Police Commission: Let’s Take a Second Look at Parking Changes That Cost Elm Street 13 Spaces


Angled parking on Elm Street in New Canaan, 2018. Credit: Michael Dinan

Members of the Police Commission said Wednesday night that they’re willing to take a second look at a decision they made last summer to comply with a seldom-observed state law, leading to the elimination of 13 parking spaces on Elm Street. 

Prompted by a local attorney’s assertion that there appears to be a relevant 1950 opinion letter from the state attorney general and an appellate court case that could empower the town to find relief from the statute, commissioners said during their regular meeting that they would ask for a formal opinion from municipal counsel.

New Canaan lost 13 spaces on Elm Street after a resident put town officials on formal notice about the town’s lack of compliance with a state law requiring a 25-foot buffer between crosswalks and parking spaces. Though local officials at the time asked transportation consultants and the state about what New Canaan might to do find a way out from under the restriction, no path to exemption materialized, and the Police Commission—the town’s on-street parking authority—voted 3-0 at its July 18 meeting to change Elm Street’s parking configuration. 

Merchants in the heart of New Canaan bemoaned the loss of parking. 

A guest at this week’s Commission meeting, Richard Stewart, said the change has upset him. Saying he’s seen a high number of vacant storefronts on Elm, Stewart told the Commission, “I know they are all under attack from Amazon and the Internet but in New Canaan that is such a vital thing for our town—we don’t have like Darien has a waterfront, we have the 100-acre cent er of town with the retail space and everybody comes in and it becomes a friendlier town.”

According to Stewart, an opinion issued by the Connecticut attorney general in 1950, one year after the statute in question took effect, could give municipalities the ability to pass an ordinance that allows them to get out from under the 25-foot rule. Stewart said he would investigate the option which while it “doesn’t have the power of law, still has power.”

He added that he found an appellate court case where a man fighting a $90 parking ticket was told by the court that he would have the ability to be exempted from the parking rule but that his city didn’t have an exemption on its own books, “so let’s make sure our town does that.”

Stewart said he would return at the Commission’s April 17 meeting with the information.

Commissioner Jim McLaughlin said he would be happy to review the materials to which Stewart referred.

“I thought a was terrible too,” McLaughlin said.

Referring to the state law’s intention to ensure that cars do not back into or otherwise struck pedestrians in crosswalks, he added, “It doesn’t improve safety.”

Commission Chairman Sperry DeCew said he asked at the time for a formal opinion from the town attorney and never saw it.

“Can we ask for it again?” DeCew said.

Commissioner Paul Foley said, “I think we are all in agreement” with respect to the “new” parking configuration. 

DeCew added that business officials have been concerned because the new “safety zones” that the 25-foot buffers have created are being used by trucks as loading zones.

Foley said, “And they park there for a long time.”

The 13 lost parking spaces break down this way: two at Main and Elm Streets (one on each side of Elm), five at South Avenue and Elm (where there are two crosswalks), four more midblock in front of the Playhouse (two at each end of the crosswalk there) and two at Elm and Park Street. Under a parking plan approved by the town last summer, two additional spaces were lost when New Canaan increased the width of angled parking on Elm by six inches per space.

12 thoughts on “Police Commission: Let’s Take a Second Look at Parking Changes That Cost Elm Street 13 Spaces

  1. very strange that one persons self importance and opinion would have had such a major impact on our main commercial street’s accessibility. Another case in our society where a “smart” person has no practicality. Give us OUR spaces back.

  2. Absolutely spot on decision by the committee to seek relief from this “seldom observed state law” What puzzles me is why did the town cave in to ONE town resident who forced the issue in the first place. Couldn’t there have been more time allowed to do the research?
    The New Canaan retail community needs every option available to increase business activity. A reversal is what the community expects.

    • While both sides make fair points regarding the parking space dilemma, I certainly agree with your assertion that the “New Canaan retail community needs every option available to increase business activity”. Makes me wonder why your great efforts with Doug Zumbach to continue the wonderful Caffeine & Carburetors car shows continue to get pushed out of town – the center of retail activity – to Waveny, when they clearly bring new visitors/shoppers to our always struggling stores. It’s just beyond comprehension.

  3. New Canaan police and parking commissioners arguing against a state law that is intended improve pedestrian safety is disturbing. The recently marked no-parking areas next to crosswalks increases sightlines for parents with child strollers, pedestrians of all ages, and vehicle drivers alike. The situation is now safer.

    A reason people love the village of New Canaan is because it is a wonderful place to walk. They don’t rave about our village, or any village, because of the ability to drive up to a storefront, shop and depart. That is for strip malls to boast about. Residents and visitors boast about out downtown because walking the village enhances the sense of community. Walking the village makes window shopping more enticing and likely to occur. Walking the village leads to impromptu conversations with neighbors who are not friends yet, and to sharing of experiences. We want more walkers.

    Making the village more pedestrian-friendly is smart and good for business, and the new safer crossing areas make the village more pedestrian-friendly. Brick ‘n mortar retail in New Canaan will not turn the corner and start to thrive by bringing back 13 more parking spaces. Downtown retail will thrive when the experiences that shoppers have are enhanced inside the stores and on the sidewalks. Retailers will thrive when they transform their businesses by blending technology with valuable in-person, in-store customer relationships.

    Have you noticed the improved parking at the little lot at Park and Pine where the Post Office boxes are? Have you ever parked on Cherry and walked that one block to Elm? It is really not inconvenient. Have you noticed all the available parking spaces in the Park Street lot behind the movie theater? And the nice little walkways between that parking and Elm Street? There is adequate parking in downtown New Canaan, and we should not apologize if a shopper has to walk a block from their parking space.

    The idea of New Canaan leaders arguing that it should not have to abide by a state safety law can make people think that we think we are more special or important that others around the state. We are not more special or important, and it is that eccentric attitude that leads officials in Hartford to resent the rich folks in Fairfield County and to be more likely to send us a bill to pay for schools in Bridgeport.

    Do not try to get an exemption from the state law. Keep the new crossing areas as they are now with the increased sightlines.

    • In addition to the safety Greg discusses, our beautiful shop windows are visible and inviting. As a driver, it is nice to see moms and strollers in the crosswalks before they step into traffic .

      • The moms with strollers can teach their youngsters math by counting the empty stores as they walk down Elm. “If there are 10 empty stores and one more closes, how many would there be now?”

  4. Yes! So wonderful to see sanity have its day again. Bring back the spaces, bring back the shoppers and bring back common sense.

  5. I agree completely with Greg Reilly. Prior to the spaces being opened up (or taken away as it were…), it was hard to see when a pedestrian was about to walk into the street (and changing the crossing lines to a more aesthetically pleasing but less informative pathway didn’t help to give advance warning to drivers either). Having lived in this town for nearly three decades, I have never had a problem finding a parking spot in town, except perhaps during the height of Christmas shopping. Okay, so every shopper can’t get a spot right in front of the particular store they are going to — this has and always will be the case here in New Canaan and just about anywhere else people shop. Whether it’s in a mall or a town with storefronts, people park where they find an opening and walk to where they’re going! The main problem with parking in New Canaan, in my opinion, is one of signage — if a person is not familiar with New Canaan our streetscape is confusing.

  6. I was disappointed to see Greg Reilly’s response to my suggestion before the Police Commission that there was a quick solution to the absurdity of having ONE complaining citizen point out a 1921 State statute that has never been applied to New Canaan, never been applied across Connecticut to downtown centers, BUT which was suddenly applied in New Canaan’s downtown center to eliminate 13 parking spaces. Listen. Listen Please. Our New Canaan community is an unique gem. It so NEEDS citizens and their representatives who “get it”. Part of the charm of New Canaan is walking the downtown center, but in doing so, passing OPEN retail stores, not vacant ones. If you read the legislative history of the 1921 statute it discusses highways and bridges, not downtowns. That is because downtown traffic is…let me say this slowly…much slower than highway traffic . Elm Street’s speed limit is 15 mph. In the past almost 100 hundred years since the enactment of this 1921 statute and New Canaan’s ignoring of it, there has not been ONE accident causing physical injury to a pedestrian within 25 ft of a crosswalk, so applying this statute now cannot be said to be responding to a safety problem. Wiping out 13 downtown parking spaces, precious as they are, was simply a mistake that needs to be, and can easily be by ordinance, corrected.

  7. Did you know that crosswalk visibility enhancements such as parking space restrictions can help to reduce crashes with pedestrians by 23%-48% ? To the towns credit they have implemented many of the crosswalk visibility enhancements that the FHWA’s Every Day Counts program recommends (see below link for FHWA info brochure). If this town values safety for our residents and guests I recommend that the parking remain as implemented which follows both the State law (Connecticut General Statutes 14-251 – Parking vehicles) and Federal safety guidelines.


  8. There seems to be a lot of opinions regarding this important issue. Some at saying town leaders let one person force this decision. While one person persisted, the fact of the matter was it is a state law and we were not in compliance. That leaves the town is a very vulnerable position liability wise so the town had no choice but to comply. There are some that assert the law actually has some possible exemptions but our town attorney advised full compliance. The argument I would make and can absolutely substantiate with photos is the new parking has made pedestrian safety MUCH MORE DANGEROUS. My office sits about the movie theater and I have a forty page PowerPoint of photos that I take all day long of big delivery trucks double parked and straddling the crosswalks making it impossible to pass in the designated safety areas. They do this now because they can park along side a portion of Elm that does not have any cars parked because of the loss of parking spaces and therefore they prefer to park there as to not block anyone in. Our parking enforcement officers do their best to ticket them and encourage them to move to delivery zones but it is literally an all day occurence. I much prefer pedestrian traffic to car traffic and support anything that makes for more of that but the unintended consequences of this action have had a negative effect in my opinion. The double parking in the new no parking areas is also a problem. Everyone thinks they are just running in for coffee and park there. Again, the parking enforcement are doing all they can but people somehow think they can just put their flashers on and run in for coffee. How we address this I am not sure but there must be an answer and I will continue to work to find one that provides for safety first!

    • I completely see the dilemma that you unfortunately witness daily. The town could push out the sidewalk (build a bulb-out) in these areas making the parking more difficult for trucks (perhaps down to one lane in these areas). A nice side effect of curb extensions is also speed reduction. This makes pedestrian access safe and should minimize truck parking. Just something to consider….

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