Although it gets more daily traffic than Midway Airport, Chicago’s main rail hub remains little more than a waypoint for most people—a bustling transit station buried beneath an often empty Beaux Arts volume.
The Metropolitan Planning Council wants to change that. Their new placemaking contest, Activate Union Station, calls on architects, landscape architects, planners and designers of all stripes to submit ideas for a design-build program that will enliven the underused West Loop hub.
Construction on the two-track Gateway project, a new tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan, will commence this summer beneath Related Company’s Hudson Yards redevelopment site. Related Companies and Amtrak will build this 800-foot-long “box tunnel,” which will first serve as a shell for Amtrak’s rail connection linking the Hudson tunnel to Penn Station’s tracks, and, eventually, to the proposed Moynihan Station. The actual Amtrak Gateway Project is still years away, but construction on this first leg of the tunnel is happening now to coordinate with construction on Manhattan’s West Side. The project will be funded by the federal government including some funding from the Hurricane Sandy relief package meant to help mitigate flooding during future storms. It’s estimated to cost between $120 and $150 million.
Midwest train travelers will enjoy a quicker passage, as Amtrak approves a new top speed of 110 mph for a section of its Chicago-St. Louis route. Though trains will only accelerate to the new top speed over a 15-mile segment, officials said another $1.5 billion investment over three years of upgrades will bring the rest of the track up to speed.
The current top speed is 79 mph over most of the route. Instead of 5 and a half hours, future trips could be under 4 hours. Union Pacific Railroad and Amtrak tested a new system of triggers for highway crossing gates earlier this year.
Amtrak’s Midwest presence has seen a significant ridership boost, following trends around the country. Transit in general may be enjoying a small renaissance, with the CTA counting 16 months of rail and bus line increases. Despite setting ridership records, Amtrak is losing money and faces an uncertain future.
Pop-Up Forgiveness. With Spain in the midst of an austerity plan, the NY Times reported that Madrid and the Catholic Church have spent $72 million for festivities centered around the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, which has drawn criticism from many in the city. Among the improvements lavished upon Madrid are 200 pop-up confessional booths in Retiro Park. Perhaps city leaders doling out funds will be among those in line at the booths.
Reminder! Tomorrow, Wednesday August 17th, the International Center of Photography will hold a panel discussion in conjunction with the exhibition Hiroshima: Ground Zero 1945. The discussion will feature authors Erin Barnett, Adam Harrison Levy, and Greg Mitchell who will speak about the exhibition’s compelling photographs of post-bomb Hiroshima along with a discussion of censorship and documentation of the the attack.
Fresh Jobs. Data from a USDA report released last week indicated that farmers markets are on the rise in the United States. The report counted 7,175 markets, a 17 percent increase since last year. States with the largest growth were Colorado, Alaska, and Texas, representing a robust local and regional food system. Grist and GOOD broke down the report.
Where’s the Map? Transportation Nation asks, Where’s the Amtrak map at Penn Station? It seems as though travelers are missing out on the opportunity to visually place their train journeys. As journalist Mark Ovenden said,“maps are part of the journey, and we shouldn’t forget that.” You can ask for a paper fold-out version, which pales in comparison as its streaking red lines give little real indication of the train’s path.
High Speed Rail Rescued. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $200 million for high speed rail projects in Michigan yesterday, as part of a $400 million package for high speed rail in the Midwest. The money came from funds rejected by Florida governor Rick Scott. Grist reports: “It looks like Scott’s tantrum will mean improved speed and performance in the Northeast Corridor, a high-speed line between Detroit and Chicago, better train cars throughout California and the Midwest, and forward movement on the planned L.A.-to-S.F. high-speed line. Thanks, sucker!”
Over the Hill. And speaking of rail, Grist brings us this infographic showing the dramatic decline of Amtrak‘s coverage since its heyday in the 60s. Maybe it’s time to bring Joe Biden in for a celebrity ad campaign.
Buffalo’s Berkeley Makeover. Can Buffalo, New York become the next hip college town? That’s what administrators at the University of Buffalo are betting on, staking $5 billion to expand the campus from the outskirts of the city to downtown. The city, which lost 1/10 of its population over the last decade, may not have Berkeley’s hippie past, but business leaders and local politicians envision bringing thousands of professors and staffers downtown, with “young researchers living in restored lofts, dining at street-side bistros and walking to work.”
Metrocards Out, Smart Cards In. The country’s oldest subway system foresees a future without the iconic Metrocard. The NY Daily News reports that the New York City MTA plans to replace Metrocards with smart cards in three to four years. Riders would tap the MTA Card, or a debit or credit card, to pay their fares.
Microbe Road. Designers Thomas Kosbau & Andrew Wetzler have proposed scrapping asphalt in favor of a more eco-friendly sandstone paving surface created with locally harvested sand and cemented together by a common microbe. Yanko Design points out that the Incheon International Design Awards entry would save oil and help relieve the urban heat island effect.
Super-circle XLVI. While the buzz surrounding this year’s Superbowl has yet to subside, Indianapolis has focused its eyes to next year’s big game. Urban Indy reports that the city’s iconic Monument Circle will be pedestrianized during the week-long festivities, which could bode well for future car-free endeavors.
ARC Resurrected. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may have derailed the proposed ARC train tunnel connecting Manhattan and NJ last year, but a new plan floated by Amtrak could provide a new tunnel opportunity. The Transport Politic has details on the so-called Gateway Project.
Ben van Bistro. Just in time for spring, the New Amsterdam Pavilion designed by UN Studio principal Ben van Berkel in Manhattan’s Battery Park will offer eco-friendly food, craft beer, and organic wine. DNAinfo says the pinwheel-shaped restaurant will be called Battery Bistro.