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.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Maybe the ideal solution for the Silver Spring Transit Center would be to start over

While decrepit today, in its heyday, Detroit's Michigan Central Railroad Station and (18 story) office building was quite majestic.  We aren't building train station complexes like that today.

The Silver Spring Transit Center is nothing short of a debacle ("Cost of Silver Spring Transit Center repairs jumps another $21 million," Washington Post), with construction defects delaying the facility's opening by at least 18 months and drastically escalating the cost, which will be around $150 million.

The SSTC will be a multimodal facility, linking the subway, MARC commuter railroad services, Metrobus, RideOn bus service, intercity bus services, and connections to the Capital Crescent and Metropolitan Branch bicycle trails (but not a bikestation), plus a connection to the proposed Purple Line light rail system which will run east from Bethesda in Montgomery County west to New Carrollton in Prince George's County ("Go big or go home: Prince George's County needs to think big and consider better revitalization examples for New Carrollton).

Washington Post photo of the SSTC by Yue Wu.

Not even getting into all the construction problems, but from the standpoint of civic architecture and urban revitalization ("Transit, stations and placemaking: transit stations as gateways and entrypoints into neighborhoods"), the Silver Spring Transit Center is a serious disappointment.

A failure.

Rather than enhance the architectural, identity, and gateway elements of Silver Spring, instead it is butt ugly, a parking structure on steroids--a terribly missed opportunity to create a grand transit center modeled on the way and harkening back to the period when grand transit facilities--railroad stations--were constructed as urban centerpieces.

Nothing other than lack of vision and a concern for quality prevented Montgomery County from designing "a grand facility" and supporting it with commercial space on the site.

Recently, Anaheim, California ("Gleaming new transportation hub reflects OC's embrace of public transit," Los Angeles Times; "Anaheim's new ARTIC: Icon or eyesore?," Orange County Register) and Rochester, New York ("Touring Rochester's shiny new transit center," Rochester Democrat & Chronicle) opened new multimodal stations that provide a different example.

The Anaheim station was created as a display of noteworthy architecture, while the Rochester Transit Center isn't particularly beautiful on the outside, it still looks better than the SSTC.

Rochester.  The station in Rochester took a long time and had issues ("Learn from mistakes with transit center," RDC), not in construction, but originally the plan was to do a mixed use project with other revenue generating commercial space, but the economics of doing so were not favorable.

Rochester's commercial real estate market has been battered by the decline of Kodak and Xerox, the city's two biggest corporations which once employed many tens of thousands of workers.

Images from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

The station cost $50 million to build and was tied up for decades in squabbling between Republicans and Democrats (Democrats opposed it because former Republican Senator D'Amato came up with seed money).

It's 87,000 square feet and provides indoor waiting areas for riders, not unlike how an inter-city bus terminal is set up, with "gates" where passengers board.  The station has an integrated bus arrival and departure information system.

They aren't providing wi-fi services, don't have restaurants (they direct patrons to nearby businesses) and it's unclear what accommodations are provided for bicycle parking.

Interior of the new Rochester New York Downtown Transit Station.  Image from the transit authority.

Anaheim.  With a grand opening this weekend, and in operation for the past week, the new ARTIC, or Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center, was built by the Orange County Transportation Authority for the city, as a replacement for the city's existing train station, and integrates bus and other mobility services.  The station will have a number of restaurants and retail shops.

A 120-foot-tall glass wall makes up the entrance of the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center. The building has an LED light system that cost effectively allows for the building to be lit at night. Rendering by HOK.

Unlike the SSTC, the ARTIC was designed to project a strong image and identity for the city, which is best known as the home of Disneyland, and secondarily as the home of the Anaheim Ducks professional hockey team.

The 68,000 square foot structure cost $105 million to build, but other costs pushed the total project cost to $190 million, mostly paid for by the transit system, and the intent is for retail rent revenues to cover the annual operations, which will be the responsibility of the City of Anaheim.

The interior of the ARTIC looks like it will be much more interesting than that of the Silver Spring Transit Center, based on this rendering from HOK.  

The idea is that the station would serve as a terminal for high speed rail.  Present-day expectations are for about 8,000 riders to pass through the station each day, using Metrolink, Amtrak (the Pacific Surfliner is a kick-butt regional transit service that is much nicer than the Amtrak regional service in the Northeast corridor), local and regional bus service, inter-city bus, and taxis.

ARTIC at night, lit by a changeable array of LED lights.

The station also has enhanced bike parking, free wi-fi service throughout the complex, and phone stations with extra electric charging capabilities.

Conclusion.  When you're spending more than $100 million on transit infrastructure, you might as well make it attractive rather than utilitarian and ordinary, so that the project will have more and a greater number of benefits to the community beyond providing a roof for transit riders.

The Buffalo Central Terminal was built as the Depression started, and the 17 story office building never did that well financially (similarly the Michigan Central Station was not built in the central business district so there was limited demand for office space in that otherwise majestic station).  But the building looks great.

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At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

always I hear the lame excuse of "its too expensive to build" which is utter nonsense- we build lovely structures with great designs during depressions and when we had far less money to spend on anything at all in our economy. Add to it that MoCo is run by bureaucrats with no imagination and who also super regulate everything and you get total blandness in everything .Or as in the case of the Purple Line- nothing.

At 9:18 PM, Anonymous EMD said...

I think with the Silver Spring Transit Center, the best we can hope for is for a couple of tall buildings to hide it from Colesville Road and Wayne Ave. Can you imagine having a permanent park there? It'd be like hanging out next to one of those old industrial buildings that was gutted but never rehabbed.

Is any more ornamentation planned for the SSTS? Like glass panels or screens or something? Honestly, the Silver Spring and even Montgomery County parking garages look nicer.

Regarding, say, part of the issue that in one case we're talking about a more central transit center (Rochester) versus a (possibly busier than Rochester) transit center that's far less central. Plus, at the risk of getting too us-vs-them, if this transit center instead had been in Bethesda, do we think it might have been designed more attractively?

At 9:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tear it down and start over. It's completely open to the elements. It lacks retail. How Leggett didn't get booted from office over this amazes me.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Douglas Andrew Willinger said...

Tear it down! Let's get holistic about planning for a change.


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