On May 11, the buses began rolling into the brand new Union Station Bus Concourse, a three-block-long, $500 million underground terminal that extends from just behind Union Station all the way north to Chestnut Street. Resembling an airline terminal or even a European-style train station -- with its glossy flat-screen monitors that give out travel info, self-help kiosks and bright, upbeat color scheme -- the concourse replaces the somewhat decrepit, thirty-year-old Market Street Station.
While Westword has gotten many questions about the new RTD bus concourse and what will happen to the old Market Street station, our favorite involved the popcorn machine at the old location (albeit one that had been out of order recently).
"In the interest of full disclosure," a reader wrote, "it was not a machine which made popcorn, as in a theater, but a case which simply held popcorn. Regardless, it provided delicious popcorn, and was the reason that I chose that station as opposed to Civic Center to conduct my transit system business."
Bad news: The popcorn machine did not make the move to the new facility. According to RTD spokesman Scott Reed, the concessionaire contract that provided the corn ended along with the Market Street station.
More bad news: There are no concessions whatsoever in the otherwise slick underground bus terminal -- no grab-and-go sandwiches or bagels or muffins or coffee, not even a snack machine with chips and soda.
Then again, that might be a good thing, because there aren't many restrooms, either: The 1,000-foot-long, 22-gate bus terminal has only one set of bathrooms -- one for men, one for women. The bathrooms are large, yes, but they stand alone, near Chestnut -- which is not the direction in which most riders are headed.
For a bathroom closer to the downtown side, they'll need to go back up the escalator or the stairs and find the tiny ones in the current Amtrak waiting room in the historic part of Union Station. But a second set of restrooms upstairs in Union Station will debut on July 12, when the rest of the building is finished and open to the public.
"The bathrooms in the historic building are almost directly upstairs from where additional restrooms would have had to have been located in that end of the underground bus concourse," explains Reed, "which would have resulted in an unnecessary and expensive redundancy for the bus concourse."
Restrooms could be added downstairs in the future, he adds, but it would be very expensive.
Still, even one restroom is better than the somewhat smelly situation at Market Street Station, where the bathrooms lacked mirrors...and even doors on the stalls in the men's room. As with the bathrooms at Civic Center Station, those doors were removed for security reasons -- but for insecure types, that made using the restrooms an awkward experience, says one frequent commuter, with patrons keeping their eyes focused on the floor. But the new concourse bathroom features doors on the stalls -- at least for now.
And that isn't the only relief that bus riders will find at the new bus station behind Union Station, since the concourse is the largest transit center to have been LEED-certified at the silver level -- meaning it is environmentally friendly. Some of the other benefits include monitored underground ventilation and special doors to keep out the bus fumes.
The bus station also saves on energy costs by using natural light from the skylights above (which double as arty parts of a park-like area), similar to the concept at Denver International Airport.
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Then again, RTD may not want to make too many comparisons between the new facility and airports: U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox was scheduled to be one of eleven -- eleven! -- speakers at the concourse's opening ceremony on May 9, but his flight out of Washington, D.C., was delayed.
Twice. Yes, the nation's Secretary of Transportation had transportation problems.
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