STAMFORD – The Aim of the projects has always been clear: create a faster connection between Stamford’s East Side and other parts of the city, most notably the downtown and train station area.
But as work on the Urban Transitway resumes this month, long-time merchants say the city’s goal of moving traffic has come at a significant cost. Several East Side business owners say they have seen at least a 40 percent drop in business.
While noise and traffic have been issues, the larger reason has to do with the project’s design, the merchants say.
“They don’t come because there is no parking,” said Maria Lucero, who runs a bodega on East Main Street. Even getting deliveries has become a challenge, she added.
To make way for the $52 million second phase of the Urban Transitway, on-street parking was removed last year along portions of East Main Street and throughout Myrtle Avenue. The road-widening project, which includes a finished one-mile stretch from Atlantic and Elm Street, calls for a four-lane roadway that will accommodate bus lanes and cyclists, but not parked cars. On-street parking is seen as slowing down traffic. The issue is not new. Business owners have protested the removal of parking going back to 2006, when the city began holding public hearings on the plan. But the latest pleas come as the East Side undergoes a rapid period of growth. Over the years, East Main Street has seen pockets of redevelopment and new retail, beginning with the construction of Glenview House and East Side Commons, two residential projects that were completed in 2008.
From 2000 to 2010, the area bounded by Greyrock Place and Myrtle Avenue grew by 23 percent, making the census tract the city’s most populated neighborhood with 7,354 residents.
The removal of on-street parking has been especially frustrating for neighhorhood advocates who have worked to rid the East Side of crime and litter, and bring in new retail business.
“If you want to kill a business, the surest way to do it is to remove the on-street parking,” said James Grunberger, the chairman of the East Side Partnership, a group consisting of property owners, residents and businesses.
From a safety perspective, Grunberger said cars parked on the street provide a protective buffer for pedestrians. He cited a 2007 University of Connecticut study that found that on-street parking promotes a traffic-calming environment that attracts pedestrians and urban growth.
“Everything can’t be a raceway to the downtown,” Grunberger said. This is a village unto itself.”
The city has yet to publicly address the issue. But Thomas Madden, the city’s economic development director, said he was well aware of the criticisms, and that he talks to the East Side Partnership on a regular basis. He acknowledges that Stamford and the East Side has changed since the Urban Transitway’s original design nearly a decade ago. The city is now even more focused on promoted pedestrian and bike-oriented transportation, he said.
But changing the project’s design would require federal approval. As part of the grant, the Federal Transit Administration is paying for 80 percent of the construction costs of the Urban Transitway. The plan submitted by the city was the one the agency agreed to fund.
Instead, Madden said the city was planning to work with the neighborhood to make “tweaks for parking access.” He said he was currently in the process of discussing the matter with the project’s designers.
Manny Jurado, the owner of Manny’s Bakery at 902 E Main St, suggested the city could compromise by permitting on-street parking between the periods of rush hour traffic. After the city removed the parking spaces on his block last year, Jurado said business fell by 50 percent.
Jurado has plenty of experience in the neighborhood. He started his bakery 10 years ago, after a restaurant he ran for 12 years had to be shut down because the building was taken through eminent domain for the Urban Transitway.
He said his customers come as far as Darien and that he cannot survive on foot traffic alone. “Everybody has cars,” he said.
Similarly, Diony Vasquez, the 34-year-owner of JCB Interiors, a furniture and rug store at 914 E. Main St, said that nearly all of his customers drive, coming from as far as Bedford, NY. Although he has a parking lot, the loss of on-street parking has resulted in the customers of other businesses taking up his spaces illegally. The situation is difficult for him to monitor.
“I can’t be running back and forth from the showroom,” he said.
The parking shortage has not only affected customers. Mariely Gonzalez, an account representative at Durango Insurance Agency on East Main Street, said she comes to work 15 minutes early just to search for parking. “Its a headache,” she said.