Transit Hub Design Adds Value to Campus Garages
By Ian A. Nestler
As rising land costs make surface parking less feasible on growing campuses, the resulting increase in parking garages is creating a range of opportunities for colleges and universities to generate non-parking revenue, improve air quality, reduce on-campus traffic and centralize some student services.
Adding a central transit hub to the design mix can enhance those benefits. The hub garage typically provides facilities to accommodate such secondary transportation elements as local and rapid transit buses, bikes, intra-campus trams or trolleys, and in highly dense urban areas, light rail.
Extra pedestrian traffic produced at the garage by these transit elements makes the ground level an ideal place for non-parking uses, such as food services and retail. These uses can produce revenue for the school through rental fees or profit-sharing.
Further, the ground floor can economically house such uses as classrooms, study/gathering spaces, security facilities, health clinics, gymnasiums and more. Ground-floor mixed uses also soften the curbside aesthetics of large garage structures, reducing perceived massing and animating the pedestrian experience.
Facilities needed to support transit hubs are usually fairly straightforward. Garage design must incorporate large turning radiuses for buses and adequate space for queuing. Serrated curb areas are needed for bus “stacking,” ideally located immediately inside a ground-level garage entrance. If that’s not possible, stacking should occur off-street with a covered platform for drop-off/pick-up.
Covered space for tram/trolley embark/disembark should be adjacent to bus stacking. These intra-campus vehicles help compensate for the loss of convenience that surface parking usually provides. Drop-off/pick-up platforms are perfect spots for a coffee shop or convenience venue.
The first step in transit hub garage design is to get all relevant stakeholders on board. Depending on routes and connection destinations, this might include the state transportation department, local transit authority, airport authority and metro district authority, as well as the college/university’s administration and its departments of parking, transportation and facilities.
A transit hub garage is ideally located on the campus perimeter to give cars and buses quick access from arterial roads. This reserves the heart of campus for pedestrians and trams or trolleys. Once the location is determined, a roadways study is conducted to determine additional needs for signage, lighting, curb cuts, pedestrian walkways and bridges, and possibly reconfiguration of access roads and intersection signals.
If the garage “blind side” (no entry/exit) is immediately adjacent to a major public thoroughfare, it is wise when feasible to design a wide set-back from the roadway so that passersby do not view the garage as a defining characteristic of the campus. A linear building for classrooms or office can be developed in the setback to camouflage the garage massing.
However, transit hub garage exterior design should certainly be nothing to hide. Indeed, due to its typical size, it is essential that it be aesthetically integrated with adjacent campus architecture. In many cases, such as these two transit hub garages that the PGAL firm designed recently in Florida, the garage serves as a campus landmark feature:
• The University of Central Florida Libra Garage (Orlando) provides a hub for vehicular access and pedestrian circulation to the adjacent Academic Village − student housing, a recreational/wellness complex and the campus’ academic core. Designed to integrate intermodal transit elements, the garage provides 1,037 parking spaces, a dedicated bus and tram plaza, bike lanes, walkways and drop-off areas. Completed in late 2013, the garage was a Design/Build project (PGAL and contractor James A. Cummings).
Its contemporary design employs simple, elegant lines, rather than costly ornamentation. The structure was oriented to conform to adjacent Libra Drive and to allow for future expansion of this artery into campus. The project included a vehicle/bus/pedestrian connector that is now a central campus entrance. Libra Drive was widened to maximize traffic flow.
Features include a six-level façade, with integrated horizontal and vertical fins shaped to reduce the mass of the building, a stepped plan to follow the curved constraints of the site, and a mixture of Bahama shutters over precast fenestrations with a residential articulation. Two landmark-style vertical circulation towers topped with sloped metal roofs are sited at each end on the campus-side of the garage, providing visual cues externally and internally for easy circulation. Open decorative stairs and glass-backed elevators are aesthetically appealing, while also enhancing security.
• Opened earlier this year, the Florida International University (FIU) Parking Garage 6 (Miami) is a 7-story complex with 2,100 parking spaces and an intermodal center for local and rapid transit buses. Local buses link FIU to residential suburbs. Express buses link it to downtown Miami, Miami International Airport and the Miami Intermodal Center, a $2 billion ground transportation hub being built near Miami International Airport by the Florida Department of Transportation.
More than 2,000LF of campus loop road expansion in front of the garage provided additional lanes and signalization, a turning circle, and main entrance traffic improvements. Off-site improvements included a two-lane roundabout to serve as a primary campus entrance. Signalization was used to create a friendlier pedestrian corridor from transit and parking facilities to the campus core.
The ground level has 51,500 square feet of retail/auxiliary space, including a retail gym and optical shop, a central multipurpose mall-style corridor, covered outdoor food kiosk, and shell space for a dry cleaner, pharmacy, business office, nutrition store and a special-needs daycare center. It also includes five classrooms, a computer sciences training lab and meeting/conference rooms. A glass-enclosed pedestrian bridge delivers users from the garage’s second level, over a busy street, to the campus.
Exterior design was keyed to reduce perceived massing and complement FIU’s overall architectural fabric. Examples include layering of architectural precast panels on the façade, reveals and raised architectural banding, arched entries, glass and aluminum walls, contemporary urban finishes and signage, and a serpentine, covered walkway. Stair and elevator cores have a concrete, metal and glass exterior with a flat roof and parapet.
The transit hub concept has been shown to reduce commuter fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, campus traffic, and the demand for costly future campus parking facilities. It’s a satisfying solution for all stakeholders.
Ian A. Nestler, AIA, is Managing Principal in the Boca Raton, FL, office of PGAL, a national architectural/engineering firm based in Houston. Contact him at email@example.com.