Why move the bus station underground? A similar bus terminal in Denver had crime and drug problems | WFAE 90.7
In 2016, Charlotte’s political and business leaders took a trip to denver to see the city’s Union Station – a massive transit hub that includes a $219 million light rail, commuter rail, and underground bus station.
Charlotte has a similar idea.
City leaders want to build an underground bus station on the site of the Charlotte Transportation Center, the main downtown bus station. Like the Denver Underground Bus Terminal, it would have an air-conditioned waiting area for passengers, as well as other amenities. The Gold Line light rail, city bus lines, and Blue Line light rail would all intersect in a single block.
But the Mile High City underground bus depot had problems.
In December, the head of Denver’s local transit union called the city’s underground bus terminal a “lawless hell” it is full of “prolific wanderers.”
Denver Media have written extensively about the problems at the bus station, including people using and selling drugs and homeless people using it as a place to stay.
The city launched a crackdown, resulting in 1,200 arrests and citations in six months.
Charlotte’s Ambitious Projects
Charlotte’s main bus station, known as Charlotte Transportation Hub, or CTC – sits across from the Spectrum Center on West Trade Street. It opened in 1995.
As part of a $275 million plan to upgrade the arena and extend the Charlotte Hornets’ lease through 2045, the city plans to redevelop the main bus station site.
According to the plan, the CTC would be moved one level below ground. This would pave the way for a new development of offices, retail, a hotel and a new Hornets training center atop the bus station.
But Rock Hill transportation consultant Steve Yaffe said WFAE last week that he is concerned about the city plan. Yaffe does not work with the Charlotte Area Transit System, but he followed his idea of moving the bus station below ground level. He said it would be “unhealthy”, “discriminatory” and a “nightmare for public safety”.
Those comments were discussed at Monday’s city council economic development meeting.
CATS chief executive John Lewis defended the proposal, saying underground bus terminals are common across the country. He said the Charlotte facility would have much-needed amenities and that the current station “has lost its usefulness from a mobility standpoint.”
Braxton Winston, a member of the General Council, however, expressed concern about the plans for the city. He said just because other transit systems have put bus terminals underground doesn’t mean it’s good.
“The suggestion that public transit has been doing something across the country for a long time is not enough when you look at an equity lens,” he said.
“As someone who grew up using the Port Authority (New York’s main bus terminal)…whether it’s above ground or below ground, it’s dirty, it’s tough,” a- he added.
Council members and city officials did not discuss Denver’s issues.
Charlotte wants underground buses for new entertainment district
From a pure transit perspective, there is no technical reason to place Charlotte’s main bus station underground.
The city offers it because the buses are unsightly and noisy, and officials believe they can create an entertainment district on Brevard Street near the arena if the buses are hidden. The city would like the neighborhood to become like neighborhoods close to sports venues in other cities, like Georgia Street in Indianapolis and Victory Park in Dallas.
But even though the buses are underground, it can still be difficult to make the Spectrum Center area a family-friendly neighborhood. It’s unclear why one would expect restaurants and retailers to suddenly flock to the arena, bus station and practice facilities area in a way they haven’t widely. done since the arena opened in 2005. summer, is 70% vacant.
At a city council meeting two weeks ago, the city’s director of economic development, Tracy Dodson, said there was a public safety issue with the CLC today. And the media also reported problems at the station. A 2019 Article by Charlotte Observer said: “Across the street, the Charlotte Transportation Center reported 22 crimes involving a firearm. Only the airport had more – and most of them were nonviolent violations of the gun law.
Dodson and city leaders have not said how moving the bus station underground will improve public safety. Yaffe, the transport consultant, said hiding a problem – by putting it underground – can make crime worse.
There are other questions about the proposal to bury the CTC:
The city did not give an estimate of how much it would cost to move the station underground, as opposed to renovating the existing station or building a new one at street level. It’s unclear whether the Charlotte station would be as big as the Denver bus station, which cost $219 million 12 years ago. If Charlotte’s project is similar in size, it would likely cost more, accounting for inflation.
Would the city pay for this with money from a proposed sales tax increase for public transit? He didn’t say.
In response to a question about the cost, the city said:
The board is not voting on the CTC in the next vote (Monday), which is solely for Spectrum Center renovations and funding for a Performance Center under the city’s revised contract with the Charlotte Hornets. Further updates on the CTC project will be provided to the board and the public later this year and any vote, which was not scheduled, would come after further updates and discussions.
Last year, the federal government awarded CATS a $15 million grant to help pay for the replacement of the transit hub, and the transit system has been working with developers White Point Partners and Dart Interests for a few years. on plans to offer private financing. project that would incorporate a new publicly funded transit station.
City Council member Larken Egleston speculated that private developers might be willing to absorb some or all of the costs, in exchange for the city-owned land. But it is likely that the cost of building a new underground bus station would cost far more than the price of the 2.6 acres occupied by the CTC.
Downtown building lots rarely sell for more than $10-15 million an acre. County records show the estimated value of the CTC parcel to be approximately $22.9 million.
Naming rights uncertainty
Will $60 million from naming rights materialize?
A city consultant said this week that the city could raise $60 million from naming rights for the basketball practice facility and various digital signs in the area. But will the site be known more as a bus terminal or a training centre? And if it’s a bus terminal, would a company want to subscribe to that?
(The other option is for the Hornets to build their practice facility on a city-owned gravel parking lot near the arena. The city said that could happen if the CTC plan doesn’t work.)
Is it necessary?
Why have a bus station?
Before the CTC opened in 1995, Charlotte buses often stopped on Tryon Street, creating traffic jams. Hugh McColl, then chief executive of the Bank of Nations, led an effort to create the CTC, which moved buses and passengers away from his bank’s headquarters in Trade and Tryon.
McColl was quoted in a recent biography as saying “I’m so proud of this transportation hub” because it was a visually appealing building that allowed passengers to safely wait for buses while being protected bad weather. He said, “I really think the transportation hub is maybe the best thing I’ve ever done for this city.”
Yaffe said Charlotte should consider going back to the previous model. He said that big cities don’t even need to have a main bus station. Think of big cities with great public transportation systems, like New York.
New York has the Port Authority for regional buses – but there is no central bus station for local buses. The same is true for London and Paris.
Yaffe said Charlotte buses could have multiple stops downtown — maybe on Tryon Street, or maybe College or Church streets. If people needed to transfer, they would just walk a block or two to a different stop.
Some CATS express buses already operate this way today. They can make a stop at the CTC, but that is not their final destination. And CATS has been trying for years to move away from a “hub and spoke” route system focused on city centers.
Removing the bus station would create logistical challenges, Yaffe said, such as finding a place for drivers to use the restroom. But these could be resolved, he said.