Saturday, October 25, 2008

If you had $100 million dollars...

In our discussion of how UND might go about expanding its campus in the future, the topic of redeveloping Grand Forks' BNSF railyards came up.  The railroad and railyards cut right through the heart of Grand Forks and occupy a large amount of land located directly between the UND campus and downtown Grand Forks.

Moving the railyards and redeveloping the land might be only a dream...something virtually unattainable...but it is still an idea that really interests me.  If thought about this for years.  I actually see it as sort of a manifest destiny for the city that UND and downtown should grow towards each other and a mixed-use neighborhood should be created between the two areas.  If we could ever accomplish this, we would have one giant, contiguous, commercial/campus/high-density residential area running through the heart of the city.

Below is a map to start the conversation.  The UND campus is outlined in green, downtown is the blue area, the "New Downtown" area that I've previously proposed and that now the city of Grand Forks itself is talking about is shown in orange, and the potential railyard redevelopment area is shown in red.  If you had hundreds of millions of dollars (or whatever sum it would take to magically relocate the railyards somewhere outside of the city, how would you use the old railyard area?  What portion would you devote to future growth for UND?  What types of public facilities would you like to see located in the new development?  What would you want the new developments to look like?  Should such a development be built in the classic grid-style of streets to mimic the older sections of the city?

17 comments:

JWGreen said...

Pipedream, maybe, but Fargo/Moorhead has considered moving some tracks in the past. I think the best option would be to move the tracks around the north end of town, crossing the river near the mill, putting a switch yard there, and then rejoining it with the tracks north and west of the city. This would also eliminate the tracks going north from downtown, which would help when developing the "New Downtown" you mention here.

GrandForksGuy said...

"This would also eliminate the tracks going north from downtown"

Excellent point! I hadn't even thought of that...this idea just keeps getting better...

JWGreen said...

Kinda makes those controvercial overpass projects of the past useless. All that Urban Renewal downtown wouldn't have needed to happen... Just think if we had that part of the old downtown back

GrandForksGuy said...

I was thinking the very same thing about the overpasses...especially Columbia. Imagine if that giant Columbia Road overpass really served no purpose? Funny...

Kim said...

Just curious...While on the subject of rail, why is public rail transportation so expensive? In some cities you can get from one major city to another for around $30 (round trip) In Europe the rail is a very popular mode of transport and families of 5 can travel for around $30 a day (to just about anywhere) It would be nice to have the option to hop on a train for a day trip to the cities, Fargo, Bismark or somewhere outside of the region. Is there a reason that trains only carry freight here? I know Amtrack does come through (at midnight) but it gets pretty pricey to travel and it only goes East/West...what is the rules on sharing the track with commercial lines? Where do all those trains that pass through GF go? What are they doing for the city?

Adam said...

Can anyone tell me what's happening with the old REA/Memorial Stadium?

I think moving the railyards is a great idea, and probably not as expensive as people might think. I would imagine the most expensive part would be moving the tracks, and I think alot of the existing track could be salvaged and moved to a new location, so the biggest cost would be relocating buildings along the tracks and the roundabout platform near the corner of DeMers and Washington (where BNSF works on their locomotives).

It's a good idea, but unless someone were able to spin it as absolutely necessary, I don't think there's much of a chance to make it happen.

dale said...

While on the subject of rail, why is public rail transportation so expensive?

America is too big, and was developed at a time when energy was relatively cheap. If we were building the country today, the focus would probably be on mass transportation, but it's going to be very difficult to redo that now, and you'd need to change the independent American way of thinking as much as anything else.

Using a practical example, when gas spiked last spring, I did some research to figure out how I could take the bus to work over by the University. I had two options, and both started with about a mile walk/bike/drive from my house over to the nearest bus stop. I don't know if there's a parking lot at that site, but I doubt it, so I'll have to leave my car on the street (in the winter and inclement weather, I assume I'll walk or bike the rest of the time.)

From there, Option 1 is a 30 minute or so ride, followed by another long walk from the Alerus Centre, and no option for a ride there, it's going to be a walk, rain or shine. Option 2 involves a one hour ride, though downtown, with a transfer there (and if my bus is late, a one hour wait for the next connection.) Coming home, reverse that, complete with hoping my car starts after sitting out on the street all day.

So, depending on how fast I walk, my two options vary between an hour and a half and two hours per day commuting. This, in contrast with the 20-30 minutes that I currently spend, and once I factor in what my time is worth (the only thing you can't get more of,) I figured that I'd have to pay $12-$15 a gallon for gas before riding the bus, under the current conditions, makes any sense for me.

Getting back to your expense question, there isn't even remotely enough demand for rail service between Grand Forks and Fargo, and, to the best of my knowledge, AMTRAK doesn't even go to Bismarck. As far as I know, outside of the Northeast corridor, commuter trains between major cities don't really exist, due to distance and demand. Light rail (as in the Twin Cities or Chicago) is a different matter, but, as was discussed last spring, has pretty much zero chance of coming here, due to, again, distance and demand.

Matthew said...

About regional rail service:

This was recently in the Herald.

This from the Bismarck Tribune.

I've gone through this before with Dale, so I'm going to keep my mouth shut.

I do think the trainyard can be moved, but to where? It needs to be designed so that more expansion of the city won't cause the same problems there are now.

Kim said...

Thanks for the info Matthew, sorry Dale but I didn't understand your answer...were you saying America is too big to ride a bike or the train? Hmmm...that is odd because it is done in many other states which are in America. It would be nice to NOT have to drive that long distance to Fargo or the cities to shop or go to nice restaurants. If we had an alternative and affordable mode of transportation to the city then maybe more people would visit...or is that what this town is trying to prevent?

dale said...

sorry Dale but I didn't understand your answer...were you saying America is too big to ride a bike or the train?

America is too spread out, both between cities and within each city. The cost of building light rail between Grand Forks and Fargo or even running multi-day passenger trains on the existing rail is prohibitively expensive because of the distance involved, and the fact that few people would use it. While it would be nice to have, the capital costs would easily run into the tens of millions of dollars, to meet the needs of a relative handful of people.

When American cities are more compact along the lines of European places, like New York or Chicago, mass transit is very effective. My point in recalling what it would take for me to get to work is, in Grand Forks at least, it's far less efficient, and it's going to take a lot for me to start taking the bus instead of my car. That also extends to having a rail between GF and Fargo, because you need some way to get around once you're there.

There's no conspiracy on anyone's part to keep this stuff down... from a practical standpoint, if we don't move beyond internal cumbustion engines, there will eventually come a time where it makes economic sense, but that's a long, long way off.

Personally, when I think about things like this, I immediately go to "what are the challenges that are preventing this from happening" to figure out why it's not already being done. After all, if it's a good idea, what's holding it back? Invariably, one finds the Achilles Heel in the plan -- in this case, as in most, it's due to the general impractibility of it due to financial terms.

As I told Matthew previously, just because something sounds cool (and I agree that a regional train network would be cool) doesn't mean that it's a practical idea.

javagirl said...

A New Downtown...
When I read about the Park Boards plan for a new wellness center I can't help but wonder about a more centrally located place. I wish more thought would be put into the abundance of vacant buildings where life could be put back into those parts of the cities, rather than expand somewhere new to the south. Without knowing cost effectiveness, I can picture the city revamping the Leever's building or razing it if need be. Here is a great location with adjacent property to park board offices and land occupied now by tennis courts plus the rink across the street. Maybe a second story could be added to the Leever's building and a skywalk to an additional site (an indoor pool?) that is now tennis courts. Another plus would be available property in the vacant Hardee's building/lot...more parking or the location of a distinct part of the facility. It would really revitalize that area and be much more accessible for a lot more people to use.

If not for the park board a great community center for Seniors and meetings, etc.?

growingupartists said...

Grand Forks guy, I like how you dream.

Basement Chard said...

GFguy, this is great. Thanks for bringing it up. It is something I have thought about for years. Actually, the idea was spurred by an article I saw in the Herald pre-flood. I keep meaning to go to the library to try find the article. I seem to remember it even having an illustration.

I wonder if there is any interest in this from the railroad's point of view? They did just redo the bridge going over the Red River, which may not be a good sign.

An area such as this would be considered a brownfield (name given by developers to abandoned or obsolete industrial sites). With a more progressive federal government in place, there might be some money available to redevelop brownfields.

Either way, this needs to be looked at. It would offer the community some good centralized development options while invigorating the downtown and connecting the campus. A big complaint amongst university students, esp. international students and those w/o a car, is that the campus feels so isolated from the community. A mixed use corridor connecting the downtown could change that.

A BuRT Lane (Bus Rapid Transit- similar to light rail, but less expensive) and a thin greenspace w/ a bike trail through the railyard redevelopment would be wonderful amenities. With the bus rapid transit lane, there could be opportunities for transit oriented development (TOD), a growing trend that may also qualify for federal incentives.

Bear in mind that the rail corridor connects 3 of the city's largest employment corridors - UND, Altru and downtown.

Redeveloping this railyard into mixed use would be a great way for GF to grow smarter and avoid the pitfalls of becoming a bland, suburban anywhere, USA type of town.

Jason said...

Here is the url for that article (from 1998) describing two architects' vision for redeveloping the railyard into a mixed use development. http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=33229572&sid=3&Fmt=3&clientId=44309&RQT=309&VName=PQD

Matthew said...

I actually wrote to BNSF last fall about 1) partnering with the city to put in quiet crossings and 2) developing part of the corridor into a park/bike path (complete with underpasses for pedestrians below the railroad).

Unfortunately, they pretty much blew me off, saying that I should talk to the city about the first point and totally ignoring the second.

Matthew said...

Thanks for posting that article, Jason. I think it's a good idea. I suppose that's where the idea for the monorail came from that keeps floating around.

I wonder if those architects are still hoping to get this off the ground, or what headway they made ten years ago.

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