By Noel T. Braymer
Recently, I was given a short informal tour of Los Angles Union Station by Susan MacAdams who is a Board Member of the Union Station Historical Society. Even though I’ve been in and out of Union Station many times over the last 39 year, I discovered much that I hadn’t noticed before. The Red Line construction back in the 90’s in general, and including at Union Station had several problems, took longer than expected and went well over budget. I remember those day because of the many detours when digging the Red Line station at Union Station. This included tearing up part of the station tunnel under the platforms and temporary crossings across out of service station tracks to get to or from your train at Union Station. I was taken by Ms. MacAdams to the subway station entrance next to the Subway Sandwich outlet at Union Station inside of the station concourse. This is at the same level as the passenger tunnel under the platforms. She pointed out that the entrance to the current Gold Line is on the same level as the area by the escalators to and from the Red and Purple Lines. For most passengers transferring between the Gold Line to the Red or Purple Lines is now a roundabout route through the tunnel and down to the subway. But just past the subway escalators a short corridor could be built for a direct connection at Union Station between heavy and light rail at Union Station.
One of the plans now for the new concourse at Union Station is to greatly enlarge the area under the stations platforms to make it easier to move around and to transfer between trains, buses as well as between heavy and light rail. This work will include the construction of run through tracks at Union Station. As part of the plan for the new run through tracks (the project is now called LINK US by LA Metro) will be to raise the level of the platforms and run through tracks by about 16 feet. A few of the platforms and tracks on the east side of the station will remain stub tracks. I had assumed that the reason for raising the platform height was to clear the roadway at the south end of the station and to get over the freeway. What I learned was the main motivation for raising the height of the platforms was to make room for more retail space in the new concourse planned under the the station platforms.
I don’t have a problem with Union Station adding services and amenities to increase ridership and generate additional revenues. But the reality is that in the last couple of years hundreds of retail outlets have shut down, and there is now a glut of empty storefronts at shopping centers around the county. Redevelopment at and around Union Station is a major factor behind the improvements at Union Station. This will also include new office and commercial buildings at and near Union Station. One of the greatest demands for construction in downtown Los Angeles is for housing. This may also need to be included in the area around Union Station and most other LA Metro and Metrolink stations.
Compared to the 1970’s, there are many more people at Union Station today. There is often crowding in the tunnel under the platforms and inside the main hall of the waiting room. But there are underused and unappreciated areas of the grounds of Union Station. One such area is the south garden area near the old Harvey House restaurant and the Metropolitan Water District office building. The south garden is a nice place, but few people send much time there. This would be a good place for food stands to encourage outdoor eating. Minor changes would make it an attraction for people to come to Union Station as a destination.
But the south garden could also do more as a bypass to the heavy foot traffic at Union Station in the tunnel and waiting room area. In the original plans for Union Station the covered walkway or “arcade” at the south end of the south garden was called the Exit Arcade. This provided a direct covered walkway which avoided the waiting room while leading people to the then Harvey House Restaurant. A new restaurant is due to open at the old restaurant site very soon. This will likely mean more foot traffic in the south garden area in the near future. More could be done to spread out people walking to trains and buses in the station and reduce crowding that will only get heavier as more services are running at Union Station.
The newest addition at Union Station is the new Bike Hub which is for bike parking as well as offering bike repairs and cycling accessories. Ideally this will bring in more people by bike to the Station while needing much less land with parked bikes instead of cars. We were there granted on a Saturday and the Bike Hub had just recently just opened. But things were a little slow while we were there. In fact there was just one bike parked there while we were there. The Bike Hub is considered a temporary building since its architecture doesn’t fit in with the historic architectural style of Union Station. But the building isn’t bolted to the ground what you’d expect for a temporary building, instead its vertical support beams are set in concrete. I would like to see more people riding bikes in downtown Los Angeles and less need for parking structures and traffic around Union Station. More will still need to be done to attract more bike riding in and around Union Station. One thing I’d like to see are fewer cars running red lights at intersections while people are waiting to cross the streets by Union Station.