Here’s a great example of how intercity rail can interlock with local transit and just good urbanism in general. Baltimore’s Penn Station, on the Northeast Corridor, is already a multi-modal hub, serviced by Amtrak, Maryland’s commuter rail service, and the city’s light rail system. The City of Baltimore has been planning a revitalization of the area around the station for a number of years, and Amtrak is taking another step in that direction by commissioning proposals for a 77-room hotel in the station itself. Other projects include the conversion of a nearby parking lot (surface parking lots are the bane of good urban design) and renting more retail space in the station building. Here’s some details from the Baltimore Sun:
The inn is one of several steps that Amtrak, also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp., is taking to improve its properties in Baltimore.
Amtrak has leased space to Faber, Coe and Gregg of Secaucus, N.J., to run a Java Moon cafe and limited-menu branch of Dunkin’ Donuts on the station’s main concourse. Faber’s operations will replace a coffee shop and cafe run by Eddie Dopkin’s Crazy Man Restaurant Group, which left the building on May 22 after 17 years.
Faber, which also runs the station’s newsstand, opened a temporary coffee shop this week and plans to open the permanent replacements this summer, according to senior vice president Roberta Rubin.
Amtrak is also preparing to hire architects and planners to complete a “highest and best use analysis” of the 185-space parking lot it owns north of the station, property that is considered a key to the area’s revitalization.
Fifteen teams, including some of the country’s top urban designers, sought the work after Amtrak issued a request for proposals in April. Amtrak has narrowed the list of candidates to three and is in the final stages of selecting a design team. All work by the winning team is scheduled to be completed by mid-September.
I’ve never been to Baltimore and can’t really speak to the area around the station or the project’s prospects (I’d love to hear some thoughts), but at least in principle multi-use stations are a great idea. The problem with many intercity rail stations is that they don’t feel lived in. The train comes once or twice a day and in between those times they sit empty and unused. Retail, hotels, and connections to more frequent local transit increase the level of activity, making a station feel more like a real place than a passenger rail warehouse. It also brings attention to the rail services offered there, increasing visibility and knowledge about intercity trains and where to catch them.
Train stations are not airports. When we’re looking at where to spend future money for passenger rail service, we should be attempting to integrate stations as much as possible with the community rather than isolating them from it. It’s great that this is happening with older stations, but our approach to new or relocated facilities should also follow this principle.