Lauterborn Blog Search

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Violent Quick-Moving Storm Thrashes Area

Violent Quick-Moving Storm Thrashes Area:
Trees down, local flooding and power outages mark passage
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 6/9)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – The darkening skies and wind-whipped trees foretold the arrival of a wicked thunderstorm that dumped buckets of rain, interrupted power and knocked down trees across Fairfield early Thursday evening.

Around 6 p.m., the storm rolled in from the west, bringing premature darkness and driving people off beaches and streets to find shelter indoors. Rain came down so hard that visibility was stunted to less than 100 yards at one point, as windshield wipers fruitlessly slapped at the heavy precipitation. Roadways quickly flooded, as the torrents could not be absorbed fast enough, and cascades of water flashed up as cars drove through accumulated pools.

Accompanying high winds pulled trees up from their roots while large limbs split off other trees and came down, blocking through access on thoroughfares like North Benson Road just north of the railroad overpass, and Penfield Road in the Beach Area, north of Quincy Street. Police were onsite at each incidence diverting traffic.

Power outages in the area south of the Post Road were reported, though they were brief and electric service was soon restored.

The storm had peaked by 6:30 p.m. and fast-tracked east, the skies still rumbling and flashing with thunder and lightning as it moved out. 

Hundreds of Complaints Drive Traffic Light Reprogramming

Hundreds of Complaints Drive Traffic Light Reprogramming:
Gridlock alleviated along Grasmere Ave. by new Whole Foods
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 6/9)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – The complaints were fast and furious, rolling in by phone, in person and email, all about the traffic tie-ups occurring almost around the clock over the past month along Grasmere Avenue by the newly opened Whole Foods Market.

The culprits were three traffic lights, at Grasmere and Kings Highway East on the north side of the railroad bridge, Grasmere and Kings Highway East on the south side of the railroad bridge and Grasmere at the entrance to Home Depot. While appropriately installed, the programming of the lights was based on traffic forecasts and set on a coordinated vs. actuated timer, meaning that lights changed on a clock rather than in response to actual traffic flow.

Thursday morning, officials from the Fairfield Police Dept., Fairfield Asst. Fire Chief Stephen Curry, Town Engineer Bill Hurley, state engineers, a private consulting firm and Arthur Hersch, chairman of the police commission, all came together onsite to collaborate and find solutions.

“We’re here to try to mediate the problem,” said Sgt. Suzanne Lussier, standing with the group at the corner of Grasmere and Kings Highway East on the north side of the bridge. “The lights need to be resynched and timing changed to alleviate the commuter and routine traffic backlog that’s here. We organized all the professionals today to reevaluate the conditions. If we don’t rectify the problem now, it will be exacerbated.”

The lights were first installed in January 2011 and put in a blinking mode initially so that area residents could get acclimated to them and used to traffic patterns around the new Whole Foods and train station facility. The lights then went into full operation about a month ago.

“Since they went on, we’ve had hundreds of complaints, from residents, commuters, business owners and emergency services that can’t get through,” said Fairfield Police Lt. Jim Perez. “It’s a dangerous situation that we didn’t foresee. It’s hard sometimes to know the outcome, and patterns change according to the time of day. The police commission made decisions at the time based on information they had.”

Perez said 20 to 25 cars have often been in line in all directions at certain times of the day, and all day from the Post Road to Grasmere bridge and from Westie’s Storage traveling east to Grasmere Ave. “We had reports of people making u-turns, which causes anxiety and could lead to real problems,” he said.

“It’s infuriating everybody,” said Commissioner Hersch. “We want to try to correct the situation now before the railroad station comes into play, or the traffic will get out of control.”

“And there will be a lot of late slips in the city,” half-joked Perez, who added, “The engineers will be here as long as it takes. Any decision affects all the light coordination.”

As he spoke, Don Halberg, a project coordinator from Marlin Controls in Danbury, busily reprogrammed the computer inside the traffic control box at the corner. “I’m adjusting the timing and sequence of the lights based on what the engineers recommend,” he said. “The original traffic counts may have been a little off. Now, with more stores opening, more traffic is being attracted, which affects the timing. I think it’ll run smoother now – snappier with faster response time and less back-up.”

That was particularly good news for the fire department’s Stephen Curry. “We have a pre-emptive device that can change the lights to green in the direction of travel during an emergency call, which makes it safer in response mode. The sensors were off and had to be fine-tuned. Our other issue was the gridlock that was jamming up the intersection, which was making passage difficult for our vehicles.”

Overseeing the process as a professional courtesy was Joe Ouellette, in the traffic division of the Connecticut Dept. of Transportation. “We’re all concerned about safety and keeping traffic moving,” he said. “The DOT and town talked about solutions and are implementing them here today. They were essentially timing challenges. Sometimes you have to make field adjustments. It just needed tweaking, it’s fairly common.”

View Finder: Whole Foods Market Open for Business

View Finder: Whole Foods Market Open for Business
Shoppers test the waters, 
checking price and quality
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 6/9)

Fairfield, CT – There’s something about that new store look and smell that makes you want to grab a cart and go on a shopping spree. Whole Foods Market, just opened at 350 Grasmere Avenue, should inspire that, though shoppers on a recent weekday afternoon seemed to be treading cautiously, getting the lay of the land and going light on purchases. Patch noticed a lot of price checking, curious inspection and targeted item selection. Whether shoppers would commit to the store in the long term remained to be seen, but one thing was for sure – the market puts on a good face.

The atmosphere was bright, signs readable and products accessible. Coffee flanked desserts, desserts abutted bakery items, they in turn aligned with pizza and paninis, and so on down the line. The cheese shop was stocked with artisanal varieties, breads were fresh and organic, the fruit and vegetables looked highly inviting, and seafood and meats seemed to call out “grill me, grill me” from behind their glass display cases. Both indoor and outdoor eating areas encouraged shoppers to stay a while to visit with their neighbors while cashiers extended a warm hello. And if it was a quick bite of a hot dog or burger you wanted, a promotional truck stood in the parking lot ready to take your order.

Welcome Whole Foods.

Locals Seek Relief from Scorching Heat

Locals Seek Relief from Scorching Heat:
Ocean, iced drinks, A/C and shade the popular choices
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 6/8)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Scorching. Blistering. Oppressive. Brutal. These were the words frequently used by locals around town seeking relief from temperatures that climbed into the 90s Wednesday afternoon.

The National Weather Service had issued an air quality alert indicating that ozone conditions near ground level may approach or exceed unhealthy standards. Coupled with a temperature high of 93 degrees, and a next-day forecast of 95 degrees, the news was unwelcome to most. They scurried to find air conditioning, cool drinks, ocean water and shade, while local advisory groups issued hot weather warnings and dispensed tips for keeping cool.

Fabiola Mota, who was taking care of one-year-old Ben Branson, had parked herself right by the water at Penfield Beach. The Brazilian said, “When it’s this hot, the best place to be is the beach. Even when it’s 100 degrees inland, it’s cooler by the water, especially with the breeze… and you save on your air conditioning bill. I like to put my beach chair right in the water and keep my feet in there – that’s the best way to keep cool.”

Stepping out of the Sound nearby was Chelsea Torrance, 19, and friend Jenn Babbino, 20, who were starting their summer break from college. “We came down from Trumbull to Penfield to escape the heat,” Babbino said. “We’re making a lot of trips to the water. It’s nice and cool and refreshing. We’ve also got a lot of bottled water with us and are keeping under our umbrella. With the breeze, it doesn’t feel like it’s in the 90s.”

Squatting right down in the water further along the shore was a trio from Bridgeport. “I figured the beach would be the best way to keep cool versus staying in the house,” said Wilfredo Difre, the male of the group. “It’s nice down here.”

Splashing around beside him, Shelly Inthisone, 18, added, “Life’s a beach. It’s really relaxing.”

While these beachgoers could enjoy their cooling strategies, others like landscaper Edwin Barrios were toiling away in the sun. “We’re pretty used to the heat,” he said about himself and two fellow co-workers, who were tending to a yard on Reef Road. “We’ve been doing this for 20 years. We’ve got a cooler with cold water and a lot of ice to keep cool. We take breaks often, too, so we don’t overheat.”

Conor Roach, 21, was another working up a sweat outdoors. The Dept. of Public Works employee, who was shoveling mulch into wheelbarrows from the back of a truck at the Fairfield Senior Center, said, “It’s pretty hot already and being surrounded by mulch makes it even hotter. There are lots of bugs flying around, too, and I’m getting to know them pretty well. We’re taking breaks once every two hours to sit in the shade.”

Inside the Senior Center, Executive Director Claire Grace said she is always mindful of the town’s elder citizens in hot weather like this. “We tried for several years to get seniors to come to the center to cool off and stay all day on hot days like this, but they don’t take us up on it,” she said. “If they’re going to stay home, I’d advise keeping the shades drawn, dressing loosely and drinking plenty of fluids. In the cases where there are low-income seniors who are without air conditioning, we are in a position to help with getting a fan.”

The police had similar advice to give. “Drink plenty of fluids, stay indoors and stay tuned to Channel 12 for advisories,” suggested one officer.

Other workers around town could be found seeking shelter from the sun in and around area cafes and eateries. Dr. Jen Epstein of Kids First Pediatric Dentistry was enjoying lunch with co-workers under an oversized umbrella in front of Firehouse Deli. “Our office, fortunately, is nice and air-conditioned,” she said. “So, in terms of the heat, I’m just hearing about it second-hand. I look forward to taking a dip later at the beach, though.”

Plastic surgeon Anya Kishinevski was on a lunch break at Chef’s Table, enjoying an iced tea and the breeze from several ceiling fans. “I actually love the heat,” she said. “I’m one of those women who’s always cold – so I’m miserable in the winter and thrilled in the summer.”

Another town worker taking a lunch break, admittedly a late one, was Kim Nagy of Orthopaedic Specialty Group, who was cooling off at Dunkin Donuts. “With the heat, I didn’t have a big appetite today,” she said. “I’m hooked on these iced coffees though. They’re definitely cooling. Combined with the a/c, this is a good recharge.”

On her own time and strolling with her young daughter Amika along the sidewalk near Victoria’s Secret, Fairfielder Meghna Chavan said she was keeping cool by “mostly staying inside, drinking lots of cold smoothies and lemonade. But if we have to be out, we go to stores with air conditioning.”