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. 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.


  2. 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.


  3. 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.


  4. 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.


  5. 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.


  6. 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.


  7. “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!


  8. 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.


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