Bikes, trains and automobiles: Stamford mayoral hopefuls Valentine and Simmons talk transportation

Photo of Brianna Gurciullo

STAMFORD — Since launching their campaigns earlier this year, both of Stamford’s mayoral candidates have pointed to infrastructure as one of their top priorities.

In separate interviews with Hearst Connecticut Media, Democratic state Rep. Caroline Simmons and unaffiliated candidate Bobby Valentine said they want the city to not only pave roads but also make Stamford more walkable and bikeable.

“Overall, I want to make our city more connected from North to South and East to West,” Simmons said. “I think, right now, our communities are very fragmented, and it’s difficult to get from one part of the city to the other. So I want to make sure we’re connecting all of our streets, connecting our sidewalks, making our city more bike friendly.”

“I want to understand how we can facilitate other modes of transportation, getting around our city other than just buses, trucks and cars because many of our population are turning to different ways of moving around the city, and we need to be considerate and understanding of that,” Valentine said.

Both voiced concern about the state of the city’s sidewalks. Simmons, who has promised to create a “dedicated sidewalk fund” if she is elected, said she would strive to repair existing sidewalks as well as build new ones. She also noted that a number of sidewalks aren’t accessible to people with disabilities.

Valentine argued that the city government needs to prioritize not only the sidewalks in the downtown area — “which have been given an extraordinary amount of attention over the years” — but also those in Stamford’s more suburban neighborhoods.

Valentine, who described himself as an avid bicycle rider, said he believes the city is “deficient in our safety provisions for people who ride bikes.” He mentioned experiences riding in bike lanes that “dead end into a parked car” or that don’t seem to have enough space to ride safely.

Simmons, who noted that her husband, former state Sen. Art Linares, is a bicycle rider, said she too has heard from residents who feel unsafe biking in the city.

She said she thinks “there’s so much we could do creatively with transportation,” offering bike-share systems as an example. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a couple small, private bike-share programs operated in Stamford. But local officials have said that before any large-scale program is implemented, the city needs an expanded network of bike lanes.

Another goal for Simmons is reducing carbon emissions, and she said the city should aim to increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations and electrify municipal vehicles.

Of course, both candidates still care about Stamford’s roads.

Mayor David Martin has previously said more than 100 miles of city roads had been paved during his administration.

Valentine said he thinks Martin “has done a spectacular job of evaluating our streets.” But he said much of the city’s focus when it comes to repaving seems to be on Stamford’s busiest roads. Others need attention as well, he said.

“When a homeowner comes out to plant their flowers or bring their garbage out in front of their home and (they) look at the same street that they’ve looked at for the last 25 years that might have been patched once or twice but has never been repaved — I think they want and deserve more,” Valentine said.

Simmons said she would try to ensure the city is “being more transparent and responsive” to residents who want to know when their street will be paved. She said she would look to create an interactive map that shows when roads are scheduled for paving. Her administration would also aim to get back to residents who have road-related questions within 48 hours, she said.

Simmons laid out her infrastructure priorities in a speech last month at the Stamford Transportation Center, a hub that local, state and federal officials have talked about upgrading for years.

“The city needs a mayor who’s going to be a leader and an advocate (who is) going to bring everybody to the table and put together a visionary plan to modernize the Stamford train station, and I think that’s what has been lacking,” Simmons told Hearst. “There’s certainly a number of players involved, so having that coordination between federal, state and local government is critical here.”

She argued that her experience as a state legislator and former U.S. Department of Homeland Security staffer would “be an asset for this role.”

The state Department of Transportation has been working on a “master plan” for the train station and sought input from the public through an online survey in September.

Valentine contended that “a new way of trying to approach Hartford and Washington, D.C., is obviously needed to get our train station to the level that it needs to be.”

“The people who have been trying to work with the state over the past two decades to (make) our train station and our transportation center the world-class transportation center that it should be have not succeeded,” he said. “And that’s the exact reason that most people believe a change is needed.”

Simmons noted that Congress is considering an infrastructure bill that would deliver more than $5 billion in funding to Connecticut over five years. She said Stamford needs a mayor “who knows how to capture that funding for our city at this critical moment in time.”

The federal legislation has stalled in the U.S. House since being passed by the Senate.

The Stamford mayoral election is Nov. 2.

This story is part of a series delving into the biggest issues in Stamford with the two mayoral candidates: Caroline Simmons, a Democrat, and Bobby Valentine, who is running unaffiliated.

Includes prior reporting by staff writer Verónica Del Valle.

brianna.gurciullo@hearstmediact.com