Last week, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced his intention to create an advisory panel to counsel ConnDOT on plans to bring transit-oriented development to the Stamford Transportation Center, while also expanding parking at the site. The agency has sought private proposals to redevelop state-owned properties near the transit hub, as well as demolish an existing 727-space parking garage and provide 1,000 new spaces within 1/4 mile of the station. Final bids are due on October 9. The public-private partnership approach, intended to reduce the cost of the project, initially raised concerns because the bids must be kept confidential. The panel is a good step to increase transparency and should help keep the project on track.
The public process should continue to focus on the project’s most compelling goals: Bringing in quality transit-oriented development that will benefit the city and the state, and improving the commuting experience for everyone who uses the station. At a public hearing last month, Tri-State Senior Planner Steven Higashide pointed this out, saying that “It’s smart for ConnDOT to be exploring transit-oriented development because TOD is a strategy that works… It’s why Stamford has performed so strongly over the past thirty years.” Tri-State and the Business Council of Fairfield County, Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and Regional Plan Association also noted that ”Repurposing the current dilapidated garage into a well-planned, mixed-use development can boost local jobs and the economy, as well as improve the station’s current circulation problems for all types of commuters – car, bus, pedestrian, and bicycle.”
The public hearing about the garage was also attended by commuters who argued that the station’s parking should be replaced at the existing location. But building a larger garage at the current location could concentrate traffic and could only worsen congestion for both pedestrians and drivers. The City of Stamford’s own master plan for the transportation center recommends that parking be provided at multiple locations to reduce the traffic impact.
Although concerns about the garage have a place in the station debate, the vast majority of STC commuters do not park at the station. While the station has 2,200 parking spaces, weekday ridership on Amtrak and Metro-North is over 26,000, according to Metro-North. Most people using the STC are commuting into Stamford, or coming to the station by foot, bus, shuttle, or bike. Even among commuters who start their morning commute in Stamford, less than half (48%) drive and park at the station, a 2009 Metro-North study found.
Because of this, the state and advisory panel must consider the needs of pedestrians, transit riders, and cyclists while it evaluates the bids. This is even more important because the environment around the station is already bleak. As the STC master plan points out, the station area is crisscrossed by wide roads with fast-moving traffic; sidewalks are inadequate and bicycle infrastructure almost nonexistent; and there is no street-level commercial activity. Two good steps would be for the state to name a pedestrian commuter or advocate to the advisory panel, and for ConnDOT’s bicycle/pedestrian staff to be involved in reviewing the bids.