Cranbury queries Norwalk for fire house, traffic calming and littering at Mayor’s Night Out

Mayor Harry Rilling, right, leads his latest Mayor's Night Out on Monday night at Cranbury Elementary School.
Mayor Harry Rilling, right, leads his latest Mayor’s Night Out on Monday night at Cranbury Elementary School.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk expects to hire an expert to study the need to improve Norwalk Fire Department response time in the Cranbury section part of town.

That was one of the pieces of information offered Monday in the latest Mayor’s Night Out, where Norwalk department heads were questioned in Cranbury Elementary School by a small but well-prepared group of citizens. Topics included that perennial favorite of Norwalk citizens everywhere – traffic; the city’s website; and littering, which led to a discussion the possibility of teaching civics in Norwalk schools. 

A fire house?

“What can we do to restart the conversation about having a fire station built across the street from here?” Harold Cobin asked.

“Well, not necessarily across the street from here but the mayor and I have had extensive discussions on that topic and we are going to put in the capital budget for next year a study to look at the several options that are available to the city to increase fire protection and EMS response to the Cranbury neighborhood,” Fire Chief Denis McCarthy responded.

Joanne Horvath pressed the point – with a new apartment complex being built, office space on Glover Avenue being renovated and a possible development on the old Elinco site, there is a need for more fire department coverage, she said.

A proposal to expand the Westport Avenue fire station failed because the bids came in higher than expected, McCarthy said. That station houses one truck and four firefighters, he said.

“We recognize that there is a need for increased fire protection with all of the developments city-wide,” McCarthy said. “As a matter of fact, in 2008, when we anticipated the Waypointe project, 95/7 and Head of the Harbor project, we asked for increased staffing and over several years we got that increased staffing because we recognized that the rescue truck was going to be busier, the ladder truck because of the size of the structures was going to increase, and the city supported that request. The economy slowed down the process (but the staff was increased).”

While there aren’t a lot of calls in Cranbury, there is a need for a better response time, he said.

“It is a high priority for us. We presented it to the mayor and the board of fire commissioners. They accepted the approach of studying it further because we do need to get some common consensus on the appropriate way to deal with this problem,” McCarthy said.

Cars whizzing down Chestnut Hill Road and Newtown Road

Chestnut Hill Road residents run the risk of a rear-end collision when they stop to pull into their driveways, and people honk and scream at them for having the temerity to hold other drivers up in their quest to get home, Larry Losio said. It and Newtown Road have become speedways, he said.

Losio said the Connecticut Department of Transportation measured traffic on Chestnut Hill Road in January 2013. The average speed on Chestnut Hill Road between the Wilton line and Tulip Tree Lane was 39 miles per hour, nine miles an hour over the speed limit, he said. More importantly, 85 percent of the drivers were doing 43 miles an hour or less, meaning that 15 percent were more than 15 miles an hour over the speed limit, he said.

And that was in January, when people slow down, he said.

Garbage cans are routinely knocked over by the wind of passing vehicles, he said, after confessing that he has followed cars going 70 miles an hour. “All of us are frustrated,” he said.

“The Norwalk Police Department, for all of the wonderful things about it, has not taken traffic seriously,” Losio said.

Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik disagreed. There have been thousands of traffic tickets issued since the creation of a motorcycle unit, he said. Police have been on Chestnut Hill and Newtown Road, he said.

While Losio said a radar sign posted on Newtown Road wasn’t working, Kulhawik said it is currently in a preliminary stage, measuring the speed of passing vehicles to collect data that will be compared to the speeds people travel when the sign flashes their miles per hour at them. “(We’ll) see if there’s an issue and if there is, we’ll address it,” Kulhawik said.

Please pick up the trash

Horvath said the thing that bugs her the most is littering, especially on Connecticut Avenue where it meets state-owned property along Interstate 95. She suggested hiring more Department of Public Works employees, and she even had a slogan in mind for “no littering” signs – “Toss Trash, Lose Cash.”

Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord, right, talks at Monday's Mayor's Night Out about the difficulty in enforcing littering laws. You have to actually see the person littering to issue a ticket, he said.
Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord, (right) talks at Monday’s Mayor’s Night Out about the difficulty in enforcing littering laws. You have to actually see the person littering to issue a ticket, he said.

Funny thing, Mayor Harry Rilling said: He had a meeting with Norwalk Neighborhood Coordinator David Shockley that afternoon, in which they discussed sending street sweepers out more often.

DPW chief Hal Alvord said the maximum fine the state allows for littering is $199. Manpower is tight, he said. “We have to make a choice every day between picking up litter or fixing catch basins,” Alvord said, stressing that public safety wins out.

There are 80 Adopt-a-Spot locations in Norwalk and the city would like more, Alvord said, suggesting that neighborhood groups can help out.  Horvath was advised to call customer service and complain – it works,Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said.

Teach those kids early

The littering frustration led to a discussion on teaching children civic responsibility. Norwalk Schools Superintendent Manny Rivera tossed the ball to Joe Giandurco, a teacher sitting in the audience, and Giandurco explained that civic awareness was weaved into everything he does in his classroom. “I don’t lay it out but it’s incorporated,” he said.

Rivera said there’s a variety of ways civics is taught in Norwalk schools. Every third grader makes a trip to City Hall, he said, where the Board of Education staff talks to them about city government.

So does Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large).

“I actually run a kind of fake council meeting where they have to vote on what’s their favorite ice cream for the city of Norwalk, the official ice cream,” Hempstead said. “It’s a fun way – and I think that’s what we’re missing a little – to engage the kids in the opportunity. It may sound silly, but you’re going to find out what the official ice cream is.”

Rivera said there is a national curriculum for civics that is being considered.

Everything takes time, Hempstead said.

“We have a reformer here,” Hempstead said of Rivera. “I think those things will slowly introduce. I know there is a lot of pressure here right now with the Common Core stuff, big push.”

Another positive Rivera comment

Giandurco said things have changed at Norwalk Public Schools since Rivera came on board.

“The teachers are more engaged and are better able to talk to the powers that be to get stuff like that really rolling,” Giandurco said. “Dr. Rivera has been wonderful for us when we throw out ideas, things like that. It’s really just made Norwalk better.”

What about the website?

Diane Lauricella asked if there might be progress in updating Norwalk’s website now that Economic Development Director Elizabeth Stocker is on the job. The answer was yes.

“I have met with a couple of folks already and we are working on some upgrades,” Stocker said. “I have a meeting with three people from the IT department this week to go over what some of the capacity is for that. We have to devise a budget if there is in fact a cost to it.”

Rilling said, “Odds are we’re going to need some professional assistance on that to make it really, really good, so we’re talking to the Planning Commission as well.”


9 responses to “Cranbury queries Norwalk for fire house, traffic calming and littering at Mayor’s Night Out”

  1. EveT

    Something is out of whack with this sentence: “85 percent of the drivers were doing 43 miles an hour or less, meaning that 15 percent were more than 15 miles an hour over the speed limit, he said.” 43 mph or less? And isn’t 43 mph 13 mph over the speed limit, not 15? And if 85% were going 43 mph, that would be 85%, not 15%???
    Also, isn’t the name of the connecting road Newton Avenue (not Newtown Road)?

  2. Carol

    was waiting for this mayors night out and never saw anything about it–really bummed-will have to go to another one no matter where it is.

  3. Dorothy Mobilia

    This was a good session, with only a handful of residents on hand to ask questions. Even one councilman at the table said this was a great opportunity for him to talk with a variety of city personnel at one time. Residents who complain their elected officials and department heads are hard to contact had a great opportunity last night to ask about trivial and important matters.

  4. dianelauricella

    Yes, wish that more citizens would have attended. It is a great opportunity to speak, but also to hear how your government answers questions and explains their views.

    Just wanted to add that I also requested that the public be included in a formal way about what they would like to see changed on the City web site sooner rather than later. Mayor Rilling said that the public would be included in the reform process so all need to ensure that this happens in one form or another. Similar request to IT Department Director in last administration was denied.

  5. The Deal

    Talk of a fire station in the Cranbury section of town began at least 25 years ago. I believe city officials had offered a parcel on Knowalot Lane and also offered to build the structure if FD management agreed to staff and equip it. If a station there had 1 pumper (fire engine) 16 firefighters would have to be added to the current staffing level (4 firefighters x 4 platoons). I believe it was shelved because it was not cost effective.

  6. Rusty Guardrail

    Motorists on Newtown Ave, Chestnut Hill Rd, East Rocks Rd, West Rocks Rd,, Dry Hill Rd, St. Mary’s Lane, Murray St. routinely speed, tailgate, ignore stop signs, run red lights, fail to yield right of way etc, and there are NO police details ever.

  7. Mike Mushak

    The issue of speeding on Chestnut Hill (state highway 53) and other roads in Cranbury and all over Norwalk can be easily solved following a nationwide trend, with the minor design change of narrowing the travel lanes from interstate width of 12 to 14 feet on average to a 10 foot average.
    Studies show this minor change reduces average speeds by 8 mph, without any impact on operational safety as many old-school engineers hang onto in their opposition to this drastic sea-change in road design. The evidence is so strong that in their latest updated standards in 2013, NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Engineers) recommends narrowing travel lanes to 10 feet to slow speeding traffic.
    The CT DOT is listening, and they have recently narrowed travel lanes on Routes 123 and 124 (Smith Ridge Rd and Oenoke Ridge Rd). You can clearly see the old shadows of the wider stripes that were ground out to narrow the lanes, to increase safety for pedestrians and bikes on the wider shoulder that is created, and to increase safety for cars, pedestrians, and bikes by lowering average speeds.
    There is no reason we shouldn’t have narrower lanes on Route 53 in Norwalk, another state road with speeding and safety issues. Please contact Senator Duff and DPW to voice your support for this easy change with major implications for public safety and quality of life.

  8. Larry

    Mike- That’s an excellent suggestion that I’ll be sure to take up with Bob Duff as well as DPW. Thanks much.

    Eve – Yes, the 85th percentile speed on the stretch of CHR that I live on was appx. 43 mph when last measured in Jan. 2013- which means that 85% of drivers were driving at a speed of 43 mph or less, and 15 % of drivers were traveling at a speed in excess 43 mph, and – as you correctly point out – at least 13 mph over the speed limit…Not sure whether the 15 mph over the speed limit reported by NoN was simply a typo or an instance of disconnect between my brain and mouth…:-) Same applies to the Newtown Ave. vs Newtown Road question…Newtown Ave. is the road I had in mind…

  9. Debora

    I feel for those on Chestnut Hill and Newtown. I experience the same thing with commercial vehicles on my street in east norwalk.

    I anticipate it getting even worse if East Ave is widened and lowered to encourage truck traffic as is planned.

    Now that these Mayor’s nights have toured most neighborhoods, it is clear traffic is a universal complaint. It will be interesting to see if the city tries to implement a citywide plan.

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