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October 22, 2006

Tear Down the Stamford Garage???

Since its construction in the 1980s, the parking garage at the Stamford train station has been embroiled in controversy. Now comes word from the CDOT that it will probably have to be torn down and rebuilt, displacing the 800 or so cars that park there each day, possibly for years.

I don’t want to get into playing “the blame game” as to how we got into this mess, but rather, talk about some solutions, both long and short-term.

CDOT tells us that most parking garages only have a 40 year “life expectancy”, even with good maintenance. It seems that the old Stamford garage was not maintained and is falling victim to salt corrosion in its inner steel supports. This deterioration was known six years ago when CDOT took over control of the garage from the city of Stamford. Even when the new garage opened three years ago, CDOT considered closing the old garage for repairs, one floor at a time or structure-wide. But the pressures to add more parking over-weighed the call for maintenance and the new garage opened, adding to a total of 1900 spaces.

This Spring, CDOT consultants looked at two options… rehabilitation or demolition and replacement. A fix-in-place scenario was estimated to take nine years and cost $35 million. But a new garage could be built for $30 million, though no time estimate was given for this scenario. The engineers assure us the old garage is safe and will not suffer any “catastrophic failure”, though bits and pieces may start crumbling on cars.

Of course, CDOT has no money for either scenario. And even if demolition and a new-build is the option that’s chosen, $2 million in short term repairs will be needed to keep the old garage operable until it is torn down.

But this sad tale does have a silver lining: a new garage could be built bigger and taller than the old garage, adding badly needed additional spaces just as the planned Transit Way feeding cars to the station will open. Some mistakes made in the design of the newer garage, opened in 2003, could be learned from and not repeated.

Meantime, 800+ daily parkers at the Stamford station will be displaced… but to where? City of Stamford officials tell me they’re willing to help. The new garage near the Target store has 500 spaces and shuttles could be run from there. The Bell Street Garage, which has many spaces taken by local car dealers, could be opened up if those new cars were kicked out.

Clearly, towns like Darien, Norwalk and New Canaan will also be affected as displaced motorists seek parking at their train stations. Now’s the time for commuters in those towns to lock in a place on their town’s waiting list for permits at their stations.

CDOT is promising public hearings on this mess while fast-tracking design plans for a new garage, with plans due by the end of the year. But with massive construction underway in downtown Stamford for the new RBS headquarters right next to Swiss Bank, the prospect of a demolition and construction of a new station garage, doubtless lasting several years, will have a profound effect on area commuters and businesses.

I hope all of our elected officials get on with it… find the money, coordinate short-term parking solutions and expedite the needed work.

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JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident, transit activist and Metro-North commuter for 15 years. You can reach him at Cameron06820@gmail.com or www.trainweb.org/ct

Airline Secrets

Ever wonder if the airlines are telling you the truth about air travel? Well, recently “The Economist” answered those concerns with an article dispelling many of the myths we hear over the cabin PA, and I’ve added a few more.

SEATING: Ever wonder why seats face forward in the plane? Is it because we like to watch what’s going on in first class? Actually, research shows that rear-facing seats are much safer in the event of an emergency. Just ask the military which fits seats on transport planes facing the rear.

SEATBELTS: We’re asked to keep them fastened whenever we’re seated in the event of “bumpy air”. The better term to use would be “clear air turbulence” when, unexpectedly, the plane plummets hundreds of feet sending everything… including untethered passengers, food service carts and laptops… hurling upward. Better give that belt an extra tug.

LIFE JACKETS: Yes, we know they’re under the seat. But they claim they’re only for use in a “water landing”. Mind you, never in the history of aviation has a wide-body plane successfully “landed” on the water. So don’t sweat the life jacket or the detachable slides which supposedly double as rafts. Bring a snorkel.

EVACUATIONS: To be certified by the FAA, aircraft must prove they can be completely evacuated in 90 seconds. The aircraft manufacturers cheat a bit in passing this test, using employee families and friends in trials where everyone knows what will happen and have an obvious interest in getting the plane OK’ed. You know how long it takes to board an aircraft. Can you imagine 900 people racing for the exits on the new double-decked A-380 and getting off the craft in a minute and a half? Next time they do the pre-flight check, pay attention. Know where the emergency exits are. You may need to get off that plane fast!

CELLPHONES: Turn ‘em all off. Blackberries, too. We’re told they interfere with aircraft navigation and communication. Seems logical, until you hear that several European carriers are soon to offer in-flight cellphone use… for a fee. The truth is, cellphones don’t interfere with aircraft as much as the ground network.

IN-FLIGHT SNACKS: Though meals are a rarity these days on anything but long-haul flights, beverages and snacks are still available. Not for nutrition, mind you, but mostly for amusement. And the airlines actually push the booze to keep passengers somewhat sedated. Cynics even suggest that airlines turn down the cabin air-quality a notch or two to make passengers drowsy and keep them in their seats, out of the way of flight crews.

SAFETY: Yes, your checked luggage is screened before being loaded. But 99% of the cargo being carried in the plane’s belly is not. Now a terrorist can’t travel with a bomb, but they can ship one instead.

LIQUIDS: Last summer’s terror scare left millions of us dehydrated as we were forced to leave our water bottles landside. Now, those rules are being relaxed a bit. We can buy beverages after clearing security (“Wow… water for only $1.89!”). But the real explosives… perfumes and duty-free booze… are still allowed on.

OVERBOOKING: We all know that most flights are over-sold as the airlines hope to fill flights, despite no-shows. And we’ve all seen the bidding war if an over-full flight seeks “volunteers” to take a later plane and free tickets. But in Europe the rules are different. If passengers can’t board due to over-booking or flight delays, they’re entitled to compensation of between $300 and $750, depending on the length of the flight.
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JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident, transit activist and Metro-North commuter for 15 years. You can reach him at Cameron06820@gmail.com or www.trainweb.org/ct