Urban Land Institute advisory panel shares vision for Union Station area

A crack team of urban design and development experts from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) descended on Los Angeles last week to help Metro and the city of L.A. develop its vision for the area surrounding Union Station. After several packed days of interviews and site visits, the panel presented its findings this morning to a crowd of community members, local elected officials and planners who gathered at the Tateuchi Democracy Forum in Little Tokyo.

Attentive readers will recall that Metro bought Union Station earlier this year, along with the rights to build roughly six million square feet of development around Southern California’s largest transit hub. Since then, Metro has begun soliciting concepts from a number of design firms for a master plan for the Union Station property itself.

The ULI panel’s job, then, was to help Metro envision how a present and future Union Station can better integrate with the surrounding areas of Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Olvera Street, the Arts District, the Civic Center and the Los Angeles River.

Each of the panelists presented different components of the vision, so rather than summarize what each said, here’s a distillation of some of the key points, and hopefully we can post the PowerPoint presentation later on:

  • In the long run, the panel thinks Union Station and the surrounding community are a very good bet for becoming an economic and cultural hub in the region. Union Station could serve as a “model” for sustainable transit-oriented development.
  • Looking at a 25-50 year time horizon, Metro should work to bring in highrise commercial development — after the commercial real estate market rebounds — because employment centers are great drivers of transit ridership. In the short run, Metro should focus on more residential development to bring more people into the area.
  • Young professions more and more want to live in walkable, vibrant, urban communities that are accessible to transit. The Union Station site has the transit component down — and will only grow stronger in that regard — but Metro should work to improve the pedestrian experience around the station site.
  • The whole area needs to work on developing a coherent character and experience, so that travelers from around the region think of Union Station as a destination, a place where they can spend a day walking around and visiting the nearby cultural attractions. Current conditions don’t really support that, because places like Olvera Street and Chinatown are somewhat disconnected.
  • Part of the problem is public infrastructure: major roads and highways like Alameda Street and the 101 Freeway create barriers to comfortable pedestrian flow between these communities.
  • Metro should work to develop a coherent vision for the various publicly-owned parcels surrounding Union Station and consider trying to move some of the infrastructure — i.e. bus maintenance facilities, the county jail, etc. — to other locations further from Union Station.

With those ideas out there, what do you, Source readers, think the Union Station area needs in order to fulfill its potential?

15 replies

  1. Move the Greyhound terminal somewhere near Union Station. Union Station should become a transit hub for not just metro, but for private bus companies as well. As it stands now, the Greyhound bus terminal is in a very shady area to the South of Little Tokyo. It only makes sense to bring Greyhound closer to Union Station so that a full Amtrak/Metro Rail/Metro Bus/Metrolink/proposed CAHSR/Greyhound link can be established in a singularized area.

    In that light, I also propose to build a new “West LA Union Station” near LAX. It only makes sense to link rail and air travel together as well, instead of the half-assed solution that we have with the Green Line today.

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  2. Pedicabs should be allowed in Downtown LA. This would be a form of “bike sharing” that would not cost the city anything, in fact it would generate revenues from the fees associated with pedicab licensing.

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  3. Isn’t there already lofts next to union station? What you need are more connections. The Greyhound should be closer to the station. Maybe this might be a bad idea but why not put one big transit center across the street from Olvera Street.

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  4. As others indicated, capping the 101 with a park (maybe even something more than a simple grassy field) should be a =significant= part of the planning for the Union Station area.

    The Cal-HSR line should be elevated as it come into and exits the Union Station area. Keeping it on a dedicated platform that is not tied down by the loca switching and traffic will keep it moving. Also, by keeping it above the other lines it can stop over top of the Gold line and Amtrak and have an exit to the bus plaza.

    There needs to be better parking and signage for parking garages in the area, as a whole. A downtown wide (or city or region wide) policy of marking entrances to off-street parking should be in effect. An example of this would be a 3 color system of signs as follows:
    Signs indicating the entrances to, or direction to off-street parking would be a minimum of 18″ square with an uppercase P (in a standard font) in a circle(like the Metro M). Arrows below the square can point to the entrance or direction. The color of the circle would indicate if it is an open public lot (like those of Union Sta., those operated by the City, etc.), these would be green; a private or building specific lot/garage, but open to others, these would be blue; or a lot/garage that is restricted to a particular building/site, these would be red and have the name or address of the building or business below the circle. The signs would be perpendicular to the flow of traffic (not flat against the building) and be either near the edge of the street or adjacent to the building. Rates and hours would not be attached to street side poles, rather these would be flat against the fence or building opening. These along with big M signs for metro stops and T (for taxi stops, like outside of Union Sta. or at Dodger Stadium, the Music Center, etc.) would help make LA into an even better ‘world class’ and international friendly city.
    (Local street parking pay stations would have a smaller sign, no larger that 10″ square, with the same P in a grey circle. A dollar sign could be below it.)

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