Friday, April 20, 2012

Authority seeks Burlington transit mall site

From Burlington Free Press

Aerial view from southwest shows an architectural rendering of a  transit mall  and bus terminal on St. Paul Street between Pearl and Cherry streets. The site is one of nine under consideration by the Chittenden County Transportation Authority.
A proposed “transit mall” on St. Paul Street between Pearl and Cherry streets in Burlington has emerged as a favored replacement for the downtown bus terminal, officials say.

An enclosed structure, sited within the short stretch of roadway, is a “quite promising” option among a list of nine possible sites, Chittenden County Transportation Authority Assistant GeneralManager Aaron Frank said Thursday.

The site has drawn support in part because it would not take property off the city’s tax rolls, as would some of the alternative locations.

“It would use public space for a public purpose,” Frank said.

Furthermore, that stretch of St. Paul Street hardly qualifies as a crowded thoroughfare — it T-bones into Cherry and Pearl — “It’s a short segment that doesn’t connect with any longer segments,” he said.

Frank emphasized that the search remains open, and will remain open to public input until June, when the CCTA board is expected to announce its choice.

The public can join the proceedings May 8 at back-to-back meetings. The first, a meeting of the CCTA Transit Center Advisory Committee, takes place at 3:30 p.m. at Fletcher Free Library. It will be followed at 6 p.m. with a forum hosted by the committee at Contois Auditorium.

The CCTA website documents dozens of previous informational and deliberative meetings. A funding source, secure through the summer, has quickened the vetting process for a final site.

Frank estimates the project’s cost at $9.8 million, of which 83 percent has been secured through Federal Transit Administration grants; the remainder from a combination of state and local funding.

Is bigger better?

The downtown transit center is a separate project from another transportation-related project in the works — the park-and-shuttle facility proposed at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center in South Burlington.

While both aim to reduce regional congestion, the downtown Burlington terminal is designed exclusively for CCTA buses.

A replacement to the open-air terminal on Cherry Street, which opened in 1981, has been under discussion for many years.

Ridership on the CCTA has increased by more than 60 percent since 1985, Frank said. That boom came at a cost. Chief among them is the buses’ interruption to pedestrian traffic at Church and Cherry Street streets.

The current search retains much of the original, underlying premise: To be successful in reducing regional car trips and congestion, a transit hub must be located within a critical mass of jobs, shops, homes and other attractions, all within walking distance of a bus stop.

What about cars?

In studies by Boston-based consultants Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, each of the nine finalists for the new terminal exhibits downsides.

Building a transit mall on northern St. Paul Street would result in the net loss of 19 parking spaces, for instance.

That loss shouldn’t discourage proponents of the site, wrote Burlington Director of Planning and Zoning David E. White in an April 2 letter to the city’s Public Works Commission.

“Given that current on-street parking in this part of the downtown is operating at only 41-57% occupancy, we see no negative impacts associated with a potential net loss of on-street parking associated with several of the proposals,” White wrote.

White’s assessment resonates in the business community.

The trade-off in parking spots at St. Paul Street is “well worth the sacrifice,” states a letter written Wednesday from the Church Street Marketplace Commission to the Public Works Commission.

Late last month, Marketplace Commission Chairman Jeff Nick wrote a letter of endorsement for the St. Paul Street plan, stating that it “represents a good balance between the use of public space and supporting the essential public service that CCTA bus service represents.”

CCTA board of directors approval for that site — or any of the nine finalists — will constitute a major step in a long process.

It won’t be the last one, cautioned Public Works Director Steve Goodkind in an email Thursday afternoon.

“There are a number of issues that need to be resolved such as traffic impacts and impacts on neighbors,” he wrote.

More information about the proposed downtown transit center can be found at the CCTA website:

Contact Joel Banner Baird at 660-1843 orjoelbaird@burlingtonfreepress.comRead his blog at and follow him on Twitter

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