Transit Oriented Development and an Albany BART Station
Future BART infill stations must be in locations where development is already dense or opportunities exist for transit oriented development. An Albany Infill BART Station fulfills both of these requirements. Such a station, in correlation with a rigorous policy of dense development, would create a livable, walkable community in central Albany. This new outlook on infill BART stations, combining transit and land use decisions, would be a huge change for BART and would set a great example for future BART stations.
Albany is unique in its relationship to the BART system. It is a small, relatively dense town that BART passes through without stopping on an elevated guideway. North Berkeley and El Cerrito Plaza Stations are fairly close to Albany’s borders but from central Albany and Solano Avenue, either station is a 20 minute walk. Solano Avenue represents a significant draw for BART patrons due to its pedestrian scale and variety of boutique shops and hosts frequent AC Transit bus service from Line 18. These two considerations already make Albany an attractive location for an infill station. If the City of Albany puts together a package of zoning changes, developer incentives, and a removal of the parking requirement around the future BART station the package would be complete and an infill station would be worth its cost, likely around 150 million dollars.
The development changes I have highlighted on the map above are mostly centered around increasing residential density, while retaining mixed use growth patterns around Solano Avenue and immediately adjacent to the two station entrances. Essential life services like dry cleaning, grocery and childcare should be included in the development. Other retail and some office space could easily be included on the relatively tall buildings noted in pink. Albany could add over 2,000 units of housing in the area of this new station with the density and height limits I propose here.
Also important is station access for pedestrians. Nearly all of the City of Albany is within a 10 minute walk of this proposed station, parking is not included at all in my vision of this project, and bus service will be provided at Solano and Masonic Avenue, nearly 200 feet from the entrances, so pedestrians and cyclists are the only customers designers need to consider when completing a plan for the Albany Station. In the triangular strip of land around the north entrance to the station, a large pedestrian plaza could be encircled by the high density development I call for there. This entrance would open up to Key Route Boulevard where bicycle parking facilities could be included on the wide median and new bike lanes could be striped all the way to El Cerrito. Sidewalks on Key Route, Masonic and Solano could be widened to 15-20 feet in order to handle increased foot traffic.
Obviously the construction of 7 to 10 story towers in a neighborhood of largely single occupancy homes will stir up controversy. Residents will worry about increased traffic congestion, building shadows and demolition of homes to make way for more dense development. Arlington County, Virginia’s Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor is an ideal example of how to integrate high density, high rise development into a neighborhood of detached homes. Like on my map, Arlington’s tallest buildings are within 500 feet of Washington Metro station exits. From there, buildings dramatically decrease in height until 1500-2000 feet away from a station entrance, low rise homes are again the predominant building class. For the Albany Station, I have included a similar pattern, limiting very tall buildings to Solano Avenue and a revamped Key Route Boulevard. Surrounding these tall buildings would be smaller 3-4 story residential buildings followed immediately by a return to the single occupancy home building stock. Such a development pattern would better integrate the new development into the city’s urban fabric and give Albany’s brand new skyline a more unified look and feel. Traffic congestion will be a non-issue for this new station due to a lack of parking and dramatically reduced (or eliminated) parking requirements for new development around the station. That said, Albany must carry out improvements in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure if this station is built.
Done right, Albany BART could become the center of a new downtown for Albany. Thousands of new residents and a large increase in commercial space, all within a five minute walk of rapid transit service to San Francisco, will help Albany’s tax revenue to continue to grow and allow the city of 18,000 to occupy a more prominent role in the San Francisco Bay Area. I hope to see serious consideration of an Albany BART station in my lifetime, along with an equally serious proposal to accompany the station with very dense development. It also wouldn’t hurt to finally have a hometown BART station for me.