A plan to remake the main entrance to L.A.'s historic passenger rail hub faces a small, but key procedural hurdle on August 12, when the El Pueblo Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote to approve design elements for the Union Station Forecourt and Esplanade project.

View of raised crossing on Alameda StreetGruen Associates

Announced in 2014 and later approved as part of the Connect US master plan in 2015, the proposed improvements are intended to create a more welcoming front door to Union Station from Alameda Street.  Currently, visitors hoping to access the transit hub from El Pueblo must cross a seven-lane road before reaching the east side of the street, where they are greeted with large surface parking lots and driveways.  The Metro project, which is primed to receive $18 million in grant funding, would use new infrastructure and cosmetic changes to improve access for pedestrians and cyclists.

Per Metro's website, project elements include:

  • A separated pedestrian and bicycle path with mixing zones on the east side of Alameda between Cesar E. Chavez Avenue and Arcadia Street;
  • Sidewalk widening on the east side of Alameda;
  • Street trees and lighting on both sides of Alameda between Cesar E. Chavez and Arcadia;
  • Curb and sidewalk replacement on the west side of Alameda Street;
  • Removal of the northern lane of Los Angeles St between Alameda and El Pueblo Historic Cultural Monument crosswalk to make space for an expanded pedestrian path;
  • Reconfigured driveway into Union Station;
  • Raised crosswalk between Union Station and El Pueblo;
  • Two-way bicycle path and bicycle crossing on Los Angeles Street;
  • An ADA-accessible pathway between Alameda and El Pueblo;
  • Repurposing the existing northwestern Union Station parking lot into a new civic space with sustainability features;
  • Designated parking for El Pueblo tourist buses during off-peak hours along the northern side of Arcadia between Alameda and Spring Street.

Local architecture and planning firm Gruen Associates, which frequently works on Metro projects, has been tapped to lead the design effort for the forecourt and esplanade.

View of Union Station esplanade looking south on Alameda StreetGruen Associates

Among the proposed improvements are new street lights, sidewalk surfaces, and other furnishings along the west side of Alameda Street and Los Angeles Street.  As those properties fall under the jurisdiction of the El Pueblo Commission, a vote is required in order for Metro and the City of Los Angeles to provide documentation to Caltrans to maintain its grant funding.

A staff report recommends approval of the proposed design features.

While Metro had originally anticipated breaking ground on the forecourt project in 2020 and completing work in roughly seven months, the project's start date was delayed until early 2022 following design changes which restored vehicular turn lanes and reduced the width of the proposed raised crosswalk on Alameda.  Likewise, Metro has withdrawn plans for a second row of street trees along the east side of Alameda due to cost concerns over a potential upgrade to an existing sewer line.  The changes were lambasted by Streetsblog, which argued that retaining dedicated turn lanes along the esplanade would "render the bikeways nearly useless," and noted that reducing the width of the crosswalk would eliminate a direct path between Los Angeles Street and the main entrance to Union Station.

Site plan for Union Station Forecourt and EsplanadeGruen Associates

The new forecourt and esplanade are part of a series of small and large changes at Union Station intended to make the space a more functional transit hub that integrates with its surroundings, including the installation of a new bus plaza at Vignes Street and the construction of a $51-million dedicated platform for the J Line.  In the longer term, the station is expected to add run-through tracks, a larger passenger concourse, and private commercial developments, as well as new connections to Dodger Stadium, the West Santa Ana Branch, and the California High-Speed Rail system.