Wednesday, May 9, 2012

St. Paul Street selected for Burlington's new transit mall

From the Burlington Free Press

An architectural rendering shows a proposed transit mall and bus terminal on St. Paul Street between Pearl and Cherry streets as viewed from the southeast. The location is the recommended site under consideration by the Chittenden County Transportation Authority.
An on-street Burlington transit “mall” on north St. Paul Street was chosen Tuesday as a replacement for the city’s noisy, exposed Cherry Street bus terminal.
Preliminary designs portray the new center as a swooping canopy of glass and steel occupying the block between Pearl and Cherry streets.

A nine-person advisory committee to the Chittenden County Transportation Authority voted its unanimous approval for the site during its meeting at Fletcher Free Library.

If approved by the CCTA board at its June 30 meeting — and barring any unforeseen design problems, the transit mall will open in fall 2015, said the authority’s assistant general manager, Aaron Frank.

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

During the past several months, committee members and consultants from Boston-based Vanasse Hangen Brustlin have narrowed down the location for an upgraded bus terminal from 37 to nine.

All of the semifinalists offered significant improvements over the Cherry Street terminal. Tuesday’s choice reflected a combination of virtues, VHB’s Kristine Wickham said:

• Cost savings (no purchase of land necessary).

• Minimal disruption to Church Street pedestrian traffic — and adjacent residential neighborhoods.

• No removal of real estate from city tax rolls.

• An “acceptable” loss in street parking (five in its initial stages; up to 19 with anticipated ridership).

• Reasonable protection from the elements (including a heated and air conditioned waiting room).

• Rest rooms.

• The second floor of a 3,000-square-foot structure would contain a driver break room and other administrative functions.

Although supportive, committee members voiced concerns. CCTA rider Marti Woodman quizzed Wickham about accessibility and traffic patterns (she is blind).

Larry Kupferman, also a committee member and director of the city’s Community and Economic Development Office, recommended a thorough inventory of sub-street utilities before estimating construction costs.

City Councilor Karen Paul, I-Ward 6, asked how the new center might offer other amenities (only a small vendor booth is in the plans now); and whether rental space might help offset costs.

Tim Bouvier, a committee member and CCTA driver, said that winter conditions might easily render access to the bus-bays tough unless snow crews kept the narrow entrances clear.

Members of the public spoke out, too. Pam Scanlon, who lives and works nearby, asked what sort of after-hours security would be in place at the shelter (aside from the waiting rooms, the shelter would remain open).

Catholic parishioner George Commo said church officials were concerned about depletion of parking.

Dick Bove suggested that his property at George and Pearl streets might offer more advantages — particularly if affordable housing occupied its upper stories.

“It would bring your budget way down,” Bove said. “It’d be reasonable, and a benefit to the people. I’d even put a (street) light in for you.”

Consultant Wickham thanked Bove for the offer, but said the distance between waiting rooms and parked buses would make it a less attractive choice. “For a lot of reasons, the St. Paul Street choice continues to make a lot of sense,” she said.

The public is invited to a hearing on the proposed transit center at 6 p.m. May 31 at City Hall.

Contact Joel Banner Baird at 660-1843 Read his blog at and follow him on Twitter

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