Transport Interchanges are Places!

They are the ordinary places thousands of us use every day. Most of us don’t give them a second thought. But without them we couldn’t get to work, visit family and friends, or be the first to get to the sales!

What we’re talking about is transport interchanges, the big (and small) cathedrals to movement in the hearts of our towns and cities that keep the wheels of commerce turning and us on the move. But what makes a good interchange? And if you’re travelling as a commuter, do you need different things from an interchange than if you were a visitor? How do you get from the train platform to the metro or bus stop outside?

Interchanges by their nature are complicated, and potentially intimidating places – think of Birmingham New Street before it was transformed into “Grand Central”; an airy, open shopping space (with prosecco bar…) and definitely a destination.

Interchanges need to be flexible enough to cater for people of different ages and abilities with a variety of agendas and differing patterns of activity throughout the day. Interchanges need to enable commuters to move through the space quickly and intuitively. Meanwhile, visitors and leisure travellers need more time to make their way through, stopping, waiting and re-grouping. These users are more likely to need help finding their way and somewhere pleasant to wait and rest.

Interchanges also need to allow life to happen by maybe grabbing a sandwich for lunch or sitting with a coffee and just watching the world go by. They are gateways into places and often the first glimpse someone has of the place they’ve travelled to.

So if you’re designing from scratch, where do you start? SYSTRA have recently tackled this challenge with projects addressing metro, bus and rail travel. We have looked at how interchange design can most effectively play a part in encouraging public transport and active modes, and also support wider regeneration initiatives in and around them. To help us we established six “best practice” criteria as a framework for testing options. In summary, we think interchanges should:

  1. Feel safe to use at all times and have well overlooked places where people are comfortable and enjoy being – the sight of other people and the knowledge we can be seen gives comfort to both travellers and the people who work there.
  2. Be accessible for all – if we design for all users including the most vulnerable, everyone benefits.
  3. Be connected by legible, direct and attractive walking and cycling routes to the surrounding city – easy, obvious and attractive connections to key local destinations gives people confidence and helps them feel safe; attractive streets and spaces pull people into the city and give a sense of arrival.
  4. Exploit the potential for direct interchange with other transport modes – making it easy and attractive to get from the train to the metro or the bus and encouraging people to use public transport.
  5. Be located to make the most of local assets and amenities – interchanges need to open the door to key leisure, employment and community opportunities.
  6. Be attractive places that make the most of local development opportunities and create a sense of place and arrival – if designed well, busy interchanges can be destinations in their own right, gateways to new development sites, catalysts for regeneration and even delightful.

By recognising the wider role of interchanges, and the areas around them, in place making and as places, we can ensure that we not only get the functional aspects of interchange design right but that we also shape them to make the most of the economic and social opportunities that they create. By approaching their design in this way we also ensure interchanges work as hard as they can to contribute to delivering liveable, inclusive, equitable, economically successful cities and towns.

At SYSTRA we are committed to making this happen for interchanges and other transport investment - helping to shape travel and transport in cities and towns in ways that create good places that we hope people will enjoy.