While high-speed rail remains an uncertain prospect in California, it is
the centerpiece of four design concepts unveiled Wednesday for modernizing Union
Architects commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to upgrade the 77-year-old transit hub in downtown Los Angeles showed preliminary plans that put a high-speed rail system atop, beneath or alongside existing subways without compromising the character of the historic landmark.
They also improved passenger concourses by adding shops, restaurants and other amenities; centralized terminals for buses, shuttles, taxis, car rental and even bike sharing; and tried to make the entire 40-acre property more accessible to surrounding neighborhoods in the Civic Center, El Pueblo, Chinatown and Little Tokyo.
A partner with Gruen Associates, one of the architectural firms chosen for the project, said the goal was "to create an iconic place of extraordinary design as the transit hub for L.A. County."
"This can't just be an ordinary building," Debra Gerod added.
Grimshaw Architects associate principal Nikolas Dando-Haenisch said the first of four alternatives is to build an elevated high-speed rail system on top of the existing conventional rail system.
The California High Speed Rail Authority weighed the feasibility of such an "aerial system" in 2010, and called for further evaluation.
the second concept, the bullet train would be 100 feet underground and in front of the historic station, accessible through a new portal.
The third concept also puts the high-speed rail system underground, but beneath Vignes Street, where it would run parallel to the Red Line and Purple Line.
Dando-Haenisch said the fourth concept is to have the bullet train aboveground, on or near Vignes Street behind Union Station, which would require removing or partially rebuilding Piper Tech.
"There's a real opportunity here to consider rethinking the entire area around Union Station" create a real district within this area that connects to L.A. River," he said.
The public can weigh in on the plans during a series of community workshops starting today. Metro may incorporate some of the suggestions before submitting the plans to its Board of Directors later this year.
Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition, a grass-roots organization that advocates improving transportation systems throughout the region, is "absolutely enthused" about the project.
He said travelers weighed down with luggage might prefer having high-speed rail positioned right on top of conventional rail, as it would give them a shorter distance to walk during transfers.
He conceded, however, that such a problem would be solved if Metro installs automated walkways to link its various modes of transportation.
"I want to keep the architectural significance, beauty, and historic quality of Union Station while adding more features and amenities," Reed said. "It's finally getting its due attention to become a gem of Los Angeles."
Gerod said the plans are still in the early stages of development, and cost estimates are not yet available.
Metro's countywide planning executive director Calvin Hollis said if the bullet train is never built -- its proponents are dealing with lawsuits and growing public opposition -- the plans for modernizing Union Station will proceed, though with necessary changes.
Metro bought Union Station and surrounding land from a private company for $75 million in 2011. Its planners and architects hope to present a final design to the board by spring next year.
A California High Speed Rail Authority official said the agency is working with Metro on the station plans.
"The Authority is committed to working with Metro during the Los Angeles Union Station Master Planning process," the rail authority's Southern California regional director Michelle Boehm said in a written statement. "We have had several coordination meetings with them already and look forward to supporting their efforts to develop a plan that enhances transportation connectivity at the station."
Metro will hold a community workshop on the Union Station Master Plan at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 2, 2013, at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.
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