The most successful transit-oriented development (TOD) projects generate private investment in capital projects that are well in excess of the public investment in the transportation component. Recently, a public-private partnership led by Amtrak, Brandywine Realty Trust, Drexel University, and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) initiated development of a comprehensive district plan for a 215-acre area around Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, creating an unprecedented opportunity for future development around this landmark station on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor that is also used by SEPTA and NJ Transit. The principals envision the monumental 80-year-old rail station as an intermodal transportation hub and the center of an environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable urban community.
In May 2014, the project principals selected a multidisciplinary team led by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), in association with Parsons Brinckerhoff, OLIN, and HR&A Advisors (HR&A), to develop the Philadelphia 30th Street Station District Plan.
In its vision, scope, and broad public-private involvement, the 30th Street Station district plan is more than a TOD project. Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station is conceived as a gateway to the Northeast Corridor for the 12,500 passengers who board and alight Amtrak trains there each day; as an iconic destination for travelers, visitors, and members of the community; and as the “front door” for Drexel University’s main campus and Brandywine Realty Trust’s Cira Centre residential and office complex, along with the large commercial and institutional cluster in University City.
An improved passenger, driver, pedestrian, and cyclist environment in the area will provide cohesion and create space for Drexel’s new and expanded buildings. Through bold development, an activated public realm, and an expanded transit network, the district plan will create a viable framework for Philadelphia’s next great neighborhood.
Toward this end, the district plan, which is expected to take two years to complete, is being guided by a coordinating committee comprising Amtrak, Brandywine Realty Trust, Drexel University, SEPTA, City of Philadelphia, CSX Corporation, NJ TRANSIT, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, Schuylkill River Development Corporation, University City District, and University of Pennsylvania. Together, the coordinating committee will build on existing planning efforts to jointly create a single, integrated, and inspirational vision for the 30th Street Station District.
The SOM team has begun examining the components of the district plan through two lenses: intermodal transportation planning and commercial and economic growth opportunities, including the potential redevelopment of the 30th Street Station building and its adjacent 85 acres of rail yards.
Strengthening intermodal transportation
Transportation planning will focus on making 30th Street Station serve more people in better ways through connectivity, including intermodal connections, pedestrian access, and stronger ties between land use and transportation.
The project team is examining how each transportation mode passing through the district contributes currently and might contribute toward strengthening this area as an intermodal transportation hub:
- passenger rail and mass transit modes — SEPTA services, i.e., regional rail, subway, trolley, and bus; Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor passenger rail services; and NJ TRANSIT’s Atlantic City rail services;
- freight rail;
- curbside inter-city bus lines, notably Megabus and BoltBus;
- the street network throughout the district;
- the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76), which passes directly adjacent to 30th Street Station in a subsurface cut, and is the primary western arterial into and out of Philadelphia; and
- bicycle and pedestrian travel.
Given the regional trend of declining automobile use, and an increased preference for alternative modes of transportation, the planners are looking, in particular, at enhancing the transit and pedestrian environment of the district.
The planning team will account for and balance all of these modes in a way that supports strong TOD now and into the future based on transportation data for the 2040 project horizon. For example, at an average 12,500 passengers per weekday, or more than 4 million per year, 30th Street Station currently is the third busiest station in Amtrak’s national rail network. The number is expected to increase to about 46,000 daily passengers by 2040.
In addition, 30th Street Station currently serves 25,000 SEPTA regional rail and 1,160 NJ Transit Atlantic City Rail Line passenger trips each day, and the number of SEPTA trips is expected to approximately double by 2040.
Optimizing commercial and economic growth
To create an environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable community, the project team will also consider opportunities to attract and retain established and new businesses, including start-ups, workers, residents, and visitors.
The capacity of 30th Street Station to serve increasing numbers of passengers, both locally and regionally, is fundamental for enhancing development opportunities and providing incentive for further growth in the district and citywide.
As Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and its adjacent 85 acres of rail yards comprise one of the largest holdings in Amtrak’s national network, the project team will seek to map potential redevelopment opportunities to create the highest and best use. Among other issues, the project team will focus on preserving this National Historic Landmark and adapting it for the needs of the future; strengthening the connections between the perimeter of the building and the city; and potential at-grade and air-rights redevelopment of the Amtrak and SEPTA rail yards.
As part of this process, the team will consider a wide range of commercial opportunities, including a new vision for retail spaces within the station and the potential ground-level and air-rights redevelopment of the adjacent rail yards. The team will develop these ideas in coordination with planning and development of Drexel’s “Innovation Neighborhood,” a mixed-use urban development project strategically located between 30th Street Station and Drexel’s primary campus.
Drexel University issued a Request for Proposals for a master developer of the Innovation Neighborhood in September 2014 and expects to name the master developer in 2015.
For each of the three major components of the district plan, the principals and stakeholders are providing guidance to the SOM team. In turn, the project team is involving a broad group of residential, commercial, and institutional stakeholders in University City and reaching out into the larger community in West Philadelphia and Center City in the process of building the foundation for much more than a TOD — a robust, sustainable community for this century and beyond.
Kristopher Takacs is associate director of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP in New York City. Peter Denitz is a vice president and senior professional associate in planning for Parsons Brinckerhoff, based in Philadelphia.