All Aboard! for the Intermodal Center

Over 150 People came together to discuss the plans for the Lowcountry’s New Passenger Intermodal Transportation Center in N. Charleston at the Danny Jones Center on June 16, 2014, showing the huge potential which exists when community, transit and opportunity connect.

Charleston Intermodal Transportation Center

Charleston Intermodal Transportation Center, building exterior as originally planned, now slightly changed for new location.

The plans for the new combination CARTA, Amtrak & Intercity Bus Station on the site of the existing decrepit Amtrak Station are attractive and appear functional.  The project firm working on the plans described them as about a third finished, which an emphasis on the exteriors and public spaces.  Large amounts of mechanical and structural design, which is generally invisible to the public, remains to be done.

Hungryneck Straphangers has been following this project intensely since the plan for the original location on Montaque Ave., near the Charleston Colloseum collapsed unexpectedly over a year ago.  We made this project the focus of our voter outreach during the 2013 special Congressional election.  Over the past week, we worked to help get the public to this important meeting, with the critical support of State Senator Marlon Kimpson, whose been building a network of engaged citizens since his election last fall, in part through making regular rides to meet the community on CARTA transit.

Since detailed online plans are available online at the CARTA website, we’ll just make some comments on the plan as it was presented last night.  More meetings are planned for the future.

Union Station Charleston SC

Charleston’s Old Train Station on East Bay Street.

The planned 32,000 square foot station building is functional attractive and clearly references Charleston’s Old Train Station on East Bay Street.

Charleston’s lost Union Station which graced downtown and anchored a robust transit system for 40 years. It’s possible some surviving elements of the historic building could be incorporated into this new station.  Several local organizations have made a point of preserving parts of historic buildings which have been lost.

The proposed station is a huge improvement over the mid century horizontal structure which reflects a pessimistic vision of rail and transit in an era which expected bus and train to fade to memory beneath the crushing weight of the then ascendant automobile.  The new location puts the station within walking distance of thousands of potential riders, with thousands of more coming to the surrounding new developments at Mixon and other locations in N. Charleston’s old village, for which this project is a massive opportunity generating mobility, activity, employment and awareness 20 hours a day.

The engineers have worked out a clever way to run buses using the Western lanes of River’s Ave under the River’s Ave railroad overpass to connect with Rivers Ave on the far side, which avoids left turn delays and should really speed up service.

Hopkins Reviews Site Plan

Dr. George Hopkins, chairman of the Charleston Chapter of the SC Progressive Network checks out the site plan for the station

The current plan includes four pull outs on a sawtooth patterned sidewalk sized for the large articulated transit buses CARTA is considering using in the future (which bend in the middle). Hungryneck Straphangers is concerned that this may not be enough bus loading and unloading capacity for the future if transit ridership continues to climb as it has over the past nine years. We think more attention for rain shelter for people waiting for the bus needs to be included, though hopefully most longer waits will now be indoors in the station, facilitated by electronic notice systems.  The driveway and parking facilities should be planned so additional pullouts can be added in the future in a location where riders can see the buses arriving.

A robust public Wi-Fi System needs to be planned into the station since so many tranist passengers now use connected devices to plan trips on Google Transit and monitor bus arrivals on Bus tracker.

Rather than contract with static vendors for the small food court cafe area planned within the station, plans are to rotate short term tenant food truck and food cart operations through the area, creating fresh short term business opportunities for Charleston’s vibrant catering and food truck cultures.  The food offerings will change at the station and new businesses will be introduced to the community there, keeping the menu fresh.  The Charleston area has a massive number of businesses which do food on the move and a rotating sample of them will be feeding the people moving through the station which includes not only passengers, but people picking them up and dropping them off at the kiss riders platform in front of the station.

Residents of the nearby Liberty Hill Community were at the meeting in large numbers.  They’re naturally concerned about any large project near their historic community, but they also have a long railroading tradition in Liberty Hill that goes back to shortly after the Civil War when it was established as a Freedman’s settlement for former slaves many of who went on to work on the nearby railroad facilities, as have their descendants.  All bus traffic will be routed out to roads to the South of the Station off of busy Gaynor Ave., but will remain within walkable distance of Liberty Hill.  Sidewalks are scarce in Liberty Hill and the City of North Charleston should consider an upgrade.  Pedestrian infrastructure on the station site appears to be good.

Original site of Intermodal Center

Original building site for intermodal center station, now for sale.

The proceeds of the sale of the original intermodal site off Montaque Ave. are important to making the economics of this project work.  Every penny not recovered may have to come out of transit services.  CARTA has already had to return a million dollars to the Federal Government due to the failure of that plan.  The community should do everything possible to see that the property is marketed successfully for the highest possible price.  A sweetheart good old boy’s deal here could cost bus riders dearly.  A million dollars can buy two brand new full size transit buses or operate many bus route for over two years.  It is enough to build 80 high quality bus shelters.  The realtor managing the sale was at the June meeting, so it appears everyone understands the importance of a successful sale and the media was clearly interested in that issue as well.

Meeting on Itnermodal Center

A crowd of over 150 people attended the June 16 meeting on the proposed intermodal center in N. Charelston

Planners have already noticed that the towers of the New Station will be highly visible from Rivers Ave.  The relationship between this road and station is deeply symbolic.  Rivers Ave. rose with the car, while rail and transit declined.  However today River’s Ave is the home to CARTA’s most robust transit line, the Mighty 10, transporting 22.8% of CARTA’s total ridership, 97,671 riders in April 2014. (29 passengers per vehicle hour.)  The 10 sometimes operates ten buses simultaneously along it’s long and busy route between Charleston Southern University and the Mary Street Transit center downtown with standing passengers on every bus.  The 10 is CARTA’s backbone.  It will bring more people to and through this station than any other service.

Given the prominence of these towers, they’re a great place to declare the return of connected regional transit to the Lowcountry.  Train stations remain iconic structures in many communities.  Union Station in DC has benefited from a spectacular renovation.  Grand Central Terminal in New York is busier and looks better than it has in generations.  Gar du Norde, in Paris has four levels of platforms connecting France by subway, RER train, regular 100 mph trains and the spectacular 190 mile per hour TGV.  Amtrak’s Silver Palmetto and the Silver Meteor continue to connect Charleston to Union Station and Penn Station in New York (also a possible candidate for reconstruction.  Even Grayhound and Southeastern Stages have improved service with new buses which have on baord WI-FI.  Nationally bus and train ridership is higher today than it’s been since 1956.

One iconic structure which communicates to it's city with night time lighting is the Empire State Building

Empire State Building Lighting

Those Towers should declare to the larger community that our station is busy and a powerful connector of people and places in a nation where movement has been one of the themes of our national story, a story which was better for its characters when we moved together more often.

Hungryneck Straphangers would suggest that the towers of Charleston’s new train station be equipped so they can be illuminated at night as beacons to those who might begin their journeys there.  It would be inexpensive to arrange this so the color of the lighting could change as different services used the station: red when Amtrak was in the station; blue for Intercity Bus Service, and Green for CARTA.  Those passing nearby, including children, would look to the towers to see what was at the station.  If it works for Krispy Kreme’s “hot donuts” sign, it will work for our station.  Let them know we’re going somehere!

CARTA bus stop on Houston Northcutt in Mount Pleasant, SC

This stop serves the inbound #40 Mount Pleasant bus to Charleston and the outbound #41 Coleman Blvd. bus in front of the Harris Teeter on Houston Northcut. Both of these bus lines run in their other directions with outbound stops for the 40 and inbound stops for the 41 at the Shelter on the opposite side of the road.

This project has been under study, development and had setbacks for 18 years already, beginning in 1996.  We have crept forward quietly and modestly, but that’s not the spirit with which Charleston rolled out the first steam powered transit service in North America when the Best Friend powered out of Charleston on Christmas day in 1830 or America drove the golden spike when the continent was spanned a mere 39 years later.  Their setback was the American Civil War.  Ours has been the struggle with the deteriorating delusion that the car, running on oil, would solve our problems.  It’s causing them.

We’re grateful to the many community leaders, like State Legislator Seth Whipper, who attended last night.  It was good to see the Coastal Conservation League represented as well.

It is time to go down to Gaynor Ave and build a station on the line.  It is time to create a regional transportation system around it that reaches to safe, sheltered bus stops from McClellenville to Moncks Corner and Johns Island.  It’s time to go somewhere together.

Other online resources about this project

June 19, 2014- Report on the Intermodal Center in The Charleston City Paper: CARTA wants intermodal facility near Park Circle, but has to sell old site first

Official CARTA Page on Intermodal Center Project

WCBD TV Report- $14.5m proposal for public transportation upgrade

 

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