Posted By Katherine Fichter
As the Manager of the South Station Expansion project, I recognize the importance of exchanging information with other transportation professionals around the country who are turning similarly large and complex planning projects into realities. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend two meetings that helped illuminate the challenges we face at South Station and the steps needed to overcome them.
In September, I attended the “Nation’s Station Planning” meeting in Washington, DC, organized by the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, which oversees Washington Union Station, seen above. Those of us working on large train station projects around the country made presentations and shared information, including representatives from the Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco, Moynihan/Penn Station in New York City, Union Station in Los Angeles, Denver Union Station, and Baltimore Penn Station, among others. Building relationships with professional peers provides an invaluable resource which we can call upon as we develop and execute plans for the future South Station. Since many of these projects are in later stages of development than the South Station Expansion project, the discussions provided me with insight in to how to keep our project on track and avoid some typical pitfalls.
The Washington Union Station master plan proposes to double train service and triple the number of passengers in a relatively confined space. It also seeks to protect a gorgeous historic station and greatly expand retail and development opportunities and is particularly relevant to our project. The plan outlines a framework for capital investment that will provide numerous local, regional, and national benefits. Notably, the plan is practical, with phased construction that can be accomplished incrementally.
All of the station redevelopment proposals share design concepts similar to those being considered for South Station – lots of light and openness, attractions for non-travelers, connectivity to surrounding (and future) neighborhoods, safety, and first-rate passenger experiences. Managers agreed that plans should not be overly complicated and elaborate – these stations need to be maintained over time. Also, it is important to balance the primary transportation function of the station with non-transportation uses to create a place that works for everyone.
In October, I attended Rail~Volution, an annual national gathering held this year in Seattle, left, that teaches practitioners, academics, and activists how to build livable communities around public transit. Since many attendees represented smaller cities with newer transit systems (such as Indianapolis, Nashville, Portland), I appreciated anew how fortunate we in Boston are to have such a comprehensive public transit network.
I have already started to share many of the great ideas and insights I’ve discovered through these meetings, and will continue to provide updates in order to get your feedback. Because, in the end, the best transportation planning is local.