Thursday, February 18, 2010

MBTA Meeting on Salem Depot

MBTA garage from Washington St.

First, I want to apologize for not blogging much recently.  I’ve had a big computer project at SATV that we just finished.  The Commission hasn’t met since December—our February meeting this past Tuesday was cancelled due to the weather, which was at its worst at 4 PM when we meet.

And I’ve been burned out:  Politics have been very unpleasant recently;  there’s an ugly undertone to civic affairs these days.  And that doesn’t make blogging fun.

The MBTA will hold another public meeting on Salem Depot next Tuesday the 23rd, at the Carlton School.  As promised last fall, this meeting is called at the 30% design point.  The full plans are on the MBTA web site.  Here is the current site plan:

Salem Depot Site

I note that the covered pedestrian walkway that was in the original plans is not seen in this revision.  Pedestrian access from Bridge St. is critical to this project since it will serve the new courthouse complex as well.  I also note the architects went with Option 1 for the busway;  I would have much preferred the busway be closer to Bridge St.  So much for that.

I’ve recommended that the Commission on Disabilities take these points to the meeting:

  1. We must have a full-height platform for the whole length of the platform;  the T has favored a half-full-height/half-low platform.
  2. The plans show partial canopies over the platforms, much like the existing station.  There should be a full canopy over the entire platform.
  3. There must be good pedestrian access from Bridge St.  There is going to be a vehicular entrance ramp where the current stairs are now, and features like the ramp can be pedestrian-hostile.

It’s important, though, to keep this project in perspective.  We’ve needed a garage and added parking at Salem Depot from the day it opened over 20 years ago.  I’ve hated the appearance of the station, the platform at the end of nowhere, and most of all the stairs.

Some people in Salem want the perfect.  John Ronan, the newly-elected Ward 5 councilor, filed some good comments that I quote in part:

First, I’m glad this project is funded and going forward. The station is in true need of additional
parking. Salem is extremely fortunate not only to have a train stop but to have one in the
downtown area walking-distance from many of our shops, offices and attractions.
Often, Salem planning issues get bogged down in search for a fanciful perfect solution. I saw
seeds of this taking root in the statements of a few attendees advocating a mixed use or an air-rights platform in lieu of a garage. Without any commitments or even any prospects for the private development aspect of such mixed uses, they simply aren’t viable. Even if the City agreed (as would be necessary) to couple its lot with the MBTA lot it may never find
a developer willing to build on top of an air rights-platform on conditions favorable to the City. All these components certainly would not come together by the December 31, 2011 deadline.
Therefore, I believe Salem is correctly positioning itself for the future by keeping its crescent
shaped lot separate from the MBTA lot. The garage project should proceed as a garage project.

If the idea of an air-rights project had been proposed in the early 2000’s, I would have supported it.  Unfortunately, projects like that are subject to the vagaries of funding.  We can ask the Columbus Place developers how well that is going. As it is, until the governor gave a commitment to Salem Depot, the project would have been a dream project, 5 or 10 years in the future.  And it always would have been.

Because of the land situation, the MBTA probably won’t get to resolve all of the issues that were brought up at the earlier meeting.  In particular, pedestrian access from North Street is a difficult and ugly problem that I fear won’t get resolved.

This is probably the best we’re going to get.  The three points I outlined are the most important.  If they can be resolved to my satisfaction, I’ll be happy with the result.  As will most Salemmites.

Tom Rovero is the MBTA contact person for this project and he can be emailed at  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I walk, drive and have taken the bus to this station from North Salem on a daily basis. My biggest concern with this whole thing is that the image shows the trains stopping at the tunnel. It's impossible for the engineer to stop at the tunnel because the train is too short and they always stop so the last car is on the disability platform, which is WAY down towards the water (I like how they exclude all the extra land from the picture). This means the train is only half way into the station (about 5 cars back), so unless the MBTA decides to add more cars to trains (which they really need to do anyway), they're going to have to make a canopy the length of the great wall of China to cover everybody. So with that in mind, I don't believe it would be practical to cover the entire platform unless they make a newer raised boarding platform closer to Bridge Street and then just cover the closer side, because everybody is on the North River side of the platform at the far end while they wait for a train, so they probably wouldn't even be able to use any type of canopy without a raised platform on the Bridge Street side.

It of course would be nice to have the parking garage rotated towards the tracks with a raised platform and a lean-to on the station platform side of the garage (if it was rotated). You could always move the buses towards the current bridge street entrance if there wasn't any room.

Anyway, aside from that my other concern is foot traffic from North Street. People already cut through HMA, so why not just pave that private property, did the property owner have an issue with that? It's pretty much a mini-junk yard.