Train stations as mobility and community hubs: Union Station, DC and intercity bus service
Points about train station planning. There are tons of references about train station planning, but in keeping with my concept of "transformational projects action planning," despite all those documents and initiatives, transit planners in a region don't start off by saying "the big train station is our most prominent marketing touchpoint for transit, and we should plan around it in a manner that promotes and strengthens the transit network."
Union Station is a perfect example of this. It should be planned at many scales to best leverage the opportunities it presents.
Yes, the planning has been inadequate as it relates to other modes, including pedestrian and bicycling, but also surface transit, subway transit and commuter rail ("A "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for a statewide passenger railroad program in Maryland," 2019, "Virginia’s $3.7 billion rail plan called a ‘game changer.’ Here’s what we know about it," 2020, Post).
Like my point about better planning around maglev ("DC, Transformational Projects Action Planning, and the Baltimore-Washington Maglev project"), so much more ought to be considered.
Washington's Union Station not multimodal enough? Union Station is in the news again because plans for the station's expansion, combined with the construction of a mixed use development over the trainyard between the station and K Street NE, are said to be too automobile focused ("Federal agency to revise design for Union Station overhaul, criticized for being too focused on cars," Washington Post) and stint on accommodation of buses--providing less space for buses ("Virginia’s $3.7 billion rail plan called a ‘game changer.’ Here’s what we know about it" Post).
In the planning process, I made extensive written and verbal comments about the accommodation of motor vehicle traffic, pedestrians, and bicyclists, and especially in terms of aesthetic dimensions.
(WRT pedestrians, I said the intersections on Massachusetts from North Capitol to 2nd Street, along First Street, and the unit block of G Street needed to be treated as a network. I made points about access to the rear of the station from H Street NE beginning with planning engagements starting in 2001!)
Union Station should be a world class train station because its owned by the US Department of Transportation. I made the point that since the station is owned by the US Department of Transportation, they should be focused on making it a national, if not world class best practice example of integration of multiple sustainable transportation modes.
I also have an extensive discussion of how Union Station can be better leveraged as a tourist information and cultural center, with museum and tourist train functions as well ("New State Rail Planning Initiative in DC," 2015).
The front of the station is chaos, mixing pedestrians, tourist buses, taxis and ride hailing vehicles, and personal automobiles doing pick up and drop off.
Alongside regional and long distance Amtrak service and Maryland (MARC) and Virginia Railway Express commuter trains, plus MARC Penn Line's weekend service, the station also mixes rental cars, a bit of car share vehicles, local transit buses, inter-city bus services (Greyhound, Bolt, etc.), and bicycles.
This 1950s Hertz rental car ad promoted the idea that you would travel long distances by train, and then rent a car to get around your destination. This ad mentions Washington's Union Station specifically.
Separating bus services by placing them on different sides of train stations in Germany. In my comments I referenced what I saw with city train stations in Hamburg, Dortmund, and Essen, where transit buses were on one side of the station, tourist buses on another, and intercity buses on a third, although with Hamburg they are accommodated in a separate terminal, a short walk from the station, but proximate to a subway entrance.
Underground bus concourses in Denver and Brisbane. My preference was to move most of the surface traffic--taxis and automobile pick up and drop off, and local transit buses, but not tourist buses--underground, in front of the station.
Good examples of underground bus terminals are Denver's Union Station, where transit buses serve the station via an underground station. And Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, where the Queen Street Station in the central business district, accommodates the inter city bus commuting services from the suburbs.
But there are decent above-ground inter-city bus terminals in many places, including Montreal and Hamburg. They have gates, good wayfinding signage, integrated arrival and departure screens, etc.
But given the underground train and subway tunnels as well as the possibility of expansion of these tunnels, to fit in all this would require a couple of levels, and the space probably doesn't exist.
Between the train tunnels, limited space, and the high construction cost of underground facilities, I can see why they might have blown off my recommendations. But when you're building something to last two or three generations and such a signature facility, you really ought not to satisfice, because you'll pay the price for generations (like with Penn Station in New York City).
A couple other ideas about inter city bus at Union Station. First Street NE. According to the Post article, the plan is to shift the location of intercity bus from one deck of the parking structure, accessible from H Street NE, to First Street NE, with outside staging of platforms on G Street NE.
The complaint, I think justified, is that it is not enough space. Plus outside line up to get on the buses is not particularly comfortable for riders and is likely to be a visual and logistical mess. Which is a high source of complaints aboutthe quality of intercity bus services now ("Taming the Inter City Bus Industry," Gotham Gazette).
Put it closer to New York Avenue. One was to put the intercity bus terminal closer to M Street and the NoMA subway station, with an airport style walkway to Union Station. This would put the bus terminal closer to New York Avenue, which is the main way the buses move north and south, easing congestion effects. It would be difficult to do though.
My preferred alternative: Put it across the street, off Massachusetts Avenue. Alternatively, the bus terminal could be built underground and above ground on the two Senate parking lots across from the Station/Post Office, between Massachusetts and Louisiana Avenues, bisected by E Street, as shown on the left section of the satellite image below. With an underground passageway from Union Station.
That's along the same lines of the current station planning, but without the physical constraints, and offering indoor accommodations for riders. Providing the Senate is willing to give up their parking lots.
To deal with the bus traffic and congestion, I would create an underground bus tunnel on First Street NE, between New York Avenue and the Union Station complex, connecting to the bus terminal.
The Terminus Centre-Ville commuter bus station is proximate to commuter rail and subway stations. Gates to buses are accessed from a central waiting area