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Union Station changes call for more space for walkers, less for cars

FILE: Changes planned for Union Station are intended to make the surrounding area more connected to the station and pedestrian-friendly.
FILE: Changes planned for Union Station are intended to make the surrounding area more connected to the station and pedestrian-friendly.
E.J. Flynn/AP

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Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is planning to revamp the outside of Union Station in downtown L.A. and some elements outlined in a recently released draft environmental impact report could prove controversial.

Union Station is a major hub for Metro services and should become even more important once the Regional Connector transit project brings the Blue and Expo light rail lines there in about four years. Those currently end at the 7th and Metro station downtown.

According to Metro's customer surveys, about 80 percent of transit riders get to buses and trains on foot. But Elizabeth Carvajal, who is directing the Union Station Forecourt and Esplanade project, said the current conditions at the station aren’t pedestrian-friendly.

"You are confronted with a sea of asphalt. It’s not a space that feels or really is safe for people to move to and from and really feels disconnected," she said, pointing to the large parking lot and six-lane Alameda Street in front of the station.

Metro is proposing several new bike and pedestrian features like replacing short-term parking with a civic plaza, widening sidewalks to add a tree-lined biking and walking path and creating a larger, more prominent crosswalk connecting the station with the historic El Pueblo located across the street.

A rendering shows the proposed redesign for the front of Union Station, with a civic plaza where a parking lot is now, and a tree-lined esplanade with a biking and walking path.
A rendering shows the proposed redesign for the front of Union Station, with a civic plaza where a parking lot is now, and a tree-lined esplanade with a biking and walking path.
LA MTA

But accommodating bikes and pedestrians would mean less space for cars. The plan would reduce car lanes on several nearby streets – a move that’s proven controversial in other areas of the city like Playa del Rey.

The street modifications would be paid for with a $12.3 million state Active Transportation Program grant. Funds for the plaza are still being sought.

Metro hopes to finish the project's environmental studies in 2018 with construction possible in 2020.

Metro is taking public comment on the project via email at carvajale@metro.net and in person at a workshop on Sept. 13 at Metro Headquarters from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The draft environmental review and appendices are available on Metro's website.