In 2012, Metro’s Deputy Executive Officer of Countywide Planning Jenna Hornstock outlined the Union Station Master Plan process for TPR. Now, with the undertaking nearing completion, Hornstock elaborates on Metro’s recent refinements to its preferred approach. She shares the outlines of the plan as it stands, discusses development proposed for the site, and comments on Union Station’s unrealized connection to the Los Angeles River.
“This iteration is focused on showing how the transit improvements and site planning achieve the program goals we identified for the USMP: transit optimization, destination, and connectivity.” -Jenna Hornstock
Metro recently unveiled the latest iteration of its Union Station Master Plan, including an expanded concourse, new terminal, and a revitalized Fred Harvey. Please update our readers on what’s being planned.
Jenna Hornstock: The latest design concepts presented at our June 5th Community Workshop were a progress update, as we have been sharing the design process and seeking feedback throughout the development of the Union Station Master Plan (USMP). This iteration is focused on showing how the transit improvements and site planning achieve the program goals we identified for the USMP: transit optimization, destination, and connectivity.
Optimizing transit functionality at Union Station, both now and in the future, is a driving goal of the USMP. We have identified two main transit improvements that are the foundational building blocks of the master plan.
The first of these is a spacious, multi-modal concourse, which will be created by dramatically expanding the existing passageway under the rail yard. Most people think that when you’re walking under the rail yard, you’re below ground. But in fact, when you walk in from the front door of the station on Alameda through the beautiful waiting hall and concourse, through the passageway (also known as the “tunnel”) and into the East Portal, you are at grade level. The expanded concourse will change that perception and experience of ground level at Union Station, creating a strong east/west connection across the site. The concourse will also be large enough to offer clear sightlines for transit riders, space for amenities and retail, additional seating, and plenty of circulation space as our ridership continues to grow.
The second main transit improvement is to relocate Patsaouras Bus Plaza to the west side of the station, and to co-locate all bus services at that location. The relocated facility would be at the level of the rail yard so that all transit is at one level. It would be easily accessible from the expanded concourse, and would serve intercity and local buses in two “loops.” The relocated plaza will have direct connections to both Cesar Chavez and the El Monte Busway—and there would be no cars on the plaza, increasing efficiency and reducing conflicts. Once the relocated Patsaouras Plaza is operational, we can remove the existing Patsaouras Plaza. Patsaouras Plaza is a “cap” over street level, so when you take that cap away, you now have a continual ground plane connecting the east and west sides of the site. We will rethink the Vignes entrance to the station.
You mentioned the Fred Harvey. Part of creating a great destination is recognizing the importance of our historic passenger terminal, and the tremendous asset that we have in it. The USMP will enhance and preserve the historic station, bringing back public and civic uses to the great spaces at the station. The Fred Harvey and the Old Ticketing Hall are closed to the public and mostly used for private parties. We are in the midst of exploring a restaurant and other retail uses to revive those spaces, and expect to have exciting announcements on these efforts shortly.
Address the redesign of the Alameda Street–El Pueblo west-facing side of the station, and more specifically, the civic plaza that’s being master planned.
The master plan is a long-term plan, and the first stage we have identified is to soften the perimeter of the station with streetscape improvements and better connectivity. The first thing we’d like to do is to rethink the front entrance to the station, and connect to the civic center and to El Pueblo. We’re looking at putting Alameda on a road diet—going down from six lanes to four lanes in front of the station. This will allow us to create 24-foot sidewalks with a double row of trees. We want to realign the Los Angeles Street entrance so that ingress and egress is only on the southern part of the road, leaving the northern part of Los Angeles as access for bikes and pedestrians.
We want visitors to exit the front of Union Station and walk straight across the street, which you can’t do right now. We propose an enhanced crosswalk, so you never actually step down off a curb. It’s similar to what happens at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, where you’ve got people streaming in and out between the commercial district and the Ferry Building. This crosswalk would create a visual connection to the Kiosko at El Pueblo, which you can’t really see right now from the front of the station. We are coordinating with El Pueblo and look forward to working with them on some of these changes.
Finally, the USMP proposes removing the northern surface parking lot in front of the station and converting it to a civic plaza with a shade structure, seating, and possibly a water feature. It would function as an urban living room and offer opportunities for programs and events, a place to grab some food, sit, and enjoy the beautiful station and the great weather we have in Los Angeles.
Jenna, when TPR last interviewed you two years ago, you articulated three main tasks for the master planning process: data collection analysis, developing draft alternatives, and arriving at a final preferred plan. Could you update us on what’s been done for each of these over the past two years?
The data collection and analysis task took us through the first eight months of the USMP process. This task produced nine technical memoranda, from which we developed the Program for the station, founded on the three goals I mentioned earlier: transit optimization, destination, and connectivity.
The next task was to develop draft alternatives. Our team began to iteratively study alternatives for realizing the three goals through design and improvements to the station. We quickly realized that the transit improvements are the foundational building blocks for the USMP—they are so large and critical to the property that we needed to determine the transit improvements before we could layer on development, connectivity, open space, etc. Three transit improvements were identified and options for how to realize them were studied iteratively: (1) the creation of a large multimodal concourse; (2) the relocation of Patsaouras Plaza and the co-location of buses across the site; and (3) the seamless integration of high-speed rail at a future date, but without being reliant upon high-speed rail for a station plan that works.
We had two community workshops during that time to share progress, and we also reported to our board in September 2013 a preferred approach to the USMP. In October 2013 our board approved the preferred approach, which I referred to in the first question—the concourse in an east/west configuration and the relocation of Patsaouras Bus Plaza to the west side of the station in a north/south configuration. We will be showing an illustrative approach to HSR at the station, but in the end the California High Speed Rail Authority has to go through its design, engineering, and environmental process to determine where the station will be. We have ideas about what works better and will continue to coordinate with them.
With approval of the preferred approach, we entered the final task, which is refining our approach and developing our implementation strategies. The community workshop we held on June 5th shared our progress on this task and also offered a development program, as well as our approach to connectivity on the site. We will hold a workshop for our Board of Directors in July and will share a cost estimate at that time. Assuming we get through this check-in with the Board, we will continue finalizing the preferred plan with more refinements, some additional visualization, and then an implementation strategy that will focus on governance, financing strategies, and the environmental process. We want to come to the board with the final plan in September and will hold another community workshop as well.
Jenna, could you offer some observations on the master planning team—Gruen, the project master plan managers, and Grimshaw, the architect design firm? What have they contributed? Are you pleased?
I think we are a great, collaborative team. Gruen Associates is the prime, with Debra Gerod as the project manager, and Grimshaw Architects are the design lead. There are 20 other sub-consultants on this team that bring a variety of expertise and critical input.
One of the reasons we chose this team is their thorough approach to studying the options. When we interviewed them they proposed, and have since followed through with, an approach that puts every possible option on the table. They applied a set of criteria to weigh the options and sought feedback from stakeholders, both within and outside of Metro, to guide their recommendations. We had a heavy focus on feedback from bus and rail operations, because we want this transit hub to meet the needs of our expanding transit system.
Along with this almost scientific approach, the team also brought a strong commitment to vision and placemaking, but placemaking rooted in a commitment to a great civic place. We believe that our transit infrastructure is changing the face of Southern California, and our transit hub should exemplify this, welcoming our transit riders and visitors alike. The team also shares a commitment to connecting to the cultural and historic resources all around the station. Union Station will be a great place unto itself, but its boundaries should be porous, linking into and supporting the great urban places all around. This comes through in the work that our team has produced.
Because of these qualities of thorough study and examination combined with a great vision for a civic place founded on transit, I am confident that the plan we are putting forward is the right one for the station.
Jenna, what development does the master plan now envision?
The Alameda District Specific Plan was adopted in 1996 and provided generous and flexible entitlements to the Union Station property, as well as the neighboring Terminal Annex site. We currently have outstanding six million square feet of development entitlement. But this entitlement is not driven by a commitment to public transit and supporting transit functionality; the prior owner was a for-profit developer, so their goal was to create a site plan that maximized development. We have shifted this goal and we did not start this master planning process expecting to use the full entitlement.
The USMP team looked at how development could work best while maintaining optimized transit functions. As I mentioned earlier, we focused on the transit improvements as our building blocks, and from there we identified places for new commercial development that enhances access to transit and connectivity across the site. Whether it’s overbuilding on the relocated bus facility, or thoughtfully integrating development into the site, we looked at creating a place that is connected through plazas, terraces and bridges. This connectivity is critical to overcoming some of the barriers to development on the site, such as being bordered by a freeway and a large jail facility. We also considered how best to enhance and preserve the historic station by thoughtfully placing the development sites and considering heights and density. Finally, we had an independent market study prepared by RCLCO. We took their most aggressive scenario, which assumes that the early placemaking successes at Union Station will generate strong market demand and strong rents.
With all of this study, we came up with a development program showing 3.25 million square feet of commercial development. The plans that we shared at our community workshop (available at www.metro.net/lausmp), give a sense of how the density and massing of this program play out. We have kept the density and heights lower on the west side to protect the viewshed of the historic station, and we pushed that density and height east.
This development program is illustrative. While we are clear on where development can go, the actual types of buildings and density of those buildings will be a dance between our interests, our stakeholders, and the real estate market.
Los Angeles usually shies away from being compared to other jurisdictions, but clearly the TransBay Center in San Francisco is a transportation benchmark. What, if anything, was learned from that hub, and how would you compare Metro’s plans with TransBay?
The TransBay Center in San Francisco is a great example for us. Our CEO has said to me, “Look at what they’re doing—they’re thinking big. This is our moment to think big about the future of this station.” We are taking cues and inspiration from San Francisco about how transit and transit infrastructure can serve riders, and be an important part of placemaking in a region.
There are some moments when I feel jealous of San Francisco, too! We traveled to San Francisco and met with the TransBay Joint Powers Authority. I asked how they were financing some of the great public improvements, such as their parks and open spaces on the site. It turns out they have three redevelopment project areas for which they are still able to collect tax increment. They had agreements in place between their JPA and the redevelopment authority before the final decisions ending redevelopment were made, so the tax increment pledged was considered an “enforceable obligation.” I get pangs of jealousy that they have some great funding available to them to do the public realm work.
But I also feel confident that we’ll be able to get creative in our approach to financing. We also travelled to Denver to hear how the Denver Union Station Project Authority financed their project. They are another example of innovation and public-private partnership that leads me to believe we will find new avenues for financing this plan in the coming years.
There’s been much attention paid and resources devoted to the revitalization of the LA River. How might that revitalization effort become integrated into the Master Plan of Union Station?
I think one of the biggest ways we integrate with the river is through our commitment to seeing the station as part of a larger area, and realizing the impact we can have beyond just the boundaries of our property. We are working on a Linkages Study concurrent with and coordinated with the USMP. The Linkages Study is a community-driven plan identifying bicycle and pedestrian linkages to and from Union Station and surrounding communities. The public improvements identified in this plan will create the connective tissue that will link cyclists and pedestrians coming from all directions, including the river.
Let’s close by noting that you’re Metro’s Deputy Executive Officer of Countywide Planning, and that Metro is the beneficiary of two federal wins—the Downtown Regional Connector and the Purple Line Extension. There are also plans for R2, a second sales tax measure. What would you want included in R2 to augment the work you’re doing in countywide planning, using Metro rail as the spine?
I am asked on a regular basis, “How are you going to finance this master plan and when is it going to happen?” The USMP is similar to any other transit project in that it is a long-term plan—we rarely know how our transit projects will be fully funded when we start the planning process. Being part of a new sales tax measure would be a simple and direct way to fund the major transit improvements included in the USMP. Union Station is the hub for every transit project we are investing in, so it would only follow that we need to improve the hub to support all of the investment in and expansion of our transit system. That said, what goes into a potential R2 will be a complex discussion with many stakeholders and I cannot say at this time what the likelihood is for the USMP to be a part of it. Move LA has indicated a preference for seeing active transportation projects, and first/last mile connections included in a potential R2. The Linkages Study I discussed earlier would be a great candidate for that kind of funding, making it easier for people to access the transit hub and use transit—promoting healthy living by walking, biking, and getting out of the car.