Draft alternatives released for Los Angeles Union Station Master Plan

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The Los Angeles Union Station Master Plan team is releasing its draft alternatives today for improving the venerable station as a transit center. Among some of the proposals (shown above) are replacing the parking lots in front of the station with open space, building a new bus terminal to handle most of the considerable bus traffic at the station and possibly replacing the current transit plaza at the rear of the station with other structures and/or green space.

While all the alternatives will work without high-speed rail, they each offer a variety of ways that high-speed rail could access the station, including configurations in which the tracks are above the current platform, below grade at both the east and west of the current Union Station and running through the current city of Los Angeles Piper Tech facility.

All four of the alternatives and much more will be discussed by Metro officials at a community meeting Thursday (May 2) from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo at the intersection of Central and 1st streets. The meeting will be live streamed at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/lausmp and will be recorded for later viewing.

Here’s a Q&A I put together on today’s news that covers the basics.

What do all the alternatives have in common?

That the historic Los Angeles Union Station built in 1939 is preserved and remains at the center of transit operations. The idea is to embellish the station so that it works as the region’s transit hub for many decades to come while better connecting it to the surrounding neighborhoods — i.e. Chinatown, Little Tokyo, the Arts District, the Civic Center and Boyle Heights.  While the details are not developed yet at this stage, all of the alternatives will create improved pedestrian and bike pathways, including a bike lane through the site.

Union Station is already serving about 10 times the number of people it did after opening in 1939. The expansion of Metro Rail, increased bus service and plans for high-speed rail make it extremely likely that Union Station will only get more crowded if nothing is done.

Do the alternatives propose building designs?

No, that comes later. The alternatives released today are concepts about where to put facilities and future development on the 47 acres of land (and in some cases beyond that) that Metro owns.

Of course, the design of any future buildings, open space and bike and pedestrian connections matter a lot — the devil is always in the details. At this point of the master plan process, however, Metro is first trying to determine where to put everything transit-related. In its current configuration, bus and rail operations at Union Station are widely dispersed. For example, there are five different locations where local and regional buses stop, leading to some confusion among riders and a lot of walking.

A view of Union Station and the surrounding area. Metro headquarters, the MWD headquarters (to the right of Union Station), the First 5 building (in front of the MWD) and the Mozaic Apartments are all on the property that Metro owns. Photo: Steve Hymon/Metro.

A view of Union Station and the surrounding area. The graphic below identifies the different buildings on the Union Station grounds. Photo: Steve Hymon/Metro.

Are any of these changes funded yet? 

For the most part, no. Funding will come later either from Metro or other sources. It’s worth keeping in mind that without a very solid plan in place, there is little chance of getting money from anyone or anywhere.

Quick background. Metro bought Union Station, including about 47 acres of land and the existing development rights, in 2011 for roughly $70 million from the private real estate firm that owned it. The purchase gave Metro direct control over Southern California’s busiest transit hub while also ensuring it wasn’t tied up in private hands for years to come.

In 2012, Metro hired Gruen Associates in association with Grimshaw Architects of London to develop a master plan for the facility. In March, both a Metro staff report and PowerPoint were released that explained the early findings of the Master Plan process: making Union Station work as a transit hub will be the top priority.

Metro is about halfway through the Master Plan process now.

Is Metro proposing to demolish current structures?

Not yet. But the alternatives have some ambitious suggestions contained in them. The current Patsaouras Transit Plaza and East Portal could be replaced with green space and a new entrance building facing Vignes Street. Another alternative envisions a new bus terminal in place of the current Mozaic Apartments, which are mostly occupied at this time.

And one of the alternatives for high-speed rail envisions replacing the city of Los Angeles’ Piper Tech building with train platforms.

Of course, these are all draft alternatives — emphasis on the words “draft” and “alternatives.” It will ultimately be up to the Metro Board of Directors which to pursue in the long-term — a decision that won’t be made until a final plan is adopted, which is scheduled to happen in 2014. It goes without saying that cost and feasibility will both be major concerns.

The old Harvey House restaurant is currently used for special functions and filming. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

The old Harvey House restaurant is currently used for special functions and filming. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

What will happen to the old ticketing room and the old Harvey House restaurant building? 

I knew someone would ask that!

Again, these alternatives look at the big picture. That said, the master plan team is considering both spaces. One possibility for the old ticketing room is using it for some retail operations — something along the lines of the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

As for the Harvey House, Metro is continuing to seek offers from any private interests who want to restore the space as a restaurant and bar.

The news release about the draft alternatives from Metro is below:


First major step in planning process that will bring Union Station into 21st Century

LOS ANGELES – May 2, 2013 — The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) today unveiled four draft alternative master plan concepts for the historic Union Station and its surrounding 47 acres in downtown Los Angeles.

The team of Los Angeles-based Gruen Associates and Grimshaw Architects of New York and London created the schematics as the first step in the re-envisioning of the iconic station to better serve its growing number of passengers and to accommodate greater varieties of transit modes in the coming years. These concepts grew out of seven months of data collection, technical studies and community input.

Following review and feedback from the community and other stakeholders, the team will continue to refine and revise the alternatives. Alternatives will then be brought to the Metro Board of Directors this fall to select a preferred alternative. The design team will further develop the chosen alternative concept so that a final plan can be presented to the public and approved by the Metro Board in spring 2014, in time for the 75th anniversary of Union Station.

“As the new owner of Union Station, Metro is extremely excited to usher America’s last great train station into the 21st century,” said Arthur T. Leahy, Metro Chief Executive Officer.   “Our goal will be to create a more thriving, family-friendly transit destination that will more effectively serve all of the burgeoning demands for transit as Metro works to dramatically increase transit options within L.A. County. Our efforts today will help make the new Union Station one of the premiere transit hubs in the country.”

Martha Welborne, Executive Director of Metro’s Countywide Planning department, said the Master Plan is still in process, and architecture will come later after the master plan is completed and approved. Pedestrian circulation and connections to neighboring communities have been a priority in all the public meetings that kicked off the design process.

“We want to ensure these linkages happen but they require the cooperation of many entities,” Welborne said. In conjunction with the master plan effort we secured a Caltrans grant and are collaborating with the Southern California Association of Governments and a number of Los Angeles City departments on a study of pedestrian and bicycle linkages to and from Union Station. “The study will culminate in a prioritized public improvement plan that will be incorporated into the final Union Station Master Plan,” Welborne said. 

The alternative concepts currently focus on transit operations, offering options for expanded bus operations, and a larger passenger concourse while leaving open the potential for additional heavy and light rail service.  The alternatives satisfy near, medium and long-term goals and allow for the seamless accommodation of the future arrival of high speed rail at Union Station.  All of them protect and enhance the historic station.  Development opportunities that benefit from transit access and that support a world-class transit facility will be explored more fully for the final draft alternatives, slated to be brought before the Board in the fall.

Transit stations affect the lives of the tens of thousands of people who use them every day and account for some of the most iconic and extraordinary buildings in the world.  While still early in the process, the plans for Union Station illustrate the exciting possibilities for the center of transit in Los Angeles.

Related posts on The Source: 

Union Station past and present, in photographs

Zip Car now has vehicles at Union Station! 

A PowerPoint on early findings of the Los Angeles Union Station Master Plan process

New staff report on Union Station spells out a big priority: ensuring the station helps transit users get where they’re going

Survey shows what patrons most want from an improved Union Station

ULI report presents a strategy for developing a Union Station district

Grimshaw/Gruen wins approval of Metro Board to develop master plan for historic Union Station site

36 replies

  1. Neat! I like both Vignes St alternatives, as it seems to spread out Union Station further out across Vignes, whereas the other options keep everything packed inside the current Union Station.

    • I don’t believe questions can be asked on the webstream. Ask here and I’ll try to get you an answer.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

    • Hi In the Valley;

      Here’s the belated info from the LAUS planning team on leaving a comment (sorry–I’ve been tied up with a non-Metro commitment):

      There is not a live Q&A session at the workshop.  We will give a short overview presentation and review the alternatives, and then participants will be able to visit workshops and ask questions directly of our consultants.  We will provide comment forms for the community workshop, and this form will be posted on the project webpage tonite:  
      We will collect comment forms until May 10th.  Additional questions can be emailed to lausmp@metro.net

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  2. CAHSRA is studying the alternative of HSR tracks at the same grade and adjacent to the existing tracks, generally between track 15 (or whatever the highest track number is) and the MTA building. I don’t see a draft alternative here that incorporates that option.

  3. Interesting options. I’d like to see if they can pull those aerial HSR tracks more parallel to Vignes and closer to LAUS – less walking. Put a slight bend in the tracks around the Metro building. Might have to drop 101 down. What happened to the original plan to have HSR next to the Gold Line and use the existing (probably expanded) concourse?

  4. I gotta say I like the “Under Alameda” alternative a lot. You avoid stacking tracks and concourses above each other, and you focus development on the Alameda/Chinatown side. The East Side’s just a wasteland with the Jail and the river. Patsaouras plaza was a nice try but it doesn’t have anywhere near enough capacity – a good solid bus terminal between the station and the existing tracks could handle all bus lines and eliminate the current confusion.

  5. Any options that put Diesel trains underneath a big structure are (cough, cough) A-OK with me!

  6. All the alternatives show very grandiose plans for HSR, treating it as if it’s a completely different mode from other trains. Looks like a non-starter to me. A large terminal like Union Station should facilitate transfers between high-speed and regular rail, and having them on adjacent tracks is an obvious solution. Even the highest speed train travels at 0 mph when it loads and unloads at a platform, so there’s no reason not to use regular tracks at or near a station.

    Without easy transfer between high-speed and regular rail, people will either drive to Union Station in order to use HSR, or just avoid HSR altogether.

  7. It looks like a lot of good options are on the table for LAUS. Please wake me up when they announce plans for grand train stations in West LA and the Valley

  8. Is HSR even going to happen? I would think that nothing should be done until everyone is absolutely sure HSR is/will be built…the way things are going, who knows.

  9. I think Metro should be finding ways to procure money first than spending all this money renovating this station.

    You can’t fix stuff unless you have money flowing first. Have they figured out how to lock up all the gates across all stations, not just the Red and Purple Lines, so that people are really paying for their trains? Metro must be bleeding out tons of money because of this.

  10. Are they considering changes to the passenger concourse to make it work better, or is that not even on the table yet? Because so far this seems more like “let’s build a big shiny thing for the people who will take a bullet train once or twice a year, without worrying too much about the folks who use Union Station every day for commuting.”

  11. Tax, tax, tax. Spend, spend, spend.

    Everyone becomes poorer, while government become more corrupt with wasteful spending.

    Whatever happened to not spending the money you don’t have, using the money wisely where there are needed, and finding new ways to make extra revenue?

    All this shows is that Metro is addicted to spending tax payers’ money without even a slightest of hint of common sense finance.

    Does Metro even have an accounting and finance department that overlooks how money is being spent? Or are they part of the scam too?

    • It is not fair to blame METRO for what is a basic rule of all large organizations as first put forward by Edsel Ford: “Mini cars make mini profits.” That is to say the salary and pension of any large agency staffer is based on the size of his/her portfolio. Therefore, self-preservation dictates that one shoots for high-end projects.

  12. I prefer the “Above Rail Yard” option, and NOT the “Under Alameda” option. I prefer to the keep the historic structure as the “front” and so it seems awkward to place HSR (or any other major component) in front of the historic building. The Vignes options are interesting, but I think plans for the jails should be integrated or at least taken into consideration, if a significant effort is going to be made to activate the “rear” of the station along Vignes.

    • I prefer the Above Rail Yard option because the intermodal connections are close-by. Studies have shown that the further apart intermodal connections are the fewer the travelers. I also want the Mozaic Apartments demolished and replaced with open-space. They are cynical eyesores blocking the grand view of Union Station.

  13. Tom,

    Metro is not supposed to compare itself from Ford in the first place.

    Ford is a company run for profit with shares on a public stock exchange. It is driven for profits to the shareholders first.

    Metro is a TAX PAYER FUNDED GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATION. It is not Ford. It is not Apple. It is not Google. It is a government agency.

    What Metro dictates as “self-preservation” is exactly that: to protect the self interest of their jobs first, not the public. And to do that, they ask for taxes from the public so they can keep their government jobs and be paid handsomely for it.

  14. So, Mozaic apartments are going to be demolished in all of the alternatives? Why? Will they relocate the residents? I was looking into those apartments to possibly move to.

    • Hi Alexander;

      Please keep in mind that these are draft alternatives and they can still be modified and other alternatives developed. Obviously these four do show that Mozaic would be impacted — and that’s no small proposition given that most of the apartments in the development are currently rented. Please also consider that most of the master plan is yet to be funded (a plan is needed to seek funding). So there’s likely quite some time before major changes are made.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  15. To put it into layman’s terms: The high speed rail project is going to be dead anyway. It’s facing so many obstacles that it will be decades before a single track is laid out. And they just selected the contractor with the lowest track record because CA is heading for the poor house faster than the bullet train.

    Why waste tax dollars in building a train station for something that’s never going to happen? Because Metro wants to say they’re doing something so people can keep giving them taxes when they clearly know it’s not going to happen.

    Besides, within 5 years, Google’s self-driving cars will hit the market and they’ll reinvent how people get around through car-sharing. 99% of the time, our cars just sit at parking lots.

    Car-sharing with Google’s autonomous cars will allow cars to be used more efficiently. In the immediate future, people can just say “Ok Glass, bring me a car” through Google Glass or ask for one with an Android app and a robotic car will show up on demand. You hop in and ride where you want to go and it drops you off. No driving need. And Google already proved this with 300,000 miles of robotic driving in CA and in NV. After it drops you off, the car goes and picks up other passengers. This represents a whole new way of travel for the public.

    There’s no more need to hire bus drivers or deal with their unions anymore. There’s no more need to even have public transit. We would be better off by having mass transit be cut off from all taxpayer funding altogether and just sell everything to Google. They’ll run things way better.

    • The High Speed Railway will be built, maybe not in my lifetime–only a few years left–but it is coming. However, we may be the last country on earth to have one. As for self driving autos or any thing like it them, they need highways which take up more space and require more money to maintain than railways. The Mozaic
      Apartments must be a new chic wherein you pay rent to live in a public eyesore.

  16. I support the “Under Alameda” option. This station needs to be more compact and accessible. Under Alameda maintains the integrity. Otherwise the HSR station should be in a different location altogether.

  17. Under Alameda best for HSR- reduced NIMBY problems and if the HSR is delayed in building to LA, most of the rest of the station improvements can be done separate. My second choice is over the train yard. The other 2 plans near or past Vigness are too far away. Alameda is the front door of the station to the city, Vignes is the backdoor. Also, why can’t Terminal Annex Post Office be incorporated into this project ? Make it the HSR waiting room-ticketing etc. or at least some of the levels. Other levels could be shopping, restaurants etc. The Mosaic apartments are in the wrong place. Too bad the master plan was not in place prior to this being built.

  18. Move the Greyhound station here. Now it’s unaccessible and Greyhound will always go more places than rail.

    Agree with demolishing Mozaic – even better, demolish the ugly 3 or 4 story office building that is on Alameda to the south.

  19. Open spaces become cesspools for the homeless and attracts illegal activity.

    What we need are more denser development. Getting rid of the Mosaic Apartments is a bad idea. If anything, that is exactly what we need; denser development so that people live right next to a major transportation hub so people can take transit more over the car.

    What Metro should do is expand their business to real estate development. Instead of open air spaces that becomes cesspools for the homeless and centers of activities for the criminals, they need to utilize the properties they own to build condos, business towers, etc. so that they can make additional revenue that way.

  20. Tom,

    No you’re wrong because self driving cars would actually require LESS space and less money in infrastructure spending.

    Humans are the cause of most accidents and we suck at driving. Computers are more efficient at driving that we are. That means better efficiency in driving where cars “talk” to each other using lidar and compact each other to better spaces as they drive.

    And driverless cars don’t need parking spaces. When they drop you off, they go look for other passengers. Overall, the number of cars on the road decreases.

    Thirdly, driverless cars mean people can get a specific type of car on demand. There’s no more one-sized fits all car buying scheme. When you are commuting all alone, all you’re going to need is a single passenger car that takes half width of lane space. If you are moving, you google up a driverless U-Haul truck to show up at your home. If you’re going on a family vacation, a driverless minivan will show up. Everything will be on demand meaning roads and freeways will be used more efficiently. It reduces wasteful use of space like one person driving in a big size SUV or only 5 people inside a huge bus.

    Perhaps you should get in with the times with your wild ideas of tax payer heave high speed rail or mass transit projects and instead go with the real future, driverless cars.

    It’s really just around the corner. And Gov. Jerry Brown already signed a bill into law last year at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA allowing Google free access to test their driverless car anywhere in CA. And they already logged over 400,000 miles without a single accident in a wide variety of traffic situations. All the car companies are in it along with all the tech giants. They are running it all on their own without taxpayer dollars. You think government funded projects has a chance against privately funded corporations? As Sergey Brin said, driverless cars will be ready in five years.

  21. I think that the Above Rail Yard alternative is best. In addition to High Speed Rail being in close proximity to the rest of the rail lines, the bus terminal is in one building, the other plans have buses in two North/South oriented buildings.

  22. What ever happened to the proposals where HSR came in on (roughly) the existing track level, taking the position of the western tracks (east of the Gold Line)? Those proposals were better.

    Of *these* alternatives, the “double-stacked” Above Rail Yard alternative is the *only* tolerable alternative. The others all have HSR too far from Union Station — in the case of the Alameda St. Subway option, too DEEP.

  23. “Sick”,
    Driverless cars are a fantasy.

    Yes, I know Google can make them follow a path which has already been followed by a human driver, provided there’s no weather, detours, crashes in the way, etc. But they’re basically useless in snow, useless on dirt roads, can’t handle grass parking lots, etc.

    And of course they make congestion WORSE. Human drivers routinely follow too close — unsafely close. Driverless cars will keep a safe distance (otherwise they’ll be shut down by massive lawsuits)…. which will mean they’ll take MORE space than other cars!

  24. You know what’s really frustrating?

    Someone failed to coordinate this with the California High Speed Rail Authority. The options for HSR which are listed here are NOT the same as the list of options in the most recent Alternatives Analysis for LA-Anaheim or LA-Palmdale.

    This seems to me to be frankly sloppy and uncoordinated.

  25. Self-driving cars will be banned nationwide within 10 years, shortly after the first crash. Count on it.