The SourceCivil Engineering MagazineSustainability to redefine historic Sacramento train station

Sustainability to redefine historic Sacramento train station

By Catherine A. Cardno, Ph.D.

  • gardens in front of a large brick building with arched glass windows
  • overlooking a plaza with plenty of greenery and trees and a large white tower with glass windows
  • pedestrians walk along a pedestrian street with buildings on either side
  • people walk along a plaza with trees surrounding them at dusk
  • a plaza is surrounded by office buildings
  • an elevated concourse shows signs with multiple types of transit
  • the space under a viaduct has been turned into a shaded garden with people enjoying the space

The city of Sacramento, California, is regenerating and upgrading its historic train station as part of a plan for a 31-acre multimodal transportation hub centered on the core tenet of sustainability. The goal is for the project to be carbon net-positive, going beyond a carbon net-zero classification.

The Sacramento Valley Station, located at Fourth and I streets, is the primary passenger rail station for Northern California, as it has been since its opening 95 years ago. It is currently the United States’ seventh-busiest Amtrak station, according to the city.

Despite its importance to rail travel in the state, the station’s experience was less than ideal for travelers. The station was purchased by the city in 2006, and a plan to create a fully integrated intermodal facility at and around it is underway. Currently referred to as the Sacramento Intermodal Transit Facility, the transportation hub will provide connections among numerous modes of transportation: train, light rail, bus, bicycle, foot, taxi, and automobile.

It will also be part of a mixed-use project — the Sacramento Valley Station Area Plan — that will create a walkable, livable area that will strengthen the connections between the city’s historic riverfront area known as Old Sacramento, downtown Sacramento, and the emerging 240-acre Railyards district located to the north of the station. The plan includes market-rate and affordable housing as well as office, hotel, and community space and amenities such as restaurants, shops, pedestrian plazas, and bike trails.

The plan — and its goal to turn the historic train station into one of the most sustainable public places in California — has earned a “coveted and rigorous certification for environmental innovation,” according to information released by Perkins&Will, which led the project along with the city of Sacramento. The project received Living Community Challenge Certification from the International Living Future Institute, an organization dedicated to creating symbiotic relationships between people and the built environment in seven key metrics: place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity, and beauty.

As part of that goal, biophilic design will be used — wherein natural elements and systems will be incorporated into the bikeable and pedestrian-friendly design. Trees will be placed to provide shade canopies to mitigate urban heat island effects and provide cooler and cleaner air. Native species will be provided with habitat space, a community garden will allow residents to grow food on-site, and community open space will provide recreation space for visitors and residents.

The buildings on the site will be powered with 100% renewable energy with a combination of on-site generation and off-site sourcing. Wastewater will be recycled on-site and then reused to meet the community’s nonpotable water needs, and low-impact development practices will be used to manage stormwater.

Partners on the project include global engineering firm Arup, Grimshaw Architects, Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates Inc., Economic & Planning Systems Inc., and AIM Consulting.

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