Archive for Sunday, November 20, 2011

Right track

Turning the Amtrak depot into a city transportation hub may breathe new life into a significant local structure.

November 20, 2011


The best way to save a historic structure is to make sure it continues to serve an important purpose.

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Depot at Seventh and New Jersey streets once was a hub of activity for Lawrence. As train traffic and travelers declined, so did the depot building. A volunteer group has worked with city and railroad officials to make key improvements to the building, but the possibility of using the depot as a transfer station for the city’s T bus system could give the depot new life and new financial stability.

City commissioners have asked the city staff to look at the possibility of creating the transfer station for a number of reasons, but the most important may be that it might open up new funding sources to help cover the cost of improving and maintaining the structure. Commissioners have been justifiably concerned about making a commitment to take over the ownership of the depot under the terms that have been put forward by BNSF. For instance, the railroad wants to be able to buy back the depot at any time for a price equal to the cost of any city improvements, minus depreciation. If the city is going to invest in improvements that would allow the depot to serve as a bus transfer hub, it needs to have some assurance that the building won’t be pulled out from under it by BNSF.

City officials are looking at a transfer station that could serve up to seven T buses at a time. Initial discussions have drawn comments from one nearby resident concerned about the traffic created by the buses, but several residents, including some who live near the depot, have expressed support. Even if the depot isn’t the perfect spot for a transfer station, it has advantages over the current transfer point at Ninth and New Hampshire streets, which sometimes clogs downtown traffic.

Moving the transfer point to the depot would allow passengers to wait inside the building and perhaps use the restroom or grab a snack from a vending machine. If the city’s transportation offices moved to the depot, passengers also could purchase a bus pass, check transit schedules or get other information. Perhaps the depot also could provide telephone access to local taxi services for those who need it. And, of course, the depot would continue to serve two Amtrak arrivals each day and perhaps more if another Amtrak connection is extended to the city.

If the city can reach an acceptable agreement with BNSF and then use the building for a transit hub and perhaps some office space, it becomes more feasible to make a long-term financial commitment to improving and maintaining the building.

Many questions remain about the idea of turning the historic depot into a local transportation hub, but city officials are on the right track by considering the possibility.


Lawrence Morgan 6 years, 7 months ago

I will repeat a little of what I said for another article on the same subject, with some additional material.

First, you need more than a snack bar. If you could have a small restaurant, that would be very pleasing for many bus customers. It should serve healthy food, since many of your riders will be seniors, as well as people who have disabilities.

Perhaps the food could be made at the Mercantile and sent over to sell. The whole inside should be warm and inviting. In other words, make it feel like a home instead of something junky.

Have people who take the bus be involved in the bus transport depot, not people who live elsewhere and take their cars to work.

There should also be a place for Kansas history and current Lawrence history, with books for sale and pamphlets.

All bus tickets could contain different amounts off for certain beverages and meals downtown, so that the bus ticket could also be used for a coupon discount ticket. This would greatly help the bus service to pay its way.

There could also be wireless networking in the bus depot. Skype could be provided so that people could call anywhere in city.

There could be a very pleasant walk from the transport center to downtown. Full maps should accompany each stop, as for example, is true in San Francisco and many other cities. There should also be good lighting - why not LED street lighting for all stops on the bus system?

Along with the full walks, restaurants could open along the way to serve various kinds of food (I will never forget the Mexican restaurant in the comments section of the previous article). It would be a great walk along the river from the transport station to downtown, which is only a few blocks.

On nice days the walk be extended to include the paths along the river.

Why not MAKE SOMETHING REALLY GOOD out of the bus transport system? And don't forget, eventually, small libraries for children and adults with additional services for other parts of town, including restrooms, near the bus stops.

A lot could be done with this.

pace 6 years, 7 months ago

Some very good ideas. I would leave it to the cafe owner, or leaser in this case to determine the type of food, but we all can dream about what they should serve. I think the rail road will have to cede some use of their land and demands. The railroad has been hard hearted for thirty years about upkeep and use of the depot. I hope they are ready to loosen the strings of ownership. The business, that they can reclaim the property once the city and community uses political and financial capital to restore the station to a viable commodity is a bit too self serving. Good luck, with the development of a good plan.

Shelley Bock 6 years, 7 months ago

I'm presently in London, UK. Without the bus system and the tube, this city would be impossible. (Anyone driving a car here is not sane.)

These are good ideas and do work. Hammersmith Station for example, is a bus station and tube station for 3 lines surrounded by a shopping mall. Not possible in Lawrence, but these comments are great ideas to build upon. Fulham Broadway has the same concept with Chelsea's football stadium a block away.

pace 6 years, 7 months ago

Quite a bit of the area was commercial, back in the day. I would love to see some antique stores and other shops being allowed.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 7 months ago

Maybe KDOT would see the obsolete SLT design as not the greatest spending idea and instead invest in commuter train service. This spending would be the better bang for the tax buck because it would benefit 4 primary communities. The Topeka,Lawrence,JOCO and KCMO employed workers community.

Of course the T and taxi service play important roles as well. It's time to move forward.

Do the Depot!

williegreen 6 years, 7 months ago

Although renovation of the historic station is a laudable objective, city officials should keep in mind that, in the long term, reliable passenger rail service is dependant on separating passenger traffic from freight traffic. Furthmore, freight railroad companies will always place a higher priority on the profitability of hauling freight over the necessity of providing acceptable service to passengers.

Therefor, in the long run, BNSF should have no ownership, maintenance or operational interests in a transportation center. And ownership of the depot/transportation center should be the non-negotiable position of the city, even if that means having to abandon the historic station and building a new transportation center in a different location.

The city parks department already owns the historic Union Pacific Depot. It is by far more worthy of preservation than the one currently owned by BNSF. Perhaps in the long run, a brand new facility to accomodate passengers would be preferable anyway.

bszemere 6 years, 7 months ago

No, Lawrence needs to finish the K10 loop..then we will be a transport hub. It will also expose the downtown to less pollution and congestion. The depot is more money down a rat hole.

Sunny Parker 6 years, 7 months ago

Just another spot for the bums to hang out in!

average 6 years, 7 months ago

Does no one in this city own a map? Something under 5 percent of the town lives in the arc between the "10 o'clock" and "4 o'clock" directions from the proposed 'hub'. And even for those who do (North Lawrence), going back east to the BNSF is out of the way to anything useful (like, um, groceries... or 80% of the city's employers). The BNSF depot is hemmed in on bus parking spots, well away from any of the major-capacity streets in town.

Yes, I get the love for intermodal. Except that it won't connect to Amtrak as actually runs there now (totally different hours than the T). And intercity rail other than the Amtrak Chief is a pipe-dream that's not worth screwing up an bus system around. Even if it existed, it'd be twice a day additionally... not something to center an entire system around.

Are we going to base our 21st century bus system around the fact that mid-19th-century steam engines couldn't climb hills and needed to refill on river water in Lawrence? Or around the city that actually exists, the center of which is the Lied Center give or take a quarter-mile?

pace 6 years, 7 months ago

Moving the hub 5 blocks is not going to crash the system. The current one being on one of the busiest intersections in town is burdensome.

average 6 years, 7 months ago

The current one, being nowhere near the middle of town either, hasn't been anywhere near optimal either. Particularly since it shares one same failing that we'd carry to the proposed BNSF location... not all the buses can meet in one simultaneous 'pulse'. So, we continue the twenty-minute-waits that have been a failure of the system from the start.

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