Gruppo FS Italiane is leading a significant investment programme to revamp and restyle many medium/large stations throughout Italy. Today, stations are increasingly becoming one of the essential focal points of Italian cities, also as a result of this investment and the constant strengthening of national and regional railway services.
The great taboo of Italy, where more than three out of five Italians use their own vehicle for their daily journeys, seems to be in the perceived effort of abandoning private vehicles or making them part of the method chain that leads to more competitive collective transport. It’s a question of changing the point of view – stations will be more and more central and they will increasingly have to guarantee a transport alternative that is accessible, easy and fast.
“Architecture is really about well-being. I think that people want to feel good in a space … On the one hand it’s about shelter, but it’s also about pleasure.” (Z. Hadid)
On this, the Gruppo FS strategy aims at transforming existing railway stations into intermodal and service hubs, convinced that this transformation can collaborate positively in the redevelopment,
re-organisation and regeneration of urban areas. The intention of the railways is to put themselves forward as the largest sustainable mobility operator able to provide a pleasant and attractive functional transport alternative. The aim will be to make stations an integral part of cities, with a perfect connection to the urban fabric, both the bearers and representatives of a sustainable and shared social value of future mobility.
“There’s no difference between architecture and engineering – they converge in forming an art. When we see a church or a bridge, what is actually there is a work of art created for that place, that landscape, not substantially different from a painting, a sculpture or an opera of our time.” (S. Calatrava)
The view of stations we’re used to will be turned completely upside-down, they will no longer be works of pure transport service only intended to host travellers’ arrivals and departures; there will be a combination of opportunities and different offers in them, also shown by the need for a certain architectural quality in which form and function coexist.
It’s obvious that the aim is to pursue integrated architectural beauty, in perfect tune and harmony with the context but everything must be validated to obtain the greatest efficiency without nullifying the functionality and design of the main access routes and pedestrian pathways. Stations must be able to offer the most logical and functional services for users. Therefore, we have to look beyond the infrastructure and the stations. We also have to consider the whole mix of services not provided by railway companies and enable them to be easily accessible and recognisable. In this sense, architecture and mobility have to talk together easily to be directly connected to citizens and facilitate the efficiency and sustainability of all forms of mobility that are different from private transport or, in any case, with a low environmental impact.
Is there a ‘recipe’ for the perfect intermodal hub?
Yes, if pedestrian flows lead the project. A station or interchange hub can’t ignore the fact that users move (inside it and/or to reach it) on foot. And pedestrian flows must guide the design.
Therefore, work can be done on both the offer and the demand, but how?
A series of methodological tools is proposed, aimed at helping both the planners and designers (architects, landscape architects, urban planners, etc.) to try to ensure the definition of a strategiclayout for the complete functionality of interchange hubs. As a result, the aims and strategies of the project must include a simultaneous analysis of demand (the users) and offer (the space and services offered). The construction of a station graph, a schematic representation of the main paths between the strategic points of the station and city, is an excellent aid in quantifying pedestrian accessibility, inside and outside a station. The number of expected users can also be quantified on each route and, therefore, its importance.
In reality, the use of a station graph (which can be built in GIS or CAD or even a simple spreadsheet) is a simple and effective method for preliminary analysis and the pre-sizing of connections inside and outside the station, weighing the distances (and so the journey times) compared to the flows expected in all scenarios (current and in the project).
Obviously, the level of detail reached can’t be compared to that of a pedestrian microsimulation model (‘costlier’ in terms of data and analysis times) but it is, however, a valid, reliable system, especially in the definition of the layout of paths. It is certainly possible (and necessary) to exploit the functionalism offered by transportplanning in the definition of an effective layout.
There is often talk of wayfinding, the so-called ‘architectural art’ to simplify the ability to orientate in a space and find the right destination directly and instinctively. This tool can be made even more effective if the spaces are, first of all, legible, without visual obstructions and well organised. Naturally, searching for ‘direct routes’ means less need for signs.
Often, the area for railway lands is very difficult to cross and has very rigid confines. Taking account of the routes usually adopted by users to reach the station is essential and, therefore, foreseeing cycle paths and opening pedestrian passages without physical or visual obstacles to promote independent wayfinding.
Where do station users come from? How do they get there? Is the station easily accessible?
It’s essential to make a thorough analysis of the demand. The main origins/destinations of users when they reach the station, journey distances and times, directions and land-side routes and their modal-split have to be indicated to understand, quantify and describe station users.
An analysis of the regional distribution of residents and staff can be intersected with the isochrones for the station or other centres so that a correlation can be obtained between the number of people who potentially access the station and the relative access time according to the means used (on foot, by bike, car, etc.).
Isochronous cycling in relation to the station and intercepted population (residents and workers)
Walking distance from the station and intercepted population (residents and employees)
In this way, a comparison can be made between the current scenario and the project one or the different railway stations. All this information is the pivot around which the complex design of the system of railway stations, meaning multimodalhubs, the so-called ‘hubs of the future’, should rotate. Usually, the data on the modal split has to be gathered through surveys and interviews in the field while the census data is normally available in Geographical Information System (GIS) format. And then, surveys and information acquired in situ can be integrated taking advantage of a careful georeferenced survey made directly on site.
All this acts as input data to succeed in bringing the station closer to the city or bridging the gap between the city and the railway hub.
The essential point lies in facilitating accessibility to the station, reducing users’ journey times (even just a few seconds are a collective treasure if they involve many users) – for example, building a second subway, introducing more direct access points to platforms, extending the visual space and reducing the distance between the main arrival points of the different transport systems.
Which means of transport should be favoured?
If we talk of medium and large cities, the priority is certainly for the greenest methods which, in turn, trigger a mechanism of virtuous behaviour towards sustainable and low environmental impact methods of transport.
Thus, it’s essential to facilitate accessibility for this type of user – more access points, bike stations, areas for sharing mobility, vicinity to other public transport services, limited stay Kiss&Ride areas and, last, but by no means least, the definition of short, linear routes for pedestrians.
Giving priority to accessibility implies a political choice. The space in Italian cities isn’t endless so the ‘sustainability’ of transport methods can be a good criterion for guiding choices.
Does the layout designed work? Are we going in the right direction?
A functional assessment of pedestrian connections can be carried out through indices on the servicelevels of the main elements of internal connection, such as stairs, platforms and subways.
An optimal service level indicator is easy to calculate by referring to the guidelines indicated by TFL Station Planning Standards and Guidelines or NetworkRail Station Capacity Planning Guidance. These tools are not only quick and easy but they can be applied directly by the designers starting from the generally available or easily obtained data without the need for specific software and, in particular, they can guide the design of the layout at any stage of the evolution of the project.
What do we expect to find in a station? ?
Mixing public services, access points to mobility services and retail businesses can become the perfect solution for stations to become more inclusive, easier to use places. We can define the must-haves by integrating what has always been there with whatshould never again be lacking! Info points, ticket office and self-service machines, waiting areas, multi-functional spaces (squares, live events and temporary shows), commercial places (cafés and restaurants, shops, etc.)
to which parking areas for bikes or bicycle parking stations, areas for sharing-mobility and Kiss&Ride, clearly defined taxi areas, and direct connection to public transport services.
If the multiplication/pulverisation of some elements in the area of intervention doesn’t bring benefits (e.g. airport shuttles or car hire), all the others must be well distributed, available and easy to find but, above all, they have to ensure the greatest brevity and legibility of pedestrian routes to reach them.
Margherita Villani – She ended the three-year degree in Civil Engineering in which she developed great interest in infrastructures and transport in particular. She did a two-year specialisation in Civil Engineering – Road and Transport Infrastructures at the University of Bologna. After working in logistics, she joined NET Engineering dealing with transport and mobility planning, combining passion and professional interest.
Mum told me I wasn’t to go to the station
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