Rilling plans train station talk; planner warns of tunnel vision

A screengrab from a new Facebook page, created to support a Wall Street train station. (Click the photo to reach the page.)

Updated: 2:21 p.m.: Transportation forum planned.

NORWALK, Conn. — A “serious” conversation about a train station in Norwalk’s Wall Street area is planned soon, in spite of skepticism from a planning consultant hired by the Redevelopment Agency.

Mayor Harry Rilling plans to meet with Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker in two weeks to talk about a Wall Street train station and other issues, Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King said Friday.

Rilling wrote to Redeker to request the meeting because a “DOT spokesperson indicated there hadn’t been a serious conversation associated with that and the Mayor has asked for that to happen,” Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said on March 1.

“Given the level of development we are anticipating over time, I think it’s appropriate that at least, even if it’s not on the short term it should be on the long-term planning agenda for DOT to consider,” Sheehan said.

Rilling in his Feb. 22 letter to Redeker noted demographic shifts in Norwalk’s urban environment and said, “the Danbury Line currently fails to accommodate the current growth happening in the Wall and West Avenue area of the city. That growth will continue to be sustained in the next decade creating further demand for improved rail connections.”

Rilling wrote, “I would like to request a real discussion with you about the potential of a Wall Street Station and what considerations would go into formulating a specific proposal for DOT to consider as part of its long term transportation planning.”

On Monday, State Reps. Terrie Wood (R-141), Fred Wilms (R-142) and Gail Lavielle (R-143) announced that they are hosting a transportation forum with Redeker, at 7 p.m. March 28 in the City Hall Council chambers. King said this is the same day Rilling is meeting with Redeker.

Melissa Kaplan-Macey, Connecticut Director of the non-profit Regional Plan Association, told Common Council Planning Committee members on Feb. 1 that a Wall Street train station would be expensive and there are more practical ways to get people to the South Norwalk train station.  RPA helps municipalities and the tri-state region plan for growth.

Connecticut’s $4.3 billion cut in infrastructure cuts require “a solution that is something that can be implemented in the medium term and not be forever term necessarily,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of really good solutions. … You have a goal. Your goal is you want to get people from this neighborhood to the South Norwalk train station quickly, efficiently, in a vehicle that’s comfortable and reliable.  You should explore the different ways that you can do that. I think giving way to one solution can actually hamper the ability to actually achieve that solution.”

An excerpt from the Norwalk Center Neighborhood plan cover page.

Therefore the Norwalk Center Neighborhood plan developed by RPA states, “Create a direct transit link between the Wall Street-West Avenue neighborhood and the South,” she said.

“If the Transit District’s Pulse Point were relocated to the South Norwalk train station, the bus hub on Belden Avenue could potentially be transformed into a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or light rail station providing a direct, frequent and comfortable transit connection along West Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard to the train station,” the plan states.

The Pulse Point transit hub needs to be reimagined because people come in and out without any benefit to the neighborhood, Kaplan-Macey said on Feb. 1.

“The point is that people really do want to be able to get from this neighborhood down to the train station more quickly, efficiently, reliably. Whether it’s the vehicle type that’s the issue, the time that it takes or sort of a combination of things.”

“I personally think that a lower cost alternative would be — you know, a direct service of some kind, in a vehicle that is probably not heavy rail. I’ll say that’s my personal opinion, based on sort of an overview and not like having done a detailed analysis,” Kaplan-Macey said.

There are shuttles from the new developments and, “It would be great if those ideas could be better integrated into something that really serves the public and is a system that really works for people,” she said.

“It’s one thing to build a station. You know, you could build a station, it’s another thing to get trains to come to it and to get them to come to it frequently, and come to it frequently on a branch line,” Kaplan-Macey said.

Rilling did not reply to a Saturday email asking for a response to Kaplan-Macey’s thoughts.

Wall Street businessman Michael McGuire, who is pushing for a Wall Street train station, on March 1 said that a “pretty innovative” idea for a train station that “will require some nimbleness on the part of the city” is forthcoming. McGuire, who was not at the Feb. 1 planning committee meeting, said Saturday that he does not have further details yet.

Told in February that the consultant was not in favor of a Wall Street train station, McGuire wrote, “With approximately 2,500+ residential housing units with ½ mile of this potential station why would DOT/MTA not offer a stop here?  The train only stops for 30-40 seconds at secondary locations like this.  And it costs them (MTA/DOT etc) nothing what is there to lose?”

“Creating ‘transportation to the SoNo Station’ as outlined in RPA’s draft proposal is much more expensive to build, and certainly much more expense to operate than, having a private-sector-built station at Wall Street,” McGuire wrote.

In 2016, McGuire said the city could use the Mechanic Street lot and create a train station for $1 million.

Absent a Wall Street train station, the Wall Street area’s increased population is putting an additional burden on parking at the South Norwalk train station, he said in February.

“The 2,500 +/- housing units within walking distance to a Wall Street Station become much more attractive to commuters (higher paid wages) which increases the value of each of those units which benefits all of Norwalk (increased Grand List).  Without a train station here those units are now occupied by auto based commuters further crowding the roads,” McGuire wrote.

“I wonder why RPA is not for {Transit Oriented Development}  like this, particularly when the private sector would build the station.  It tick’s all the TOD boxes, is not subject to years of gentrification conflicts, has wide spread local support (except from government) and be quickly done, at no cost to the public sector,” McGuire wrote. “Making DOT stop at a Wall Street Station can be part of the Mitigation for putting up with the Walk Street Bridge.  To say they can’t spare 30 seconds every hour is….frankly ridiculous.”

RPA is a non-profit regional planning organization that “promotes the improvement of the quality of life and economy in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut tri-state region,” according to its 2016 financial report.  The organization’s web site states that it focuses “on helping towns, cities and regions foster sustainable and equitable development by assisting residents and local leaders plan and design their communities to accommodate changes in population, opportunities for economic growth and access to public transit.”

Kaplan-Macey’s bio on RPA’s web site states that “Prior to joining RPA, Melissa was principal of Collaborative Planning Studio and, previously, was a senior associate at BFJ Planning. Melissa is an adjunct professor in the urban planning program at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. She also is a registered Professional Planner in the State of New Jersey.”


Dorothy Mobilia March 12, 2018 at 10:12 am

I believe that Mike Maguire has the right perspective. Too often in our city we have had the tendency to solve one problem and ignore unintended consequences that solution has created. Here, we have re-created an entire new neighborhood and may make the mistake of leaving it stranded from the amenities that make it a true home. One recent example has been the library that almost was choked out because it lost parking. Correction of that oversight will be costly but is a step in the right direction. Restoring the Wall Street Station–remember, vestiges of the original station still lie under the existing storefronts–would be a lifesaver to the vitality of the immediate area and points beyond.

As to alternate ideas, possibly bus transit to South Norwalk, they add an unfair burden for all of us. As a former commuter stressed by delays on my daily drive to the South Norwalk station, I don’t think adding to already crowded street traffic helps anyone.

I am happy that Mayor Rilling is insisting on a serious discussion on this matter, despite the opposition of the consultant. Too often outside consultants, and the state, have pushed thoughtful solutions down the road for other generations to struggle with. We in Norwalk, especially, have seen this happen time and again in the interest of saving money now and letting future generations worry about the cost of correcting oversights later.

Fred Wilms March 12, 2018 at 10:34 am

Kudos to the Mayor for moving forward the Wall Street train station, and to Michael McGuire for his tireless advocacy.
This project is one of the best things we can do to revitalize Wall Street.

Piberman March 12, 2018 at 10:43 am

RR station tax costs to hard pressed City homeowners facing declining property values ? Few of whom will benefit from the proposed station. Not so the renters now 1/3rd of our City.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 12, 2018 at 12:27 pm

@Nancy, does the mayor intend for his meeting with Mr. Redeker to be open to the public? If not, how will their conversation be reported? The citizens are interested in understanding how agreements are reached in the City, since these decisions impact both our quality of life and our pocketbooks.

Milly March 12, 2018 at 1:28 pm

Here’s a solution instead of adding new train stations for apartment dwellers – just don’t build the apartments!! Norwalk’s top concerns seems to be making developers, apartment renters, and bike riders happy – what about all the people in homes paying high property taxes?

Michael McGuire March 12, 2018 at 1:42 pm

@ Milly,

Good question – having a train station here on Wall Street, funded and built by the private sector, does not burden the taxpayer (State or local).

And the increase in real estate values for all the downtown properties increase the Grand List and takes the burden off the Norwalk homeowner.

All this with no tax breaks or incentives needed.

Milly March 12, 2018 at 3:06 pm

A train station on Wall St is going to lower my taxes? I think I have a better chance of winning the Powerball than that happening.

Michael McGuire March 12, 2018 at 3:31 pm

Can’t say your taxes will be lower – but I can say the City will have a bigger Grand List if this station gets built.

Nancy McGuire March 13, 2018 at 11:21 am

The Wall Street Train Station is a no-brainer. It can be built by the private sector. It will increase values in Downtown Norwalk and reduce the tax burden on private homeowners.

Concerning another bus to SONO train station, three of the 11-14 bus lines travel between Wall Street and the SONO train station. We don’t need another one. People who live in Bettswood, the Tracy Area, the Wilton Ave area, the West Main area, and Spring Hill neighborhoods have longed to walk down to their main street, Wall Street, and enjoy the benefits of catching a train to New York or points south. People who work in New York don’t want to sit through traffic lights, mall traffic, or at a bus stop waiting. They simply want to get on a train and go.

With roughly 2 million square feet of commercial space and more than 3,000 residential units within walking distance, this is the lowest cost, highest impact TOD (Transit Oriented Development) Norwalk will ever see. To miss this opportunity would be a huge mistake.

Chris K March 13, 2018 at 4:43 pm

I don’t disagree with Ms. Kaplan-Macey that a direct BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) line from the West/Wall Street area to the mall and the SoNo train could be a good thing. But she needs to provide more guidance on *exactly* what that would look like, how it would work, how much it would cost, and what the impact would be. True BRT requires dedicated lanes, synchronized lights, bus-height platforms for fast loading and unloading, instant payment system, etc. It would be best to widen or at least re-stripe the stretch of West Ave. and MLK from 95 down to the station in order to add a dedicated BRT lane. If you don’t do all of this stuff then it is not really “Rapid”, it is just the bus.
Ms. Kaplan-Macey also needs to provide a compelling argument against the Wall Street train station. It seems like such an obvious win. And contrary to the way she has framed the issue, it is not just about a goal to move people efficiently to the South Norwalk station. Adding a train station also increases the value of the surrounding properties in a way that BRT does not.

Paul S March 13, 2018 at 8:55 pm

I’m a homeowner in East Norwalk and I love the idea of a Wall Street train station. I use the train to commute to work every day and I prefer to walk to the station rather than park and ride. Since there are few amenities near the East Norwalk station, I sometimes will get off at SoNo or take a Lyft from East Norwalk to Wall Street when I want to enjoy a nice dinner or happy hour.

Transit oriented development makes a lot of sense for where Norwalk is today. The easier we make it to get to destination hubs like SoNo and Wall Street the better it is for the entire city.

Rick March 13, 2018 at 9:54 pm

posting with respect I agree To miss this opportunity would be a huge mistake.


3,000 residential units in buildings that have cut deal for taxes, and the influx of students and stress on our public services and a treatment plant never meant to handle what the mall is planning was never what most of the taxpayers wanted.

apporx 2 million square feet of commercial space in some buildings poorly built with little or no oversight by the city is not a bargain, once the mall opens empty building with viable tax revenue will close ‘

What is lacking is the facts on empty buildings where square feet exists that has nothing to do with new construction leaves one wondering how much empty space does Norwalk have now before the mall guts Ct ave?

Im sure Wall st could use a station but I haven’t seen any federal talk on this, in fact i see opposition on the Danbury line coming down the line.

Not every train carries MTA people, not every agency has weighed in on plans for the tracks, yet the city thinks they can order up a station without some basic facts. Ive seen nothing from the freight carriers nor has Amtrak been at the meetings or have they?

The Danbury line is considered one of the most dangerous lines with surface crossings and signals.

The wall st station has been put in front of the cart and the horse is still behind the cart.

I doubt if anyone out here listens to Metro North , but if you did less focus on a train station and more on how the problems the line has now will be corrected, No sense in building something else until what we have works right. Some of the problems on infrastructure and on equipment grow each day.

There are some who know more than they let on, they are the ones who are playing the taxpayers and then there are some who simply dont understand there are facts omitted on all projects.

This meetimg coming up will have who? People in charge of surface crossings? In charge of RR bridges? These meetings never seem to have the right ones to ask questions too by design I suggest.

Before the walk bridge the paperwork on the Washington st Bridge suggested replacement of critical parts were an issue on the bridge.Has anyone actually read those reports?

What would be hilarious if the Washington Bridge needed replacing while the city is working on the walk bridge.

Funds have a lot to do with it why hasn’t anyone talked about the grants on the table Norwalk could apply for the wall st station?

this is from the MTA with some comment

In order to continue to provide reliable service, MTA Metro-North Railroad and the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) are replacing the overhead catenary wires that power trains on the New Haven Line. This project will fully replace the original catenary system first erected in 1907.Some bridges that need replacing are older.

It’s difficult to convey the magnitude of a construction job that began in 1991and won’t be finished until 2021, but that is what is going on along the New Haven Line – the busiest rail line in America, with more than 330 trains a day! And the work is being done while trains are operating on time 96.8 percent of the time.Has anyone asked for an update on just this work? These fact are from 2010

this simply gives a insight on what 330 plus trains do every day and in most cases they do a fair job according to the news.

So if private money is available I suggest working on parts of the system that need it get it first to provide basic service before you talk expansion.

Alan March 15, 2018 at 5:32 pm

This is a great opportunity for Norwalk!

It interested me that a TOD is birthing itself in the Wall Street area while our government planning effort is focused on the Sono train station and East Norwalk to a lesser extent. All that is missing at Wall St. is the Transit part of the TOD. And now we’ve found an historic station that can be restored and preserved to provide the missing piece.

Ms. Kaplan-Macey and the RPA miss the point, in that the interest in the Wall St. station isn’t just about moving people from Wall St. to Sono. It’s about transporting folks from the Wall Street TOD to Danbury, Merritt 7, Stamford, New York, etc.. This is where many people go to work.

The suggestion of a BRT on West Ave. to the SONO rail station is kind of humorous if one considers that I95 traffic exiting for the mall crosses West Avenue at Exit 14. How will that work. I know where we can get an automated automobile lifter!

Finally, it’s remarkable to me that there was no interest in putting a Metro-North platform at the new mall. The rail connection would serve the mall with employees and customers from other communities. If the mall fails, having a Metro-North platform offers many possibilities for alternate use of the structure and site.

MJ Sandy Schmitt March 15, 2018 at 5:50 pm

I do agree with Donna Smirniotopoulos. Is this meeting of the Mayor and Mr. Redeker to be open to the public. If not, how will their conversation be reported.The citizens are very interested in understanding how their agreements are reached in the city, since decisions impact both our quality if life and our pocketbooks. Very interesting point. I would love to know myself.

Ernie DesRochers March 15, 2018 at 5:56 pm

On paper a great idea. The question is will it be used? Does anyone have any figures on how many train commuters there are at Waypointe for example? They run a daily shuttle. The main line pays for itself but the spur lines do not, which is the issue. I would be curious what Jim Cameron thinks about this. He is as knowledgeable as anyone about the inner workings of Metro North.

Jerry March 18, 2018 at 9:43 am

The State is broke and this city is a huge joke. The mayor has no idea what he’s doing. I feel sorry for anyone that owns property here in Norwalk. No one in the city planning dept is even thinking about the infrastructure. It needs to be overhauled before you can add a mall here, add another friggin apt complex there. You cannot have cars backed up on North Ave/Wesport Ave for miles. West Ave will become a nightmare after the mall opens. Forget about even getting home on Route 7. It will be chaos.

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