Station Location and Parking Supply Planning for Passenger Rail Lines

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1 Station Location and Parking Supply Planning for Passenger Rail Lines Author: Scott A. Burger, PE, PTOE Co-Author: Bill Byrne, PE Abstract In Denver, Colorado, the Regional Transportation District s (RTD) FasTracks program proposes 122 miles of new passenger rail lines, 57 stations and 21,000 parking spaces. David Evans and Associates has played a key role in the planning and design of several corridors, including station planning for the 18-mile North Metro Corridor. Good station planning is essential to maximize new rail line ridership and to help provide the right amount of parking at stations along the line. Typical planning elements include: Determine Station Locations: Select the number of stations using technologydependent spacing guidelines and qualitative community factors. Land availability, highway access, proximity to key land uses, shared parking possibilities and transitoriented development (TOD) potential are key considerations. Parking Supply: Obtain parking demand input from a travel demand model. Establish the required overall corridor parking supply, considering factors such as the capital construction budget, expected passenger trip types and station access modes. Determine the parking distribution across the stations. Provide larger lots towards the end of the line. Assess Traffic Impacts: Determine trip production rates for parking spaces, preferably from local experience. Define traffic impact guidelines, in conjunction with affected agencies. Select intersections in close proximity to the station areas to assess traffic operations and identify needed improvements. As an effort to gain more insight into the factors that influence user decisions regarding what station and parking locations to use, park-and-ride operations at selected existing rail stations will be reviewed and refinements to the traditional planning process will be suggested. Introduction There has been a long and varied passenger rail history in the Denver metro area. At its peak in the 1920 s, the Denver area had about 300 miles of metropolitan passenger rail. By 1951 there was none. In 1995, a new era of passenger rail began in Denver when RTD opened a 5.3 mile light rail line. Since then, RTD has added four more light rail lines, for a current total route length of 35 miles. Some observations regarding existing light rail operations will be made, with input from station usage data. The agency s experience with the development and operation of existing passenger rail lines has impacted the planning for proposed new ones. The planning process for one of the proposed new lines, the North Metro Corridor, will be discussed. This station planning effort took advantage of the lessons learned from both of the existing suburban light rail lines in the Denver metro area. A map showing Denver s existing light rail lines and the transit additions that are proposed as part of the FasTracks program is provided on the next page. 1

2 Existing: 35 miles of light rail with 11,269 parking spaces at light rail stations and 15,384 parking spaces at bus-only park-and-rides. Proposed: 122 miles of new commuter rail and light rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit, 21,000 new parking spaces at light rail and bus stations. 2

3 Light Rail Service Observations The Southwest Corridor opened in 2000 as RTD s first major suburban rail line. Ridership exceeded expectations from the day service began. Recent data shows that the park-n-rides are essentially full on a typical weekday. RTD was criticized for not providing enough parking. The Southeast Corridor opened in 2006, with substantially more parking spaces than the Southwest Corridor. Recent data shows that the park-n- Rides serving the Southwest Corridor are approximately 62% full on a typical weekday. Corridor Period Parking Supply Total Boardings Boardings per Parking Space Southwest Actual, Fall ,597 9, Southeast Actual, Fall ,344 18, It is good practice to periodically observe the performance of existing transit lines. RTD does this on a regular basis, primarily in order to adjust bus and light rail services and schedules. While it is not feasible to adjust the alignment of an existing rail line or move parking spaces from one station to another, assessment of in-service conditions can be used to improve the planning process for corridors both regionally and nationally. As part of this on-going effort, RTD conducted a license-plate survey at all 71 of their parkn-ride facilities in the fall of The Southeast Corridor The Southeast Corridor is RTD s longest and most recently added light rail line. When it opened in 2006, there were four rail lines operating in this corridor. E Line: Runs between Lincoln Avenue Station and Union Station F Line: Runs between Lincoln Avenue Station and Downtown Denver G Line: Ran between Lincoln Avenue Station and Nine Mile (I-225 / Parker) Station. This suburb suburb service was eliminated due to low ridership. H Line: Runs between Nine Mile Station and Downtown Denver 3

4 The chart below shows parking supply, parking occupancy and boarding data for each of the corridor stations. All statistics are from fall Station Name Parking Supply Occupancy % Total Boardings Boardings per Parking Space Along I-225 Nine Mile (end of line) 1, % 3, Dayton % Along I-25 Louisiana-Pearl NA NA 688 NA University of Denver % 1, Colorado % 2, Yale % Southmoor % 2, Belleview % Orchard % Arapahoe at Village Center 1,585 25% 1, Dry Creek % 1, County Line % Lincoln (end of line) 1,734 49% 2, Totals 7,344 61% 18, Observations The Nine Mile Station has a large transit catchment area to the north and east. Ridership from park-n-ride users is augmented by drive with drop-off access (kissn-ride) and bus access. Also, this is an end-of-line station serving an area with relatively indirect highway access to central Denver. Morning boardings at the Southmoor Station are almost evenly split between southbound riders to the Denver Tech Center and northbound riders to Downtown. The Belleview and Orchard stations are in the Denver Tech Center. The high ratio of boardings to parking spaces is due to work access trips and some residential transitoriented developments (TODs) that were developed along the rail line. A discussion regarding park-n-ride user catchment area and user characteristics is provided for the following two stations: The Arapahoe at Village Center station was chosen for a discussion regarding its catchment area and user characteristics due to its low utilization and location near the southern end of the line. The I-25 & Broadway station was chosen due to its high utilization, interesting dispersion of patrons from all along the Southeast and Southwest corridor light rail lines, and its location at the northern end of the Southeast corridor. 4

5 Arapahoe at Village Center: License-plate survey results Drive Distance Percent Less than ½ mile (typical walk distance) 2.4% ½ mile - 2 miles (typical bike catchment) 20.7% 2-5 miles (typical driveshed catchment) 27.6% 5 10 miles 33.0% miles 11.6% Greater than 20 miles 4.8% Total Origins 100.0% The Arapahoe at Village Center park-n-ride, which has almost 1,600 spaces, has a very low utilization rate of 25%. The 250 surface spaces get relatively high utilization. As compared to the structured parking, the surface spaces are closer to the light rail boarding platforms, and patrons can park in them more quickly. Surface parking patrons walk at least 500 feet, including a climb up and over I-25 on a pedestrian overpass, to get to the station. Parking structure patrons have to walk about an additional 500 feet. This park-n-ride attracts users from east and west along Arapahoe Road, but not many from northbound I-25. Only about 15% of the trips came from more than 10 miles away. Auto access to the park-n-ride is difficult as well. From the west, users turn left from Arapahoe Road onto Yosemite Street, cross over the top of the station after about onethird of a mile, and continue another ¼ mile to a signalized left turn into the park-n-ride. From the east, the most direct route is about ¾ mile long, traveling on Boston Street and Caley Avenue. The access routes are not very straight-forward and there are no signs directing potential patrons along Arapahoe Road to the park-n-ride. Transit cost: Transit time to Downtown Denver: Peak period headway range: $6.50 round-trip 32 minutes 5 15 minutes 5

6 I-25 & Broadway: License-plate survey results Drive Distance Percent Less than ½ mile (typical walk distance) 0.4% ½ mile - 2 miles (typical bike catchment) 7.2% 2-5 miles (typical driveshed catchment) 18.3% 5 10 miles 23.3% miles 40.8% Greater than 20 miles 10.0% Total Origins 100.0% I-25 & Broadway is the first station north of the Southeast Corridor. The station opened in 1995 as part of the original Central Corridor line and a park-n-ride was provided to allow auto access to the new line. This park-n-ride has about 1,250 spaces and a relatively high utilization rate of about 80%. The park-n-ride attracts users from all over the southern metro area, including large amounts of users who live along the Southeast and Southwest Corridors. Over 50% of the trips came from more than 10 miles away. Auto access to the park-n-ride is relatively easy from Broadway, the major north-south arterial street serving the area. Access from Santa Fe - which parallels the Southwest Corridor - and access from I-25 are both reasonably direct. Five lines converge on this station, making the service toward downtown Denver very frequent. It is a 10 mile drive along I-25 from Arapahoe Road to the I-25 & Broadway Station. Transit cost: $4.50 round-trip Transit time to Downtown Denver: 12 minutes Auto Travel time, Arapahoe Road to I-25 / Broadway: 15 minutes (approximate) Peak period headway range: 2 8 minutes 6

7 The transit cost from the I-25 & Broadway Station is lower, the overall travel time and average wait times are less, and auto access is more straight-forward than at the Arapahoe at Village Center park-n-ride. Looking at stations further south, the round trip cost from the Lincoln Avenue Station (49% utilization) and the County Line Station (15% utilization) is $ The round trip cost from the Dry Creek Station (100% utilization) is $6.50. It does not support the value of the transit investment or maximize the reduction of auto vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) when large numbers of transit users drive for miles on roads paralleling light rail lines they will eventually board. The FasTracks program In 1997, RTD put a large transit expansion program called Guide the Ride up for public vote. In exchange for an increase of the RTD sales tax from 0.6% to 1.0%, RTD promised to build out an extensive passenger rail network. Guide the Ride suffered from its size and vagueness. Several corridors, especially in the north and west, were offered undefined benefits subject to future studies. The vote failed by a 58% 42% margin. To address these concerns, RTD embarked on a series of studies that helped identify travel corridors where high capacity transit might be warranted. As an example, the North Metro Transportation Study (MIS) was completed in In preparation for a planned public vote in 2004, further definition was added to the proposed FasTracks program in the areas of technology, corridor limits and capital costs. With strong support from the Metro Mayors Caucus, comprised of the mayors of 31 metro area jurisdictions, the proposal to increase the RTD sales tax from 0.6% to 1.0% passed. The vote authorized a funding stream to pay for the proposed corridor improvements. In addition to these studies, the Three Corridors Study was conducted in 2005 to address additional technical and engineering questions. The outcome of these system planning processes fed into the North Metro Corridor Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Basic Engineering (DEIS / BE) project, which commenced in Station Planning Process The North Metro DEIS / BE study employed a multi-stage screening process to consider a range of transit technology and alignment options. During the first two screening phases, it was determined the corridor would utilize either Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) or Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) commuter rail technology on an alignment that primarily traveled along existing freight rail tracks. The station evaluation process started in parallel with the Level 3 alignment and technology evaluation. The number of stations was determined from technology-dependent spacing guidelines, qualitative community factors and input from previous studies. Commuter rail systems generally have more distance between stations than other rail transit modes. This led to the establishment of eight station target areas, as shown in the figure on the following page. Each target area contained a number of potential station locations. A multi-level screening process was conducted for the station site options within each station target area. The number of station options was as follows: Level 1 (47); Level 2 (36); Level 3 (35) (some were added during Level 2); End of Level 3 (18). The remaining options were advanced for detailed analysis of parking supply, station site plans and traffic impacts in the DEIS. 7

8 Station Locations: The identification of station locations within each station target area took into account the following factors: Land availability, highway access, proximity to key land uses, shared parking possibilities and transit-oriented development (TOD) potential. Corridor Parking Supply: The station planning for the North Metro Corridor took advantage of the lessons learned from both of the previous transit lines in the Denver area. Many factors were considered when establishing the overall parking supply for the corridor. These included the capital construction budget, expected passenger trip types and station access modes. There are many ways to access a passenger rail station, including: Drive and park (park-n-ride); Drive with drop-off (kiss-n-ride); Walk; Bike; Transfer from Bus; Transfer from Passenger Rail. In densely developed urban locations, many trip originations and destinations will be within close walking distance and there is little space for large parking lots. In suburban locations, there are few originations and destinations within close walking distance, auto travel is the predominant mode, and there is more space for large parking lots. A detailed analysis was done for the North Metro Corridor using a travel demand model (original model) that projected about 7,000 daily boardings with a corridor parking control total of about 4,000 parking spaces in The boardings per parking space are much lower than on the existing suburban light rail corridors. This is explained by the commuter-rail nature of the service, which is more oriented to peak direction commuting, and the lower density nature of the areas served. During the course of this initial analysis, the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) updated the regional travel demand model (revised model). Among other changes, it included denser projected land-use assumptions near transit lines, which resulted in significantly higher ridership projections. At the request of the local governments and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), a complete re-assessment was done, with revised parking supply totals, station layouts and parking impact assessment. As shown in the following chart, projected 2035 ridership nearly doubled and the parking supply more than doubled. The following chart shows corridor-wide totals for the proposed line. 8

9 Corridor Period Parking Supply Total Boardings Boardings per Parking Space North Metro Original Model ,100 3, Original Model ,970 6, Revised Model ,105 6, Revised Model ,440 12, Parking Distribution among Stations: The travel demand model provides important input, including projected boarding at each station. The model provides a breakdown of these total boardings by access mode. As shown in the following chart, the projected demands were grouped into three multi-station segments. Station Location By Station 9 Year 2035 Parking Spaces Demand By Segment National Western Stock Show nd Avenue th Avenue 1,280 1, th Avenue 2,330 4,120 1, th Avenue 510 1, th Avenue / Eastlake th Avenue 910 3, SH7 / 162 nd Avenue 1,930 2,460 Supply By By Station Segment Total 8,440 8, ,160 3,790 Although the number of parking spaces at individual stations varied appreciably from the model projections, efforts were made to match the proposed and model-projected demand within each segment. A dramatic parking shift occurred between the initial (2008) and final (2010) studies at two stations where an interesting rail / highway route choice exists. From the town of Brighton area, the comparison is as follows: SH 7 / 162 nd Avenue station (end-of-line): This is the closest station to Brighton, located six miles directly to the west. 18 miles by rail to Downtown Denver. 855 spaces (2008 study) to 2,460 spaces (2010 study). 72 nd Avenue station: About 13 miles by car from Brighton on a pair of high speed highways, US 85 and I-76. Six miles by rail to Downtown Denver. 775 spaces (2008 study) to 330 spaces (2010 study). Analogous to the I-25 & Broadway Station. In the initial 2008 study, the spaces at these two stations were almost equal. In the final 2010 study, there were over seven times as many at the end of the line. While this shift

10 was impacted somewhat by land availability, the primary rationale was to help support the value of the transit investment and maximize the reduction of auto vehicle-milestraveled (VMT). Assess Traffic Impacts: Trip production rates for parking spaces were determined from local data. Program-wide traffic impact guideline criteria were established for FasTracks. As a starting basis, major signalized intersections were evaluated within a quarter-mile drive distance of the parking area boundary. Background volumes were determined based on the regional travel demand model for the opening (2020) and horizon (2035) years. Roadway improvement plans were researched to determine future additions to the existing roadway network. In order to determine station-added trips, the trip production associated with each proposed station s parking supply was calculated and the distribution of the trips through the external intersections at the edges of the station study area was determined. Two methods were used to assess the distribution. The final trip distribution utilized a combination of the two methods. The DRCOG / RTD Travel Demand Model provides a summary of the distribution of trips that are attracted from each traffic analysis zone (TAZ) to each station area. The trips for each TAZ to station area origin-destination (O-D) pair were assigned to a route to determine the trip distribution for the station. A projected station catchment area approach was also used to determine the distribution of the station-related trips. An overall rail transit catchment area for the North Metro Corridor was determined using general travel time / distance comparisons. The catchment area TAZ s were then assigned to the different North Metro stations and routes were determined in a similar fashion to the first method. The total traffic volume was determined as the background traffic volume plus the station-added traffic volume. The total traffic volumes were applied to the No Action network to determine the Action alternative intersection delays and level-of-service (LOS). The change from No Action to Action was checked against the impact criteria. If the increase exceeded the criteria, then mitigation measure(s) were identified to bring the traffic operations back to an acceptable level. At the 104 th Avenue station, the lack of reasonable mitigation measures constrained the proposed 2020 parking supply. Conclusions Increased long-distance passenger rail usage can be achieved to a certain degree in current operations. Fare zones can be adjusted. Infrastructure improvements can be considered to decrease transit travel times. Added street signage can be combined with public information campaigns to heighten public awareness of park-n-ride facilities. It is suggested that these issues be more explicitly considered in future planning efforts. Efforts should be made to minimize the impacts of these issues. If the impacts of these issues can t be minimized at a given station, then the parking supply allocation from the traditional planning process should be reduced accordingly. Scott A. Burger, PE Senior Transportation Engineer William D. Byrne, PE Vice President DEA-Denver Office th Street, Suite 900 Denver, CO

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