Sunday, October 4, 2009

First Thoughts on the MBTA Garage Proposal

Conceptual rendering of Salem Depot

As I mentioned in my last post, the MBTA has released design plans for the new Salem Depot.

Quoting the executive summary, these are the goals and highlights:

The intermodal center design will include 750-900 garage parking spaces, five bus
berths for MBTA buses, drop-off / pick-up parking spaces, taxi parking spaces, covered
storage, enclosed waiting, elevators, and an accessible ramp. The height and massing
of proposed structure will respect the historic context of Salem downtown. Exterior
building materials are anticipated to include masonry and brick in keeping with site
context and existing municipal buildings. All facilities will be designed to meet code
requirements and accessibility guidelines.
Four design options were developed to address the functional needs of Salem Station.

All options include the following features:
Six total parking levels (includes ground and roof levels)
Lower building height on Bridge Street side (4 stories at 44 feet tall)
Median building height on North River side (6 stories at 66 feet tall)
Clear pedestrian connection from Bridge Street to train platform via raised plaza
Additional vehicle ingress/egress from Washington/Bridge Street intersection
Higher grade level floor-to-ceiling height for buses and more natural light
Improved and direct handicapped access to train platform via covered ramp
Safer pedestrian access via dedicated sidewalks on city and river sides
Straight façade on Bridge Street side respects urban character of street
Scalloped façade on North River side breaks up building mass
Express ramps at center of building allow for safe and fast vertical circulation.

I believe the design is a good start.  We have not yet seen any drawings or conceptual views in the context of the existing parking lot, but it appears that the garage won’t impact on the North River vista, at least not any more than the other projects in the area, such as the court complex.

Many people, myself included, had the idea that the garage structure would be built right up to the ramp fronting Bridge St.  In fact, the Commission on Disabilities had debated this point a few years ago, during the first abortive attempt at a new depot design during the Usovicz administration.

Several commissioners had hoped that there would be direct access to the street from the parking garage.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) this isn’t going to be:  Salem owns and will continue to own the crescent of parking spaces just inside the entrance to the station.

Salem Depot Sections of Ownership

So, there will be a pedestrian ramp from Bridge St. to the 2nd level of the new garage, which will pass over the traffic lanes at ground level.  The ramp can be seen in the opening illustration, in several variations;  some open, some enclosed.

Salem has very few enclosed ramps, and those all connect buildings:  The Salem State College Library to Meier Hall (soon to be demolished), the ramp that connects the Davenport building at North Shore Medical Center to Shaugnessy Rehab, and the newest ramp that connects One Salem Green (now owned by Salem Five) to Salem Five’s main building.

This will be the longest ramp of its kind in Salem and the first to pass over a roadway.  Visitors to Boston’s Back Bay may recall the walkway that connects the Prudential to Copley Place over Huntington Ave.  That walkway is not a favorite of many architectural critics.  Unfortunately, the siting of the garage doesn’t leave many options.

There will be a car entrance next to the current pedestrian entrance on Bridge St.  I’m not certain how well that’s going to work out, particularly for courthouse-bound walkers.

I’m particularly concerned about access to the bus terminal portion, since I use that mode very frequently.  This is Option 1:

Salem Depot Ground level option 1

The bus platform is quite a long ways from the street.  In general I’d like not to have to walk so far to the bus.  On those days that I’ve taken the train in to Boston, I’ve stood on the platform at the very end of the station and wondered out loud if it would be quicker to walk to the Carlton School (visible from the platform!!) to get the train.

I like Option 2A just a bit better:

salem depot ground level option 2A

The bus bays appear a little closer to Bridge St.  Keep in mind, though, that only five of the bays are “live” and take passengers;  the other two are layover berths.

The differences in the other options pertain to where the taxi stand and the kiss-and-ride areas are located;  I have no opinion on those.

On the train platform itself, three options have been presented.  Currently, it is a low-level platform with a mini-high platform at the very end of the track (within sight of Carlton School!)  That is one option.  Another option would be to make the entire platform high-level (as at Newburyport and Central Square) but there is a curve in the track that makes it difficult to get ADA compliance.  The last and preferred option is to make the northern half of the platform high-level and the southern half near Bridge St. low-level as it is now.

There are more considerations that will probably be addressed at the meeting.  Another quote from the executive summary:

The design team will provide precedents for proposed parking facility to further the
development of exterior treatments, planning, operational efficiencies, and architectural
design. Please see Review Draft Memorandum dated 16 August 2009 attached in
Appendix 10.6 for further design discussion from the City of Salem. Planning items to be
further reviewed and developed include:
Security for underside of bridge entering second level of proposed parking facility
Pedestrian access from Federal Street and North Salem neighborhoods
Lobby area for waiting with amenities such as coffee and newspaper vendors
Covered bus loading area
Operational efficiencies to be resolved include:
Pedestrian circulation within garage
Decision for entry/exit to be attended or automated
Determining appropriate number of entry and exit lanes
Improve efficiency in parking layout
On site vehicular, bus, and “kiss and ride” circulation

The City (or at least the mayor) wants an enclosed, heated waiting area.  I’d suggest security for the ramp itself be considered, particularly if it is enclosed.

Construction would be completed in December 2011, two years from now, assuming it takes eight to ten months to complete the environmental permitting. 

This also very much assumes the City and state can go forward without any delays.  

We’ll see this Tuesday.

1 comment:

Dan Lauzon said...

Several years ago I was led to believe that the garage placement would allow for future options for commuter rail expansion to Danvers via Peabody. The proposed position does not make this possible