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New center features soaring roof lines, natural light

When the downtown RTS Transit Center opens to customers next week, it immediately will become a dynamic new hub for public transit in Rochester.

Spanning an entire city block bounded by Pleasant Street, St. Paul Street, Mortimer Street and South Clinton Avenue, the new building is setting a new standard for customer-focused bus transit. With its soaring roof lines and light-filled interior, the facility includes features found in major metropolitan areas of far larger size. Many are unique to Rochester and combine to create an exciting urban space.

More than 20,000 passengers a day use bus shelters along Main Street in downtown Rochester. Most transfer to other connecting buses, frequently in harsh weather conditions. The new Transit Center will centralize this activity in a state-of-the-art facility. This will move the long lines of buses off Main Street while giving customers a comfortable, beautifully designed space in which to wait for their bus. The 30 bus bays at the center will accommodate up to 100 buses per hour, helping to keep passengers moving along, on time to their destinations.

Plans to build a downtown transit center have been in the works since 1999. The building’s exterior is based upon a concept designed by the Associates, a consortium of four Rochester design firms—Bergmann Associates, DeWolff Partnership Architects LLP, LaBella Associates DPC and SWBR Architecture, Engineering & Landscape Architecture P.C.—all working together to make this important community project a success.

The design-build team of the Pike Co. and Bergmann Associates were selected to develop the design, finalize it and then build the facility, working closely with RTS leadership. The design has emerged as a remarkable new public space in the heart of downtown.

While the outside of the RTS Transit Center is brick, complementing the surrounding historic buildings, the inside is designed around the idea of movement and flow. Perhaps the most striking feature of the 40-foot-tall main concourse is what the Bergmann design team calls “the motion wall.” Stretching high along both sides of the interior, the entire length of the space, strips of multicolored metal alternate with glowing LED strip lighting. The overall effect recalls images of time-lapse photography and objects in motion. The visual effect is dynamic.

The building’s sweeping exterior roof lines allow natural light to flood the customer concourse. At the same time specially shaped suspended ceiling planes echo the roof forms. They contribute to the acoustical performance of this large interior space, which is remarkably good. These ceilings become featured highlights, reflecting LED lighting of constantly changing color along their length.

The flooring of the concourse is highly durable terrazzo. Colors and patterns built into the floor construction reflect the flow of the nearby Genesee River. All of these major design components combine to create a unique experience.

There are 26 gates inside the facility and another four outside on Mortimer Street. Video displays at each gate display the departure times of incoming buses. 

Just outside of the concourse, enclosed busways with their associated loading platforms allow customer access through individually controlled gates. The system used for boarding/de-boarding incorporates automatic swinging doors. When the system detects it is the correct time to allow passengers out onto the platform, the doors will open when customers approach.

The new transit center has 87,000 square feet of space and is designed to serve up to 2,000 people in the concourse. It is fully accessible, incorporating audio assistance devices for the hearing impaired and large-print sign displays for the visually impaired. 

There are two information centers, one at each end of the transit center. Here, state-of-the-art electronic customer information signs track departing buses and are easily visible from a distance. The information desks at these locations have low walls, open to transit customers. No money will be exchanged here. Instead, customers can buy a bus pass from nearby vending machines.

An administration and support annex serves all these spaces and is the “nerve center” of the facility. It includes a security station that monitors security cameras installed throughout the center. Security personnel will have additional responsibilities, maintaining a presence in both customer and bus operations areas.

While there are no shops or food carts inside the concourse, food vending machines are available. Bike lockers and vehicle parking will be available at the adjacent Mortimer Street parking garage.

The new Transit Center may also play a key role in improving the surrounding neighborhood. Resurgent development already is occurring nearby, with major renovation projects at the former National Clothing Store building on East Main Street, the Sibley Building, the Temple Building and the former Rochester Savings Bank; both on Franklin Street. This accompanies an unprecedented level of reinvestment in the Midtown site by multiple developers.

RTS serves more than 17 million customers a year and continues to expand its customer base with new initiatives. Last year RTS had its highest ridership in 20 years, 10 percent higher than the previous year and two and one-half times higher than the national average. On-time performance is the best in its history, and RTS’ commitment to customer satisfaction is creating a broadening base of ridership.

The $50 million RTS Transit Center has been funded by the Federal Transit Administration, 80 percent; the state Department of Transportation, 10 percent; and RTS, 10 percent. The project is on track to have created approximately 745 construction-related and 19 permanent jobs.

With the arrival of this new facility, RTS is taking Rochester’s public transportation service to the next level in terms of providing convenience, comfort and safety for an increasing customer base.

Jim Durfee is vice president and design principal at Bergmann Associates. An architect and past president of American Institute of Architects-Rochester, he can be reached at (585) 232-5135 or at jdurfee@bergmannpc.com.

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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