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.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Double design failure: Norfolk State University and light rail

First, Norfolk State University made the Hampton Roads Transit system move their proposed light rail station off the campus, out of a perceived danger to students, to a site near the campus but across a 6-lane road.

Now they complain that students cross the street from the station to the campus directly, rather than walk two blocks out of their way to a controlled crosswalk.

From "NSU officials say Tide station poses risk for students" in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot:

Because of their safety concerns for students on campus, Norfolk State University officials forced a $7 million relocation of the light-rail station across Brambleton Avenue, to move it away from the school.

Now that station poses a different kind of safety issue - for students trying to get onto campus.

Students, who ride The Tide for free, often dash across six lanes of Brambleton traffic to get from the rail station to classes, instead of walking an extra block or two to use a controlled crosswalk. They cross in the middle of a busy block, between the Interstate 264 exit ramp and the Park Avenue intersection, which is traveled by nearly 50,000 vehicles a day.

"It's really dangerous," said Regina V.K. Williams, NSU's interim vice president for finance and administration and the city manager when Norfolk agreed to build the station across Brambleton. "We want people using light rail, but we want them to be safe."

This is such an obvious design failure--three in total--that it's almost not worth discussing. What did they expect? Their first decision to not place the station on campus was flawed and was compounded by the second decision to move the station off campus, and then to place the station in a proximate location to the campus, but without a crosswalk and traffic signal at the station.

Many universities have heavy rail, light rail, or street car stations adjacent to their campuses and they thrive. Portland State University has repositioned many of its programs and the design of their campus around the streetcar.
Streetcar at Portland State University
Streetcar at Portland State University. Image from Rethink College Park.

NSU had the same opportunity and blew it.

Fortunately, in the DC area, University of Maryland ended up making the right decision about light rail access for the Purple Line, after previous resistance. See "University of Maryland drops opposition to central campus route for Purple Line" from the Washington Post.

And of course, every university wants to get their name on the nearby subway station...

The Foggy Bottom station is on the George Washington University campus, and the Brookland station abuts Catholic University. In Arlington County, the Virginia Square station is a short walk--probably less than the distance from the Tide "Norfolk State University" light rail station to the campus--to the Arlington campus of George Mason University.

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