Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Master planning and DC's Union Station intermodal transportation center

Capitol Plaza, looking north towards Union Station
Last week the City Paper had its cover story on Union Station, "A More Perfect Union Station: D.C.'s Train station is a mess; again."

Basically, the problem is that Union Station is owned by the federal government and was handed off to a "public-private" partnership (3P in the trade), with minimal public oversight and limited local involvement.

The book I mentioned in a previous entry, A Negotiated Landscape by Jasper Rubin, about the San Francisco waterfront, makes a point that I found very relevant to thinking about DC.

In the 1800s development and management of the San Francisco Waterfront had a lot of corrupt elements to it. So the State of California took the waterfront over, creating a port authority that had limited involvement from the locals, thus separating management control of the waterfront from the people that had the most interest in it--not just capital and political interests that may have been willing to manipulate, lie, cheat and steal to serve their interest, but community and civic interests as well.

That's the fundamental problem with Union Station--its management is federal/disconnected, but for the most part the building's importance concerns its use as a key node in the local transportation system.

Yet Union Station is used by upwards of 65,000 daily commuters (there's double counting, because some railroad passengers use the subway), it's a shopping center for residents and nonresidents, it's the most used civic asset in the city, it's one of the key transportation nodes in the region, and it's a beautiful building that anchors the city.

First, if its oversight is federal, by definition it's disconnected from local concerns. Second, as in too many of these creations, the 3P was created but I don't think they were required to create a master plan through a public process. Third, they weren't required to update a master plan on a regular basis.

So there is no master plan for Union Station. And if there were there might not be all that much local input into it. Meaning, it might not be that good.

Chicago Union Station improvement program
Last week, the City of Chicago released a master plan for its Union Station. See "New master plan emerges to transform Union Station" from the Chicago Tribune. From the article:

The goals to create a more vibrant terminal that can be a catalyst for growth in the West Loop include:

•Expanding capacity to handle more trains and relieve congestion to make today's crowded concourses and mezzanines more inviting. Union Station handles more than 300 trains each weekday carrying more than 120,000 arriving and departing passengers.

•Building an off-street CTA bus terminal on the existing surface parking lot south of Jackson Boulevard; and providing more convenient transfers to CTA trains as well as taxis and shuttles.

•Launching an east-west bus rapid transit service from Union Station to Michigan Avenue and eventually Navy Pier.

•Easing potentially dangerous conflicts with vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists by reconfiguring how Canal Street is used.

The article discusses visions to build a new mixed use station and incorporating high speed train service.

-- Chicago Union Station Master Plan website
-- Union Station: Chicago's Downtown Airport, Midwest High Speed Rail Association
High speed rail vision for a downtown Chicago train station.  Illustration provided by Solomon Cordwell Buenz
High speed rail vision for a downtown Chicago train station. Illustration provided by Solomon Cordwell Buenz.

The difference between Chicago's Union Station and DC's is that their station is less connected to the city subway and transit system compared to ours, and the focus is more on railroad transportation.

Note that Denver has done similar kind of master planning, although more focused on having their Union Station as the downtown hub for their regional light rail system.

Not having a master plan for DC's Union Station means that it's taken almost 10 years to ink a project for improving the area in front of the system.

It's taken 20 years to get inter-city bus services integrated into Union Station.

Amtrak went ahead with plans that make it difficult to integrate streetcar service into Union Station.

Connections between the railroad train platforms and the subway station are in serious need of improvement, although a separate planning initiative is addressing that, and according to the City Paper article, Union Station has hired Lance Wyman (designer of the WMATA map) to do wayfinding, although the issues are more considerable and include cultural interpretation as well as making connections to other nearby districts, as well as providing transit and tourist travel wayfinding and interpretation as well.

Master plan...

P.S., master planning "Union Station" needs to include BeyondDC's point that additional train stations in the city and Arlington County, Virginia should be developed, in order to improve service and reduce the over-demand issues created at Union Station because the trains stop and start there, rather than going through.

Intercity Travel:
Union Station will be past capacity and we will need a second depot, possibly in Arlington. There will be multiple trains per day running several short-distance intercity rail trips to all other population centers in the mid-Atlantic region. Camden Station will become more important in Baltimore. Dulles and BWI airports will continue to expand. National Airport may be sold and the land redeveloped, or it may continue to operate, depending on how much intercity travel continues to be done by plane.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home