Woog's World / Of bumps, bridges and decks
The Main Street bump is getting some work.
The "bump" is that triangular, wood-lined island near Westport Pizzeria. It was installed years ago -- in the 1970s? '80s? -- when that section of Main Street went from two-way traffic to one.
Large, unsightly signs -- an arrow, "Do Not Enter," "Wrong Way" -- greet southbound drivers near Brooks Corner. Every so often someone blows right by, to the consternation of drivers and shoppers. But for the most part, it does what it's supposed to.
Still it just sits there, like, um, a bump on a log. Soon, though -- thanks, Westport Downtown Merchants Association -- it will be beautified. A tree, a bench, an "electric lamp" and (you never know) a garbage and recycling bin will spruce up a spot that is an important visual impression of Main Street.
Because that stretch of Main Street has been one-way for so long, we tend to think it has to be. Yet for many decades traffic flowed in both directions, all the way to the Post Road. It's one way now only because a previous board of selectmen said so.
Just as the merchants' association has rethought the bump -- and a committee appointed by the first selectman is rethinking downtown -- maybe it's time for all of us to rethink our set-in-stone notions of that area, too.
For example, why should traffic be one-way on Main Street, or two-way? Why should there be traffic at all? What's wrong with making that small stretch car-free?
The "pedestrian mall" proposal has been floated before. Merchants howl. Westporters are conditioned to park in front of stores, retailers say. Removing parking would mean the death of downtown.
But think about a mall. At Trumbull, Stamford or any other shopping center, you don't expect to park two yards from any store. You know you'll hoof it -- two minutes, maybe more. And at prime shopping times of the year -- like Christmas, when it's cold and snowy -- we realize we won't find a spot anywhere close to the Main Street holy grail.
If we feel so strongly about parking directly in front of every place we shop, this country is in far worse shape than I thought.
But if we rethink parking, let's talk about Parker Harding, too. As with stores fronting Main Street, we assume people have parked behind them ever since they drove horses and wagons.
Nope. "Harder Parking" is landfill. Until the mid-1950s, water -- not Ramblers and DeSotos -- lapped up against the back of the Gap and Nike Store (well, their mom-and-pop-owned predecessors).
That lot is landfill. It's not predestined for asphalt. Nothing prevents us from reconfiguring at least part of it into a park, recapturing the glorious natural resource that courses unnoticed right through downtown.
Nothing prevents us, that is, except our own stubbornness, lack of vision and insistence that unless we can't park as close to our destination as humanly and vehicularly as possible, we won't drive there.
Speaking of the river -- and the grass, benches, maybe even playground we can put there -- why do Westporters insist that "downtown" and the west bank are separate? I know of no places so close to each other that are considered so separate. Okay, maybe the actual West Bank.
Lou Gagliano's Downtown 2020 Committee envisions a footbridge connecting both sides of the river. The area around National Hall is ready to rock. Redevelopment includes exciting new shops, and at least two restaurants (one Mid-Eastern, the other "Brazilian-sushi"). The reopening of Art's Deli, and new owners of the often-doomed restaurant around the corner on Riverside Avenue, create a buzz in the area similar to Saugatuck, a couple miles away.
But parking is problematic. Even a new deck on the Wilton Road lot across from Save the Children won't completely solve the problem.
A footbridge across the Saugatuck might help. Particularly if that bridge leads to a movie theater, like the one that may be built on property behind Tavern on Main, near the Elm Street parking lot.
Which brings us to the final piece of the puzzle. If we remove parking from Main Street and Parker Harding, it must go somewhere. Adding a deck to the Elm Street lot (the one behind Williams-Sonoma) could be an answer.
The topography favors this solution. It slopes downward, so a new level would be about the same height as the road feeding into it. Creative architecture and plantings could make it as attractive as a parking deck can be. And -- voila! -- it would solve some of the parking woes now experienced by the renaissance of Church Lane (and exacerbated when the Y is replaced by a new retail/office/residential complex).
Speaking of which, where is the Y? The corner of Main Street. Downtown is more compact than you think. Particularly if the only time you see it is from behind the wheel.