Hines Sight / RR depot survey on wrong track
Maybe it's just me, but does it really matter what Fairfield's third train station is called?
Apparently so, considering that a survey asking residents for name suggestions leads the home page on the town's website and the first selectman thought the topic important enough to call a press conference earlier this week.
But think about it, in light of more pressing topics -- like the 2011-12 municipal budget, which soon will get its first airing; the poor school redistricting plan disliked by, well, almost everyone except a handful of Board of Education members; new school enrollment figures that show, maybe, the redistricting plan is moving around the wrong groups of kids; school building projects that are costing millions; and the results of the townwide revaluation, in which the value of all property in town dropped by some $1 billion -- does what to call the station mean anything at all?
But, no, the attention instead is focused on something as inconsequential as naming a train station, which has a controversial history that some people in town would rather forget, than tackling other issues.
And what is even more unbelievable is that the state Department of Transportation, which is footing the bill for most of the train station project, makes the ultimate decision on the name -- no matter what any of us has to say about it. The DOT, said First Selectman Ken Flatto at his press conference on Monday, "has given the town its blessing to get public input." How nice.
Having said all that, let's examine the "train station online survey," which, by the way, I intend on completing (because I consider myself a good citizen of Fairfield) despite the fact that I think the whole process is a little silly.
There are six questions. The first two are obvious ones to get a sense about who exactly has a stake in all this. The first question asks whether you are a daily commuter, occasional rider or don't use the Metro-North service at all and the second one wants to know where you live. Keep in mind that the new train station is on the east side of town, right near the Bridgeport border, and in a predominantly industrial/commercial area.
The third question is the only one that makes sense to me, but is a little leading in its wording. "The current plan is to name the train station `Fairfield Metro.' It has been suggested that the name be changed. There will be some additional cost to produce new signs. Do you think the name should be changed?" What bothers me, however, about this question is that it seems to have a bit of editorializing in mentioning the additional cost to make new signs. (I didn't even know that the DOT had gotten as far as to actually have signs made. The train won't be open until November 2011.)
The next two questions ask you to make your choices. Question No. 4 wants your top choice and question No. 5 seeks your alternatives. Here are your suggested picks, each ending with the word "station": Ash Creek, Black Rock, Black Rock Turnpike, Commerce Drive, Metro Center, Fairfield Ash Creek, Fairfield Black Rock, Fairfield Commerce Drive, Fairfield Grasmere and Fairfield Metro. Of course, the survey gives you the option with both of these questions to offer no opinion or to write in your own suggestion.
I could have some fun with the writing in my own ideas based on the train station project's most recent past, but I suspect only a few people would find them amusing.
The last question, to me, is the most ridiculous. "If a new station name is desired by most of the public via this survey, do you support naming the station based on the choice supported by the largest number of respondents?" First, whoever wrote this question needed a good editor. Second, what exactly does the town administration envision the minority doing? Conducting rallies demanding a better name? Asking for a recount? Filing lawsuits? Hardly. Other than a couple of letters to the editor, this issue will disappear with a whimper.
Surveys are a good way to judge the public's sentiment, especially on important topics. Recently, Positive Directions, a local behavioral health prevention and treatment agency, and the Fairfield Cares Task Force on Alcohol and Health sponsored a survey on adults' perceptions of underage drinking. (I completed that survey, too). A representative of Positive Directions called me one day about a column I wrote regarding that survey and left a message saying that 1,400 people had responded to the online questionnaire (which also had been on the town's website) seeking adults' beliefs about teens' often destructive behavior and poor choices.
Now that's a survey that has the potential to do some good.