Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Beefing up the Norwalk Green Line Station

An aerial view of the Norwalk Green Line station and its two parking lots.
Image: Google Maps.
In my experience, there's one thing you'll encounter if you get to the Norwalk (California) Green Line Station by car in the middle of a weekday: frustration. This station is so popular with motorists eager to ditch their cars to ride the train that runs down the middle of the 105 Freeway or catch one of several bus lines that have a hub there, that all of its 1,502 car parking spaces are routinely filled up.

It doesn't have to be this way. The success of this park and ride should be built upon in at least two connected ways: charging for parking and building parking structures. Currently, the entire parking supply at the station is made up of two connected surface lots that are free to park in. The first reason charging for parking is a good idea is that it will help to manage demand. There are few things more frustrating as a driver than having to waste your time and gas circling in vain for a parking space that doesn't exist. How much to charge? I don't know, but I do know that the right price should be found by experimentation. Start low, say a dollar to park for the day and see how that affects the lot. If the lot is still jammed, up the price. If the lot is half empty, lower the price. Try to hit a price point where most of the spaces are full, but there are enough empty ones that people aren't frustrated.

Now on to phase two of the plan: what to do with all of that parking money. I say use it for bonds to build two parking structures. Normally, I'd be all in favor of mixing in a lot of transit-oriented development, that is, people living or working right by the station. However, in this case, that strategy would prove problematic. First of all, the site is immediately adjacent to the 605 Freeway, meaning any housing would be subjected to a massive amount of noise and pollution. Retail development wouldn't have the arterial street exposure that is typically so desirable in LA County, although I think a couple of small storefronts in the parking garages could do pretty well just from the transit traffic. Office development is probably a better option than residential, but I worry about losing too many parking spots at such a popular park and ride. Any building would have to be tall to use land efficiently enough, and the site is directly adjacent to detached houses, whose residents typically don't take kindly to such abrupt changes in scale.

Proposed locations for parking structures.
Why not build two parking garages, one at a time? Build them along the western edge of the larger eastern lot. By avoiding the eastern edge of this lot, the parking structures will be set back from the surrounding houses and thus not look as bulky. This will lessen opposition to the project and spare the houses from some of the visual and noise impacts of building and operating the parking garages. In fact, placing the structures in that part of the lot might even reduce some of the noise coming off the freeway. By building one garage at a time, fewer parking spaces will be taken out at any given time. Once the first structure is complete, there will probably be more spaces than before even with the spaces you lose while you're building structure #2. Since we've started to price parking already in this scenario, the price can be shifted up to control demand when parking is most scarce. The structures could even create a visual signal to motorists on the 605: "get out of that miserable traffic and come ride transit!"

Let's beef up the Norwalk Station and help transit in southeast LA County reach its true ridership potential.

Viviendas ingeniosas para los ancianos en Montebello

¿Qué tienes cuando combinas un centro comercial orientado a los coches con un edificio de departamentos con mezclados usos de tierra? Unas viviendas bastante chidas en Montebello, California, de hecho.

Montebello Downtown Plaza es algo muy raro en el Sur de California: un centro comercial orientado al coche con mezclados usos de tierra. Foto: Mapas Google Vista de Calle.
Un proyecto, llamado Montebello Downtown Plaza, en la esquina suroeste del Bulevar Montebello y la Avenida Cleveland es una mezcla elegante de estos dos elementos. Un edificio es una fila de tiendas atrás de un aparcamiento y el otro combina tiendas y estacionamiento con verjas para los residentes en el primer piso con tres pisos de departamentos arriba, usando el mismo aparcamiento mencionado primero para las tiendas. Una vereda muy ancha con árboles, asientos, y una parada buena de autobús apoya todo muy bien. Lo ingenioso de todo esto es que parece como un centro comercial orientado al coche, pero funciona como urbanismo con mezclados usos de tierra. Los motoristas pueden ver que hay un lugar en que estacionarse y los residentes viven muy cerca de tiendas y líneas de autobús que van este-oeste y norte-sur.

Montebello Senior Villas (centro) tiene departamentos arriba de tiendas en el lado norte y depende de dos aparcamientos de superficie. Foto: Mapas Google.
Un híbrido suburban-urbano se revela otra vez en Montebello Senior Villas ubicado en el Bulevar Whittier y la Calle 21. Este edificio grande de dos pisos es viviendas para los ancianos arriba de tiendas orientadas al coche en el lado de más actividad en el Bulevar Whittier y solamente residencial atrás con patios suministrando espacio abierto en el interior. El plan de estacionamiento es un poco diferente aquí, con dos aparcamientos de superficie, uno según lo que parece, para las tiendas, y el otro, atrás, para las viviendas y los invitados.

¿Qué significa todo esto? Dado que la generación Baby Boom entra su tercera edad, las viviendas para los ancianos crecen en importancia. Muchos ancianos escogen envejecer donde ya están, y muchos otros escogen trasladarse a una vivienda más pequeña. Cuando la gente se encuentra más vieja, las discapacidades a veces previenen que puedan operar un coche de manera segura. Por aprovecharse de mezclados usos de tierra y vivir cerca de transporte público, puede ser más fácil para esta gente mantener su independencia. Estes proyectos son suficientemente bajos y parecen suficientemente como tiendas orientadas al coche para parecer compatible con su ambiente en suburbia. Pero también son tan urbanos que pueden aumentar la capacidad de caminar y aumentar la capacidad de suministrar servicio bueno de transporte público. Bien hecho.