One of the interesting things about living in Los Angeles is the contrasting views one sees and hears of what life in the City of Angels should look like. Do Angelenos want a house with a yard, an apartment within walking distance of stores and transportation, or a hilltop townhouse in a gated community miles from downtown? The answer is "yes," or so it would seem from the way LA has developed to include ample examples of all of these visions and more of life in the Southland. It was my interest in what might be for Los Angeles that took me to the recent Urban Land Institute (ULI) Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Summit. The conference held Friday at the Hollywood and Highland Metro Red Line station-friendly Renaissance Hollywood Hotel and presented in partnership with Metro, AECOM, ARUP, CRA/LA, CIM, MVE & Partners, SCAG, Globe Street and others was a chance for ULI presenters and vendors to show the field what parts of greater LA may look like in the years to come. As the future home of what could become America's leading mass transit system, what better place to profile possible mixed use residential, commercial and retail developments built at critical transit hubs?
As these things tend to be, the well-organized conference was as much a chance to shmooze with other attendees about transit-oriented development and vendors like Bike Station (a convenient bike parking solution), as it was an opportunity to hear from ULI's technical assistance panels. During a morning session the panels let loose about the challenges and opportunities faced at the suboptimal Slauson Avenue Blue Line, Vermont Green Line and Jordan Downs/103rd Street Blue Line Metro stations, as well as the promising Monrovia Transit Village along the Gold Line (Foothill) San Gabriel Valley extension. But as I opined in my last blog, what about the parking for bikes and cars? Is this a missed public-private partnership (P3) opportunity? Is it enough that Metro relies on the private sector to build parking at existing and planned transit stations? As one panelist put it, there is a need that has not yet been met, years after the station's construction, for safe, well-lit and mixed-use parking at Slauson so Metro riders don't have to drive south to the Florence station to park safely. This lesson should ring true for the planned Expo, Gold, Green and Purple Line stations as well since the fact is, many Angelenos will be driving to those stations too.
On a more upbeat note, when it is completed in 2014, Monrovia Station Square will be one of the first of the dozen projects built under Measure R, a County voter-approved half cent transportation sales tax. Recognizing the need to create a "place" in Monrovia the project will be a mixed-use transit-oriented development built around an attractive former rail station. The locale will be truly multimodal, conducive to travel by rail, bus, automobile, bike and foot.
For many, the ULI conference was also a chance to hear Senator Barbara Boxer express her unflagging support for the 30/10 Initiative. Based upon the lengthy standing ovation Boxer received before launching into her remarks, I expect if she wanted one the Senator wouldn't have any trouble landing a spacious apartment in the nearly fully rented mixed-use transit oriented development above the Wilshire Vermont Metro Red Line Station. Unlike her opponent in November, Senator Boxer is a proven commodity who has delivered on projects that have significantly benefited the Los Angeles region in terms of economic development, job creation, and a cleaner environment. For example Boxer's unsung work on the Alameda Corridor, a freight rail project running from the busy ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles 20 miles north to downtown LA, is a forecast of what she is, and will be, doing to advance the 30/10 Initiative for LA and the nation as Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Though the Alameda Corridor which moved considerable freight off the roads to more fuel efficient rail is ancient history by current news standards, it is worth a look as voters go to the polls in November.
Aside from hearing Boxer voice her full-throated support for LA's plan for build within a decade thirty years of mass transit projects, the tour of the Wilshire Vermont project was the highlight of the day for me. The visit started with a quick door-to-door trip on the fast, clean Red Line subway from Hollywood and Highland to Wilshire and Vermont. Exiting the station on the building's plaza we were greeted by a weekly farmers market brimming with fresh fruit and vegetables and prepared foods. Our tour of the rental complex continued in the lobby of one of its two connected seven story buildings. In addition to amenities including a pool, fitness center, party room and business center, residents of the smartly appointed, light and spacious apartments can sleep that much later on work days as they live at one of LA's most transit friendly locations, a straight shot to downtown and to North Hollywood. Though the project has had its bumps along the way and is now with a new management company (the old one didn't accommodate tenants who sought convenient bike parking, etc.), how often in LA does one get the chance to take the subway door to door from home to work?
But among the lessons shared by the candid guides were the added cost and inconvenience of doing one of these projects above an existing subway station. Considerable time and money went into relocating subsurface Metro infrastructure that would not have been located where it was if Metro had anticipated building on the site when the station was first constructed. Going forward, one would expect that Metro will consider transit-oriented construction opportunities at all of its stations and will plan and build accordingly.
The most sobering thing for me about the day-long conference was to see how, from an architectural and planning perspective, many of the most exciting projects are ones the conference sponsors are building in Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere rather than in the United States and more pointedly, Los Angeles.
If you care about LA, congestion, energy consumption and the environment, and support mass transit and a plan that will jump start the economy, now is the time to vote. And if you are a company or individual who can afford to, now is the time to step up financially and support broad based business, labor, environmental and civic coalitions like Move LA (for which I consult) and The Transit Coalition.
Senator Boxer gets it and is in the bus driver's seat on the 30/10 Initiative that Move LA and The Transit Coalition are so effectively advocating for. So if all goes well, in the future, more of those transit-oriented development plans for Shanghai, Singapore and Dubai will be built right here in LA. With that in mind I'm already on the waiting list.