Friday, October 1, 2010

Design for new Madison train station

Today Jonathan Zarov interviewed me on WORT about the new train station design that was unveiled Wednesday at the Urban Design Commission (UDC.) He also asked me about whether the new governor could stop the station, and whether there was any chance that the location of the station was still up in the air. (That's a "no" to both questions.)

But when he asked me where people could view the draft design of the station, I realized that digging through the city's web site to find it is pretty tough. So it is linked above for easy reference.

The UDC had some comments about the design, interior use of space and overall flow of the building. I didn't take detailed notes, so I can't say exactly what their suggestions were, but many involved simply rearranging the way the first floor of the current Dept of Administration Bldg would be used.

However, one of the largest concerns was that the entrance off of S. Pinckney St is small and not very prominent. Since the city wants this station to also function as a multi-modal station - for intercity buses as well as the train - this may be the entrance people use when they arrive via Van Galder, Badger, or Greyhound. This is also the entrance that people will be using if they come downtown on the Lake Monona Path and need to get up to the station.

The DOT stated that they still had to work out some "security issues" with this entrance. What they meant was that the glass structure that will be built onto the back of the existing building is principally a mechanism to get people up or down between the tracks - at the level of John Nolen Dr - and the station - at the level of W. Wilson St. I think the current plan is that only ticketed passengers would enter this structure, so that access to the tracks would be controlled.

The problem with this idea of limited access is that anyone not using the train immediately would not be able to use this entrance. Again, people coming from the lake shore path, Monona Terrace parking structure or really anywhere on the south side of John Nolen Dr would be using this entrance. There has been talk about having the intercity buses, taxis, or passenger drop-offs off Jon Nolen instead of Wilson St., so this could be a very busy entrance.

Also testifying was Susan Schmitz, President of Downtown Madison, Inc. (DMI) who presented some alternate ideas for the design of the station as well as a list of suggestions, comments, and concerns about the current design. I'm trying to get a copy of this document up on-line so more people can see it. There were some excellent ideas and comments, including some of the same ones that I listed above (and spoke on myself.)

One of DMIs greatest concerns, also echoed by members of the UDC, is that the current design blocks the beautiful view of the lake with the escalator/elevator structure. For those that may not know, the DOA Bldg has a cafeteria in the back of the first floor, open to the public, with a balcony overlooking Lake Monona. It's really quite spectacular, and I wondered how I could have spent so much time in downtown without knowing about this space.

If the DOT station design is built, this view would be viewed through two layers of glass and some mechanicals. You could still see the lake, but you wouldn't be able to sit outside or have an unobstructed view. It's not a deal-breaker, in my opinion, but it would be better if the view could be preserved.

DMI also expressed dismay that the S. Pinckney St. entrance was not bigger, more prominent, and more inviting. They had some ideas about how to make the trek from thre south side of John Nolen to the new station more pleasant and better protected. If I can get their document up on-line, I'll link to it, so you can read the whole thing.

Although there are still plenty of pieces to be worked out by the City and DOT, we seem to be well on our way to having a train station. I'm thrilled, and am confident that eventually the issues will be worked out, even if it is a bit messy along the way. It wouldn't be Madison if we didn't have lots of people weighing in, wringing their hands, and arguing about every detail.

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