Monday, May 12, 2008

It Takes A Train Station To Raise A Village

Or To Revitalize One

In many respects, America was built around the railroad.

Wherever the train tracks tread, towns, villages, and entire cities sprung from the prairies, the badlands, across great divides, and amidst the bramble.

Indead, it has always been access to transportation that has spurred the growth not only of this nation's economy, but of the great urban centers that developed along mighty rivers, beside the trackbed, and, yes, sprawled for seemingly endless miles along that vast ribbon of highway, ushering in the era of suburban sprawl.

Now, the trend in urban planning, or so those doing the planning portend, is to harken back to the days of the golden spike and lonely train whistle, designing communities around transportation centers. The so-called "transit village."

Not exactly a novel idea, but certainly, one that has worked for centuries.

And in this era of $4+ for a gallon of gas, anything -- and everything -- we can do to create a well proportioned mix of residential, retail, commercial space, all centered around a mass transit-oriented lifestyle -- one in which we bike, train, or actually walk, rather than hop into our cars -- is truly a step in the right direction.
- - -
Station Site Envisioned as Village

A TRANSIT village consisting of an estimated 1.2 million square feet of commercial, residential, retail and industrial development, tied together by a new Long Island Rail Road station, is being explored for the Route 110 corridor near Republic Airport.

“We are going to develop a comprehensive vision plan that would make sense from an environmental, housing and economic development perspective,” said Steven C. Bellone, the supervisor of the Town of Babylon, which includes the site in East Farmingdale. “By taking this comprehensive approach, we can get more people on board.”

A previous plan to encourage the Long Island Rail Road to reopen the Republic station, which was closed in 1986, had called for the development of a transportation hub at that site.

That hub drew criticism from residents who feared worse traffic congestion, and railroad officials said they were reluctant to reopen the station until this more extensive plan was proposed.

“In the past, we looked at that station as an attractor for customers” going to New York City, said Elisa Picca, the railroad’s chief planning officer. But the new plan would also make Republic a destination station for those who would live and work along the corridor, she said.

The railroad formerly had a stop near Republic Airport that was created to serve employees of the Fairchild Republic Company’s aircraft factory. That plant was closed in 1987, putting hundreds out of work.

To study the feasibility of reopening the station, the railroad plans to spend $3.5 million in its next capital program. Ms. Picca said that should be before 2010.

Frank P. Petrone, the Town of Huntington supervisor, said that until the railroad study is completed, the towns intend to do preliminary work of their own. (The northern section of Route 110 is in Huntington.)

Among the things the towns will consider is creating a bus route that would loop around the Route 110 corridor, taking passengers to their homes and work. Mr. Bellone said he envisioned buses making a five- to seven-mile run up and down Route 110.

“This would be the one place on Long Island that would have a north-south mass transit connection,” he said. “We will be studying whether to have a dedicated lane for the buses and studying the cost.”

Although 125,000 people work in businesses along the Route 110 corridor, Mr. Petrone said that there was room for growth and that efforts would be made to attract more businesses.

Representative Steve Israel, a Democrat from Huntington, said, “The real beauty of this project is that it is not one of these sprawling developments where we would need to bankrupt ourselves to buy gas getting there.”

He said the transit village, which officials say would be the first one on Long Island, would be self-contained. “As oil prices continue to climb, such developments are all the more important,” Mr. Israel said.

Pearl M. Kamer, chief economist of the Long Island Association, a business group, pointed out that the Broad Hollow Bioscience Park on the campus of Farmingdale State University along Route 110 was expanding and needed housing for its employees.

Ms. Kamer, who is a board member of the park, said that a second incubator for bioscience companies would be opening later this year on the campus.

“Once we develop a bioscience cluster, it will spill over into the general business community along the Route 110 corridor and we will need housing for them,” Ms. Kamer said.

Mitchell Pally, a board member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the parent of the Long Island Rail Road, said that if a Republic station was opened, it would be a new station on Conklin Avenue.

“This is the way the railroad is working with local government on transit-oriented development,” he said. “There is some transit-oriented development in Great Neck, Huntington and other areas, but this would be the first time we would be integrating a station into a brand-new development.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

No comments:

Post a Comment