Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Parade to the Pitch: The New England Revolution Pre Game Parade

I was talking to my brother-in-law a while back about the idea of building a soccer specific stadium at the old Wyman-Gordon property in downtown Worcester. He's a big soccer fan and suggested that I check out the various activities that the MLS Seattle Sounders put on to promote their club and boost attendance and see if it might generate any ideas that could be adapted to Worcester.

Apparently the Sounders led the league in average attendance in 2010 at about 36,000 per game as compared to a league average of 16,675 per game! One of the things that the Sounders do that I like is their tradition of a pre game fan parade known as the "March to the Match." Fans gather at a public park a few blocks north of the match 1 hour before game time and proceed about 3/10's of a mile down the main road to the game, singing and chanting the team's fight songs along the way.

Seattle Sounders: PreGame Parade from Firefly Vodka on Vimeo.

I think this is a great idea, and building a stadium for the Revolution at the Wyman-Gordon site presents a unique pre game parade route opportunity for the team and its supporters.

Map of downtown Worcester Showing Proposed 1/2 Mile NE Revolution Pre Game Parade Route (Blue) from Union Station to the Pitch at Wyman-Gordon Field. The Red Lines Indicate the Proposed Path of the AIRLINE BRT System
Union Station presents itself as an ideal gathering point for the parade. It's adjacent to I-290, offers plenty of parking, will eventually serve as the new downtown hub for the WRTA bus system, and serves as the terminus for the MBTA's Worcester commuter rail line. I don't think its much of a stretch to envision 100's of fans gather in a new public park behind Union Station (see page 11 of the Free the Blackstone! masterplan for one idea for public space in this general area).

Many would arrive by car and park in the Union Station garage. Others would arrive at Union Station via the AIRLINE BRT; perhaps they flew into ORH that morning, or drove in earlier in the day from Princeton to do some shopping at the Greendale Mall and hopped on the AIRLINE North, or maybe they had lunch on Shrewsbury St. before the game and caught the AIRLINE East to Union Station. As they gather in the public space behind Union Station, the Revolution Trains out of Boston and Providence deposit 1,000 additional fans who will join them in the parade. (Assuming a 20,000 seat stadium, this means that 1 in 20 would arrive by train - the Pats train captures about 1 in 30, see this Globe article for more numbers on the Pat's Train and this Herald article discussing possible train service to Revolution games in Foxboro). A majority of these fans arrive on the combined North and South Station MBTA Revolution Train (a 6 car train, 3 cars originating out of North Station, 3 cars out of South Station that are joined in CSX's Beacon Yards for the express ride to Worcester) and a 3 car Revolution Train operated by the Providence & Worcester Railroad that brings 3 cars full of fans from Providence.

The parade kicks off exactly one hour before game time and proceeds south down Harding St. The parade is led by a local pipe and drum group; following them are a half dozen or so New England Revolution fan clubs and a handful of New England youth soccer clubs; the official Revolution band follows next and leads the 100's of fans following them in chanting and singing the club's fight songs. As the parade moves down Harding St., it grows in size as patrons from the bars and restaurants on Harding, Water and Green Sts. join the crowd as it passes. The parade then approaches Kelley Square, where it pauses momentarily (see page 19 of the Free the Blackstone! masterplan for a rendering of a proposed park at Kelley Square). The popularly elected leader of Revolution Nation (Red Sox Nation has Jerry Remy, it looks like Drew Carey plays a big role in Seattle, does Denis Leary like soccer?) emerges from the front door of An Cu Liath (The Grey Hound Pub), climbs up onto a 6 foot wooden ladder, and leads the crowd in a spirited rendition of the Revolution fight song. Recharged, the parade continues on the final few hundred yards, where it enters Wyman-Gordon Field to the roar of the gathering crowd.

This sound like so much fun, perhaps we don't need to wait for the Revolution to come to Worcester? The first home game of the 2011 season is Saturday, March 26 at 4:30 pm. Anyone up for meeting me behind Union Station at 3:30 pm that day? We'll take a stroll down Harding St. and enjoy a pint at An Cu Liath as we watch the season opener vs. DC United.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Reimagining Public Transit in Worcester - Route 0324

Today we take a look at reimagining the WRTA's existing bus routes Route 3 - Worcester State College via Highland St. and Route 24/34 - UMASS Medical Center via Belmont St.

Current Bus Routes 3 and 24/34 Reimagined and Overlaid (Blue) on the proposed AIRLINE BRT System (Red), Visitor Trolley (Green) and other Proposed Bus Routes (Purple)
As mentioned in the previous post about the reimagined Route 0205, Route 0324 connects with Route 0205 at its proposed western terminus at Newton Square and then continues west along Pleasant St. to Tatnuck Square and finally ending at ORH via Mill St. and Airport Dr. (Current Route 3 along June St. will be addressed in a future post, perhaps in connection with a reimagined Route 7 to/from Webster Square).

The combined Routes 3 and 24/34 run pretty much along the same routes as they do today on the Belmont St. side of town and conveniently connect to the AIRLINE East BRT System at both ends of its run along Belmont St. in Worcester, where it then provides local service for the Biotech Park and UMASS Memorial - University Campus:

Biotech Park/UMASS Memorial - University Campus Detail of Current Bus Routes 3 and 24/34 Reimagined and Overlaid (Blue) on the proposed AIRLINE EAST BRT System (Red)
Downtown, the route connects to the AIRLINE NORTH BRT System and the Trolley at Lincoln Square:

Downtown Detail of Proposed Bus Route 0324 (Blue)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dinner, Drinks and a Show Downtown: Getting to Work on the Other 99%

"Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration" - Thomas Edison

While it's been fun over the first few months of postings on The Image of Worcester to share some big ideas about development in Worcester, it is my hope that, over time, readers will find that this blog is more than just about big ideas, but that it also places an equal emphasis on pursuing these ideas to see where they may lead us.

In late December I posted about the mostly vacant Goral Building next to the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts and how I thought it would make a great space for a restaurant. I've managed to push the ball forward on some of my thoughts and wanted to share them with you and hope you might share your reaction to them in the comments section below.

I was able to get my hands on some as-built drawings for the space, and Al Fine of Fine Associates out of Boston (Al tells me they have done, continue to work on, and are interested in bidding on more design work in Worcester) was willing to sketch up my concept on a set of floorplans.

Goral Building - Proposed 1st Floor Plan
1st Floor - The first floor contains three commercial spaces. Going left to right, we start with the existing corner commercial space presently occupied by Goral Community Optician; next, a 1,000 SF in-line commercial space (this space has you name all over it ARTS Worcester!); and finally, the restaurant. The 75 seat dining room space is on the left and the 35 seat bar is on the right.

Goral Building - Proposed 2nd Floor Plan
2nd Floor - This floor contains two spaces, the 3,700 SF function space on the right and the approx. 2,500 SF office space on the left. The office space lays out in an L-shaped pattern and takes advantage of the existing large windows on the north and west elevations. I was able to do some investigating re: direct connection between Theatre and the function space and I did confirm that a passageway between the Theatre and the function space is indeed physically possible. I also had an opportunity to speak with Troy Siebels, Executive Director of the the Hanover Theatre, and he confirmed that the Theatre is indeed open to exploring potential partnership opportunities such as the expanded VIP space idea discussed in my previous post on this topic.

Goral Building - Proposed Roof Plan
Roof - I know its only February, but the warm weather of the past few days has got me thinking again about that roofdeck idea. The roof contains the 3,800 SF seasonal rooftop deck with a 75 seat dining room and a bar area with 45 seats. There is also a space carved out for entertainment and there is sufficient rooftop space available for a rooftop garden on the left.

There is also a basement space in the building, perhaps a comedy club would like the space?

Worcester Airport Access, The Smurfs and Kool-Aid

Bill's blog has a recent post about ORH that mentions that apparently Massport thinks the only way ORH will be a success is if an access road to the airport is built.

From what I hear, the idea of an access road along existing MA Route 56 in Leicester and connecting to the Mass Pike at a new interchange in Oxford seems to be the most popular (least worst?) option up for consideration.

Map Showing Author's Guess as to Location of Proposed Route 56 Access Road Between the Mass Pike and ORH (Blue) and the Proposed AIRLINE Bus Rapid Transit System (Red)
I'm not drinking the blue Kool-Aid.

I see the positives in the Route 56 Access Road idea. I admit it would be relatively inexpensive to build a road along this route as it travels mostly through undeveloped areas of Leicester and it would provide easy access to the airport for the targeted Metrowest leisure travels I understand we want to target. My biggest concern, however, is that wherever this access path is built (I prefer to use the term path as opposed to road - road to most people has come to mean only autos and trucks, while the term path seems to encompass a wider variety of methods for getting around, including autos and truck, but also public transit, biking, etc.), opportunities for economic development will follow. 100's of travelers moving along this path on a daily basis will create demand for dining, retail, entertainment, lodging and numerous other goods and services. A path through Leicester most likely means the loss of thousands of acres of countryside to just more suburban sprawl, which I certainly could do without.

There's a unique opportunity here, with an access path connecting I-290 at Union Station to ORH, to bring hundreds of travelers a day into downtown Worcester to experience dining, retail, entertainment, lodging and numerous other goods and services before and/or after their flight. The Worcester path issue does not seem to be an issue of getting to or traveling along I-290 itself, but the issue is how does one get from I-290 to ORH? In the AIRLINE BRT proposal, those traveling by car along I-290 would exit at the existing MLK Jr. Blvd. exit, park their cars in the Union Station garage, and jump on a bus that would travel along a dedicated ROW with limited stops, dropping them off at the front door of ORH in less than 20 minutes.

I anticipate that many will react to the BRT model by saying that we need an access road because Worcester is a driving town, with public transit being used by a very small percentage of the population. In general I agree with this, as it is my experience that the concept of riding the WRTA on a regular basis for work or shopping is a foreign concept in a majority of resident's minds. That being said, I believe the AIRLINE BRT could be an exception to this general rule and the start of a change in attitude towards public transit in Worcester. The reason for this is that there is already an expectation by the general airline traveling population that they will likely use at least one, if not two or three forms of public transportation as a part of their travel experience. When I fly out of PVD, I park in the long term lot and guess what I board to get to the terminals? A bus! I've used buses at countless airports, and have also utilized subways, monorails and light rail cars and that Star Wars like people mover 'lounge' they use at Dulles. Viewed in this light, the AIRLINE BRT path as a substitute for an access road does not seem too far fetched to me.

Since 1875, when the original Union Station was constructed, through 1975, 100's of visitors and residents arrived in and departed from Worcester on a daily basis through Union Station's doors. The city restored the building to it's original grandeur in 2000, when once again train passengers, and a few years later, intercity bus passengers arrived in/departed from Worcester through Union Station's doors. I understand there are plans in the works to move the WRTA local bus hub from City Hall to Union Station within the next few years.  The economic development opportunities available to Worcester in general (and downtown and AIRLINE neighborhoods such as the Junction District, Main South, South Worcester and Webster Square in particular) by selecting Union Station as the local gateway for ORH travelers could potentially be tremendous, and the synergies available with all of the already in place or planned modes of transportation at Union Station are even more exciting.

Anyone for a cup of the red Kool-Aid?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reimagining Public Transit in Worcester - Route 0205

Today we take a look at reimagining the WRTA's existing bus routes Route 2 - City Hall - Tatnuck Square via Pleasant St. and Route 5 - City Hall - SW Commons/Wheelock Ave. via Grafton St. 
Current Bus Routes 2 and 5 Reimagined and Overlaid (Blue) on the proposed AIRLINE BRT System (Red), Visitor Trolley (Green) and other Proposed Bus Routes (Purple)
The combined Routes 2 and 5 run pretty much along the same routes as they do today with the only major change being to the termination point of the Route 2 line. In the proposed route, the line terminates at Newton Square as compared to it's current format where the line continues on to Tatnuck Square. (In a future post I will show my reimagined Route 3 bus which I see as traveling along Highland St., through Newton Square and continuing on to Tatnuck Square and ORH via Pleasant St.) Note that the lines travel through downtown along the planned reconstructed Front St. which will provide public transit riders with a direct connection between City Hall and Union Station:
Downtown detail of Proposed Bus Route 0205 (Blue)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jim M. Hops on the Trolley and Heads to the Common

Watching the Bruins-Canadians goal and slug fest last night (it's been a long time since I have witnessed NHL goalies drop the gloves!) reminded me that Jim M. sent me a post a while back about his thoughts on what to do with the now empty Notre Dame des Canadiens Church in Salem Square.

Undated Image of Notre Dame des Canadiens Church at Salem Square

Jim told me he took the Trolley from North Main St. and had a great ride down Main and Front Sts. on car #193, a fully and authentically refurbished 1927 Osgood-Bradley trolley! What a great story - the trolley was built in Greendale in 1927 and started service on the old Airline between Worcester and Boston that same year. It subsequently spent some time on Staten Island before being shipped to Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1947 where it served its citizens for 23 years before finally being retired in 1970. It was rescued from the scrap yard in 2007 where it was restored and reused as a police station in a town in southern Brazil (see video about this project - caution: unless you are a fan of death metal, I suggest hitting the mute button).

Here's Jim M.'s post....

As workers continue to untangle the mess of services at City Square, separating the two towers from (what we hope is) the soon-to-be-demolished mall, I can’t help but be thankful for the more even-handed approach that Hanover has taken to the project. Though still conceived in phases, it would appear that Hanover prefers to view the site as separate but related parcels--as opposed to another mega-project--where each phase of development must stand on its own, both conceptually and financially. But it is also clear that with their recent acquisition of Notre Dame des Canadiens they are still settling their view on the forest. And so as Notre Dame has entered the ranks of other abandoned churches, many people are wondering what would be the best use for this building?

Churches pose many unique problems when considering adaptive reuse, especially large and richly decorated ones. The main problem is that their vaulted architecture and detailing do not lend themselves to partitioning and discontinuities, which can make the reconfiguring into office or residential spaces seem bizarre and incongruous at best and downright jarring at worst. Small neighborhood churches can usually be converted with little problem, but large churches that follow the traditional cathedral pattern of nave, choir, transept and apse don’t have it so easy; they were designed to be awe-inspiring mass-assembly halls, and they will resist any efforts to temper or otherwise redirect that emotional impact. This is why many churches are converted to artist and performance spaces (though the majority are still condos), which tend to maintain the integrity of the main halls.

One approach to this problem is to think of the main structure as a shell to a lesser but more functional one: a building inside a building. It’s worth noting here that this is by no means a new concept in church architecture, which often includes intense, almost jewel-like inner structures, especially for tombs and altars (see the Edicule at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem or the altar at Saint Peters Basilica in the Vatican—perhaps two of the most famous examples). In a contemporary context, however, the actual use of the space will define the inner structure and dictate a visual contrast that downplays the new use in relation to the original architecture. This is one area where modern architecture excels because of its plain geometry and functional styling.  The Chopo Museum in Mexico City (the original structure was actually a German pavilion for an industrial fair) and, my favorite, a bookstore in Maastricht, Holland built inside a thirteenth century Dominican church are both good examples of this strategy.

 Bookstore in Maastricht, Holland Built Inside a Thirteenth Century Dominican Church
I would advocate for something very much like the Maastricht church, only I would place it more firmly in a mixed–use context with the bookstore and/or other appropriate retail business at its core, as well as a cafĂ©, small performance area, and restaurant in the other main portions of the sanctuary and patios. In the chancellery, vestry and administrative spaces, however, I think you could have professional or organizational (with a literary bent) office space along with some writer’s space down the lines of several models already established elsewhere (e.g. Grub Street and the Writer’s Room, in Boston, and The Store in NYC) that could also provide classes and hold workshops. Salem Square could once again be the literary Mecca it was when Ephraim’s and the Annex were still kicking and the T&G reporters lined the bar at the Eden—okay, maybe “Mecca” is bit rich, but I am advocating for a writer’s haven, or sanctuary, which could also support lively commercial activity during business hours. Worcester has an extraordinary literary past and, I expect, present, and this could be a way to promote and celebrate that heritage. I would be curious to know what the Worcester County Poetry Association and PEN New England would have to say about such an idea.

It also seems to me that the open-floor designs possible under this model could utilize the space effectively while keeping construction costs down. Again, like the church in Maastricht, a stand-alone structure could work well and could be adapted to different uses or commodities. Though my bias and preference would be a used bookstore, with Ben Franklin preparing to close its doors forever it pains me to say that a one would probably not work in this model. Sellers of new books, like Barnes and Noble or Tatnuck booksellers, however, could certainly pull it off. The former has participated in at least one innovative mixed-use project that I know of--the Power Plant in Baltimore, and the latter, no stranger to adaptive reuse, would be welcomed back to Worcester with open arms. The obvious problem here is the already languishing retail environment around the commons, which would necessarily frame this idea in the context of City Square and other efforts to reverse this trend.

Though I’m doubtful that a restaurant as a stand-alone entity would work here, I think one could succeed in a mixed-use context. It would certainly be one of the coolest restaurants in town, and with the impressive patio space would make a great three-season dining spot with some of the best views of downtown. I would seriously consider some type of food retail component almost regardless of the main economic function of the building.

It should also be mentioned that Notre Dame, which was built in 1929 and was one of the area’s last major buildings to go up before the depression, was the mother church for the first French-Canadian parish in the U.S. and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It would certainly qualify for historic and new market tax credit financing under a number of different scenarios, not just the one considered above. I also suspect there are many national organizations that support the arts that might seriously consider helping this project along.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Blackstone Canal Basin Garage

In a previous post titled Moving Forward While Honoring Our Past I lamented the loss of all physical evidence of the Blackstone Canal in downtown Worcester. I have been trying to come up with some ideas for how we can reestablish and celebrate that connection to our past and one of the concepts I have come up with has to do with the municipal parking garage at Major Taylor Blvd. and MLK Jr. Blvd. (adjacent to the DCU Center), the historical location of the Blackstone Canal Basin.

Municipal Parking Garage at Major Taylor Blvd. and MLK Jr. Blvd. in downtown Worcester

1829 Map of Worcester Showing Blackstone Canal Superimposed on Map of Present Day Worcester (Garage and Historic Canal Basin in Upper Right)
Today the garage seems to go by many names - from the Municipal Garage, to the DCU Center Garage, to the Major Taylor Blvd. Garage (I believe there is a sign over the vehicle entrance off of MLK Jr. Blvd. to this effect?) to Republic Parking System Inc. if you look it up in Google Maps (I assume they have the management contract for the garage from the city?) In contrast, if I say Pearl-Elm Garage or Federal Square Garage, most people know exactly which municipal garages I am referring to and they are consistently referred to by these names, even in online mapping applications such as Google Maps.

In an effort to 1) provide the garage with a consistent and single identity and 2) link today's structure to Worcester's history, I suggest that this garage be officially named the Blackstone Canal Basin Garage. In addition to basic signage, I suggest that each floor be identified not only by a number but also assigned a symbol linked to the historic canal. For example, let's say a visitor parks on the 3rd level. In addition to identifying it as the 3rd level, we could use a stylized symbol from the canal to identify the floor, say the canal boat Lady Carrington, or Tobias Boland, builder of the canal. Signs would be posted throughout each level showing both the floor number and the symbol, and the elevator buttons could also be labeled with the floor symbols in addition to the numbers.

At the elevator lobbies on each floor, a larger symbol could be mounted and a brief description of the symbol's tie to the Blackstone Canal could be provided. Most people don't read these markers, but you do have a captive audience here without much to do while they wait, so I'm willing to bet the read rate would actually be quite high. The first floor elevator lobby should also contain some basic information about the canal and basin in order to provide context and link the site to the larger Blackstone Canal.

Providing free business card sized floor identity cards at each floor's elevator lobby with the symbol is another great way for users to not only remember their floor but also reinforces the historical link in the users mind. There is of course some expense associated with the design, printing and stocking of these cards, so perhaps a modern alternative would be to post a sign at each floor's lobby suggesting that visitors use their cellphone camera and take a picture of the symbol. The user can then reference this picture upon their return if they forget which level they are parked on.

Perhaps today's use of this site as a parking garage actually has a lot stronger connection to it's past than I realized. In the early 1800's canal boats would come to this site to park and offload their goods from all over the world for use in Worcester. Today, autos come to this site to park and their occupants from all over the world go out and experience Worcester. 100's of people every day park in this garage on a daily basis, whether they are staying in the nearby hotel, have business at the new courthouse, or are attending an event at the DCU Center. Today's visitors to this garage are unknowingly carrying out a long standing tradition as they go about their business; let's help them navigate their way through our parking garage while simultaneously providing them with an opportunity to connect with and experience what makes Worcester unique.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Reimagining Public Transit in Worcester - Route 2633

Today we take a look at reimagining the WRTA's existing bus routes Route 26 - Great Brook Valley via Lincoln St. and Route 33 - Downtown Worcester - Spencer/Brookfield via Main. St. - Route 9.

Current Bus Routes 26 and 33 (Purple) Reimagined and Overlaid on the proposed AIRLINE BRT System
The combined Routes 26 and 33 run pretty much along the same routes as they do today. Note that the lines stay on Main St. through downtown and thus do not directly connect to the proposed new hub at Union Station:

Downtown Detail of Proposed Bus Route 2633 (Purple)
Instead, the line crosses the AIRLINE BRT at two key points - Lincoln Square on the north side of downtown and Webster Square south of downtown where riders can change to the AIRLINE to access the hub at Union Station.

Webster Square, with its confluence of a number of major roads, is a natural place for a transit hub. Looking around the square for potential sites for a bus hub, the Cambridge St. Price Chopper parking lot seems like a real nice fit:

Webster Square Detail of Proposed Bus Route 2633 (Purple)
I can't speak for what Price Chopper might think of this proposal, but if I were running a supermarket and you told me you were going to be dropping off and picking up hundreds of passengers a day at my front door, 99.99% of whom regularly shop at supermarkets, my ears would certainly perk up! The most important feature of the Cambridge St. Price Chopper parking lot is the connection to the AIRLINE, the existing CSX ROW (a portion of which would be used for the AIRLINE BRT system) presently abuts the lot on the southeast corner of the property. Vehicle access to the property is already tight at Cambridge St., so I would propose exploring a direct access road connection from the lot to Webster St./Route 12 through a presently undeveloped lot to west of the Price Chopper and then through an undeveloped strip of land that appears to be owned by National Grid. This new entrance would be designated for bus, Price Chopper delivery, bike and pedestrian traffic use only (it seems to me that allowing autos would create more problems then it would solve as it would likely be a too tempting cut through to avoid Webster Square congestion). This connection, together with the existing loop road in place around the parking lot (this is key as it allows buses to avoid having to travel the heavily pedestrian used road directly in front of Price Chopper) sets up nice as a bus hub. Other pluses include potential use of some of the Price Chopper parking lot for bus commuters - the mostly unused spaces furthest (east) from the Price Chopper are adjacent to the proposed bus hub. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Reimagining Public Transit in Worcester - Route 0622 (Current Bus Routes 6 and 22)

Today I want to take a first shot at reimagining Worcester's existing bus routes by looking at WRTA's current Route 6 - West Tatnuck via Chandler St. and Route 22 - Millbury Center via Massasoit Rd. and Route 122A. We'll follow some of the concepts laid out in this earlier AIRLINE post.

Current Bus Routes 6 and 22 (Purple) Reimagined and Overlaid on the Proposed AIRLINE BRT System
In the earlier post we talked about the advantages of moving away from the current hub and spoke system with the hub at City Hall to more of a hybrid hub and spoke and grid system with Union Station serving as the primary hub. Let's look at a few details:
  • Two bus lines are combined as one - Currently to get across town, say West Tatnuck to Broad Meadow Brook on Massasoit Rd., one has to get the Route 6 bus and take it to City Hall; get off this bus (note: I believe some of the buses continue as another line so perhaps they let you stay on?); find out which stop around the Common they need to go to in order to pickup the Route 22 bus and then take the Route 22 bus to Broad Meadow Brook. In the revised system, one simply picks up the Route 0622 bus (the new numbering system a nod to progress while honoring the past) in West Tatnuck and gets off at the front door to Broad Meadow Brook.
  • No needless visit to the hub - Today, to get across town (or even just to another major artery road on your side of town), one needs to take the bus to City Hall and then head back out again to their ultimate destination. In the proposed hybrid system, lines such as the 0622 never come close to the hub (here, at Union Station), instead they cross the AIRLINE at one or more points where users can then take the quicker and more frequent BRT system not only to the hub, but also to other points both east, southwest and north of the hub. Note how the revised 0622 route crosses the AIRLINE at the Junction District stop and also intersects with the proposed visitor trolley service. 

Downtown Detail of Proposed Bus 0622 Route (Purple)

  • More than one option for getting to your destination - Let's say a West Tatnuck resident works at UMASS Memorial - University Campus. The default choice seems to be getting the 0622 bus and transferring to the AIRLINE at the Junction District. However, by simply extending the end of the 0622 bus to connect to the AIRLINE at ORH, a West Tatnuck resident can likely get to UMASS quicker and more efficiently by taking the 0622 bus outbound to ORH and then riding the AIRLINE non-stop to UMASS.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Connecting to/from Route 9 in Shrewsbury, Worcester's Eastern Gateway

Here's the Shrewsbury post, my apologies for earlier post and delete....

The Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission released a report last week titled Route 9 Development and Traffic Analysis which looked at both current and future traffic on Route 9 in the towns of Shrewsbury, Northborough and Westborough. Not surprisingly, the report said many intersections were already over capacity and traffic would only get worse with more development. Improving intersections with vehicle detection and coordinating signals to minimize waiting time were recommended, but the focus for meaningfully improving capacity going forward was clearly on developing alternate means of getting around such as walking, bikes and public transportation. It's the public transportation piece that got me thinking about Worcester's AIRLINE BRT system, the AIRLINE East branch serving Shrewsbury and, more to the point, connections at it's eastern terminus at Fairlawn.

AIRLINE East (Red), Proposed Route 9 Bus (Orange) and Proposed Shrewsbury I-290 - Route 9 Highway Connector (Blue)
 Shrewsbury I-290 - Route 9 Highway Connector - Getting to the Worcester end of Route 9 in Shrewsbury is challenging. Options include accessing the area via Route 9 in Worcester, which is already overcrowded, or using narrow back roads such as Old Mill Rd. to get to Route 9 from I-290 near the Worcester/Shrewsbury line. I'm generally not a proponent of building new highways, but in this case there seems to be a unique opportunity to construct a 1.7 mile connector highway between I-290 and Route 9 along an existing power line right-of-way (ROW). The existing continuous ROW is approximately 200 feet wide and undeveloped with the exception of several power lines. The ROW crosses I-290 just east of the current Exit 22 near Shrewsbury High School and travels south to Route 9, crossing in the area of the Route 9/Maple Ave. intersection. One example of connector design that I think might work in this location is the Simarano Dr. connector off of Route I-495.

Simarano Dr. Connector (Exit 23C) off of I-495 in Marlborough (Image Rotated Approx. 45 degrees Counterclockwise to Match Orientation of I-290)
There appears to be sufficient existing undeveloped land for this style of interchange and the topography in the area is amazingly similar. The 4 lane Simarano Dr. connector width is approximately 70 feet, which would readily fit within the current 200 ft. ROW and should leave plenty of room for the existing and any future expansion of the existing power lines. As mentioned above, the exits for this connector would be close to existing Exit 22 off of I-290, and it may make sense to link these two exits with a frontage road in both directions so as to minimize the number of ramps to/from I-290. There is also the question of whether there should be a Main St. exit off of/entrance onto the connector. It seems to me that there should indeed be an exit/on ramp here as it should reduce reliance on local roads by through traffic.

 Intermodal Transit Station at Route 9/I-290 Connector/Maple Ave Intersections - I should be clear that the only way I would support developing the above highway connector was if it were a part of a bigger plan to support the development of multiple modes of transit both within Worcester and along the Route 9 corridor. It seems to me that the existing vacant industrial land and building (and presently listed for sale I believe) just east of the intersection of Route 9 and Maple Ave. would be a great location for an intermodal transit terminal similar in function (but certainly not scale) to the intermodal Alewife Station in Cambridge.

Potential Location for Intermodal Transit Station Just East of the Route 9 and Maple Ave. Intersection in Shrewsbury

A large parking area (surface initially, structured parking when the demand justifies it) would serve those arriving by car and provide users with three options - jump on the AIRLINE East to get to all points in Worcester, pickup the Route 9 bus to get to points along Route 9 in Shrewsbury, Northborough and Westborough (and points east), or travel to Shrewsbury center and other local points via the WRTA run Shrewsbury local service (present day WRTA Route 15). Some further thoughts on this intermodal station:
  1. This station could serve as a convenient jumping off point for getting to Worcester - get on the AIRLINE East bus and you can ride all the way to ORH within 1/2 hour while reading a book or catching up on those unread e-mails. 
  2. This station would provide Shrewsbury with a great opportunity to promote Transit Oriented Development (TOD) along Route 9 and could serve as a model for the growth of the balance of Route 9 in Worcester County going forward.
  3. UMASS Memorial Medical Center - University Campus continues to grow and it seems like I see satellite parking lots for their employees all around town - this intermodal station together with the highway connector would allow UMASS to consolidate it's employee satellite parking in one convenient location and share both parking and transportation facilities instead of covering 100% of these costs themselves. The UMASS Memorial Medical Center - University Campus is tight, the less land that needs to be dedicated towards storing vehicle, the more land that is available for labs and offices focused on saving lives.