Rilling: Norwalkers want better sidewalks, fewer potholes

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A collection of photos of Norwalk potholes sits on a South Norwalk sidewalk Wednesday. The potholes are from Lois Street, Pogany and Soundview, Center Avenue, Dairy Farm Road, Tanglewood Lane, Hollow Tree Road, Garner Street, College Street and Blake Street.

Updated, 7 p.m., comment from Mayor Richard Moccia regarding street sweepers.

NORWALK, Conn. – Incumbent Republican Mayor Richard Moccia has been crowing about the amount of paving done in Norwalk but his Democratic challenger, former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling, says many Norwalk citizens feel it is not enough.

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Former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling talks about sidewalks and potholes Wednesday.

Rilling stood on a badly deteriorated South Norwalk sidewalk Wednesday, next to photos of potholes from every part of town, to condemn the Moccia administration’s efforts on the “quality of life issues.”

“I am under the impression that in the last eight years there’s been $30 million allocated to paving roads,” he said. “I don’t see the results of that. I see too many times where the road is repaved, and then all of a sudden someone else is coming along and digging it up. The patch that they make either sinks or it rises above. You’ve got your built-in speed bump or you’ve got your built-in pothole, whatever you want to call it. So I think more needs to be done, more coordination, responsible money put towards the roads and sidewalks.”

Rilling said he had talked to many people as he went door to door and he heard “over and over and over again” about the deplorable condition of Norwalk’s sidewalks and roads. The photos had been contributed by those citizens, from all over the city. He chose 112 Woodward Ave. as the location of his press conference because he had gotten a phone call from a resident and come down to look and said “It was bad.” Yet, he said, it was not as bad as some of the sidewalks he has seen.

“On privately owned sidewalks, for the most part, it’s the citizens responsibility, but if nobody is out there inspecting them and saying ‘look, we need to get this done and we can work with you and help you’ – that’s what I am going to do,” he said. “I will also make sure that there’s a responsible amount of money put aside for these kinds of things, the potholes in the road.”

Rilling said he lives in West Norwalk and drives routinely on Scribner Avenue, Taylor Avenue and Cedar Street, occasionally needing to go into the opposite lane to avoid a pothole and protect his shock absorbers.

“There’s stronger leadership needed, leadership with a plan,” he said. “… If you let the small things go it gives the impression that nobody cares and the big things follow very closely. Nobody wants to come in and invest. Nobody wants to buy a house. If you’re driving up and down a street and the road is full of potholes, there’s weeds growing out from the between the gutter and the curb, it doesn’t look clean. “

But how would he do that, given the financial crunch?

“I can’t quantify it because, unless you have a total clear picture of just exactly what is needed to be done, and have a plan in place to do it …  You need to then budget after you do that,” he said. “That would be one of my goals, find out exactly how severe the problem is. I can look here and say it’s pretty severe. So could more capital dollars be put into it? Perhaps.”

Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord said the department has not gotten complaints about sidewalks.

“We have 140 miles of sidewalk in this city,” he said. “The responsibility for sidewalk repair and maintenance is with the existing homeowner. I’m supposed to go out and inspect sidewalks. I don’t have any people.”

Alvord recently said Norwalk’s Paving Condition Index (PCI), which is computed by a consultant every year, was rated as 75 for 2012. It was 72 in 2008. Both numbers are regarded as “fair” by the Institute of Traffic Engineers, Alvord said.

Alvord had been making a pitch at the July Public Works Committee meeting for an additional $1 million a year for road paving, as the “low hanging fruit” among the 255 miles of roadway had been done. That money was needed if council members wanted to get the PCI up, he said.

On Wednesday, he said progress is being made.

“If Harry wants to make a campaign issue out of it by pointing out a crack on the sidewalk on one little spot in the city, fine. That’s his right. He’s running for office,” he said. “But we’re fixing more infrastructure today than we’ve been doing in 20 years, trying to make up for 20 years of neglect. Roads, sidewalks and everything else. If the city wants us to repair all of the sidewalks in the city it’s going to be tens of millions of dollars to do it. That’s why it’s not all done, because it’s been let go for a long time and now we’re trying to do makeup. The city can’t afford to do it all at once.”

The city is focusing on roads, with city funding, he said. Bridges are being repaired with 80 percent federal funding, he said. Traffic signal work is being done before the signals fail with 100 percent federal funding, he said.

“What’s he going to do, raise taxes 50 percent? And then we have to have staff to manage it,” Alvord said.

Rilling said he talked to numerous people who said they had been promised their road would be paved, only to have it pushed back.

“One guy told me his road was pushed back five years in a row and he’s looking for someone to give him relief. The road is a disaster.” he said, referring to a small one-way street he said he wouldn’t name, to protect a homeowner who fears retribution.

“That’s the reality of where we live,” Alvord said. “We have a 5-year plan that we put out there and it’s based on $6 million in paving. We don’t get $6 million a year, we get $5 million a year. I don’t have enough people to do separate sidewalk contracts so we do sidewalks as part of our road paving program and we do those as we pave roads. We do the same thing with general drainage so we can fix the drainage on the roads as we’re paving.”

Rilling said that, several months ago, he had been in Sono on a Saturday morning, and found a disposable diaper in the gutter, which, he said, “really made me shake my head.” A well-dressed woman with two children came along, he said.

“The lady said ‘we came in on the train to Sono because we heard so much about it, we wanted to see what it was like, but it’s a ghost town and your streets are terrible,” Rilling said.

She was from Brooklyn, he said.

The diaper was still there the following Wednesday, just before the Sono Stroll, he said.

“Only since I have started mentioning these types of things, now, shortly before November, the sweeper truck is now reappearing in the streets of Norwalk where it’s been non-existent for quite some time,” he said. “I saw one this morning. These kinds of things really send a bad message.”

Moccia said he has no control over the street sweepers. The DPW sets the schedule, he said.

“So here we go again, if no sweeper goes out, I am not doing the job,” he said in an email. “If the DPW sends it out, it’s because of the election. Also shortly before the November election!! Not sure when he saw the sweeper, but even from today there are 32 days until November. Not exactly shortly before an election.”


17 responses to “Rilling: Norwalkers want better sidewalks, fewer potholes”

  1. Don’t Panic

    Well folks, you heard it right from Mr. Alvord. 20 years of neglect means that the last 8 of them are under the Moccia administration..Hal has reported being $1mm short each year on paving. Yet DPW had something like $1.8mm at the end of the year in one recent budget year.
    Is this a budget issue or a management problem?
    Its time for a fresh approach so staff can do their job.

  2. Mike Mushak

    Harry Rilling gets it. A 2011 study indicated over half our sidewalks across the city are in poor shape. Alvord and Moccia need to get out more if they think Harry has to go out of his way to “find a little crack in the sidewalk”. More than half the sidewalks in most neighborhoodsare impassable, and dangerous. Just look around.
    Folks including little kids going to the bus and elderly are often forced to walk into traffic in the street, and anyone with limited mobility issues can just forget about it.Definitely not the kind of city that folks would want to raise their family in or retire to, if they have to risk their lives to just walk down the sidewalk.
    This is NOT about spending more tax dollars as much as it is about spending what we have MORE WISELY, through better management and accountability. Different departments request sidewalk money every year with no coordination because the departments aren’t managed at all by Moccia as a whole from above as they need to be in any successful and efficient organization, and regular staff meetings are nonexistent. Rilling has promised to change that on day one.

    As an example of wasted tax dollars, last year the city spent tens of thousands to build a new sidewalk in front of Marvin School, where believe it or not none existed. Great, you say? Well it would have been if it had been built to proper ADA standards and been wide enough to be safe for kids to use alongside the speeding traffic of the 4-lane Beach Road. The sidewalk is too narrow, is too close to the road, and has obstructions that limit it’s usefulness and safety, even though neighborhood safety advocates from Marvin Beach had shown a PowerPoint on the wall of the Common Council Chamber a year earlier showing narrow sidewalks with no safety buffer as a huge priority to fix in that area. The city went ahead and built EXACTLY what the neighbors were complaining about!
    Obviously no one in City Hall was listening to the good folks of Marvin Beach, nor we’re they even aware of ADA and safety standards, directly in front of a school no less. It is embarrassing that we live in a city that could be spending our precious taxpayer dollars so poorly.

    For yet another example (there are so many) of how badly managed the city currently is, we have ordinances on the books that require property owners to maintain their sidewalks, but the city system is counter-productive. If you repair your sidewalk without a permit, you get penalized with a hefty fine, but if you try to get a permit, the city often forces you to install a whole new sidewalk, usually expensive concrete even in areas where all the sidewalks are asphalt, so folks just give up and leave it the way it is no matter how bad it is.

    This whole system of course makes no sense, as it discourages instead of encourages proper maintenance of our crumbling sidewalk system all over town. It has been this way for years with no attempt to fix it, even though the evidence of our bad sidewalk system is there for everyone to see. We should all be so lucky if it was “just a little crack” that Harry Rilling had to seek out as Alvord stated.
    The fact that roads get ripped up right after paving, wasting taxpayer dollars and frustrating whole neighborhoods is another serious issue that needs proper management. Scribner near me was repaved 2 years ago, and then completely ripped up within a year. Did anyone in City Hall even call the utility companies and ask them if they had any projects scheduled before the city repaved?
    We need a reboot in City Hall in November. Rilling will manage the city better and spend tax dollars more efficiently. The tired old notion that the GOP trots out every election year that Democrats will raise taxes ignores the reality of the monumental waste and badly managed funds that already exists and needs to be fixed through smarter and more efficient management.

    Property values are tied directly to quality of life issues, and Harry gets that. Moccia does not, clearly. Mayor Rilling is sounding better and better every day.

  3. Norwalk Spectator

    Mike, according to DPW, you will find that only a light top layer of asphalt was applied to Scribner to hold everything together since the City knew Yankee Gas was intending to do major work on the road. It was not a complete repavement.

  4. Piberman

    Norwalk’s election is entering a new phase – discussing potholes. Guess we’re done with the major issues with a month to go. What comes next ?
    Taxes ? Salaries ? NEON ? Term limits ? Reval ? Development ? Nah these have already been covered. Even BJs.

  5. Mike Mushak

    Thank you Spectator. That thin layer of asphalt actually looked like a major costly job in itself. Was that a wise move knowing it would get ripped up a year later? There is another cheaper technique that does the same thing called oil and gravel, that fills cracks and binds the surface with a tiny crushed bluestone layer that smooths out quickly with the weight of vehicles. That may have been a better approach.

    Pliberman, the DPW budget is huge, second only to the BOE, so how that money is spent is critical,and quality of life issues like sidewalks are very important if you ever have to walk on them like a huge portion of our population does every day, either going to the school bus, for exercise, walking the dog, going to the store, etc. We have many senior centers where local sidewalks are so bad folks can’t walk around the neighborhood, or risk their lives doing so. Lots of kids are driven to school because the sidewalks are so bad or missing entirely. This is very important stuff in any community. I appreciate your point of view in many instances, but here I disagree with you. Quality of life issues are directly tied to property values and the tax base, two issues you emphasize frequently. It is all connected to the overall health of our economy and our city, big picture stuff if you will. Harry gets that, Moccia does not. The choice could not be more clear.

  6. EveT

    Without being an expert, I have observed that the milling & paving jobs are often slipshod and when they put in a patch it often sinks or falls apart quickly. As a taxpayer I always wonder whether the city is being penny wise and pound foolish, applying a quick fix. Or whether the contractor is charging the cost of a proper job but just doing a quick cosmetic job. Does the city require contractors to guarantee their work for a certain amount of time?

    As for sidewalks, they are horrible. It’s a vicious circle, let the sidewalks deteriorate and as a result fewer people will go out and walk. Then you can claim that repairing sidewalks is unimportant because “nobody walks.”

  7. Oldtimer

    Elections are won or lost on quality of life issues. Rilling gets that. Alvord always has an excuse that translates to “it’s not my fault”.
    Guliani campaigned, and ran his administration, on quality of life issues. He demanded more attention to graffiti and broken windows and it worked for him. All politicians understand the principal. Moccia and Alvord always manage to schedule paving jobs for the last few months before election, knowing improved streets do make a difference in voter perception.

  8. TKL

    In regards to the sidewalks it has always been my understanding that The City of Norwalk requires homeowners to maintain i.e. snow removal, weed and leaf cleaning the sidewalks yet homeowners are not allowed to perform repairs on or replace the sidewalk. Why is that? Does anyone know? As it seems to be a double standard.

  9. Tobias

    If you took all the pavement from all the unnecessary SPEED BUMPS around town, we’d have beautiful sidewalks.

    And why does the sidewalk end on Grumman Ave just below Cranbury Park? Some of us like to walk there without the thought of being killed by the drivers going 60 down or up Grumman Ave.

    Can it cost that much to add in another 20 feet onto the nature trail on the other side of the stone wall?

  10. LWitherspoon

    I agree with Mr. Rilling’s assessment of Norwalk’s sidewalks. Where they even exist, they’re mostly in bad shape. This article and comments provide some interesting theories on why.
    But where’s the good in pointing out sidewalk problems without any solution? After a spirited criticism of his opponent, Mr. Rilling is asked by NoN about how he himself would solve the problem. His answer? “Perhaps” more capital dollars could be spent on fixing the problem.
    Is it a serious problem that Mr. Rilling will commit to fixing, or is it something that he “perhaps” will fix? It’s hard to get excited about voting for “perhaps”.

  11. Mike Mushak

    LWitherspoon, I respect your view on issues and your intelligent comments, even if I don’t always agree. I therefore am surprised by your last post, as it does not seem to match your normal style of fairness. You basically misinterpreted what Harry Rilling said about how he would fix the huge sidewalk problem. Here is his answer copied from above:

    “I can’t quantify it because, unless you have a total clear picture of just exactly what is needed to be done, and have a plan in place to do it … You need to then budget after you do that,” he said. “That would be one of my goals, find out exactly how severe the problem is. I can look here and say it’s pretty severe. So could more capital dollars be put into it? Perhaps.”

    That is a clear commitment to get a “total clear picture of just exactly what is needed to be done, and have a plan in place to do it…” This is BEFORE budgeting and asking for capital money. When explained, your interpretation is not accurate. That sounds like a smart approach to me, especially considering Alvord’s statement that “the department has not gotten complaints about sidewalks.” Really? You can’t walk down any sidewalk in any neighborhood anywhere in the city without falling into a hole or wide crack.
    If Alvord wants complaints, we’ll just give him a quick tour, which would be much faster! I also would argue that most city residents have given up complaining about things as the problems often have not been fixed or addressed. Folks get exhausted complaining when nothing gets done.

    As far as saving money on paving, as many recall, the city repaved North Main and Washington Street last year on election day, directly in front of Democratic Headquarters, causing blocks of gridlock in every direction and preventing hundreds of volunteers from easily getting to it. There was no public warning about the paving as is normally done, and actually the roads did NOT need repaving as I am down there almost every day on a bike and never remember a pothole or deterioration of the road, and photos from the SoNo Arts Fest Parade with Mayor Moccia marching along show a perfectly intact pavement underneath his feet. Why on earth did taxpayers have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for repaving streets that clealy did not need it, while other streets a few blocks away or all over town for that matter were crumbling and full of potholes?
    Same thing with Scribner Avenue, which was repaved unnecessarily in the election autumn of 2011, only to be ripped up a year later. Spectator above says it was thin layer of asphalt, but it still must have cost a fortune. Mayor Moccia I’m sure bought a few more votes with that wasted repaving when a letter to the editor appeared complaining about the condition of that road, in the summer of the election year of 2011. I remember it well. When so many streets are crumbling and in dire need, why did Moccia repave Scribner knowing it was getting ripped up less than a year later, if not to just buy some votes with scarce taxpayer dollars? Are we that wealthy a city that we can afford to pave streets for less than a year of comfort, in the case of Scribner, or streets that don’t need it all but are conveniently in front of the Dem Headquarters and would cause gridlock on election day in the most Democratic district in the city if they were shut down with NO warning at all at 6 AM on election day and not reopened until after 5? (Don’t forget Moccia was an avid McMahon and Romney supporter.) I report, you decide.

  12. Tim T

    We have out of control crime, a failing school systems, a horrid tax base, holes in the ground that are called redevelopment and the clown Rilling is worried about sidewalks. What will be his next priority crab grass???? Talk about lost and yet another reason not to vote for Rilling. RILLING JUST DOESN’T GET IT….

  13. M Allen

    Who wants better sidewalks? The people who have sidewalks. How about the areas with no sidewalks? Or where there are sidewalks that end midway down the road? Try walking down Broad Street or Newtown Avenue and many streets like them. Sidewalks that turn into strips of sidewalks that turn into goat paths that turn into nothing. Bike lanes? How about walking lanes. Crumbling sidewalks? Sidewalks that are too narrow? Sidewalks that aren’t ADA certified or properly landscape architected? LOL – How about busy streets with no sidewalks at all. What about the kids who walk those street to get to school or the disabled person trying to navigate their way arond town? I mean, if those are the reasons we need broken sidewalks to be fixed, wouldn’t they be the same reasons for the installation of new sidewalks where they don’t already exist? These arguments are incredible.

  14. Tim T

    Actually Harry Norwalk wants sidewalks where they will not be shot at…You do remember the out of control crime epidemic when you were police consultant and that it continues now that we have a police chief who is your protege.

  15. Suzanne

    M Allen, your comment speaks to the overall inconsistencies of service and repair by the DPW. There does not seem to be a cohesive approach as to how to deal with sidewalks, bike lanes, cross walks, walk signals at busy intersections, etc. It is all mucked up – I walk between three and six miles a day. I cannot tell you how many streets I encounter that have just what you describe: the random sidewalk, sidewalks that are so damaged to heaving, they are dangerous to navigate. Sidewalks that are sidewalks that slowly dwindle to bare navigable paths. So where does one end up in such a situation? In the street, as close to the edge as possible and, frankly, I still get yelled at (only occasionally. But, hey, when are people going to realize that this is quite an ancient practice, this walking/biking thing, much older than automobiles ever will be. Show some courtesy and share responsibly.)

    Tim T: I think people just shake their heads at your comments. While you have a right to express and re-express your opinion (make that one), do you realize that repeating it so incessantly removes its effectiveness? You don’t like Rilling. Hey! We got it!

  16. The Norwalker

    Don’t forget that our bumpy roads are so bad that they shorten the life of our cars which are a major investment for most citizens of Norwalk!

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