Why “WST” ? Why Now?
Today’s flurry of central station-planning is not producing the stations we need.
But fortunately, we can learn from these episodes so that better stations centering better commuter systems can reduce transportation congestion and costs.
Central stations manifest one of our great civic intentions: to create a fine, welcoming building to the central business district. Strengthening this civic symbol, a station update has many other motives. Yet, we continue to limit progress in city after city nationwide. Specific causes vary by city. To discern patterns, “WST” synthesizes two general causes.
First, many planning efforts are driven by the mayor. This authority — which rarely extends beyond municipal streets — is a misfit for the politics of regional rails. Most plans fall way short because no entity has the authority to update to the 21st Century standards which includes a through-station and increase rail efficiency, particularly at peak.
Second, if the new station does get started, it usually succumbs to the well-trod path of busting its budget. This erases the agency’s justification for future taxpayer support that is needed to finish the station and provide a better service. Progress de-railed.
Another Inconvenient Truth (albeit smaller)
If we are to end America’s wasted decade of great civic intentions, we first must note candidly how other governments succeeded. Most of Europe’s major terminals have been converted into through-stations as part of updating trains for the new era. Progress in Japan and China is greater: using trains to transform economies into thriving urban networks with a shot at achieving sustainable transportation.
For most in America’s industry, discussing our core governance problem is rare. Hence, my research concludes that transit’s caretaker agencies that continue on from the 1970s do not have the authority and accountability to update central stations and trains today. In brief, they have no deal to serve passengers or taxpayers. Discussing new agencies — or their deal — is rarer still… even as the need becomes more obvious. This is the core purpose of “WST.”
This website derives sustained inspiration from a major shift started by The Eno/Transit Center joint study released in 2014, “Getting To The Route of It: The Role Of Governance In Regional Transit”. Eno’s role as a multi-modal think tank and executive trainer would not allow its study’s next logical step: to prescribe regional rail restructuring. Hence, another “WST” purpose emerged: a forum to discuss frankly how regional transportation policies need to be shaped by suitable agencies for the sustainable era.
Sometimes with subtlety, I make that point when introducing this website’s fourteen chapters (see Table of Contents on the right) covering twelve metropolitan systems. The Overview, “What Is To Be Done?,” is my political treatise and summary prescription for each metro. (The Quiz serves a similar purpose.)
Finally, I view “WST” as the middle generation of a ten year project. The first generation is my series of eight articles finished in 2014 in “The Urbanophile” that Aaron Renn, very graciously, has spared from his achival winnowing. Scoring the nation’s busiest stations, most articles had very similar problems emerge: updates were failing because authority was misaligned.
As the second generation, “WST” started as previews of chapters that, ultimately, would propose governance solutions specific to the individual metro. When concluding those previews for how stations can improve metropolitan networks, this site will sketch how a national policy and standard can emerge.
Starting in 2019, a third generation will start; aimed at two goals. First, produce full-length chapters that detail the seven Previews and their proposals to produce, eventually, a more permanent report or an e-book. Second, analogies will be drawn to European successes in each chapter. While Americans live under different laws and need to learn how to evolve them to develop adequate alternatives to the single occupant commute, Europe can helps show us the way… and they are our chief competitors as global cities.
While this website starts out on the WordPress platform, “WST” is not a blog. This website is a strategic effort to synthesize research to transform a key regional service that, frankly, needs lots of guidance if it is ever to transform auto-dominated policies and encourage auto-alternatives. I have spent much of my retirement extrapolating how a central station update poses an opportunity to find strategic answers to regional transportation. Please find it useful.
The Symbolic Header On “WST” Pages
Consider this header to be a train station triptych that tells the story of what this website does: it informs about the obstacles to regional rail, it proposes solutions and, then as a collegial as we can, discusses options for getting things done.
On the triptych’s left is the Information Booth at LA’s Union Station, a gem that gives directions to a larger gem. When I took this photo, no one was giving directions and that seems a good metaphor for commuter trains and “WST.” LAUS was built as one of three great buildings in which civic leaders seemed to say: “We are going to build a great city.” Unfortunately, LA got in biggest and earliest with transportation’s Faustian Pact with the auto. While LAUS has one of the better chances of being updated and becoming a through-station, regional LA train travel has flat-lined relative to population growth. This type of Information questions why the LA Transit Renaissance is spending so much per rider. From key pieces of Information emerges new analyses and “WST,” then, proposes a more effective strategy — or deal — to reduce congestion and transportation costs.
The triptych’s middle photo symbolizes that Americans can update commuter rail. I selected a rendering from Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station’s plans to build a new neighborhood around the only major American station that has the intersection of two directional through-routes; much like the best in Europe and Asia. SEPTA’s commuter lines at the upper level (behind the view of this photo-shop) are an east-west through-route to two downtown stations, Suburban and Jefferson. The steps leading down go to 30th Street’s lower level platforms and Amtrak’s north-south through-route. In the small service details, SEPTA and 30th Street are far behind Europe’s standard; but at least Philly has good enough bones to speed-up transportation’s transformation.
Finally, that’s me on the triptych’s right. My wife doesn’t like the photo saying: “It makes you look like an old transit geek.” To my credit, my wife received the primary fringe benefit of being married to a transit geek: while I have studied over 112 train stations on-site since 2010, the three dozen I dragged her through were mostly the finest Europe had on offer. Free tour and selective commentary. What a swell guy.
If you have not already claimed your free subscription, please do so now. Previews of chapters are posted roughly every other month through Summer 2018. After that, we start sketching proposals for federal intervention to help metros govern their transportation. As supports that goal, metropolitan central stations will have detailed chapters posted.
Make Progress, One Comment At A Time
I like being in the western world’s rather specialized network of transit researchers and writers. Many solutions proposed on this site are first-cuts at dealing with the reality of poor, if not backward, governance. By definition, “backward” resists progress. But as a community of transit experts, we can still can make progress with exacting proposals that question existing assumptions and agencies that are not moving us forward. Constructive Comments also improve our chances. So, please give me your Comments at any time.