes you right to the platform at the Westport and Greens Farms stations. No more walks from the parking lots in the cold and dark. And it’s a greener way to get to the train.”

Westport residents use the Wheels2U Westport app to request a pickup between 5:45 and 10 a.m., and 4 and 9:30 p.m., almost anywhere in town. Pickups should be requested 20 minutes before you would normally leave to drive to the station.  The fare is just $2, when paid with the Wheels2U app.

The contest is open to all Westport residents. Enter as often as you like. Email entries to pgold@westportct.gov no later than March 25. Put “Limerick Contest” in the subject line, and include your name, address, and email. Click here for the full rules.

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For Old Dominion, winning awards is old hat.

The group — whose lead guitarist is 1997 Staples High School graduate (and former soccer star) Brad Tursi — was named Group of the Year at Monday’s ACM ceremony in Las Vegas.

It was the 5th consecutive year they’ve won country music’s top prize.

Their acceptance speech included a tribute to the citizens of Ukraine. (Hat tip: Tricia Freeman)

Old Dominion, at the CMA Awards. Staples grad Brad Tursi is on the far right.

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Speaking of music: Every month, Billy Joel sells out Madison Square Garden. Now his music is coming to the Levitt Pavilion!

Yeah, read that sentence again. “His music” — not the Piano Man himself.

But this is no tribute band. It’s Mike Del Guidice & Big Shot. He tours all over the world with Billy Joel. His band performs astonishing renditions of those songs, plus others by Elton John, the Beatles and other beloved artists.

The concert is Friday, May 20 (7:30 p.m.). Levitt Pavilion member pre-sales start today (Wednesday, March 9, noon). Click here to become a member. Sales to the general public start Friday (March 11, 10 a.m.).

Mike Del Guidice and friends.

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On April 7, some of Westport’s best chefs will leave their kitchens. They’ll head to Aitoro’s, the great appliance store just over the Norwalk line. There — amid high-end appliances — they’ll offer great food for a good cause.

It’s a benefit for the Make-a-Wish Connecticut chapter. The nonprofit helps fulfill the dreams of critically ill children.

Among the celebrity chefs: Bill Taibe (The Whelk, Kawa Ni, Don Memo); Matt Storch (Match Burger Lobster, Match Restaurant), Jes Bengtson (Terrain Garden Café, Amis Trattoria), Robin Selden (Marcia Selden and Naked Fig Catering), Dan Kardo (Oar & Oak), and Christian Petroni (Food Network star).

Tickets include samplings, and complimentary beer and wine. Click here to purchase, and for more information.

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Bill Webster sends today’s captivating “Westport … Naturally” photo, and adds:

“People often hear the tom turkey gobbling on spring mornings, but seldom do you get a chance to see a wild turkey strut. The turkey strut is an incredible courtship display that is intended to attract hens and display dominance.”

(Photo/Bill Webster)

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And finally … in honor of the great photo above:

Budget Time!

If you like numbers, facts and statistics — plus a healthy dose of pie charts and bar graphs — this post is for you.

The 1st Selectwoman’s proposed Fiscal Year 2023 budget is online. It includes revenue and expenses from the past year. In 320 pages, it tells the tale of Westport better than any “06880” story ever could.

The budget begins with a few pages of fascinating facts. Our population of 28,016 makes us the 12th fastest growing of all 170 Connecticut municipalities.

Our daytime population swells to 34,851 — meaning many more folks commute in than commute out.

Our 9,916 households include 68% families, 14% seniors living alone, and just 3% singles.

Our median income is $206,466. A full 51% of Westport households earn $200,000 or more. Just 7% earn less than $25,000. An eye-popping 85% of Westporters own their own homes.

A graphic display of Westport income.

But most of the budget is — well, the budget.

It includes $23 million for Public Safety, $19 million in Pensions, OPEB and Insurance, $12 million for Public Works, $7.2 million for Parks & Recreation (much of that offset by income), $1.4 million for Human Services — and just $528,000 for Health, and $343,000 for the Westport Transit District.

The biggest item, of course, is Education ($130 million). The rest of the town budget is $78 million.

Are those figures too high? Too low? Just right?

Find out for yourself. Click here for the full link.

And if you’ve got an opinion: Click “Comments” below, of course.

But you can also attend the Board of Finance meetings March 8 (7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium) and March 9 (if needed for the Selectwoman’s budget, and March 10 (same time and place) for the Board of Education budget.

The meetings will also be livestreamed at http://www.westportct.gov (select the “How Do I” heading, then “Watch Town Meetings”), as well as Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020. Comments may be emailed to BOFcomments@westportct.gov.

The Westport Transit District gets about $343,000 from the town.

 

Roundup: Candlelight, Strategic PR, Justin Paul …

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Tickets went fast for this weekend’s Candlelight Concert.

But Westporters — and everyone else, around the world — can watch it online. A tape of the 81st annual event will be streamed on Thursday, December 23 (8 p.m.).

Like the concert itself, it’s free — a gift, from the Staples High School music department. The link will be available at StaplesMusic.org.

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Steve Ginsburg spent 10 great years with the ADL: 4 in Chicago, the last 6 as director of its Connecticut chapter.

His most rewarding times were helping people in crisis — CEOs, school principals, teenagers being bullied or accused of bullying — work through their issues.

Now, the Westport resident is doing that full-time.

Ginsburg is a co-founder of August. It’s a national strategic communications firm, helping people and companies in difficult circumstances tell their story with clarity and integrity.

His area of expertise is “diversity and bias.” For example, he cites a university campus roiled by accusations of racism. He can guide the many stakeholers — students, professors, administrators, trustees — as they speak to the media.

“At ADL, I loved working with media,” Ginsburg says. “I saw the importance of them doing their job well — and what can happen when they don’t.

“Our society is very polarized. When news breaks, there’s often a rush to judgment. But things are not always what they first seem. Society benefits from accurate, fair reporting.”

Steve Ginsburg

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Justin Paul has been very generous with his time. The Tony, Oscar and Grammy Award-winning co-songwriter of “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman” — and 2003 Staples High School graduate — has returned often to his alma mater (and Coleytown Middle School) to share insights and tricks of the trade with the next generation of talented Westporters.

For the rest of us — who aren’t still in school — there’s a new online course.

Paul and his writing partner, Benj Pasek, offer a month-long online class: “Songwriting for Musical Theater.” It’s immersive — 7 to 10 hours a week, for 4 weeks — that provides students with the foundation to write their own musical (including 2 original songs).

Click here for details. Who knows? Maybe after writing your musical, “You Will Be Found.”

At the end of an appearance in 2018 at Staples High, Justin Paul played piano as students sang the “Dear Evan Hansen” classic, “Waving Through a Window.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

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Everyone is in the gift-giving mood. Even the Westport Transit District.

As a holiday gift to residents, they offer free rides to users of the Wheels2U shuttle service. The service starts Monday (December 20), and is good through December 31.

Wheels2U Westport is the WTD’s on-demand, group ride, door-to -train platform shuttle service.

The free rides to and from the Westport and Greens Farms stations are not just for commuters. If you’re seeing a show, museum, the Rockefeller Center tree or friends: hop aboard the shuttle, and the train.

If you’re in the service area, use the Wheels2U Westport app to request a pickup between 5:45 and 9:45 a.m., and 4 and 8 p.m., 20 minutes before you’d normally leave.

For more information, click here.

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Back in the (Clam Box) days, there was an exit from that parking lot in the back, onto Long Lots Road.

Years ago, it was sealed off. The only exit and entrance was via Post Road East.

There may be another exit in the future. In a different spot: the upper parking deck.

Planning & Zoning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals permission has been granted to expand the upper deck by 18 spaces; reconstruct and extend the existing retaining wall; install a planter and landscaping — and add gated, emergency access to Long Lots. It would only be used by fire, police or EMS vehicles, as a secondary exit route.

The request for a zoning permit awaits P&Z Department approval.

A view of the 877 Post Road East upper parking deck, from Long Lots Road.

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Jolantha — Weston’s favorite pig — is all decked out for the holidays

(Photo/Hans Wilhelm)

She’s got more news, too: Her brand new website just launched. Click here to see her many glamorous outfits, through the years.

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Chris Wood spotted today’s “Westport … Naturally” bird — an Eastern towhee — at Sherwood Island State Park. It “sang like it was spring,” Chris says.

(Photo/Chris Wood)

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And finally … Steve Bronski, a co-founder member of the British synth-pop trio Bronski Beat, died Thursday, at 61. Click here for a full obituary. (Hat tip: Amy Schneider)

Roundup: Staples Soccer, Creigh Kelley, Trivia Night …

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The Staples girls soccer team is one game away from a state championship!

The Wreckers — undefeated in their last 14 matches, and reigning FCIAC champs — powered their way in the semifinals last night. Gaby Gonzalez’s 12th-minute header — and plenty of great defense — made all the difference, in a 1-0 win over Fairfield Warde. The victory avenged Staples’ regular season 3-0 loss to the Mustangs.

The Wreckers — ranked 9th — play their 3rd state final in the past 4 tournaments (COVID canceled last year’s event) on Saturday or Sunday, at Hartford’s Dillon Stadium. They face #10 Wilton — the team they beat 1-0 2 weeks ago for the league crown. The Warriors advanced with a penalty kick win over Fairfield Ludlowe, in an all-FCIAC state semifinal.

Congratulations to Coach Barry Beattie, his high-powered staff, and all the girls!

The girls are not Staples soccer’s only success story.

Tonight at 7 p.m. (Municipal Stadium, Waterbury), the boys play in the semifinals too. The #6 Wreckers meet #7 Farmington.

All tickets  must be purchased online. Click here for the link,

Can’t make it to Waterbury? Click here for the livestream,

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Speaking of sports: Last night, former Staples High School track star Creigh Kelley received the MarathonFoto/Road Race Management Lifetime Achievement Award at the Road Race Management race directors’ meeting in Florida.

The 1964 Staples grad — a teammate of current Wrecker coach and local icon Laddie Lawrence — was cited for his long career as a runner, running store owner, race director, agent, official and the voice of thousands of races across the country.

Kelley also founded the Kiptur Primary School Foundation in Kenya, which has built classrooms, a library, kitchen and more.  (Hat tip: Peter Gambaccini)

Creigh Kelley

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Speaking of Staples: Tonight (Wednesday, November 17, 7 p.m., Staples cafeteria), he National Honor Society hosts a Trivia Night fundraiser. Teams of 2 to 5 people (any age!) compete for prizes. Tickets are just $5 at the door (cash or Venmo).

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Westport Country Playhouse’s family fun events are — well, family-filled, and fun.

The “Winter Fun Fest” is Saturday, December 4, From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the courtyard will be the site of a scavenger hunt, games, music, food, crafts, and photos with Santa.

The fundraiser was organized by the Playhouse Youth Council. Admission is just $5. Everyone bringing non-perishable food (for Homes with Hope) or new toys (for Toys with Tots) is eligible to win tickets for any Playhouse show next year.

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Yesterday’s Roundup included an incorrect date for the free coffee at Steam on Railroad Place. It’s available to anyone using the Westport Transit District’s Wheels2U app tomorrow and Friday (November 18 and 19), between 6 and 10 a.m.

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Gray’s Creek provided the setting for today’s “Westport … Naturally” image. The sunset was rich; the reeds, proud and strong.

(Photo/Tomoko Meth)

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And finally … on this day in 1858, the city of Denver was founded.

 

Roundup: Wheels, Donut Crazy, Challah …

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Effective today, Wheels2U Westport — the Westport Transit District’s on-demand, group ride, door-to-train platform shuttle service — is expanding to serve even more of Westport.  The area from Coleytown Road to the Weston border is now included.

The new addition is bounded by North Avenue, Lyons Plains Road and Coleytown Road and includes all of Arlen Road, Fraser Road, Fraser Lane and Snowflake Lane. Wheels2U Westport now provides convenient service to over 90% of all Westport.

Residents living in the service area can use the Wheels2U Westport app to request a pickup  between 5:45 a.m. and 9:45 a.m., and 4 and 8 p.m., to be taken to or from the Saugatuck or Greens Farms train platform and their front door.

Pickups should be requested about 20 minutes before you would normally leave to drive to the station.  The fare is $2 when paid with the Wheels2U app.  A Metro North Uniticket rail/bus pass can also be used.

For more information, click here. For more information about the Westport Transit District’s services for the elderly and people with disabilities, click here.

New service area.

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Westport’s VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 reserved a special table today. The setting honored the 13 US servicemembers killed last week in Afghanistan.

The “Missing Man Table” — also known as the “Fallen Comrade Table” — is steeped in symbolism. It is a humble way to remember the sacrifice of the men and women who gave their lives protecting our freedom.

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Just in time for the new academic year, the Westport Public Schools have unveiled a new website.

The look is clean and fresh. There’s tons of information, in an easy-to-navigate, intuitive layout.

Click here to explore it on your own. Be sure to check out the drone video for each school. Just click on the name, and get a bird’s-eye view of every facility. (Hat tip: Seth Schachter)

Screenshot of the new website

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Donut Crazy is back open. This is the most recent sign, on the train station door:

(Photo/Gary Nusbaum)

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Last night’s almost-season-ending Levitt Pavilion performance — Dr. K’s Motown Review — had a filled-to-capacity audience dancing in the street.

Or at least, in their pods.

Three shows remain: Always-popular DNR, in a benefit for Westport EMS and first responders (September 10, 7:30 p.m.); Barboletta, a tribute to Santana (September 11, 7:30 p.m.), and Sheryl Crow, a ticketed benefit show (October 8, 8 p.m.).

Click here for tickets and details.

Last night’s Levitt Pavilion show. (Photo/Lauri Weiser)

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Dogs are not allowed on Compo Beach (until October 1).

So this one — at Winslow Park Animal Hospital on the Post Road — made his own.

(Photo/Molly Alger)

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Every home should have a challah.

And not just on the East Coast.

The Westport-based delivery company has just acquired ChallahFresh, Silicon Valley’s tech-enabled business.

“My goal is to deliver a freshly baked challah, candles, a weekly dose of inspiration each week, plus black & white cookies, rugelach or hamentaschen to as many homes, nursing homes and college dorms as possible in the US, says CEO Scott Sharkey.

“Now we ae one step closer to accomplishing this.”

Sharkey donates a portion of each challah subscription to a charity of the customer’s choice. A dropdown menu offers a dozen or so options, including ADL, Doctors Without Borders, Feeding America, Red Cross, Save the Children, St. Jude’s Hospital, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Fund, Hadassah and UJA Federation.

For more information, click here.

Challah, from Every Home Should Have a Challah.

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Wendy Crowther explains today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo:

“Two bumble bees harvest resources on a stand of thistle at Baron’s South last week. Thistles have a high wildlife value. They not only provide pollen and nectar to bees and butterflies, but later the flowers turn to seeds that will be eaten by goldfinches. Even the down from the seeds will be used by birds to line their nests.”

(Photo/Wendy Crowther)

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And finally … in honor of today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo (above):

 

 

[OPINION] Save Wheels2U Funding

Peter Gold is director of the Westport Transit District, and has lived in Westport for 40 years. He is an RTM member from District 5, and former chair of the RTM Transit Committee — but he is not writing this “Opinion” piece in his RTM capacity.

Wheels2U, Westport’s on-demand shuttle service, launched last October. Riders can download the Wheels2U app. With just a few clicks, they’ll get a ride between almost anywhere in town and Westport’s two train stations.

The Wheels2U shuttles provide a cost-effective, environmentally friendly way for Westport commuters, reverse commuters and others to link their homes, their Westport employers, and downtown to the train stations.

But now Wheels2U is in danger of being shut down before the end of the year. The Board of Finance recently voted to cut the shuttle’s budget by more than half.

However, Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) meets May 3 to vote on restoring funding to keep the shuttle running for another year.

Many Westport residents already use Wheels2U as part of their commute. Now that commuting is picking up as the world reopens, demand for this excellent service is growing. And there are many opportunities to leverage Wheels2U’s flexibility to address other Westport transportation needs.

Retaining an accessible, efficient and convenient shuttle between almost anywhere in town and the train stations, and allowing it to grow to serve other town needs, makes good sense, and is more important than ever.

It takes a vote of 70% of the RTM members present and voting at a meeting to override the Board of Finance and restore the funding for Wheels2U. If you believe supporting Wheels2U and public transportation in Westport is important, please email the RTM to urge it to restore the funding on May 3.  Emails can be sent to the RTM at RTMMailingList@Westportct.gov.

Information about Wheels2U, including hours of operation, service area and how to download the Wheels2U app can be found at Wheels2UWestport.com.  Information on the benefits Wheels2U currently provides to users and the town as a whole, and what Wheels2U could become if it is allowed to continue and grow, can be found by clicking this link.

Nearly all of Westport is included in the Wheels2U service area.