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New $50 million center puts focus on movement

Visitors who first enter the Regional Transit Service’s new downtown transit center on its opening day— Black Friday—may notice a feeling of movement.

The $50 million center, which spans an entire block between North Clinton Avenue and St. Paul Street, is built to create a feeling of flow, from artwork on floors and walls made to replicate the movement of waves to the design of the floor.

“The whole concept behind the transit center was to recognize that it’s all about movement,” said Mark Ballerstein, director of engineering for Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority. “It’s about movement of customers and buses, so when you look at the facility its shape and form has a moving feeling.”

Groundbreaking for the facility took place on Nov. 20, 2012. The $50 million cost was funded by the Federal Transportation Administration, 80 percent; the state Department of Transportation, 10 percent, and RGRTA, 10 percent.

The emphasis on movement goes beyond aesthetics. The center is built with efficiency in mind, with functions to keep buses and riders moving quickly and easily throughout the day. With the center expected to play host to up to 20,000 riders each day, the emphasis is an important one.

The features of the center build on this idea, said Daniele Coll-Gonzalez, RGRTA chief operating officer.

“The center is not designed for a long stay, it’s designed for purposeful movement and being able to navigate, transfer and connect quickly,” she said. “The whole idea is to improve the customer experience with public transportation, and the transit center opening will allow us to improve the entire experience beyond just the walls of the center itself.”

The facility signals a transformation of public transportation in Rochester, officials say, and includes an improved route system and more communications options for customers.

Riders who once had to trek across downtown when transferring buses, braving the weather, are now able to do so all in one place, Coll-Gonzalez said. And the center is designed for the easiest possible experience.

Buses enter the center into two enclosed busways, one at each side of the center. Riders board their buses through one of 26 gates, each displayed with large numbers both above the gate on the wall and also closer to the door.

“We make each gate so it’s easy to identify,” Coll-Gonzalez said.

There is plenty of information available for riders who need to find out which bus to board or when their bus will arrive. In the center of the building is a large customer service booth with a large screen that scrolls with bus arrival times, which are updated constantly to show the true arrival time for the buses.

Underneath the display is another screen with touch-screen functions so riders can plan their trips, entering in their destination and seeing a detailed map and schedule of what buses they need to board and when. The touchscreen also has a function that lowers the controls for ease of use for individuals in wheelchairs.

At the customer service booth, riders can ask questions about bus routes and buy bus passes at an automated booth. There will be instructions on how to buy tickets and load bikes onto the front frame of the bus, as well as information on upcoming events and weather forecasts.

This ease of use can be seen throughout the center. It has four telephones where visually impaired can listen to information about bus arrival times and schedules, and a public address system also gives out gate information or other announcements.

The center is to have a tactile floor plan where the visually impaired can touch a large scale map of the concourse and identify where each gate is, though Ballerstein said it is not in place yet.

Other amenities include vending machines with both drinks and snacks and restrooms for men and women equipped with more stalls than building codes had called for.

“This is going to be some of the only public bathrooms downtown, so we know there will be a high demand for those,” Ballerstein said.

The center even added a family restroom for individuals with special needs, which he said went beyond building requirements as well.

Safety is a top priority. On a floor above the center sits a security room, where security personnel can keep watch over riders and view video from the dozens of cameras. Security guards also will be stationed inside the center.

In the busway, the curb is marked with bright yellow paint to make it stand out more for the visually impaired, Ballerstein noted, and ropes are kept up when buses are not boarding to keep riders from finding their way into the bus lanes.

RTS also has gone to great lengths to ensure riders are comfortable during their time in the transit center, officials said.

“We have an elaborate system designed to take diesel fumes from the busway and pump in fresh air,” Ballerstein said. “There is also a system that kicks in if those fumes were to come inside the concourse, and it automatically starts a fan to pick that up.

“We’re keeping the concourse under positive pressure, so when a door is open it flows from inside the busway.”

The concourse has a radiant heating system built into the floor, which keeps customers warm in the winter months and helps to dry the floor. It is even designed to muffle loud noises, Ballerstein said.

“We went to great lengths to have acoustic-absorbing materials so it’s not too difficult to hear the announcements,” he said.

RTS officials want to bring customers in early to experience it for themselves. At its opening, RTS is planning to have extra employees who will help riders find their way to the right bus and point out other features, such as a flowing structure next to the bathroom doors that serves as a bike rack for individuals using the restroom.

“We know it’s a challenge for many of them today to catch their connections, and we want to promote this center to people so they can learn the new system and see the center in action,” Coll-Gonzalez said.

RTS has planned a more practical way to get people in the door, she added. Customers who pick up or transfer at the station will ride for free through the end of the year.

11/21/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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