Architects, engineers and officials from PARK New Haven met last week at Union Station to discuss potential plans to redesign the station and its surrounding area to minimize traffic and maximize accessibility to downtown.
The Friday meeting came in response to a 2013 study conducted by the city that found issues in traffic flow at the front of Union Station, according to PARK New Haven Executive Director David Panagore, who planned the meeting. The ideas outlined in the meeting will not see an immediate course of action, but Panagore added that changes could come at any point in three to five years, while noting that he does not expect immediate mobilization.
“This is a [vision], made to generate commentary,” he said. “We want to get people talking, because the only way we can get something to happen is to generate conversation.”
Pursuing the general goal of improving traffic flow both in the station and on Union Avenue, those present at the meeting suggested reconfiguring the existing facilities. Moving the taxi drop-off area to the back of the station, while keeping buses and shuttles in the front of the station, some said, could alleviate congestion in the area.
Other options for the front of the station include setting up new bike racks or renovations to potentially allow new businesses to be established.
Plans for the surrounding area included creating a walking path that would span Union Avenue and end across from the train station at what is currently a public housing development. Panagore said that such a path would increase on-foot accessibility from downtown New Haven to Union Station.
Panagore also said that the plans discussed at the meeting would soon be published in a booklet on display at the station in order to inform the local community about the proposed plans.
Local architect Patrick Pinnell ’71 ARC ’74 said the group also discussed how to improve foot traffic within the station.
“We discussed within the station how people movement can be alleviated — something like turning the waiting benches 90 degrees for more congregating space into the middle of the floor instead of the first row of benches in the immediate line of travel,” Pinnell said.
Although Panagore said he was confident that the plans would materialize down the road, architects at the meeting expressed concerns about the feasibility of parts of the plan.
For example, Catherine Johnson said relocating the housing complex for the proposed walking path could be difficult because of the support it receives from the state, while Pinnell said that the discussion of the property, which is currently owned by a developer from Boston, Mass., is a sensitive issue.
“When you walk out of Union Station, it’s a bit of a wild west — everyone’s fighting over pieces of turf,” Panagore said.
Still, Johnson added that the renovations are an important topic that merit the city’s attention, noting that there is not currently a convenient, safe way to walk from downtown to the train station. Two out of 12 students interviewed said they choose not walk to Union Station from campus, and four noted that they would not feel safe doing so.
Pinnell also said that the renovations to the station could be a step in increasing Yalies’ appreciation of New Haven monuments and city history. A member of the Cass Gilbert Society, which honors the station’s original architect, Pinnell added that Yalies should be made aware of Gilbert’s rich architectural portfolio.
“I think it would be interesting to ratchet up people’s appreciation of Cass Gilbert to see how interesting the train station is,” Pinnell said. “This is the first continuing step in the appreciation of the University being in this city.”
Union Station is under a long-term lease with Connecticut Department of Transportation, which will expire in 2017.