Thursday, September 16, 2010

redeveloping around the train station

The neighborhood around South Norwalk train station has long been a community on the edge. It's on the edge between upscale SoNo and the struggling neighborhoods to the south. It has the asset of small-scale walkable retail, but the burden of crumbling buildings and high crime.

There is a study to consider how to develop the neighborhood. Transit-oriented development is booming in the U.S., while other forms of development struggle. Recently, I was sent a survey asking my thoughts on the area. Below were my thoughts. What are yours?

  1. What works well in the South Norwalk Railroad Station neighborhood?
* recent station improvements, including the station cafe
* minimal setbacks
* retail south of station (Ely Ave) and east of station (Main St)
* connected street grid
* frequent bus service

  1. What need improvement the South Norwalk Railroad Station neighborhood?
* crime
* dilapidated buildings
* sidewalks of uneven quality
* existing retail does not draw anybody to the area
* pedestrian access to station is via unpleasant station driveways
* more direct platform access (recent removal of a stairway to the NY-bound platform has added 2 minutes to the walk from SoNo, reducing the TOD radius)

  1. Who are the key stakeholders (individuals, organizations, groups of business, groups of people) in the South Norwalk Railroad Station neighborhood?
Others would know this better than I.
  1. What do you see as your current role in or connection to the South Norwalk Railroad Station neighborhood?
* advocate for more livable Norwalk (
* local resident
* local businessman operating transit technology company (

  1. Do you have specific ideas about what could or should occur in the South Norwalk Railroad Station neighborhood?
* mixed-use: retail on ground floor, residential or commercial above
* seamless connection to Washington St and to Water St (walk should be along retail storefronts, not parking lots).
* no height limits: the bigger the better
* special emphasis on commercial office space
    - more potential to draw transit commuters than residential use has to generate them
    - less sensitive to crime issues than residential
* parking should be on-street at market rates. Any off-street parking should be below-ground or above-ground with ground-level retail. Parking minimums should be reduced or waived as the neighborhood is well served by transit (both bus and rail) and there is limited additional road capacity.
* sidewalk construction and lighting improvements along MLK Blvd
* rebuilding stairway to NY-bound platform, reducing the walk time from Main St/Washington St to the platform from 7 minutes to 5 minutes.
    1. What do you think is needed to implement your ideas?
    * zoning changes
    * developer participation
    * Connecticut DOT and Norwalk DPW buy-in, so we can develop the neighborhood without expanding road widths and eroding the pedestrian environment
    1. Any other issues you would like us to consider?
    * Improving the safety of the neighborhood will be critical to attracting development. Balancing the desire for development with fairness for the lower-income residents will be a major challenge. (Good luck!)
    * Other ideas to consider:
        - mixed-use path on east side of MLK Dr from Washington St to Lowe St
        - bike lanes along Monroe St / Hanford Pl
        - improved street connectivity south of the station
        - direct connection from station to Flax Hill/Taylor to bring development up the hill (would require stairwell or pedestrian bridge)

    1. Do you plan on participating in any Stakeholder Committee Meetings?
    1. Do you wish to keep any part of this confidential?

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    The Norwalk River Valley Trail gets a big grant

    $180,000 in federal grant money will be a big step towards building the Norwalk River Valley Trail, a bike trail from Norwalk to Danbury. The approval of the grant was announced at an uplifting press conference this morning in Union Park.

    Currently there is a stretch of trail from the aquarium up to Lockwood Mathews, another stretch from the YMCA up to Union Park and a third stretch from New Canaan Ave up to Broad St.

    With this grant money, hopefully we will soon be able to stitch these segments together into a contiguous, connected bikeway. Biking for fun, biking to school and biking to work may get the red carpet treatment it deserves.