Several decades into a voter-approved transit focus, both the city and the county of Los Angeles are proudly showing off a growing list of transit-oriented development (TOD) projects. While in the works for decades, a new half-cent tax is estimated to bring a large number of public transit improvements with increased funding through small tax increases.
Supported by a new half-cent tax that could fund an estimated $120 billion worth of public transit improvements over the next 40 years, the region is ramping up the creation of TODs not only in downtown but also along transit lines further out. Private developers are planning and building dozens of TOD projects around transit stations, some of them joint developments with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), to create more comprehensive “transit-oriented communities” (TOCs).
Only 5% of Los Angeles locals use the public transportation systems, and most residents spend an average of 81 hours a year stuck in traffic. Not only is that a huge issue for current residents, but the population of L.A. County is projected to expand by 2.4 million people in the next 40 years. The current population of the county is 10.2 million. As the population continues to grow, mitigating worsening traffic congestion is a high priority. The rail system is expected to double in order to better connect the downtown to the sprawl.
In the past 30 years, the county has voted four times to raise taxes by half-cent. The funding in 2008 raised $36 Billion for public transportation projects, and the funding managed to help expand the L.A. County Metro system from two to six lines. This includes two rapid transit lines and four light rail lines. The system expansion now covers 93 stations and over 100 miles of rail. The Metro Busway system also saw expansion and connection to the railway that allows riders to travel from downtown to the San Fernando Valley, LAX, East Los Angeles and the beaches to the west and south of the downtown area.
These tax increases have passed with a high majority. Last November, over 70 percent of voters passed a proposed $120 billion rail expansion, highway improvement and walking and biking infrastructure improvement plan. More than half of revenue in the next 40 years is to be spent on new construction, including 5 new transit lines in addition to the extension of six new railway lines that are either in plan or already under construction. Measure M, through the city of Los Angeles, will fund $200 million for a future downtown streetcar.
With this shift to transit, Los Angeles and surrounding cities are addressing the need for taller, denser, walkable, and bikeable commercial and residential development along major boulevards and near transit lines to support the public investment in transportation infrastructure, and to provide transit access for city residents. The movement towards taller and denser has already been happening in downtown, Hollywood, Koreatown, and other areas. Greenland USA’s $1 billion Metropolis, with hotel, retail, and luxury residential towers rising to 56 stories, is under construction on a former parking lot at Eighth and Francisco streets, less than a half mile (0.8 km) from the Seventh Street/Metro Center Station in downtown.
In more suburban areas, TODs are bringing mixed uses and greater density. Metro Expo, the newest light-rail line, stretches from the downtown west to Santa Monica. One stop on the line is in Culver City, an independent gateway city that historically has been a center for the film and entertainment industry. The Metro Expo light-rail station, which opened in 2012, has helped accelerate redevelopment of the Hayden Tract area from run-down industrial buildings to a creative district for tech and film businesses, art galleries, home décor retailers, and architecture and design firms.
Ten years ago, the Runyon Group, a Culver City based real estate brokerage firm, built the area’s first mixed-use project. The firm later became the first to develop in the city’s TOD area. Runyon opened Platform, a $150 million redevelopment of a car dealership into a creative office, upscale dining and retail destination across from the rail station in Culver City. Culver City’s Abramson Teiger Architects designed four repurposed 1960s-era buildings and three edgier new ones, all between one and four stories. Five ground-floor restaurants and two more opening in the spring are clustered around a courtyard. Office tenants include the West Coast headquarters and a studio for SoulCycle indoor cycling, Paris-based Criteo online advertising, and Technicolor digital effects and film editing. All the retail and office spaces are leased. Another office-above-retail building is due to break ground in October and be finished in two years.
Another mixed-use complex next to the culver city rail station broke ground in July. At $300 million, Ivy Station is designed by Killeger Flammang Architects and covers 5.2 acres of infill property, with 500,000 sq ft of development. The complex is situated at the intersection of Venice, Washington, and National boulevards. Featuring 200 rental apartments, a 148 room boutique hotel and 200,000 sq ft office tower. All in addition to the 55,000 sq ft of retail and dining on the ground floor. The station’s 1,500 below-grade parking spaces include 300 spaces dedicated for Metro riders. In the transit plaza, two acres (0.8 ha) of programmed space with an event lawn serve as a hub for light rail, bus, pedestrians, and cyclists. Though Culver City has a 55-foot (16.7 m) height limit, Ivy Station buildings will rise to 70 feet (21.3 m) in height, in exchange for providing the community benefit of a better retail and outdoor gathering-space environment. Project construction is scheduled for completion by early 2020.
Innovation and creative development are encouraged within cities that are developing TOD, as there is little currently known about how layouts of these cities are working. Because it is an underexplored system, there is a lot of room to play with different styles of urban developments, transportation systems, and mixed-use buildings.
Metro has taken over many of the rights-of-way where rail was removed in the 1960s. Along with private developers, the metro program has more than 25 TOD long term projects underway, complete or under review. In 2011, Metro launched the TOD Planning Grant Program, which has awarded 36 grants totaling over $22 million to Los Angeles County jurisdictions to develop and approve land use plans that remove regulatory barriers to TOD. It recently began a pilot program that provides funding to cities to study the creation of tax increment financing districts around transit stations.
Metro growth has encouraged transit oriented development through communities. The challenges that developers face has only been increased since the redevelopment authorities were dissolved throughout the state of California in 2012. The TOC planning approach expands beyond the typical TOD focus on single developments and consider opportunities within a half mile walking area around a station – and a 3 mile bike shed.
This vision hopes that L.A. will orient its land use planning around access to high density, compact neighborhoods that are walkable and bikeable. While single family neighborhoods remain, transit corridors will allow for communities with diversity of income. Program goals have 35% of housing in the portfolio to be built as affordable housing, for those earning 60% or less of area median income. The discounts for development allow for up to 30% of market value for affordable housing.
Trammell Crow Company is developing a plan for the North Hollywood station, located in LA’s NoHo Arts District. With a team including HKS architects and RELM landscape architects and urban planners, there is a potential for the transit center to become a model for TOC development. The project is a joint development with over $1 billion. The project is one of six Los Angeles TODs that Trammell Crow is developing, is also L.A.’s largest to date. Metro owns the 15.6-acre (6.3 ha) site, which includes the station and 957 transit parking spaces. As the terminus for the Red Line subway and the Orange Line BRT, the station is a major transit hub in the San Fernando Valley with over 24,000 daily boardings. Trammell Crow will build a new transit center that consolidates all bus connections for the Orange BRT line and local bus service.
The Cesar Chavez Foundation will build 20 percent of NoHo Station’s 1,400 homes as affordable for households earning 60 and 40 percent of AMI. The project will also have 400,000 square feet (37,000 sq m) of office space, up to 150,000 square feet (13,900 sq m) of destination retail, 1,000 parking spaces, plus two or three acres (0.8 to 1.2 ha) of open space. Development guidelines created with the community balance historic preservation of the arts district with the height, density, and pedestrian environment needed for a successful TOD.
“This is a game-changer for connectivity in the region and especially to Union Station,” says Brad Cox, Trammell Crow senior managing director. “This project has allowed us to think about the future of transit in L.A. and the shared economy as we move into this major investment in transit, and how people will live, work, and play in a very dense city.”
After Measure M’s passage, Mayor Eric Garcetti said that over 70 percent of the electorate agreed that “we are sick and tired of traffic and we’re going to do something about it.” He said the “car capital of the world” would soon be home to “a transit system that is the envy of the world.” Measure M tax has no sunset clause, so funding could continue indefinitely. The federal government is responsible for about half of the funds, though, with the future of federal infrastructure funding as yet undetermined. Meanwhile, Metro, private developers, and some cities in L.A. County are moving ahead with TOD development that supports transportation alternatives to gridlock.
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