It Actually Makes a Difference Where a Train Station Is Built

Congratulations, it looks like your city is going to be getting high-speed rail service.

Just one thing: Because of various political and economic considerations, the station is going to be located out at the airport — far from any walkable destination and a $12 cab ride from downtown.

That’s the scenario that’s currently facing Madison, Wisconsin — unless a more sensible plan prevails. A high-speed rail connection between Madison and Milwaukee is in the stimulus pipeline, but many of its benefits could be compromised if the Wisconsin Department of Transportation plows ahead with the airport station plan. Two members of the Streetsblog Network have written about the issue in recent days. First, Logan Nash at Congress for the New Urbanism:

yaharastation.jpgThe Yahara location: Will WisDOT do the right thing?

Thankfully, it seems clear that livability and sustainable transportation planning
are part of Obama and DOT head Ray LaHood’s plan for American transport. So why is Wisconsin using the excuse of federal funding to forge ahead with its shortsighted plan to locate Madison’s HSR station at the airport?

This is the question being asked by planner Barry Gore, who has researched and is pushing for an alternative site on unused land at the intersection of First St. and E. Washington Ave. Yahara Station, as it is being called, would bring passengers into an urban area much closer to the capitol without changing the path of the train. It would be a compromise between the airport site and an even closer downtown alternative that WisDOT rejected because it would require trains to back up in order to continue on to the Twin Cities. But the city and the state are fretting over any changes to the current plan for fear of jeopardizing the current “shovel-ready” nature of this Midwest HSR segment.

Urban Milwaukee has more details on the advantages of the Gore plan, and why placement of the Madison station is important to Milwaukee as well:

Why does this matter to Milwaukee?  The station’s location significantly affects the mobility of travelers from Milwaukee and Chicago upon arrival in Madison.  A more central location affords flexibility for spouses to work in different cities, greatly increasing the number of available jobs.  It allows students to more reliably get from one city to the other. A downtown-to-downtown connection also greatly increases the ability for businesses to collaborate and grow in both cities.

CNU’s Nash adds:

The Madison Capital Times sums the general spirit up well with their opening depiction of a future where President Obama is on the inaugural Midwest HSR ride. He is so flabbergasted by the fact that the train will veer away from Madison to stop at the remote airport that he jumps off downtown for a beer. The administration has stated that we need to be investing in the future of our cities. Surely the feds will accommodate a minor change that will bring this arm of the Midwest HSR project in line with their own urban principles.

More from around the network: Tom Vanderbilt at How We Drive writes about Texas’s misbegotten ban on cell-phone use in school zones. Walk Bike Berks County writes about the forensics of crash investigations where a bicycle is involved. And Tempe Bicycle Action Group has the story of a hit-and-run driver in Phoenix who killed a cyclist and then tried to turn his car in as part of the Cash for Clunkers program. Apparently, that move caught the eye of someone who had heard the vehicle description on a news report — and then called in an anonymous tip that got him arrested.

  • Chris Loos

    We have an uncanny ability in this country to find new ways to screw up otherwise good transportation projects. They must be looking at us from Europe and Asia, scratching their heads in wonder.

  • The reason I rarely used the airport in Bordeaux was precisely because it was ‘out at the airport’. If the train station had been out there I’d have traveled less and flown less. France’s system is so great because it takes you from city center to city center where you can easily catch another form of frequent and reliable transportation (usually rail) into another part of the city. We _need_ that in the U.S. and I hope we don’t spend billlions on a far less useful system that doesn’t help our cities.

  • Karen

    Everything in the US is based on the assumption that we have (or want) a car to get us there. This country NEEDS to stop thinking like that. I’m glad to hear this is even a debate, for so long it seems to have been out of the American conversation completely.

  • Nathanael Nerode

    To be fair, the airport in Madison is *much* closer to downtown than most airports.

    However, locating the station at the Yahara/First Ave. location where the train passes *anyway* and slows down *anyway* is still a better idea. Provided the technical problems with locating a station near such a sharp curve can be solved.

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