Connect US seeks to better link Union Station to neighborhoods via new esplanades and bike paths

As most of you likely know, Metro has been developing the Union Station Master Plan to preserve the historic train depot while also renovating it and redeveloping parts of the 40-acre campus as use of the station continues to grow.

A companion study has been looking at an equally important issue: better linking Union Station by foot and bike to surrounding neighborhoods. Union Station sits on the far northern end of downtown Los Angeles and, at present, it’s often not terribly pleasant to reach via sidewalk or bike.

The linkages study — called Connect US — seeks to remedy that by recommending 13 separate projects totaling $50 million to $60 million in costs that would create a series of corridors that walkers and cyclists could use between Union Station and the Regional Connector’s 1st/Central Station and surrounding neighborhoods. Among those communities: Chinatown, Boyle Heights, Little Tokyo, the Civic Center and the Arts District.

A PowerPoint of the study’s recommendations, presented by community members last Thursday at a City Hall event, is posted above. As you scroll through, there are a series of maps and renderings that provide an idea of the scope of the project.

Among the improvements: an esplanade between the entrance to Union Station that would reach across Alameda Street to El Pueblo de Los Angeles and Olvera Street; new esplanades with expanded sidewalks and protected bike lanes along Los Angeles Street, Alameda Street and North Broadway (which would sit on the bluff above Los Angeles State Historic Park), and; add bike lanes (some protected) and sidewalk and street improvements to other key streets such as 1st Street, 3rd Street and Santa Fe and Alpine.

Metro is helping to plan the improvements, which will largely be undertaken by the city of Los Angeles (the city oversees downtown streets). The project has been separated into a series of smaller projects, the idea being that each project can be done when funding becomes available, a nod to the realities of transportation funding.

The final speaker at last Thursday’s event was Gil Penalosa, the well-known former parks chief in Bogata, Colombia, and who now heads up 8-80 Cities, a nonprofit that advocates for parks, bike lanes, pedestrians and making cities more vibrant and sustainable — the kind of things people usually like in cities. As he made clear, the Connect US plan would not only help improve mobility in downtown but would make L.A. more like other well-known cities across the globe that are walk- and bike-friendly and that people love to visit.

Gil Penalosa speaking at last Thursday's event unveiling of the Connect US plan at Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Gil Penalosa speaking at last Thursday’s event unveiling of the Connect US plan at Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

More details and renderings on the evolving Union Station Master Plan

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A rendering of the Union Station property in the future after the Master Plan is implemented. Click above to see larger.

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This rendering shows the new concourse and bus plaza, which would move from the eastern to western side of the station. Click above to see larger.

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Near-term plans involve replacing the parking lot at the front of Union Station with a civic plaza and streetscape improvements along both sides of Alameda Street.

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Far-term plans could include expanding the civic plaza, opening up access to the site along the corner of Cesar Chavez and Alameda and closing part of Los Angeles Street. Click above to see larger.

Progress continues on finalizing the Union Station Master Plan. As you may recall, the Metro Board of Directors last fall approved a basic concept for the station that included a greatly expanded concourse to run under the existing train platforms and both relocating and consolidating the bus plaza to the west side of the current tunnel under the tracks.

Metro provided a media briefing for reporters Monday afternoon that included much of the information that will be provided to the public at a community workshop this Thursday, June 5, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Union Station Board Room. No RSVP is necessary for those who wish to attend. 

First, some basic background: in 2011 Metro purchased the Union Station property, including about 47 acres of land from Catellus, the private firm that owned the facility. With nearly 70,000 people currently using the station on the average weekday — a number expected to grow to 100,000 by 2020 and to 140,000 by 2040 — Metro has been working on a master plan to improve how the station functions as a transit facility. The Master Plan would also expand green space at the station, accommodate potential development that would work alongside a bus and train station, preserve its historic architectural character and make Union Station more of a destination for everyone in our region.

Here are some of the refinements to the Master Plan:

•The new passenger concourse will greatly expand the existing passageway. The concourse will be significantly wider than the existing (and often crowded) pedestrian tunnel and there will be elevators and stairs accessing each of the rail platforms above. Those rail platforms will be spaced out differently and widened from their existing 23 feet to around 30 feet. The location of the current entrance to the Red/Purple Line will remain the same.

Here are three renderings of the new concourse.

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•Metro also plans to eliminate a long-standing bottleneck in a project separate from the Union Station Master Plan but moving forward in coordination with the plan. At present, Union Station is a dead end for Metrolink and Amtrak trains — all trains must enter and exit via tracks on the north side of the facility. Metro’s SCRIP project — now in its environmental and engineering phase — would allow trains to enter and exit the station via its south side by running four tracks over the 101 freeway and connecting to the existing tracks along the Los Angeles River.

The tracks would improve train capacity at Union Station by 40 to 50 percent, according to Metro. The project also gives Metro the chance to make improvements to the rail yard and concourse below.

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Union Station: A grand opening

Click on a photo to see a larger version or click on the first version to begin a slideshow-type display. Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Railroad Heritage Foundation Collection.

This is the first of a series of posts on the history of Union Station that will run on Tuesdays and Fridays throughout April. The station celebrates its 75th anniversary on May 3.  

The Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal finally opened to the public on May 3, 1939 and it was celebrated with a massive parade down Alameda Street. The theme was the history of transportation and the parade included covered wagons, stagecoaches, Pony Express riders and several massive steam-powered locomotives.

The station’s grand opening was a huge deal for what was still in many ways an unsophisticated western town, albeit one whose population mushroomed since 1920 to about 1.5 million people in 1939. The city finally had a central passenger terminal. The L.A. Times reported that people hung from trees to get a better look at the festivities. Some fainted from the heat.

The parade was followed by tours of the station and a 45-minute production called “Romance of the Rails.” The free show along the tracks inside Union Station was subtitled “California’s Story of Transportation,” and the program notes that it was adapted and directed by John Ross Reed. No one now seems to know who John Ross Reed was. Was he a famous Hollywood director of the time?

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Union Station community workshop on Thursday to provide more details of emerging master plan

The front entrance to Union Station. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

The front entrance to Union Station. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

The Union Station Master Plan team is holding a community workshop tonight from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Our Cathedral of the Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles to discuss their latest work on the plan to improve the 74-year-old station. If you can’t make it, no reason to fret — the meeting will be live-streamed and also available for later viewing.

First, a bit of history for those new to the project. Metro purchased Union Station and about 40 acres of land from a private firm for about $70 million in 2011. The acquisition was important to Metro because it gives the agency control over the busiest transit hub in Southern California.

In May, the Union Station Master Plan team released diagrams of four alternatives for the Master Plan that seek to improve transit access and relieve crowding, better connect the station to surrounding neighborhoods and accommodate high-speed rail and future development on the site. Here’s a Source post that explains the alternatives.

We’ll have the full PowerPoint presentation that will be shown at Thursday’s meeting online tomorrow. In the meantime, I’d like to share a few nuggets that will likely be of interest to the many of you closely following this project:

•There are actually three ongoing projects involving Union Station.

In addition to the Master Plan, there is a study underway to improve signage and wayfinding at Union Station. All non-electronic signs are scheduled to be replaced by May 2014. New signs will share a more consistent design style, use more pictograms and be accessible across more languages.

The second study involves working with the city of Los Angeles to improve linkages between Union Station to downtown L.A. and surrounding neighborhoods. That’s important because Union Station is located on the far northern side of sprawling downtown and on the other side of the 101 freeway.

•In addition to those studies, Metro is also pursuing some other short-term improvements for Union Station such as upgrading and adding restrooms, leasing restaurant space and possibly turning the old ticket room at the front of the station into a marketplace with different vendors.

•While the Union Station Master Plan mostly involves what happens on the 40 acres including the station, a couple of the more interesting slides in the new presentation shows a concept to improve pedestrian access and provide more open space at the front of the station:

Alameda Plan

Illustrations credit: Metro.

Illustrations credit: Metro.

Of course, this is just a concept at this time and would involve working with other agencies and the city of Los Angeles. But it’s certainly intriguing!

•There is also some new graphics showing what an expanded passenger concourse providing more room for passengers may look like in the station, as well as maps showing sites that may be best-suited for any future development on the Union Station property.

Enjoy the meeting and we’ll post the new presentation on Thursday. And, of course, please feel free to post comments and questions on the blog.

Keep reading for the full press release from Metro:

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Union Station past and present, in photographs

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been both shooting and collecting photos of Los Angeles Union Station, the best of which I’ve put in the above slideshow; click on the first image to begin the slideshow. You can also watch the slideshow on The Source’s Flickr page or as a video on YouTube.

For those interested in the old ticket room and Harvey House, there are a bunch of photos about halfway through the slideshow. After years of looking through Harvey House through the windows, I finally had a chance to go inside. It’s spectacular.

Some quick background: Metro purchased Union Station for roughly $70 million from Catellus in 2011. The purchase gave Metro direct control over Southern California’s largest rail and bus hub, including  development rights on 40 acres of land. Buying Union Station also prevented the facility from being tied up in a real estate trust that would have kept a very public space in private hands well into the future.

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. I tried to take some of the photos to reflect issues raised thus far by the Master Plan team.

The Master Plan process is important considering the Metro Rail system will be growing in the next three decades because of funding supplied by the Measure R sales tax approved by L.A. County voters in 2008. The California high-speed rail project is slated to arrive at Union Station when funding for that segment is secured. Bottom line: an already busy facility is going to be a lot busier. Here’s the Master Plan home page on metro.net.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, Dec. 14

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the library’s blog.

Bakersfield Council to consider opposing high-speed rail line (L.A. Times)

It’s only a symbolic resolution — but it’s the kind that would get a lot of media attention considering that Bakersfield is the second-largest city in the San Joaquin Valley the project would serve. The city manager is recommending opposing the project for several reasons, including an alignment that would come close to a high school and also require the removal of some businesses and homes. The Council is scheduled to vote on the resolution at tonight’s meeting.

FTA’s compliance review of Metro (L.A. Streetsblog)

Blog editor Damien Newton has a detailed post looking at the FTA’s Civil Rights Compliance Review of Metro that was released on Monday.

Endearing but useless transit (Human Transit)

This post is an outtake from transit planning consultant Jarrett Walker’s new book, “Human Transit.” In the post, he lists seven values that good transit should have:

1.    “It takes me where I want to go.”

2.    “It takes me when I want to go.”

3.    “It’s a good use of my time.”

4.    “It’s a good use of my money.”

5.    “It respects me.”

6.    “I can trust it.”

7.    “It gives me freedom to change my plans.”

And, in addition, Jarrett also offers a good example from California on transit that’s endearing but basically useless to the locals. If you haven’t guessed — hint: Rice-a-Roni — read the post for much more.

Removal of tracks from Alameda (Downtown News)

Looks like some of the old train tracks running down the middle of Alameda are going to be pulled out in an effort to help smooth the ride for motorists on the road. It’s been years since the tracks were used — does anyone in ReaderLand know when they were last used and for what? I’m curious. Comment please.

Adjustable parking rates in S.F. not changing behavior — yet (Greater Greater Washington)

San Francisco has been using the laws of supply-and-demand to adjust parking meter rates. The idea is to use high prices to discourage motorists from all trying to park along popular city streets and blocks while using low rates to encourage motorists to use under-utilized parking rates. Well, despite some seriously different per-hour rates, motorists thus far are following their old habits — popular parking meters remain popular, despite the cost. Hmm.