Noroton Heights Area Study update offers improvements for train station
As Darien prepares for a wave of redevelopment at Noroton Heights, a separate study examining transportation and access at the train station and surrounding area is nearing its completion. Last week the town hosted a public feedback session with an update on the Noroton Heights Area Study by the project consultants from NV5 Global, Inc. The update offered a general overview of possible infrastructure improvements in the area and some alternative designs to optimize the station’s layout.
Among the study’s priorities are determining a new design for the station’s main building, redistributing parking around the train station, improving the roadways and traffic flow around Noroton Heights and adding connectivity to bus routes, bike paths and other forms of transportation. Two major redevelopment projects at Palmer’s Market and the Noroton Heights Shopping Center are expected to begin construction this year and will bring more than 100 new apartments to the area. The Metro North station is also undergoing a complete platform replacement project that is expected to end in Summer 2019.
Research for the study began in the fall of 2016 and is funded by federal and state grants awarded to Darien and the Western Connecticut Council of Governments. Selectman Jayme Stevenson said the study is nearing its completion point and the town is expecting it to be released in Spring 2018.
Some of the earliest steps in the research process included a public survey of Noroton Heights Metro North commuters and a consultant review of commuter parking habits at the station. There are approximately 1,500 daily commuters departing from Noroton Heights each week day and nearly two-thirds of them travel during the morning peak hours.
The station has about 773 available parking spots, 440 of which are permit spaces. This year the town will issue about 820 permits and there are more than 1,100 people on the waiting list for new permits. According to Town Administrator Kate Buch, the waiting time to obtain a permit is approximately seven or eight years. Permit parking is not entirely utilized during the day as many permit holders do not commute daily.
There are another 320 spaces available for commuters paying daily parking rates. Commuters in the daily spots made up 51 percent of the respondents to the public survey and another 14 percent of respondents to the survey admitted to parking off-site and walking to the train. Observations from the NV5 consultants suggested the number could be even higher; NV5 found that about 75% of the people parking off-site arrived at the station before the permit parking lots were full.
Those without a permit often chose to park illegally in the Palmer’s Market or Noroton Heights Shopping Center parking lots across the street, leading the consultant to suggest leasing parking spaces from the upcoming developments and increasing enforcement. The proposed station designs also added between 40 and 60 spaces to the layout of the train station depending on where the new station building is located.
Part of the study’s scope is to determine the best location for the station building at Noroton Heights, which has been undersized and underutilized for some time. NV5 offered four site plans with different locations and design styles for the station building, along with the pros and cons of each proposal. In each design the station building would have about three times the square footage of the existing building. The plans are varied in their ambition, from keeping the building in place and expanding its footprint, to constructing a station lobby in the overpass, in a style similar to the Stamford train station.
One of the designs recommended moving the building east along the track to a more central location in the station area, while another suggested aligning the building and drop-off area with Edgerton Street to main train a direct traffic flow into the station. With the exception of the overpass design, the other three proposals would all keep the station building on the Northside of the station. While there were no specific costs associated with the proposals the intensity of the design would factor into the expenses. The amount of parking created by relocating the building could be another factor in deciding its future location.
To improve traffic in the neighborhood, NV5 is recommending changes to the timings of traffic lights in the area, which could reduce congestion. Other recommended infrastructure changes include a shift in the traffic lanes to facilitate turning through the intersection at Noroton Avenue and Hollow Tree Ridge Road, and the addition of new sidewalks and walkways to improve pedestrian access.
With more than 100 new apartments being developed in Noroton Heights, making sure the neighborhood is structurally prepared for the increase in density is a priority for the town. While not all of the potential improvements will end up coming to fruition, the town is doing its part to plan for the future.