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Send Hoyt St. Sidewalks Bill to Neighborhood

Here's a solution to the Hoyt Street sidewalk project!

For several years now the residents of Darien who live along Hoyt Street near the Talmadge Hill Railroad Station have been asking, no, demanding, that sidewalks be built there.  They argue, fairly, that it’s not safe to walk that busy highway to get to the station.

This stretch of Hoy Street, part of state Rt 106, is under the control of the CT Dept of Transportation. has surveyed the area, polled the neighbors and lobbied the CDOT to do something to help.  Because the train station and Rt 106 straddle the New Canaan town line, the neighbors and the past three Darien First Selectmen have tried to enlist that town’s support, to no avail.

A recent CDOT estimate that sidewalks would cost $1 million was rejected by neighbors as over-priced (not that CDOT has much of a track record at building anything under budget).  Radar speed detectors have been placed along the road, cops have handed out tickets, and still there’s speeding, but no sidewalks.

Do you have a sidewalk in front of your house?  Chances are pretty slim that you do.  I don’t have them, though I live within walking distance of the Noroton Heights station and see dozens of daily commuters walking there, albeit not on a busy state highway.

So why does the Hoyt Street crowd jump the queue to be most deserving of pedestrian-friendly investments?  For no reasons other than their persistence and their constant clamor.  Good for them sticking up for what they believe.  I just don’t think Darien taxpayers should pay for their sidewalks.

I have a solution:  let them pay for the sidewalks themselves by creating a “taxing district”.

There are plenty of precedents.  Think sewer districts or business improvement zones.

Draw a one mile circle around the train station and assess the property owners who will benefit by having those sidewalks a reasonable charge, payable over time.  Those residents will see their property values increase because their homes will be more commuter-friendly.  They’ll be able to know their kids won’t get killed walking / biking to the park / school.  They’ll enjoy all the sidewalks’ benefits, so let them foot the bill.

Mind you, I do think the Town needs to do more sidewalk planning and construction.  But there should be objective criteria about where they are built including housing density, proximity to schools and public services (like train stations), road dangers, etc.

Just because you yell the loudest doesn’t mean you should win.

Editor's note: This article originally was published Friday. The time stamp has been changed for layout purposes on the Home page of Darien Patch.

Sue Maguire June 23, 2012 at 01:36 AM
Excellent solution to a VERY local concern. Given the level of urgency expressed by the residents this would allow them to solve their limited sidewalk access issue in a timely manner.
Holly Schulz June 23, 2012 at 05:58 PM
If we're to follow Mr. Cameron's logic, all sidewalks&roads, fire&police service, beaches&parks, should be paid for only by the residents in the direct vicinity. If that's the case, those of us on the north end are going to be due a HUGE tax credit from the town. Why isn't the local beach community paying for the beach renovation, the seniors paying for the new senior center, and Rings' End, Noroton and West Ave residents paying for the new sidewalk they received last summer? Because we're a community, and the role of our government is to provide for public health and safety shared services for ALL of us. If my tax dollars can be spent to maintain and upgrade services in other parts of town (many of which I don't personally use or benefit from), then when a severe safety situation exists in my 'very local' neighborhood, abutting public transportation, who determines that we should pay directly for our public services, while those who walk to the other stations in town do so utilizing the shared dollars from all of us? Just because it's not in your backyard and doesn't benefit you personally doesn't mean it's not a legitimate publicly funded project. This most basic public service has been ignored for the past 20+ years. Hopefully the effort put in by our neighborhood will lead to an awareness resulting in a Board to identify, plan and prioritize projects of this type so no one else will have to go through what we have to receive the services they deserve.
max June 23, 2012 at 06:33 PM
I agree with Jim. Wait your turn or pay yourself.
Jim Cameron June 23, 2012 at 07:11 PM
How many homes and how many commuters will use these Hoyt St sidewalks... Maybe 50 - 75? And for that handful, the other 20,000 residents of town should pay $1 million? Did you not notice there were no sidewalks when you bought your house?
Tama June 23, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Okay, then there should be a key and gate to limit the access to the sidewalk only to those who chipped in. If that is acceptable, it would mean that if YOU were for any reason to need to cross there, you'd have to get onto the street and risk life and limb to speeders. Given enough of similarly solved community issues, you might with any luck quickly get killed off.
Sue Maguire June 24, 2012 at 01:39 AM
The Police and Fire Departments service the ENTIRE town. The Parks and Beaches are available to EVERYONE. The Hoyt Street residents are reluctant to provide for the sidewalk they have been lobbying for because some poor stranded motorist may have occasion to use it? Extraordinary.
sebastian dangerfield June 24, 2012 at 03:33 AM
Jim--good idea... The comparison to a sewer project is a great one. The town doesnt put in the sewers in many neighborhoods, but when collectively the neighbors decide that the street would be better off--then they get together, hire an engineer, and a construction company and work on their street. The hoyt street neighbors who will most defeintely complain about this--should consider how this is different. No one randomly gets out of their car to walk along hoyt street. Only the people who live in that vicinity. If the people who were yelling for this safety concern are only concerned if its 'free' to them--and not when they have to pay for it themselves--then we know the true value to them. Its most likely a 'nice to have' in most of their eyes. If it is the vast numbers that they claim who will benefit--then it wont be too expensive. A sewer costs about 25k a home. If the numbers the neighbors were putting out there are accurate, then they most likely will arrive at a similar figure. If its the 50 or so that most people actually think --then this will be exposed as simply a project that is priced far in excess of its perceived value. Great idea Jim.
Alex Tytler June 24, 2012 at 10:09 AM
Jim, You got it right. These people just want a free lunch. If they had to pay the check, then they aren't interested. Isn't this true of most municipal services? Take from the many give to the few?
John Sini June 24, 2012 at 12:14 PM
Jim, Great points. I have asked the same question a few times in different forums: How many potential pedestrians are we talking about here?? Not once have the Hoyt St. sidewalk advocates been willing to disclose a figure. I do agree it would be prudent to conduct a town wide assessment of sidewalk needs -- taking all relevent concerns such as potential usage, safety, cost, etc. into account so that the town can prioritize its sidewalk projects and deliver the most utility to the most taxpayers. For instance, if the town decided to start putting sidealks in the north end of town, why would Hoyt St be more of a priority than Mansfield Ave near Ox Ridge? I imagine theres dozens and dozens of families that would like to see their children walk to school in a safe manner if they could. If this comprehensive prioritization study was completed, there's a high probablity that the Hoyt St. sidewalk advocates will be disappointed -- and that is why they are unwilling to share that figure with the rest of us.
Peter Firmin June 24, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Please note $1,000,000 equates to less than $500,000 for Darien portion. The DOT $1 mln estimate is for a sidewalk running along the west side of Hoyt Street from Talmadge Hill Road to Leeds Lane - the portion in Darien was estimated by the DOT to cost $640,000 - for a sidewalk approximately 2,500 feet long. DOT estimate intuitively seems high, the town's own recent experience for comparable design (but longer) sidewalks which were rehabilitated on West Avenue and Noroton Avenue last year cost $336,000. A preliminary estimate for a sidewalk on the east side of Hoyt (more difficult terrain than the west side) was prepared by Darin Dept PW in February 2011. Dept PW estimate was $300,000 (excluding the c. 500 feet from Country Club Road to Leeds Lane, don't know why they excluded it, including it would add c. 30% of length to match the DOT estimated length and perhaps result in a 30% increase in their estimate(?)). Darien PW provided me with names of some independent sidewalk contractors that instal sidewalks in Darien, New Canaan, Stamford. I approached one of these and solicited an independent bid from them (based on DOT quantities) for the whole sidewalk (from Talmadge Hill to Leeds Lane as per DOT specifications) which I shared with BoS in May and which included prudent construction cost estimating techniques to address gaps in the contractor figures. The result was a cost for the Darien portion of less than $450,000 - comparable to Darien PW estimate of Feb 2011.
John Sini June 24, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Peter, how many folks would this capital project benefit?
Cassandra Hegarty June 24, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Every man for himself, huh? The whole idea of COMMUNITY is shattered with a commentary like this. If that is the case, then why should I have to pay for a pothole to be repaired on your street? I never drive down it. I'll never use the paddle tennis courts in town and I know several people who also never would, so we shouldn't have to pay for the warming huts, right? I don't think that sidewalks should only be available to those who benefit from them. A sidewalk is BASIC public safety measure and benefits EVERYONE in that we make our town a safe place to live. If a death or serious injury occurs, I guess it is someone else's problem, right? Don't we want our kids or elderly to be safe? How about our commuters? It isn't just about Talmadge Hill. It is about anywhere in town where the safety of our townspeople is compromised. Numbers of beneficiaries shouldn't matter because it just takes ONE person to be killed. The advocates of Hoyt St. are not against a sidewalk going up in any other part of town. In fact, we encourage it. The town should have a more proactive safety strategy for installing new sidewalks in anywhere safety is an issue. Maybe THill should be the first to pave the way. I'm sure many of the commentators above would be appalled if we asked the seniors to pay for a sidewalk near the proposed affordable housing projects. Should we rip the Social Security checks out of their hands? If we look to residents to solve their own problems, where do you draw the line?
Holly Schulz June 24, 2012 at 09:22 PM
There are 83 Darien residences (R1/2 zoning) off of Hoyt Street within 0.7 mile of Talmadge Hill Station, and between 14 and 36 Woodway Country Club staff commute (depending on the season). No one is hiding this information. In fact our neighborhood has not only disclosed this (having tallied it ourselves) but repeatedly brought it to the attention of the Board of Selectmen included in multiple petitions, surveys & maps of town sidewalks (which we created 2 years ago for them, as our town didn't even have a map to see where sidewalks existed at the time). We have met with the Police Commission, engineers, contractors, state & town officials...anyone we think might finally be able to offer SOLUTIONS rather than just excuses. The amount of time that multiple residents have put into trying to get ANYTHING done to address our safety situation should be applauded not demonized. Our hope is that everyone town-wide can benefit from the awareness that's come from our cause, since our town as a whole is in poor shape when it comes to basic sidewalk planning as part of what should be our standard Public Works services. Feel free to implement Mr. Cameron's advice, and all the tax dollars we save no longer providing new replacement walks to others around town will help us to fund our needed sidewalk. Our collective infrastructure will crumble as neighbors fight over who the beneficiaries of any specific stretch are, and who should pay. Sounds like a miserable place to live.
max June 24, 2012 at 11:52 PM
A miserable place to live is a place where the squeaky wheel gets the oil without regard to what is best for the entire community. It leads to a lot more squeak.
Peter Firmin June 25, 2012 at 02:10 AM
John I reviewed the town survey (spring 2011), current pedestrian commuters using Hoyt street at that time numbered c. 35. You need to add c. 15 Woodway employees (fall / spring) which increases to 30 in the summer. Based on a few door knocking neighborhood walks that I progressed following joining the RTM in January (sidewalks was just one issue I raised along with others including plastic bag ban and town / school budget) there are 10- 12 additional commuters on Country club road that drive to Noroton Heights and would use a sidewalk if there was one. In addition to commuters, on Country Club Road there is c. 25-30 additional people (wives, husbands + children) that are either joggers, walkers or others which would use a sidewalk to get to the train station or to Waveny Park (one of the great parks in the area - great for children, biking and jogging). The real issue here is that volume of traffic (which generally grows at a multiple of GDP growth) and speed of traffic has increased greatly on Hoyt in last 10 years even more so with the advent of GPS (Hoyt is the the only real direct cut through from Merit to I-95 in the area). The few neighbors who live on Hoyt street that I have managed to speak to are open about the increased danger in last 10 years. Perversely, the current lack of sidewalks combined with the dangerous traffic conditions dissuades most residents from walking to the train station and Waveny Park. Hope this is helpful. Best regards. Peter
John Sini June 25, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Thanks! That's the first time I have heard those figures.
sebastian dangerfield June 25, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Cassandra-- Surely you can see the difference between what you intend to use and what is available to use. No one outside of approximately 55 homes would EVER use the sidewalks. (my number is off--but the point is no one gets a ride over to hoyt street to walk the rest of the way to the train station. it is soley for the use of those residents. PAddle courts may not be your cup of tea--but that doesnt mean you or your kids or your houseguests would never use them. I dont pay for a sewer on Nolan Lane--- because Ill never have the chance to use that sewer. The fact that I never call the cops , doesnt mean that I dont have their services at my disposal. Sidewalks are needed in many places--- along much of Hollow tree , along pear tree point road that winds around dangerous curves-- on brookside on mansfield etc. If people moved to hoyt street to take advantage of talmadge hill --bravo you bought aware of the train station, but also of the lack of sidewalks. The alternative would be to travel to noroton heights like people who live in other neighborhoods.... Why did you move there, if its such a concern? why not get a cab to TH station? Answer- you dont want to spend the money- the value isnt there. Exactly.
Holly Schulz June 26, 2012 at 07:49 PM
See Peter Firmin's answer above (this data was collected via the Town-run neighborhood opinion survey during Spring 2011; I'm sure you can get a copy from Public Works or Planning & Zoning).
Robert Kernen June 28, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Well put, Cassandra. The notion that "hey, you're on our own" is one of the most toxic and destructive in our society today. Regrettably, I'm sure the people on Hoyt Street will remember the opinions of Mr. Cameron and some of the others here when projects come up in other neighborhoods. And that's sad, too.
sebastian dangerfield June 28, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Sorry Robert What I think is toxic, is when you realize you have an isolated problem, and then demanding that all of society should pay for it. That is what is wrong with our new society. We all should have a greater say in what we spend our money on. No one is denying your right to build a sidewalk. What they are saying is, pay for it yourself. There are probably 100 streets of varying busyness in Darien with no sidewalks. Its time to stop the concept that society and communities should pay for the few. Taxi cabs are available. If you NEED to commute from Talmadge Hill , instead of Noroton Heights- be my guest. But dont say "its more convenient for me-and now I want that convenience made more accessible. " They are closing down post offices, --aware that some people may be inconvenienced. Noroton Heights should be on that list, in my opinion. Again--no one is saying you cant build them yourself. Just that the rest of the town doesnt want to pay for it. Vote on paddle courts if cassandra wants to-- maybe it doesnt serve enough people. No problem--the idea would then to be charge more to the players and if the paddle players do not think its worth it--then you get rid of them.

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