September 21, 2017 - From the September, 2017 issue

L.A. Union Station’s Perimeter Redesign is All About Access to Transit

To ensure that the heart of L.A.’s rapidly expanding rail system is a world-class transit hub, Metro plans to improve multimodal connectivity at the perimeter of Union Station. Elizabeth Carvajal, Transportation Planning Manager overseeing the project, outlines its scope and community origins, while Jenna Hornstock, Deputy Executive Officer in Countywide Planning & Development, contextualizes it in the city’s efforts to revitalize Civic Center and bring L.A. transportation infrastructure to the world stage.


Jenna Hornstock

"We heard from stakeholders that it was critical to think about how people got to Union Station. It was described as a moat, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists." —Elizabeth Carvajal

"We want Union Station to be a national best practice for coming out ahead of change in a community in a way that is inclusive, equitable, and sustainable." -Jenna Hornstock

Elizabeth, Metro has just released a draft environmental impact report regarding Union Station’s planned upgrades. What improvements are now being proposed?

Elizabeth Carvajal: The focus of this impact report is a series of perimeter improvements on the west side of Union Station—streetscape enhancements in front of the station and forecourt improvements, which we’re calling the Los Angeles Union Station Forecourt and Esplanade Improvement Project.

As part of this project, we are enhancing connectivity between Los Angeles Union Station and the surrounding communities by repurposing the existing northwestern surface parking lot into a new civic plaza. The project also includes an esplanade along Alameda Street between Cesar Chavez Avenue and Arcadia Street, which will reconfigure the roadway with widened sidewalks for pedestrians and bicyclists on the eastside of the street and widen sidewalks on the westside in front of El Pueblo.

The project will create a very direct and intuitive crossing from Union Station directly into El Pueblo de Los Ángeles through a new consolidated, raised crossing at the sidewalk level. This new crossing would result in the closure of the northern driveway at Union Station and the northern travel lane on Los Angeles Street, but it would ultimately allow for a very seamless and permeable connection from Union Station directly into El Pueblo. Finally, the project also includes repurposing a travel lane on Arcadia Street, between Alameda Street and North Spring Street, as a dedicated tour bus parking zone for El Pueblo. 

Jenna, when TPR last spoke with you about Union Station, Metro had just begun the EIR for the Union Station Master Plan. Explain how Metro’s approach to upgrading Union Station has changed. 

Jenna Hornstock: The master plan is no longer being adopted at the programmatic level. Between the development of the Link Union Station plan and high-speed rail, and the fact that we didn’t have funding to move Patsaouras Transit Plaza as proposed, the programmatic vision was changing so much that it no longer made sense to pursue a program-level environmental clearance. Instead, we are doing project-level EIRs for each of these improvement projects, as well as the project that Elizabeth described. We are ensuring that each project is in keeping with the master plan’s core goals of optimizing transit, connectivity, and destination, and incorporates elements of the master plan vision.

We’re also adapting our approach to commercial development on the site. For example, moving the bus facility would have changed the configuration of the east side of the station, and we anticipated development pads over the new bus facility on the west side. We are working with the Link US team to reconsider the development opportunities based on their design and engineering work to date.

Even with these changes, the master plan is still an important guiding document for us, and it was important that we did it. We learned so much about the station’s needs for current and future transit patrons—in particular the need for a large multi-modal concourse, which is a core component of the Link US project. We are still following the principles and goals that we laid out in the master plan, which were developed with our stakeholders and which our board approved.

Elizabeth, you mentioned that the current improvement project calls for some lane closures. There was recently a backlash to lane closures in Playa del Rey; what are you hearing back from interest groups and communities about this plan? 

Elizabeth Carvajal: The proposed reduction of vehicular lanes on Alameda Street and Los Angeles Street is grounded in a very robust community engagement effort. As part of the concurrent Union Station Master Plan and Connect US Action Plan efforts, which took about two years, we heard from stakeholders that it was critical to think about how people got to Union Station. During stakeholder engagement, Union Station was described as a moat, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists. And Alameda and Los Angeles Streets were identified as community-driven priority corridors for mobility improvements.

We are doing more stakeholder engagement. We certainly anticipate hearing people who have concerns about delays, and we’ll consider the comments we get from them as well.

Most of the Alameda corridor already has two travel lanes in each direction; this is generally the only area where there are three lanes. This project will bring the section in alignment with the length of the corridor, from the Arts District to the State Historic Park.

From our perspective, this project is about creating a balanced approach to improving multimodalism in front of Union Station by providing improved facilities for people who are walking and biking to and from the station, while still accommodating vehicular access on the corridor.

Jenna, address how these proposed improvements to the perimeterthough grounded in local community needscontribute to making Union Station a world-class transit center.

Jenna Hornstock: The Connect US Action Plan is a connected network of active transportation projects all around Union Station and the community. That is critical to making Union Station a world-class hub, because people need to be able to walk out of the station to places nearby, and to get from the nearby transit stations to this destination. Creating this connectivity not only helps people get around—it also sets the tone and stage for a world-class community that includes jobs and housing centered around transit. A strong active transportation network is the bones of the future for this area.

Our work also includes thinking holistically about the Civic Center, where there is a lot of publicly owned land that’s being connected with our active transportation improvements, and which the Downtown community plans will upzone with form-based codes. That creates an impetus and a driver to think bigger about Union Station and the Civic Center as a connected whole.

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At the same time, it’s critical that these improvements are community-driven. Our agency—our board and our executive management—have made a commitment to our stakeholders. Our focus on equity, sustainability, and community engagement doesn’t take away from our ability to achieve world-class results; it enhances it. That’s how Metro got $120 billion in funding for the largest local public works program in our nation: through a ground-up, community engagement process. I’m proud of the work that we do to make sure that we are reflecting these communities.

Discussions about equity and sustainability may always not be included in major projects around the globe, but it’s important for us in LA. Our world-class is going to be at a whole other level, because we will be considering our impact on the people who use this place.

How does Union Station figure into Metro’s prioritization of transit-oriented communities and finding regional solutions to the Southern California’s housing crisis?

Jenna Hornstock: Union Station is the most transit-accessible location in Southern California. How we think about redevelopment at this station, about the transportation improvements that will happen here, and about this Alameda and Los Angeles Street project, reflects how we think about transit-oriented communities.

The transit-oriented communities approach is about making access to transit an organizing principle for land-use planning and community development. During our community engagement process, stakeholders told us that they felt Union Station was totally disconnected from the rest of the city. Our answer to that was the Connect US Action Plan, of which the Alameda and Los Angeles Street improvements were two of the most important parts in terms of helping people get out of the station and into communities. It’s part of thinking holistically about the station—beyond our front doors.

We want Union Station, and the larger Civic Center area that is directly connected to it, to be a national best practice for coming out ahead of change in a community in a way that is inclusive, equitable, and sustainable. About a year ago, our board directed us to form the Los Angeles Union Station/Civic Center Task Force. The idea behind the task force is to bring Metro, the city of Los Angeles, the county of Los Angeles, and the California High-Speed Rail Authority together to make sure that we are coordinating and thinking holistically about the myriad investments we’re all making in this area.

First, our Connect US Action Plan and what we’re doing at Union Station represent a network of improvements that will make this an amazingly vibrant and connected area. Meanwhile, the city is doing two community plan updates in the Downtown area that cover the Civic Center and Union Station: the Central City and Central City North Plans, collectively known as DTLA 2040. There is also plan to cap the 101 Freeway in Downtown.

The city also recently completed the Civic Center Master Plan, which looks at repurposing five city-owned properties for redevelopment—some as commercial office for the city, and some for private development. Then, of course, there’s our Regional Connector investment, plus high-speed rail. When you start to piece all of this together, you can see that the Civic Center and LAUS areas will lead another wave of development in Downtown. The question for this task force is how we can get out ahead of this change, make equity and sustainability part of the conversation, and leverage all the investments that we’re making as the public sector to capture some of the value we create.

Metro also got a grant from SCAG’s Sustainability Planning grant program that will fund a feasibility study for forming a tax increment financing district in this area, and allow us to partner with community-based organizations to work with the task force and stakeholders on a visioning process. Combined, these efforts demonstrate broad, out-of-the-box thinking about transit-oriented communities.

Finally, elaborate on Metro’s plans to collaborate with a master developer on Union Station’s buildout. 

Jenna Hornstock: This fall, we will start the procurement process for a master developer for LAUS. We are looking at a two-phased procurement process: first an RFQ, and then an RFP. Just as with the Master Plan, where we looked for world-class architects and we got them, we’re now expecting to attract a world-class team to work with us on integrating commercial development with around $3 billion of transit infrastructure investments into this station (between Link US and high-speed rail). These are the makings of a groundbreaking, world-class transit facility.

From the master plan, we have a general understanding of where development opportunity is in the station, as well as the opportunity to connect development with transit infrastructure investments. But we’re not quite at the stage where someone could give us a clear proposal of what they would build here.

We’re in the design and engineering process of the Link Union Station project, and we want a master developer at the table to make sure that the transit infrastructure and commercial development are connected. These interstitial pieces are going to come together to make Union Station the great destination it can and will be.

The RFQ and RFP will make clear that the early stages of the development process will be to develop a master site plan based on the evolving design and engineering for Link US. That master developer will have the right to negotiate the terms of a commercial development deal.

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© 2017 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.