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Travers: Norwalk will complete Wall Street ‘reimagining’

Director of Transportation, Mobility, and Parking James Travers explains the developing concepts for the Wall Street area, Oct. 30 on Belden Avenue. (Harold F. Cobin)

NORWALK, Conn. – The construction expected this May to upgrade sidewalks and other infrastructure on lower Wall Street is being delayed but a rumor that the City is rejecting a grant is untrue, Norwalk Director of Transportation, Mobility, and Parking James Travers said Monday.

The City is adding bike lanes to the plans and it’s hoped that the bidding process will begin by late summer, he said.

In October, just ahead of the last municipal election, Travers and other City leaders held a press conference promising sweeping infrastructure improvements for the Wall Street area, as soon as possible. The focus was primarily on major changes around West and Belden Avenues, though a finished design wasn’t expected for 12 to 18 months and major grant funding is needed.

Changes to lower Wall were said to be much more imminent.

A $1.5 million Local Transportation Capital Improvement Program (LOTCIP) grant would entirely fund lighting, decorative pavers, traffic and safety improvements, new sidewalks and other infrastructure improvements in approximately 650 linear feet west of Mill Hill, and work would begin in May, said Norwalk Chief of Operations and Public Works Anthony Robert Carr.

That will make that area inviting, said Council member David Heuvelman (D-District A).

A source contacted NancyOnNorwalk last week, passing along a rumor that the City was going to decline the grant and apply for another grant, “a long shot,” and if it came to fruition it would be years.

Not true, Travers said Monday.

“We are most certainly not forgoing the LOTCIP grant,” Travers wrote. “TMP is taking it over and adjusting the scope so that it is consistent with the entire corridor plans.  While we have not held community meetings to determine the look and feel of the entire Wall Street corridor, we know very much that the corridor should include bike lanes.  There are limited east/west connections in the city and Wall Street in critical to a connected bike network.”

Engineers are designing bike lanes in both directions, he said.

“The project area will remain the same, between Brook St and Main Street,” Travers wrote. “Simultaneously we will design East Wall from Brook to East Ave and incorporate bike lanes in this area as well.  We have to do the design and forward it on to CTDOT for review/approval (since they are funding it).  We are hopefully to get this to them as quickly as we can and get all the reviews in place to get this out to bid by late summer.  We intend to reach out to folks in the area to let them know and will be keeping them apprised as the plans develop.”

While this will “slightly delay” the work described in October as “the first phase” of the major improvements leading to a “reimagined Wall Street,” Travers said, “I think that creating this in the true ‘Complete Streets’ model will have longer term benefits for the corridor and the City.  I have already spoken with Bob Buchan at CTDOT about the scope change and he is in favor of us looking at this with a wider lens.”

Efforts toward the larger project are chugging along, according to Travers.

In October, he described the massive reworking of the area as costing $13 to 15 million, of which Mayor Harry Rilling was committing $1.7 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Travers said, “We have already written one grant application for $3.8 million to start the project… We’ve also written a $13 million grant to FEMA to actually do the whole entire project at once.”

On Monday, he wrote, “In terms of funding the additional phases, we have already written two grants to continue the work.   While we have not heard back from one of the grants, we have received positive preliminary feedback on a second LOTCIP solicitation that we have submitted.”

TMP has requested $250,000 in the coming capital budget “to complete the design work for the entire corridor,” Travers said. “I am confident that we will not only develop the best plan for the corridor, but we will find a funding source to build what we design.  I am fully committed to making this happen.”

Travers said, “I’ll be reaching out to folks in the Wall Street area to alleviate some concerns.  TMP and the City are most certainly committed to seeing this project through.”

16 comments

Jason Milligan February 8, 2022 at 6:47 am

Jim Travers deserves time to get the plan right rather than rushing someone else’s plan. Tweaking to allow bike lanes on both sides of the road makes sense.

Connectivity, bike lanes, walkability are super important for an area that has pooled parking resources that are spread out. Most Wall Street area properties do not have on site parking.

Unless the city wants to tear down all the historic buildings the Wall Street area must be walkable.

The infrastructure that Jim is working on is exactly what a government should focus on to help a neighborhood thrive.

Hopefully his team will be successful.

David Muccigrosso February 8, 2022 at 8:23 am

This is just building for building’s sake.

It’s no secret that I’m generally a YIMBY in these comments. But that doesn’t mean uncritically supporting every single project.

Who are these bike lanes even FOR? Where are they supposed to get to and from? Bike lanes are nice things to have, but the whole area needs traffic-calming, not just a biking band-aid.

Wall Street needs roughly the same thing every neighborhood needs: Legalize the next increment of housing/development, get rid of dumb rules like setbacks, and treat the place as a destination, not just somewhere to push traffic through at the highest speed possible.

Most of the basic assets are already there. Most of Wall Street already looks like Washington. So why does Washington succeed? Because it’s got crosswalks. I can safely cross Washington at pretty much any point on the block. I dare anyone here to try that on Wall.

This stuff isn’t a secret. Our ancestors figured it out. We just need to stop treating everywhere like it needs to be a freaking suburb. Build a TOWN, and we will have a nice little TOWN.

Mike Mushak February 8, 2022 at 2:18 pm

Great news for the Wall Street area, and all of Norwalk!

I applaud Jim Travers and the entire hard-working TMP and DPW staff, both newer and older staff members alike.

This is exactly the kind of practical (and at the same time also visionary) leadership we need on the front lines of transforming our city into a truly bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly community, where folks of all ages and abilities can get around safer and easier without a car.

We are a growing walkable and bikable city of young families and singles as well as retirees and empty nesters, of diverse incomes and ethnicities, who are all seeking healthier lifestyles and choices to get around that don’t always have to rely on cars.

We have millions of dollars of studies done over the last two decades by national experts in their fields, with much public input, all saying basically the same thing: we need more connected bike lanes and routes through the city, and better sidewalks and more crosswalks.

Norwalk has been doing a great job in this area over the last decade especially with new and renovated sidewalks and crosswalks that folks can see in neighborhoods all over town. After decades of neglect there’s still much more to do, but a commitment Mayor Rilling made almost a decade ago to invest millions every year in new sidewalks is paying off in safer walking routes to schools, work, and transit.

Its remarkable how many people walk and ride bikes around Norwalk now, compared to just 20 years ago when I moved here and it was common to see empty sidewalks and no cyclists. The city really has been transformed from a once struggling post-industrial city in ways many of us never imagined was possible.

It took real vision and hard work by so many over decades in Norwalk to establish our awesome park system through purchasing land, to build the Maritime Aquarium in an abandoned factory, to build a new City Hall in our old high school, to preserve Washington Street Historic District, to build Stepping Stones, to preserve Lockwood-Mathews Mansion, to rebuild our school system in new and renovated schools as we are now doing, etc, etc, etc.

And that same kind of vision and hard work continues with this good news to finally help Wall Street become a vibrant downtown again!

I’m at an age where I know many folks near or at retirement who have decided to stay in Norwalk instead of moving elsewhere, because they see Norwalk growing and improving in ways that make it easier for all of us to get around and enjoy what we have to offer, from beaches to hills to great cultural attractions and neighborhoods, and don’t forget great restaurants, shopping, and healthcare. We have it all. I know I am staying here in the city I have grown to love over 20 years, flaws and all.

So thanks again to everyone especially Jim Travers in helping to make Norwalk better and Wall Street better. Your efforts are much appreciated by so many.

(And if the complainers ever get you down, remember it wasn’t the whiners and complainers who built Norwalk into the great city it is. It was the visionaries like yourself who rose above it and rolled up their sleeves and got things done.)

Piberman February 8, 2022 at 4:35 pm

No one at City Hall interested in securing a “real Downtown” for Norwalk complete with business office buildings, office parks, upscale apartment buildings, medical office buildings, etc each standard features of a real Downtown ?

Guess not. Is our destiny to remain half a dozen leafy suburbs surrounding a modest depressed Downtown home mostly to apartment buildings and single story retail shops ? A highly transient city where we have to commute to good jobs elsewhere ?

How can we have a real Downtown when even our City Hall is located far from Downtown. And we can’t even boast having a 4 yr college. Or any office towns.
But we do have a post office, court and library.

If we want to remain a transient commuter “City” of suburbs surrounding a depressed inner core then lets leave everything just the way it is. And give our awards for “fresh thinking”.

erica kipp February 8, 2022 at 7:24 pm

If the bike lanes that will be put in the Wall street area are anything like the “bike lanes” drawn on Strawberry and Partrick, no thanks. Wall needs help sooner than later. I bypass this area to frequent restaurants and shop elsewhere and I want to support Norwalk. We can start with better lighting and even festoon lights that make Washington and Main more inviting and visually appealing. That would be a small fraction of the grant and can be more immediate help the ailing businesses there. Travers is new to Norwalk, he was hired in 2021, so hopefully he and his team will take the wants and needs of the business owners into account. There is a Wall Street committee that has some great ideas and feedback.

David Muccigrosso February 9, 2022 at 8:10 am

Couldn’t put it better than @Pibermen.

This is rearranging deck chairs. Heck, I’m even surprised Milligan’s for this. A policy of “next increment of density allowed by-right” would benefit him FAR more than some piddling bike lanes.

Jason Milligan February 9, 2022 at 8:51 am

Did Mike Mushak and I just agree?

I might need to check my premises. Lol

What Wall Street is and should be is fairly universally agreed upon.

The disagreement comes up when we discuss how to get there?
And who should get us there.

My personal belief is the governments role should be limited to making clear concise rules that apply equally to everyone. They should also invest in infrastructure like sidewalks, parks, in urban areas parking, trash removal, public transportation etc

Government should not develop or run businesses or otherwise compete with private enterprise. They should also not tip the scales for anyone. Let the best and brightest compete in a fair and transparent way.

Piberman February 9, 2022 at 11:06 am

Some of us old timers who have lived here for 3 or 4 decades remember when it was pleasant to spend time and go shopping in our Downtown. Especially at Kiddie Town.
Hard to believe but our Downtown was once well populated day and night. Then the City’s leaders encouraged Big Box and our local owned business community closed shop. Not only did we loose our local business owners but we lost an essential group of citizens who took active interest in City governance.

If we’ve learned anything encouraging apartment buildings and extolling the “renters bring growth mantra” has not restored a vibrant Downtown that attracts City resident and visitors. Downtown remains an unsightly blight on Norwalk.

Big Box isn’t leaving town. So nothing changes in our unsightly Downtown until we elect City leaders focused on attracting the essential ingredients of vibrant Downtowns commonplace across America. That includes office buildings, office parks, shopping centers. And moving City Hall Downtown. Has anyone ever seen a City the size of Norwalk where its City Hall isn’t located Downtown ?

Those who want Norwalk to become a real vibrant City need focus on rebuilding our depressing Downtown. One offering good jobs. Attracting major business. We’d all benefit. Especially our long time population – 10 % – living below the poverty levels. In our One Party City rebuilding our depressed Downtown remains a major challenge to City leadership. Repeatedly claiming that “renters bring growth” is so embarrassing.

Tanner Thompson February 9, 2022 at 3:04 pm

To respond to David Mucigrosso’s question in good faith, here’s one data point: myself.

I bike from my home in Golden Hill to St. Paul’s on the Green once a week, for a choir rehearsal. As Jim correctly pointed out, Wall Street is an important connection because it is one of very few east-west connections – I’d have to go far out of my way to avoid riding on Wall St.

On occasion, my wife and I have also ridden along Wall St to visit local restaurants like Aji 10 and Cafe Aroma.

I often ride along Wall St on longer, recreational rides that take me up towards Cranbury Park.

I look forward to these lanes, as well as bike lanes in many other parts of Norwalk. So many people want to bike more, both for transportation and recreation, but cite a lack of safe places to ride as the #1 reason they don’t.

I look forward to a time when the lanes are even safer than just the painted ones Erica mentioned – ideally protected by a concrete curb or raised to the level of the sidewalk – but I recognize that it’s much more expensive, and requires more road space that would likely come at the expense of parking spaces, which aren’t feasible to remove in today’s political and transportation climate. Hopefully that will change one day, and we will allocate more resources to more sustainable and human transportation modes like biking.

In the meantime, this is a great step in the right direction. Thanks Jim and everyone at TMP.

Frank Farricker February 9, 2022 at 6:39 pm

If there are bike lanes on both sides. What will the provision for the endless deliveries on Wall Street, for the bus and it’s stops, and for the back in parking?

David Muccigrosso February 10, 2022 at 9:41 am

@Tanner, thanks for the earnest engagement!

My larger point was that “build it and they will come” isn’t a great way of thinking about these sorts of places. (FYI, Travers literally used this phrase in the original article!)

The improvements may marginally create some more foot traffic, but if the rezoning that’s also currently going on doesn’t come up with a broad upzoning and reform towards “by-right” building (IE, projects are assumed to be OK, and opponents would have to prove they don’t meet the zoning code), we’re just going to be stuck with the same depopulated area and dilapidated buildings, with some pretty sidewalks in front of them.

To me, the tell is that none of the property owners besides Milligan are putting forward their own projects. And even Milligan’s just doing it as part of his perennial one-man crusade. None of them seem to think that there actually is much value in, say, infilling a couple of lots during/after the construction, or rehabbing old buildings on side streets. And that’s mostly because doing those things is barely legal under the current zoning processes in place.

I’m not saying we CAN’T “get there from here”. It’s just that this project is putting a bunch of eggs in one basket, and it’s not even the most important basket as far as redeveloping the area goes.

Peter Franz February 10, 2022 at 12:19 pm

There seems to be some confusion.
Government establishes laws, rules and regulations that reflect the will of the people. Businesses operate within these regulations. That’s so different from government “running” a business, to suggest so is completely disingenuous.

Perhaps those appointing themselves amongst the “best and brightest” would do well to appreciate this reality.

Richard Bonenfant February 10, 2022 at 3:18 pm

Wall Street is a vital thoroughfare in order to move cars from one side of town to the other. That should not be impeded by making traffic any worse than it is already, especially on East Avenue. Want to revitalize the area? Give the people something to do besides get a haircut, although the Wall Street Association and other merchants are making great strides into bringing a variety of businesses and restaurants to the neighborhood. The City chose to have the Wall Street zone officially declared a Slum so they could apply for federal grants, that’s their idea of civic pride. Take back the POKO property that was given away for a dollar in exchange for broken promises and make it a park, there’s no recreation space there. Walkability and bicycle lanes sound wonderful, but will the apartment dwellers really ride bikes up to Stew Leonard’s and load up their backpacks with groceries? Is there any public input on these plans or was this already included in the last Master Plan that ignored any comments about density, traffic and population?

David Muccigrosso February 11, 2022 at 8:09 am

@Richard: You’re utterly mistaken. Maintaining the fast flow of cars at the expense of everything else makes it dangerous to walk around from shop to shop. That kills foot traffic, which kills any business that dares invest in the neighborhood.

West Main is a perfect example of this. The businesses along that street have been devastated ever since traffic flow was prioritized. It’s a series of failing strip malls, not successful businesses. If we need thoroughfares, we need to ease traffic on other routes (Belden/Cross, for instance), not drive the same old dagger deeper into the heart of Downtown.

I’d highly recommend Chuck Marohn’s recent book “Confessions of a Recovering Engineer” for more on the topic.

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