Thursday, October 15, 2009

Comments on the Salem Depot Project

Model of proposed Salem Depot garage

These are comments I’ve sent to Thomas Rovero of the MBTA, and the mayor’s office on the proposed Salem Depot garage. There will be another public meeting sometime in December.

From: David Moisan, Salem Commission on Disabilities

To Thomas Rovero, MBTA, Mayor Kim Driscoll, chief-of-staff Jason Silva:

Dear Mr. Rovero, Mrs. Driscoll, Mr. Silva:

I’ve attended the public design meeting on the new Salem Depot garage and have read the report posted on the MBTA web site. I believe it is a good starting point and a very welcome development.

There are, though, some concerns I have with the design. The word that comes most to mind is isolation. There are elements of the design that serve to cut off train and bus riders from downtown.

First, I’ll grant that a good part of the isolation comes from the original design of the traffic rotary on Bridge St., and the original use of the Salem Depot area as a maintenance area, interlocking tower and track junction by the old Boston and Maine railroad. It had been occupied for this purpose by the B&M for many, many years.

At one point in the past, the pedestrian passage to Salem Depot (when it moved to Bridge St.) was fenced off from traffic. But it was still a very dangerous place to walk, and very unfriendly in any event. Not what we want to represent Salem to train travelers.

Any design would have to work hard to overcome these problems.

But some things that were proposed at the meeting just accentuate this isolation.

The existing train platform, and the proposed half-full height platform is one example. Wheelchair or cane users, and on the weekends, all users, must go to the very end of the platform.

From the end of that platform looking north, you can see the Carlton School on Bridge St., a full mile away.

It actually seems closer to the platform than downtown!

I remember when the depot moved to Bridge St., trains stopped much closer to the tunnel portal. A few years later due to ADA requirements, the mini-high was built and trains moved further up north.

I support the ADA. The ADA is not the problem. But I didn’t like and still don’t like going what seems like miles from the Bridge St. entrance to get a train.

I’ve read the report on the train platform. I understand the great difficulties involved in making a high-level curved platform accessible. But I must agree with my chairman on the Commission on Disabilities, Jack Harris, and push as hard as I can for a full height platform that can be reached a short distance from the garage.

My second point is the bus berths. I ride buses from Salem Depot frequently. For I and many other people downtown, Salem Depot is the closest place to get a departing bus, since most of the bus routes skirt downtown when they leave the station and there are no closer stops.

The preferred design alternative has the bus berths on the north side of the station, with the garage between the buses and the Bridge St. entrance.

As with the train platforms, this is almost as far as Carlton School! Perhaps when I need to take the 456 I should just walk up Bridge St. to the school.

I much prefer having the bus berths along one side of the garage, or even two, as it is in one alternative presented in the report.

And they must be sheltered or at least have canopies like the current bus shelters. Some bus routes run at 80 minute or even 90 minute headways so riders will want to use the train’s waiting room; in dead of winter with kids in tow they’ll need to.

On the waiting area, I want to see it on the platform side of the station, in sight of both the train tracks and the bus berths. People will have an eye out for their train or their bus.

There must be digital signage, and automated announcements. I’m aware the T is phasing in a new generation system; Salem must have it. We must be able to sit in the waiting area and hear , and see “The next train to…Newburyport…is now approaching”, similar to rapid transit announcements. Within the lifespan of the garage, there’ll be a similar technology for bus passengers so they’ll know how long until the next 455 comes. The design of the station must allow for these improvements.

My last comment is for the City of Salem.

As all of us know, the Courthouse project, and many other projects, are changing downtown.

The city is starting at a disadvantage; as noted in my opening paragraphs, the area of Bridge and Washington Sts. has never been made for pedestrians. Visitors, jurors and court personnel alike will use that intersection constantly.

The City must do what MassHighway has done for the recent Highland Ave. crossing reconstruction and put modern audible talking pedestrian signals at Bridge and Washington.

There’ll probably never be a footbridge or a tunnel in that area in my lifetime; neither are practical.

The city, and the MBTA will have to work very hard in the coming months to make this version of Salem Depot welcoming to commuters and visitors. They need to make Salem Depot part of Salem’s downtown once again, as it hasn’t been for over 50 years.

The design is a very good start. I’m looking forward to future meetings to make this the best it can be. I’ll probably be one of the first to go down the ramp into the new station when it opens.

Make me proud of it, and proud of my city.

1 comment:

Peter said...

I like the digital signage solution offered by AV Planners -