Durham County

Group wants better looking Durham-Orange light-rail stations with more shade

This light-rail station, suggested by the Durham Area Designers group, protects riders standing on the platform from the wind and weather. It also uses a large window to create a visual connection to surrounding development.
This light-rail station, suggested by the Durham Area Designers group, protects riders standing on the platform from the wind and weather. It also uses a large window to create a visual connection to surrounding development. Durham Area Designers

A local urban design group wants tobacco barns, factories and warehouses to inspire the look of the planned Durham-Orange light rail stations.

“It appears architecture and art have taken a back seat to engineering aspects of the project,” Dan Jewell, president of the Durham Area Designers, told the GoTriangle Board of Trustees and officials in Durham and Orange counties in a July 19 letter.

The letter was written in response to preliminary concept plans presented at an April workshop. GoTriangle hasn’t released any updated or final station designs.

The 17.7-mile Durham-Orange light-rail line could have 19 stations linking UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to Duke and N.C. Central universities in Durham. The project is more than halfway through the final, engineering stage and could be submitted later this year to the Federal Transit Administration for possible federal funding.

The Durham Area Designers group proposed this light-rail station design as an example of how GoTriangle could better represent the history and culture of Durham and Orange counties and also protect light-rail riders from the elements. Elizabeth Wilcox Durham Area Designers

The Durham Area Designers, a group that advocates for “good urban design,” thinks the draft designs could better reflect Durham and Orange counties, while offering better protection from the weather, Jewell said.

“To be clear, the experience of riders begins and ends at the station, and if that experience is not comfortable and enjoyable, ridership will suffer over time,” he said. “Multiple transit studies have suggested that the architectural quality of stations should be as high a priority as more conventional planning metrics, including cost and travel time.”

Jewell also asked for more opportunities for the public to offer written feedback.

Gull wing LRT stations.jpg
A conceptual design presented at an April 2018 workshop featured multiple, short gull wing-type canopies over the platform of a Durham-Orange light-rail train station. The Durham Area Designers group called the designs "basic" and offered several suggestions in July. GoTriangle Contributed

GoTriangle officials responded with an emailed statement.

“The light-rail project currently has funding for basic station design elements, but no designs have been finalized at this point,” spokeswoman Burgetta Wheeler said. “GoTriangle welcomes input and sponsorships to help fund and shape the final light-rail station designs.”

Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs also responded to the group’s letter, thanking them in an email for their comments. The project’s cost — now $3.3 billion, including the anticipated interest on loans — is a “major consideration” for Orange County, he said.

“The Orange County commissioners also have repeatedly expressed concerns about the planning process and, as is often the case with GoTriangle, have been met with a genial smile and a deaf ear,” Jacobs said.

The commissioners have asked GoTriangle officials multiple times to be included with Durham and Chapel Hill in the station-planning process. A meeting involving Orange County, Chapel Hill, and Durham city and county officials was held in June but focused on land design and the economic potential of light-rail station area development.

GoTriangle held four planning workshops this year to get ideas for how the system should look and feel to riders and passersby.

Durham Area Designers members attended those workshops, Jewell said, and think the “gull wing” canopy designs presented at the April workshops would be “ineffective in providing actual shade and protection from the elements.”

The concepts feature small geometric and plant motifs etched into glass and concrete — in muted pinks, blues, gray and black. Those ideas do not reflect local history, culture, materials or public input, Jewell said.

His group offered several recommendations:

Reflect the local architecture, design and materials found in tobacco barns, factories and warehouses

Extend the canopies from the platform to the train and cover at least 75 percent of the platform

Use brick and metal with patina, a gloss that forms over time and exposure, instead of applied patterns

Avoid stainless steel, aluminum and forced, repetitive patterns

Make sure there is room for art — now or in the future

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926; @TammyGrubb
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