Union Station: Improving Pedestrian Connections
April 26, 2012 1 Comment
With teams having showcased their broad-view ideas for the Union Station area yesterday, I thought I would share one small change I think would make a huge difference. While the plans can include hotels, offices, restaurants, and more, all will certainly bring more pedestrian traffic to the station. It will end up being more of a destination point, rather than just a transfer point, as it is for many travelers now. Of course, with the Regional Connector, possibly High Speed Rail, pass through tracks, and other transportation connections, it will continue to be the major transfer hub for Los Angeles, but with Olvera Street and El Pueblo across the street (and remember, this is where a future streetcar connection would actually end), the additions to the Union Station Property, and potentially Park 101, we will see many more pedestrians exiting the station’s front doors.
Currently, there is a small plaza leading directly up to Union Station’s main entrance, with some memorial plaques and other pedestrian oriented designs. The problem is, the crosswalks crossing Alameda don’t lead to this plaza, they cross parallel on both sides of it due to Los Angeles Street splitting in two around this entryway as is comes into and out of the station. When you exit the front of the station, you’re actually blocked from crossing onto what is supposed to be an entry plaza by a chain and stanchions, forcing you to go around it.
To better serve pedestrians, this small entry plaza should directly connect the front doors of the station with the Plaza at el Pueblo.
The best way to do this is by consolidating Los Angeles St. to the south (where the current vehicle entry is) and moving the vehicle exit to the north side of the timed parking lot, next to Mozaic Apartments. The current vehicle exit from Union Station and the northern side of Los Angeles St. will be transformed into a straight pedestrian entry plaza that extends from Union Station’s doors, across Alameda Street, up to the entrance of Olvera Street.
Not only will this improve the pedestrian connection to the station, but it will also improve car flow within the station.
Few cars actually exit the station and drive straight onto Los Angeles St. (I’ve watched the intersection often), most are turning left or right on Alameda and would not be affected by moving the exit slightly north.
Currently, the passenger pickup area is to the north of the main entrance, meaning cars that are picking up passengers have to pull in to the station and turn left to get the to the pickup area. To exit back onto Alameda, they then have to make a U-turn and come back towards the main entrance where they can then turn right to get to Alameda. With the vehicular exit moved north, they can simply turn left once entering the station to get to the passenger pickup area, and then turn left again to get out of the station and back go Alameda. The vehicles exiting to Cesar Chavez would not be affected at all.
For cars wanting to travel south on Los Angeles, a single lane would be preserved going away from the station at Alameda. It would be located where the current island is, while the island would be shifted north. This would allow cars traveling south on Alameda to turn right onto Los Angeles. When Los Angeles St. curves, the single lane would split into two in order to match the current configuration.
The only part of this that I don’t think works better than the current configuration would be the vehicle entry. Once vehicles enter and have to make the left turn at the station’s front doors, there would only be space for one car to stop in front of the pedestrian crosswalk. Currently, however, there are only two car lengths, at most. While the change will not improve this space, it will not make it necessarily worse either.
In all, adjusting the vehicular and pedestrian entrance and exit at Union Station will have a transforming effect on the way the station fits into the community around it, both as the area stands today and as it is planned in the future.
[UPDATE: It does appear at least some of the firms proposing their 2050 vision for the area have thought about the same thing. While they're not specific plans, they're great to look at. If you haven't checked out the vision boards online, do so at The Source.]