Greater Greater Washington

This could have been the Silver Spring Transit Center

Though it remains unfinished, the Silver Spring Transit Center has been in planning since 1997. But 20 years before that, architecture students created this proposal for a giant box stretching across downtown Silver Spring.


A 1970s proposal for the Silver Spring Transit Center. All images courtesy of Neil Greene.

Silver Spring is one of the region's largest transportation hubs, bringing together Metro, commuter rail, local buses, intercity buses, and eventually the Purple Line and the Capital Crescent Trail. Fitting all of those pieces presents a pretty interesting design challenge, and naturally attracts architecture students. When I was in architecture school at the University of Maryland, I saw more than a few thesis projects reimagining the transit center.


A section drawing of the proposed transit center, which would have also contained stores, offices, a hotel, and apartments.

Recently, Action Committee for Transit's Neil Greene found this proposal for the Silver Spring Transit Center produced by a group of architecture students at Catholic University in the 1970s, right before the Metro station opened in 1978. Like the most recent plans for the transit center, which have since fallen through, they surrounded the transit center with buildings containing apartments, offices, a hotel, and shops. Except in this proposal, they'd all be in one giant superstructure surrounding the station platform.

In their design, Metro trains would pull into a giant, skylit atrium, surrounded by shops and restaurants, with apartments, offices, and hotel rooms above. That was a really popular idea at the time, pioneered by architect John Portman, though I don't know of any atria that included a train station.


Metro trains would have passed through a giant atrium.

Directly below the platform was the B&O Railroad, the precursor to today's MARC commuter rail. Below that were buses, taxis, and a kiss-and-ride, as well as an underground parking garage for commuters.

The entire structure would have stretched over multiple blocks from Colesville Road and East-West Highway, where the NOAA buildings are today, up to Wayne Avenue, where the current transit center is. Existing streets would go through the transit center in underpasses, while skybridges would allow visitors to travel through the rest of downtown Silver Spring without touching the street.


Skybridges would have connected the transit center to the rest of downtown Silver Spring.

Of course, this was just a student proposal, and was never carried out. But Montgomery County did propose skybridges in downtown Silver Spring as early as 1969 and, by the 1970s, had drawn out an entire network of them, most of which were never built.

This was in keeping with the prevailing wisdom of the time, that cars and pedestrians should be kept separate. But as we've seen in places where this actually happened, like Rosslyn or Crystal City, this doesn't work very well, and those communities are getting rid of their skybridges.

Of course, had we actually pursued a design like this, the Silver Spring Transit Center might have actually opened by now. Repair work on the current facility is currently underway and Montgomery County officials say that it could open next year, just seven years after groundbreaking.

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Dan Reed is an urban planner at Nelson\Nygaard. He writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. All opinions are his own. 

Comments

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Sky bridges and a monolithic multi-block entity would have likely done a lot to make this area non-pedestrian friendly (see Tysons Corner). I also cannot imagine the sound (and smells) of Metro trains pulling into a large glass box would be a welcome sound, hour after hour.

by JDC on Aug 18, 2014 11:56 am • linkreport

Hey, that's not that much uglier than what actually got built!

by wheatonian on Aug 18, 2014 12:01 pm • linkreport

"I also cannot imagine the sound (and smells) of Metro trains pulling into a large glass box would be a welcome sound, hour after hour"

Penn Station is hailed as the triumph of American architecture for all time and it had worse.

by Another Nick on Aug 18, 2014 12:03 pm • linkreport

Monorail in atrium at Disney's "contemporary resort":

http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/05/7c/19/34/disney-s-contemporary.jpg

by Tom on Aug 18, 2014 12:10 pm • linkreport

wheatonian And maybe would have been actually built, and probably would have been cheaper, too. Still ugly - but not worse.

by asffa on Aug 18, 2014 12:13 pm • linkreport

This could have been the Silver Spring Transit Center...

http://thekojonnamdishow.org/sites/default/files/imagecache/620xH/images/headline/130321_sstransit.jpg

by Scoot on Aug 18, 2014 12:36 pm • linkreport

I actually don't mind the fact that the current design is hideous since it will be surrounded and hidden by three high-rises anyway (eventually).

@ Tom

"Monorail in atrium at Disney's "contemporary resort":
http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/05/7c/19/34/disney-s-contemporary.jpg"

Haha that monorail station was the first thing that immediately crossed my mind as well as soon as I saw the "atrium" design.

by King Terrapin on Aug 18, 2014 1:04 pm • linkreport

Scoot, the picture in your link IS the existing Silver Spring Transit Center as currently built. Also in the picture are the proposed buildings that will (eventually, hopefully, please-God-let-them) be built along the Colesville Rd., Wayne Ave. & Ramsay St. facing empty parcels...you know, the big grassy areas that some in the "community" think would be ideal for a park (it wouldn't)

by woodsider on Aug 18, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

It definatly has shades of the FBI building. As of now, they'd be better off starting again. I don't know who's going to trust this building. A practical reason for starting over would be getting the proposed Georgia Avenue trolley line fitted into the complex. Another would be to develope the whole parcel at once, public space, office/residential tower, and new transit center in one fell swoop.

by Thayer-D on Aug 18, 2014 1:12 pm • linkreport

Has that Port Authority Chic going on.

by DM on Aug 18, 2014 1:12 pm • linkreport

I doubt that monorail puts off as much sound and smell as a metro train.

by JDC on Aug 18, 2014 1:36 pm • linkreport

This was mentioned above, but I know of exactly one atrium with a train station in it from the period - Disney's Contemporary Resort, from 1971: http://www.critiquethis.us/2010/11/19/mr-gwathmey-and-his-deference-to-the-serious-architecture-of-walt-disney-a-critique-of-bay-lake-tower/

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 18, 2014 1:40 pm • linkreport

woodsider - I think Scoot probably knew that's what the SSTC was supposed to be like.

by asffa on Aug 18, 2014 1:47 pm • linkreport

JDC You mean you don't like the smell of burning brakes?

by asffa on Aug 18, 2014 1:48 pm • linkreport

This is what might have been had the State of Maryland and Montgomery County not gotten funding to build the Red line to Glenmont:

by Sand Box John on Aug 18, 2014 2:20 pm • linkreport

Sand Box - haha was that inspired by the Pentagon?
So many ways they could have alternatively messed up making the SSTC.

by asffa on Aug 18, 2014 4:35 pm • linkreport

"But as we've seen in places where this actually happened, like Rosslyn or Crystal City, this doesn't work very well, and those communities are getting rid of their skybridges."

This is news to me; can anyone post links to support this? This must be a reference to the Crystal City underground, which was filled with people walking about last time I was there. Are there plans to get rid of it?

by massysett on Aug 18, 2014 5:34 pm • linkreport

Has there been any movement that we know of re: the empty WMATA parcels surrounding the transit center? The fact WMATA seems to be making no effort to line up a new development partner (now that Foulger-Pratt is out) is much crappier IMO than the transit center debacle itself.

by jag on Aug 19, 2014 12:29 am • linkreport

SSTC is a disaster, needs to be torn down and redesigned.

by Redline SOS on Aug 19, 2014 7:58 am • linkreport

There is exactly one empty parcel next to the Transit Center and it should remain green space. DTSS has precious little of it.

by Woody Brosnan on Aug 19, 2014 8:43 am • linkreport

Crystal City had a few footbridges but tore them down. I suspect that merchants rather than pedestrians were behind this. Thousands of times I've crossed Crystal Drive at the VRE station, and countless times I've seen drivers run the red light while people were crossing, and I've often encountered vehicles parked in the crosswalk. I'll take a footbridge when one is available.

by Steve Dunham on Aug 19, 2014 12:39 pm • linkreport

wrt "the atria and trains" in the presentation on the new Union Station Master Plan, it shows a similar treatment. I pointed out that trains are very loud, even electric trains that are sitting in the station with their engines running aren't quiet.

by Richard Layman on Aug 19, 2014 1:00 pm • linkreport

Yeah, if there's one thing DTSS needs desperately, it's unused space right by its major transit hub. We wouldn't want too much street-level activity there, after all.

by Gray on Aug 19, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the laugh, Woody.

by jag on Aug 19, 2014 3:16 pm • linkreport

The bus station in Bavaro, Dominican Republic compares favorably with the existing Greyhound station on Fenton Street.

by Frank IBC on Aug 20, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

25 comments and not one mention of the tragic and atrocious chocking of our precious national heritage of purely imaginary freeway rights-of-way. Tsk...tsk...

by Frank IBC on Aug 20, 2014 12:22 pm • linkreport

"Frank IBC" - JFK and his plan was not imaginary- stop with that revisionism of bending over for the ilk that got away with subverting his vision and our government.

http://wwwtripwithinthebeltway.blogspot.com/2012/01/crafted-controversy-scuttling-of-jfks-b.html

Perhaps CUA would make an excellent site for a much needed truck rest stop.

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on Aug 26, 2014 3:47 pm • linkreport

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