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Union Station Bicycle Transit Center

At the cusp of a livable cities movement, the Bicycle Transit Center is a highly visible catalyst promoting bicycle use and alternative transportation options by providing secure parking, rental, and retail uses.At the doorstep of Washington’s major transportation hub, Union Station, the sleek veiled form reflects the technology of its contents while complimenting its eminent Beaux Arts neighbors. Echoing a bicycle wheel’s elegance and efficiency, arched steel tubes covered with an energy efficient “skin” optimizes transparency in this sensitive historic context.

Union-Station-Bicycle-Transit-Center-By-KGP-Design-Studio-©-KGP-Design-Studio-02-759x498 Union Station Bicycle Transit Center / KGP Design Studio

© KGP Design Studio

The Bicycle Transit Center:

The Bicycle Transit Center (BTC) is strategically located in the heart of DC at Columbus Plaza. As a major intermodal complex, Union Station was chosen by the District Department of Transportation as an ideal site to test the viability of the initial BTC. Also chosen for its adjacency to the new Metropolitan Branch Trail, the Mall, the expanding NOMA District, and centrality to Washington’s four quadrants, the BTC serves a range of users. Any resident, businessperson or tourist ready to don a helmet and join the growing ranks of bicyclists is welcome.

Sited between two turn-of-the-century landmarks by Daniel Burnham, Union Station and the National Capitol Post Office, the facility is available to thousands of tourists, commuters and neighbors passing through on a daily basis. Union Station, circa 1907, exemplifies a heroic strain of the American Beaux Arts tradition that came into fashion after the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

Grand iconic vaulted ceilings recalling Roman Triumphal Arches and Baths suggest this building represents an “imperial transportation palace” as conceived by its renowned architect, Daniel H. Burnham. The “Carriage Courts” stood at each end of the Station but were later removed in the 70’s to accommodate a Metro tunnel, as well as access to the garage behind the station. Now the highly visible location adjacent to the West Portico creates a fitting backdrop for the BTC as our attitudes towards transportation have evolved and been shaped by sustainable goals.

Union-Station-Bicycle-Transit-Center-By-KGP-Design-Studio-©-KGP-Design-Studio-04-759x461 Union Station Bicycle Transit Center / KGP Design Studio

© KGP Design Studio


The approximately 1750 sf. structure is divided into two areas; bicycle parking and retail. The retail area will provide the following services: bicycle rental, repair and retail accessories. The facility will include the following program elements:

  • secure parking for 150 bicycles
  • non-secure parking for 40 bicycles
  • short term parking for 10 bicycles
  • changing room-50 sf.
  • 40 short and long term lockers
  • retail area-450 sf.
  • storage-50 sf.

In addition to providing the above-listed program elements, all stakeholders participating in the design process agreed that the Center’s prominent location could provide the opportunity to reach out to the larger public realm. Over time the Center could be a catalyst to stimulate bicycle use and alternative transportation means as an extension to the existing transit modes at Union Station.

Union-Station-Bicycle-Transit-Center-By-KGP-Design-Studio-©-KGP-Design-Studio-06-759x982 Union Station Bicycle Transit Center / KGP Design Studio

© KGP Design Studio

Historic Precedents:

Only fifteen feet from one of the nation’s major historic landmarks, the location posed some daunting design challenges. Coming to terms with Burnham’s “Imperial Palace” demanded a healthy respect for an historic icon and its rich architectural vocabulary. The Triumphal Arch is repeatedly referenced in the monumental vaults and clerestories of Union Station, but within its order is clarity through an established hierarchy.

The major halls are defined by stone clad and glazed barrel vaults with a more utilitarian shallow vault used in the train room where a larger span was required. In sharp contrast to the stone clad surfaces, bronze frames, grills and light fixtures provide a rich vocabulary extending to the station’s exterior and into the plaza.

The original riveted steel platform canopies, out of sight but nonetheless relevant, are also recalled in the details of the BTC’s intricate steel component construction. Though the intent of the BTC is to stand in contrast to Union Station, it also sits as part of this family of the components that define Union Station. It stands in stark contrast to the massive granite walls adjacent to it, instead relating to its site context; reflecting the First Street bronze lamps and portal structures fronting Columbus Circle.

Union-Station-Bicycle-Transit-Center-By-KGP-Design-Studio-©-KGP-Design-Studio-08-759x512 Union Station Bicycle Transit Center / KGP Design Studio

© KGP Design Studio

KGP Design Studio:

The adjacent vehicular and pedestrian circulation placed demands on the footprint of the structure and its location. Occasional bus access to the parking structure to the north required that the site accommodate two north-south access lanes west of the portico as well as the proposed BTC. Just as significant were the approach vistas to Union Station from Massachusetts Ave and Columbus Plaza. The West Portico of the station accommodates major entries to the station as well as containing the Metro entrance and retail functions. Locating the structure to minimize obstruction to these vistas was a priority as was minimizing disruption of the existing uses at the West Portico. Ideally, establishing a comfortable separation between the structures would allow the new facility to complement Union Station while maintaining its integrity.

Union-Station-Bicycle-Transit-Center-By-KGP-Design-Studio-©-KGP-Design-Studio-09-759x504 Union Station Bicycle Transit Center / KGP Design Studio

© KGP Design Studio

In order to differentiate the structure from the verticality of Union Station and the monumental arches of the portico, the Transit Center maintains a low gentle profile, “bending” the ground plane to create a shallow vault. Vaulting glazed surfaces meet the concrete buttresses rather than “walls”, allowing lines of sight to flow over the structure. As in Burnham’s design of shallow utilitarian vault over the Train Room, the BCT celebrates the shift in our transportation paradigm with its distinct but modest shallow vaulted glazed arches.Design Approach:

Union-Station-Bicycle-Transit-Center-By-KGP-Design-Studio-©-KGP-Design-Studio-10 Union Station Bicycle Transit Center / KGP Design Studio

© KGP Design Studio

The Bicycle Transit Center is an extension to Union Station, presenting a new choice of transportation options for its users. Early in the design process KGP stressed the need to separate and differentiate the BTC from its neighbor in order to maintain the integrity of the historic Union Station and allow the BTC to clearly exhibit its unique function. The Center merges with its surroundings, adapting the vocabulary of the bronze portals and other landscape elements. The theme of “compatible differentiation” similarly extends to the Center’s detailing as a means of respecting its architectural surrounding and linking to its broader context.

This “non-building”, without walls or roof, per se, is transparent and distinctly different than the granite-clad walls of the station. In fact, the glazed panels are more like a semi-transparent lens that allows the station to be seen through it as one move around the plaza. At the same time it discretely showcases bicycles and potentially other alternative modes of transit for visitors and commuters.

Union-Station-Bicycle-Transit-Center-By-KGP-Design-Studio-©-KGP-Design-Studio-12 Union Station Bicycle Transit Center / KGP Design Studio

© KGP Design Studio


Reflecting the structural elegance of a bicycle in the Center’s design posed an ongoing challenge. The BTC solves the challenge of vaulting in a manner similar to a rim and spoke wheel. The length of the structure is spanned by longitudinal steel tube arches. They, in turn, are stabilized by a series of transverse tension members wrapping the vaults and carrying loads to the perimeter slab. The tubing “rim and spoke wheel” approach maximizes lightness and efficiency by responding to specific conditions.

The rim, in pure compression, balanced and stabilized by the spokes in pure tension, creates an enormously efficient and elegant structure. In a similar manner, the vaults are tied together longitudinally by the slab, minimizing loads transferred to the roof of the Metro station below. Inherently stable and acting as a shell or “helmet”, the structure provides a continuous and open flexible space accommodating the changing needs of the BTC as it evolves over time.

Union-Station-Bicycle-Transit-Center-By-KGP-Design-Studio-©-KGP-Design-Studio-13-759x481 Union Station Bicycle Transit Center / KGP Design Studio

© KGP Design Studio

Environmental Issues:

The BTC could be described as something between a canopy and a building. The entire, partially open, structure takes advantage of passive airflow when possible. The temperature of the parking area is typically moderated by passive means, with minimal mechanical ventilation utilized only during seasonal temperature extremes. Because of the more demanding requirements of the retail segment, it is possible to seal the enclosure and mechanically heat or cool the space.

Union-Station-Bicycle-Transit-Center-By-KGP-Design-Studio-©-KGP-Design-Studio-15-750x1000 Union Station Bicycle Transit Center / KGP Design Studio

© KGP Design Studio

The design of the building’s skin takes a number of environmental factors into account. The east and west exposures are differentiated. Like an eye, the BTC opens to Union Station to the east with transparent glazing. To the west — the “eyelid” is more opaque and protected. The east orientation has minimal solar exposure, due to the adjacent west portico, where a series of rotated and warped glazed planes act as horizontal louvers allowing airflow but protecting from the elements.

The west orientation, exposed to direct sun as well as the elements, is a single warped plane. It contains openings at the top and bottom to take advantage of the chimney effect to promote air movement through the structure. Vertical louvers help to shade the late afternoon sun. Additionally, low-e coated single glazing limits heat gain but allows visibility. Rotating west to east, the coating progressively diminishes in each “louver” allowing full transparency on the east-most surfaces.

Union-Station-Bicycle-Transit-Center-By-KGP-Design-Studio-©-KGP-Design-Studio-07-759x544 Union Station Bicycle Transit Center / KGP Design Studio

© KGP Design Studio

To minimize mechanical venting, cooling occurs through a staged environmental control system which initially uses automated vents maximizing natural convection. If required, fans provide two air changes per minute, equalizing temperatures with the exterior. If further cooling is required in the double glazed retail area, the automated vents close, sealing the retail area for effective mechanical cooling. In winter the automated vents close to take advantage of solar heating as required.

Solar heat gain provides benefits as well as a challenge for maintaining a comfortable environment. Ceramic frit and a low-e film allow for a reasonable balance between thermal and visible light. Double layered ceramic frit oriented to minimize the high midday solar gain, while allowing horizontal visibility, helps to maintain a reasonable amount of transparency at the pedestrian level.

Union-Station-Bicycle-Transit-Center-By-KGP-Design-Studio-©-KGP-Design-Studio-16-759x500 Union Station Bicycle Transit Center / KGP Design Studio

© KGP Design Studio

Project Data:

Project name: Union Station Bicycle Transit Center
Location: 72 Massachusetts Ave NW Washington, District of Columbia, United States
Coordinates: 38.897685, -77.007434
Type: Parking Structures
Program: Bicycle transit center
Project Size: 1,800 sf
Project Initiated: February 2005
Completion Year: October 2009

The people:

Client/Owner: District Department of Transportation
Architects: KGP Design Studio – 1777 Church St NW, Washington, DC 20036, United States
Engineer: Parsons Transportation
Contractor: Grunley Walsh
Text Description: © Courtesy of KGP Design Studio
Images: © Courtesy of KGP Design Studio


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Union Station Bicycle Transit Center / KGP Design Studio
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