Posts about Burnham Place
Yesterday, Amtrak released a master plan to guide Union Station's growth over the next several decades. The ambitious proposal includes several key components that will make the station easier to use, increase its capacity, and ensure a strong foundation for the transportation center.
It's somewhat fitting that this ambitious plan is attached to Union Station. The architect who designed the Beaux-Arts main station building, Daniel Burnham, is known for saying, "Make no little plans. They do not have the magic to stir men's blood."
This plan is a big plan. And at an estimated $7 billion, it's an expensive plan. But it has many needed pieces. It will triple Union Station's passenger capacity and double the number of trains.
Union Station needs to grow
According to Amtrak's Stephen Gardner, since the station was rebuilt in 1988, the station's annual passenger volumes have risen by more than 2 million trips. In 1988, MARC's daily ridership was a mere 5,000. Today it's passed beyond 33,000. The station has outgrown its capacity, and many of the stations tracks, platforms, and other facilities are old and do not meet ADA requirements.
As the plan makes clear, deferring action is not an option. Additional capacity is needed to accommodate the thousands of additional daily riders expected over the next several years.
Union Station is the second-busiest Amtrak station in the nation, falling only behind New York's Penn Station. It handles an estimated 100,000 passenger trips each day, but the station is home to outdated infrastructure and crowded spaces.
The Union Station Master Plan sets out a framework for rebuilding and expanding the station over the next 20 years. The first 3 phases of the project are expected to cost somewhere between $6.5 and $7.5 billion, and will greatly expand capacity and usability.
Funding is not identified in the document. The region will likely need to contribute a good deal, but the station is in federal ownership and is the southern end of Amtrak's busiest rail corridor, so some investment can be expected from outside the region.
What would a better Union Station look like?
The vision lays out a plan to improve much of the station. Here are the key elements:
Platforms and tracks are going to be redone completely. The plan is actually to reduce the number of tracks at the station, but to make use of them more efficiently. Currently, there are 20 tracks at the station. At the end of Phase 3, there will be just 18.
However, one major and early component of the project will be to lengthen and widen the platforms. Additionally, Amtrak wants to remove the parking garage above the tracks, which will let it keep the new platforms clear of obstructions like the large columns that crowd the platforms now.
While all VRE trains and the Superliner cars that Amtrak uses on its Capitol Limited can only use low-level platforms, the majority of trains operating at Union Station are designed to use high platforms. When those cars stop on a low-level platform, passengers have to navigate stairs to board and alight.
The lower level of the station currently has 6 platform tracks, all of which are low-level platforms. These tracks have access to the First Street Tunnel, which allows trains to continue south toward L'Enfant Plaza and Virginia.
Under the plan, Amtrak will add 2 new platform tracks, for a total of 8 on the lower level. 5 tracks will have high-level platforms and 3 will have low-levels.
On the upper level, the plan includes 10 high-level platforms. These are the stub-end platforms that will end directly behind the station building.
Phase 4 adds 6 (and potentially up to 9) underground tracks specifically for the NextGen Northeast High-Speed Rail. Those tracks will be built under the Upper Level platforms, and 3 will be able to extend further south under the station building to connect with the proposed Southeast High-Speed Rail to Virginia and North Carolina.
Each platform will have access at three points: at the southern and northern ends of the platforms and also in the middle.
Concourses will provide routes through the complex.
Running down the central axis of the station is a major pathway called the Central Concourse. The Central Concourse will be located one level below the tracks, starting in the area that is currently the food court.
The corridor will be 50 feet wide, and open above, with the ceiling about 100 feet up. This concourse will connect the main station building to each of the three east-west concourses that provide access to the tracks. It will also connect to the consolidated bus terminal at its northern end.
Concourse A is the current train concourse, located one level above the Central Concourse at the southern end of the platforms. It will connect the Great Hall to the train platforms, and will also include a connection to the Central Concourse.
The plan calls for most Amtrak passengers to use Concourse A to access platforms, but the platforms will be open to all passengers from any of the entrances.
Concourse B, located in the middle of the platforms, and Concourse C, located at the north end of the platforms, will primarily serve commuter rail patrons. Waiting areas for commuter trains will sit along Concourses B and C. These concourses will be on the same level as the Central Concourse, one story down from the platforms.
Additionally, a north-south connection will run along the western edge of the station, called the West Concourse. This concourse will start at the northern entrance to the Metro station and run all the way along the station to Concourse C. Along the way it will link to several new entrances along First Street NE.
One additional east-west corridor, called the Market Passage, will facilitate movement through the station, but will not provide access to the platforms. The Market Passage runs along the area currently occupied by the closed H Street underpass. It will link a new entrance on First Street NE west of the station to one on 2nd Street NE on the east side of the station.
New design will shift station's architecture
While Burnham's structure will still remain a major element of Union Station, the complex's center of gravity will shift northward.
Above the Central Concourse, Amtrak plans to create a high trainshed that will let light into the platform and concourse areas. At the northern end, a new entrance on H Street will give passengers access to H Street and the Burnham Place development over the tracks along H.
The design of the northern end of the station will be quite different from the Beaux-Arts headhouse on Columbus Circle. But it will give the station an airy, light-filled interior.
Transit will connect far better
The plan calls for greatly improving transit connections in and around the station.
On the lowest level of the station, the plan suggests removing lots of the walls. Opening up the space that's currently the food court will allow easier access between the Metro and the Central Concourse.
Designs show a much more open area around the north mezzanine entrance to the Metro station. It includes 2 new escalators which will drop customers closer to the center of the Metro platform. These new escalators will be in addition to the 2 new elevators and staircase that Metro has already proposed to add.
The plan makes reference to another new Metro line. But since WMATA is not actively planning such a line (yet) and hasn't chosen an alignment, the plan is silent about how a second Metro platform would fit into the new designs.
As for the DC Streetcar, the plan calls for platforms on the Hopscotch Bridge, immediately outside the new H Street entrance pavilion.
Intercity and tour buses will move to a new consolidated bus terminal beneath the tracks just south of K Street, linked to the rest of the station by the Central and West concourses.
Is there too much parking?
One possible way to cut the project's costs would be to reduce the parking in the plan.
The current parking garage, located above the station's upper level platforms, has about 2,200 parking spaces. The plan calls for building 5,000 spaces to replace the spaces in the deck and expand capacity. And a good portion of those 5,000 spaces would be built underground within the station site.
Amtrak is proposing this increase in the parking despite its expectation that the number of people accessing trains by car at Union Station will drop. Amtrak feels the parking needs to be included for employees and shoppers at the station complex.
As the region's preeminent transit hub, Union Station can probably succeed without so much expensive subterranean parking.
Plan has magic to stir the blood
Seeing Amtrak's vision for Union Station is exciting. The redesign of the station will create a truly magnificent transportation hub for and gateway into the region.
In 30 years, surely our children will find Burnham prescient. His famous quote ends, "Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big." Burnham designed the foundation, but he certainly would be amazed to see this Amtrak vision realized.
The Committee of 100, Capitol Hill Restoration Society, and other groups which habitually oppose things in DC have been fighting the project over the Union Station railyards on the grounds that you will be able to see the building over historic Union Station.
Lydia DePillis was at the recent Zoning Commission hearing. She quotes CHRS/C100 member Monte Edwards calling Union Station "the equivalent of a medieval castle." Edwards was arguing that the developer shouldn't be able to measure from the H Street bridge instead of the ground and thereby recapture some of the space it loses from having trains running along the ground.
I suspect when a lot of people think about the idea of seeing a building "towering over Union Station" or something similar, they're thinking of the MetLife building behind Grand Central Terminal.
That 808-foot tower is over 6 times the height of Grand Central's 130 feet; ironically, 130 feet is the maximum allowed in dense areas of DC for all buildings, meaning if someone proposed building Grand Central in any area outside downtown today, someone would probably say it's too tall.
Personally, I don't find the MetLife building to detract from Grand Central; it actually provides a great backdrop that emphasizes the historic station even more. But we're not talking about something 6 times the height of Union Station. C100 and CHRS came up with their own renderings about how much the proposed development will "loom" over Union Station:
Potential development shown in light blue. Image from the Committee of 100.
You can barely see the building here. What's the big deal?
On the comments on the City Paper article, Alex Block notes that the C100 renderings also take out all the trees. Standing at ground level, the trees definitely do obstruct the view of Union Station. A building would irrevocably mar the view, but a bunch of trees don't (unless you live in the Watergate)?
Ultimately, these debates aren't so much about individual projects as about general values: do you think the city should have more buildings, or fewer? More stores or fewer? More parking lots or fewer? Does a new building that barely peeks over an old one create "prominent vertical scars," as the C100 press release argues, or enhance the existing fabric of the city?
Northern Ward 6 contains the rapidly-growing Mount Vernon Triangle, NoMA and H Street areas. These are some of the most dynamic in DC and very likely will see the greatest amount of change in the near term.
Development is coming to the rail yards north of Union Station, a number of vacant lots in NoMa and the Mount Vernon Triangle are getting filled in, a streetcar is coming to H Street, and much more.
Therefore, ANC comissioners in this area, especially 6C on the western half, have had to become rapid experts in zoning. They have generally been very supportive of the projects and of the neighborhood's evolution. However, a number of commissioners, including some excellent ones, are not running again, creating opportunities for significant improvement or regression for these ANCs.
ANC 6C01 extends from the CityVista apartments almost to Union Station. Recent transplant from Southwest Marge Maceda is challenging incumbent Keith Silver. Silver likes to picket, and at a recent forum highlighted four picket protests as his main accomplishments. Sometimes, however, his picketing seems somewhat bizarre, such as when he protested an effort to set up an urban farm in a vacant lot near Walker-Jones Elementary and donate the food grown to the school and a nearby senior center. He also called the new buildings in the district "monstrosities."
Maceda, on the other hand, says she moved to the neighborhood so she could drive less, and looks forward to more sidewalk cafes in the area. She also had encouraging words about the Circulator, the streetcar, and bicycle lanes. We feel Maceda would best work with residents on positive visions as the neighborhood's large surface parking lots evolve into more.
In 6C02, along New Jersey Avenue north of K Street, we support Rob Amos in his challenge to incumbent Mark Dixon. Amos has already served the neighborhood on the board of the Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association and as a non-commissioner chair of the ANC 6C zoning committee. He believes in building a more livable and walkable neighborhood.
Dixon has been on the ANC a very long time, and in fact hadn't planned to run again but changed his mind at the last minute. He cares about the community but isn't good at connecting with the newer residents. He doesn't even use email, despite having an ANC email address, and complained at a recent MVSNA forum that he hadn't received any notice of the meeting only to be told it had been sent via email.
Sitting commissioner Anne Phelps is running unopposed in 6C04, which contains most of NoMa from K Street to Dave Thomas Circle and the residential areas to the east, but she deserves special mention as an exemplary commissioner.
Phelps advocated admirably for her neighborhood's needs in a zoning case concerning the Florida Market, across Florida Avenue from the ANC. Tommy Wells subsequently hired Phelps to coordinate advocacy for the H Street streetcar project, a role she has also adeptly filled.
6C05 encompasses Union Station and the residential blocks to the east. It will also contain the Burnham Place development atop the rail yards and a number of upcoming development projects along H Street's western half. Sitting commissioner Tony Richardson has not opposed Burnham Place despite living immediately adjacent to the project, and challengers Brian Cox and Jennifer Zatkowski all seem supportive of the general evolution of Union Station and H Street.
Richardson has experience, Cox brings a youthful energy and zeal for more outreach to members of the community, and Zatkowski has the valuable background of being a small business owner in the neighborhood and mother of smal children. We think any of them would be a fine choice for this district.
Ward 6's westernmost segment is 6C09, covering the blocks around Georgetown Law and Judiciary Square. The longtime commissioner there is not running again. Residents have expressed enthusiasm for Kevin Wilsey, the property manager of a Penn Quarter building and board member of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. During recent liquor license debates, Wilsey worked hard to bring both sides together to an amicable resolution.
His opponent, Leroy-Jacob Smith, had fewer specific neighborhood ideas at a recent forum beyond wanting to do more for the homeless. We support helping the homeless, but ANCs have little influence on citywide social policy.
In 6A01, north of H Street, three candidates are vying for an open seat. We support Adam Healy, who described some excellent reasons to vote for him including strong support of the streetcar.
Fellow candidate Angelia Rice gave a very bland statement that didn't make much of a case for her candidacy, and Lawrence "Russ" Russell wants to make the district more auto-oriented, saying his top priority was making sure residents can park right by their property.
The Hill is Home writer Sharee Lawler has our endorsement (and Tommy Wells') over new resident and Fenty community liaison William Mohring for the open 6A05 seat, around D Street NE from 10th to 16th. Lawler is a member of the 6A Economic Development and Zoning committee currently working to encourage growth on H St NE, and is an advocate for the C Street NE project to calm and reduce traffic.
In 6A07, which covers the Rosedale neighborhood and the northeasternmost edge of Capitol Hill, incumbent Gladys Mack has displayed a less than stellar record on transportation issues. For example, she has opposed the conversion of 17th Street from a one-way thoroughfare into a two-way street because she feels it will double traffic. This is a dangerous street that is sore need of some traffic calming. We endorse challenger Necothia "Nicki" Bowens, president of the Rosedale Citizens' Alliance, which has been pushing for many positive changes in this neighborhood.
DDOT is conducting a study "analyze the feasibility and impact of creating enhanced access to multiple modes of transportation at Burnham Place, Union Station and the surrounding transportation network." There's a public meeting tonight from 6-8 pm at the Columbus Club at Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave NE.
With many projects potentially happening around Union Station in the near future, including the Burnham Place development over the rail yards, plans for streetcars from Union Station to H Street, and talks about moving Greyhound buses to the Union Station garage, we need a comprehensive vision to prevent one project from interfering with another. Akridge, the Burnham Place developers, are already signed up to build the new concourse and bus intermodal transportation center as part of the deal to build on top of the rail yards.
- Baseline Transportation Improvement Studies
- New Rail Passenger Concourse
- Upgraded Amtrak passenger concourse
- Improved Emergency Access & Egress
- Improvements to the Existing Rail Concourse
- Tour Bus & Commuter Parking Accommodations
- Streetcar Integration
- Pedestrian Tunnel from Union Station to 1st Street, NE
- New Metrorail Entrance from the H Street Bridge
- Baseline Environmental Requirements Study
I also hope that the study factors in the possibility of the Blue Line across H Street as WMATA is suggesting.
Also, is pedestrian and vehicular access in front of the station part of "baseline transportation improvement studies"? Because Columbus Circle (half circle, really) is horribly pedestrian-unfriendly, requiring tourists and Senate workers to cross numerous concentric roadways for Mass Ave traffic, taxis, etc. The area is designed so cars go to the grand main entrance and pedestrians slink in the side door. We should consider making a stately path worthy of our beautiful station for people to walk from their trains down Louisiana and Delaware Avenues to the Capitol and Mall.
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