TAD or TOD? A Look at the W at Hollywood and Vine

3_30_10_w.jpgNice car advertisement at the billboard. Photo: Erik Oginski/Flickr

One of my favorite transportation rhetorical devices has always been the relationship between Transit Oriented Development, or TOD, and its evil brother, Transit Adjacent Development, TAD.  TAD breaks all the rules that make TOD work, but because they can look similar they often get confused.  Unfortunately, TAD can give TOD a bad name.

From Reconnecting America, a national non-profit that advocates for more and better TOD nationwide, explains the difference between TAD and TOD in this article in Mass Transit Magazine. 

TAD is TOD gone bad, development that is adjacent to transit but breaks
all the rules that make TOD work, like making public spaces the focus
of building orientation and neighborhood activity; creating
pedestrian-friendly street networks that directly connect local
destinations; and providing a mix of housing types, densities and
costs.

Other definitions of Transit Oriented Development include "restriction of automobile parking," "affordable housing elements" and "bicycle access."

Reading some of Stephen Box’s criticism of Metro and the W in recent weeks, it got me to wonder.  Is the W, the diamond of Metro’s TOD programming, really transit oriented or merely transit adjacent?  We’ve already seen how some of Metro’s other "TOD" projects undermine themselves by having an abundance of automobile parking, even more than the state average; or desperately announce to the public their free parking.

The best argument that it is truly a piece of Transit Oriented Development comes from The Source.  Fred Camino writes lovingly of the beautiful work done to connect the station to the plaza in front of the W.

Beyond aesthetics, the redesign is functional, effectively creating a
fantastic public space with ample seating and plenty of access to
transit information. According to Metro staff involved in the redesign,
much work was put into making sure the station entrance was
unmistakeably visible from the street in order to adhere to the goals
of TOD, and I’d say they’ve succeeded admirably. With the exception of
an unfinished Metro pylon, the station entrance is unmissable.

But in the same piece, Camino, who doesn’t serve as anyone’s house organ, also takes the W to task for barely mentioning transit on their website.  Somewhere they mention being located on top of the Red Line, but without the link Camino provides I couldn’t find it on my own.  Two months later, they still haven’t added any mention of Metro to the most visible parts of the site.

A visit to the W Hollywood Hotel’s website reveals
nothing about the hotel’s transit accessibility, especially odd
considering it’s built right atop a subway station and it was made
possible due to a joint partnership with the local transit agency. Of
course, driving directions from every point on the map are included.

So even by The Source’s standards, a mixed review for the W from a development standpoint.  High marks for the plaza.  Low marks for encouraging independence from automobile.  So let’s look at some of the other standards that differentiate TAD and TOD.

Undoubtedly, this area of Los Angeles, in the heart of Hollywood, is one of the more pedestrian friendly areas of Los Angeles.  Only the stars on the ground differentiate the foot traffic from what you’d see in Midtown Manhattan.  So the W’s location earns it some points, but what are the pedestrian benefits of the development?  When the W was first being pitched the community there was talk of pedestrian scrambles at the intersections surrounding the development.  That idea has certainly died somewhere in the negotiating process.  Again, an at best mixed grade.

But when it comes to "providing a mix of housing types, density and costs," which is a long way of saying "needs affordable housing" the W doesn’t have a mixed grade.  It fails miserably.  The least expensive unit for sale in the apartment units sells for $800,000.  Affordable?  Not for this blogger, even with a business development executive for a wife.

When it comes to parking, not only does the W fail, it fails proudly.  The W didn’t seek an exemption from the city’s parking minimums citing its existence as "Transit Oriented," which means that there’s going to be more cheap parking than the eye can see, but instead revels in its car culture.  Don’t believe me?  Go to the W Hollywood Residences Site and click on "Wheels" in the "Experience W" section.  It’s a love letter to car parking.  Literally.

3_31_10_wheels.jpg

Box also shows, in the second picture from the top in this article, that the W encourages people to drive (or ride in their limos) to their club and other attractions to the point of leaving cars standing in "no-parking" zones until the valets can get to work.  The cost of the valet?  A wallet-friendly $16.

Last but not least, is the development bicycle friendly.  I’m not going to re-hash all of Box’s arguments, but suffice it to say he demolishes the idea that the development is bike friendly.  Most damningly, there is not one bike rack anywhere on the site.  Two months after it opened, Metro says racks are coming to a little room located off to the side this summer, there isn’t one single rack on site.  Towards the bottom of the article linked to in this site, Box lists eight ways Metro can fix the bike issue; but with mixed and failing grades in all the other sections not even following these suggestions can save this development from being named a TAD.

The W Development is certainly an attractive destination that will probably make its investors and developers a lot of money.  The bar looks classy, the pool club on the roof looks like a certain hot spot and the condos look as though they’re out of a movie about living the good life.  It may be all those things, but as an example of Transit Oriented Development, the W is a TAD, not a TOD, and there’s a lot that would have to be fixed for it to be anything else.

  • In all of this, one thing is clear: I love to read Stephen Box’s annihilation of “TOD” in Los Angeles County. The MTA, like many big agencies in LA, has been able to get away with a holocaust on civil life and public space. Box’s critiques voice the psychological effects these anti-human, anti-cycling, buildings and transit stations imbue on their regular users.

  • Sorry, I meant to say: “TAD? TOD? Try ‘turd’.”

  • Are there any laws in california/LA that mandate a bike rack or two?

  • Technically you could say any development adjacent to transit is “transit adjacent development”. You could have taken that entire site and built a gigantic single-family house. I don’t think that would be better for the Red Line than what’s there now.

    I agree that having no bike racks on site is a bad idea. I agree that not marketing the subway connection aggressively is a disappointment. I think that TODs (all development really) should be exempt from minimum off-street parking requirements and perhaps even subject to some maximum parking requirements.

    The parking spaces in this and every development should be SOLD SEPARATELY as well. Definitely. That gives people an incentive to consume less parking.

    However, what this comes down to for me is in suburbia everybody has as many cars as they can afford and there is rarely any frequent transit service. At the W, people can have their cars (in a land-saving format) and there is excellent transit service. There are many potential riders sitting right on top of the station. The walkability in terms of PROXIMITY TO THINGS is through the roof. Are the units expensive? Yeah, new development generally tends to be expensive. But without expanding the supply of a good in short supply, how is housing supposed to become cheaper without a subsidy?

    This is a realistic model for the average person in LA. Is it perfect? No. Is it a step in the right direction? Yes.

  • Sorry, short circuiting a TOD with tons of parking is not a step in the right direction. How many Metro stations are left to develop? LA is not NY or DC. We can’t afford too many more TOD screwups. Parking maximums NOW. You need the carrot AND the stick if you want to increase ridership.

  • It’s funny, the transit adjacent/oriented development that got me onto transit in LA wasn’t any big joint development but just the relatively cheap apartments around the Hollywood/Western Station (although having the Ralphs TOD there was a nice addition, despite how auto oriented as it is). To me the problem with the big TOD projects is that they’re all “luxury” and the truth is most people spending a million bucks on a condo likely aren’t going to be riding the trains and buses. But at the same time these developments do put the spot light, at least somewhat, on the transit and create destinations… and as long as there’s some relatively affordable housing nearby you potentially get a more transit oriented neighborhood.

  • Nice post by the way.

  • Joel C

    If I have any criticism this being a “TAD”, it goes to Metro. W Hotel is not responsible for making this development transit- and pedestrian-friendly, unless Metro holds them to it. Apparently, Metro failed to do this, so it’s on Metro.

    Any hotel in an area as dense as Hollywood is going to want to accommodate cars. A hotel is a business, and this hotel’s business is to sell luxury. They don’t want to lose business because guests are afraid they are not going to be able to park there.

    Bike racks? Why would a hotel need to install bike racks? How many people bike to a luxury hotel? Lack of bike racks is Metro’s fail, not W’s.

    The City has also failed, with its ridiculous minimum-parking policy. I am all for a maximum-parking policy. Without it, developers will continue to put parking first, to the detriment of their surroundings.

    More taxis would help as well. The subway doesn’t go to the Sunset Strip (not yet, anyway). And guests at the W aren’t going to stand around waiting for a bus. Without access to taxis and excellent public transit, most tourists are going to want a car with them.

  • “[S]hort circuiting a TOD with tons of parking is not a step in the right direction”
    —–

    You can also short circuit a TOD with too LITTLE parking, as ironic as it may sound. People have choices about where to live. If living next to transit means you can’t own a car at all, that’s going to be a tough sell for a lot of people.

    I’m all for affordable housing near transit, but there has to be a will to have some units subsidize others, a non-profit developer, or a major increase in supply for affordable housing to happen (parking sold separately also helps). The private sector hates to build affordable housing (except new greenfield suburbs). They’re trying to maximize profits. Want to blame something? How about capitalism? :)

  • “Bike racks? Why would a hotel need to install bike racks? How many people bike to a luxury hotel? Lack of bike racks is Metro’s fail, not W’s.”

    I assume (hope) that theres a retail segment or restaurant/bar available to the public. So yes, they need bike racks.

  • “Bike racks? Why would a hotel need to install bike racks? How many people bike to a luxury hotel? Lack of bike racks is Metro’s fail, not W’s.

    I’m sorry, that is a failure of the imagination of Metro, W, and YOU!

    You haven’t seen the stuff I carry: Batavus, Pashley, Biomega, Gazelle, Achielle. I’ll be adding Velorbis and Linus some time this spring.

    Po Campo bags coming in May. Basil bags and baskets gracing the shelves now.

    If you think riding a bike cannot be a luxury experience that is your problem. Don’t make it the rest of ours! The W owes us all an apology for building a hotel that’s just one more “IGFU” sprayed across the landscape.

  • Chris Loos

    “I’m sorry, that is a failure of the imagination of Metro, W, and YOU!”

    @ubrayj02 – I think you’ve pinpointed this city’s biggest problem.

    If every resident of this city had the means to visit places like Portland, NYC, and Copenhagen, and could see firsthand what these cities are doing with transit, bike infrastructure, and urban design, they would demand much more from their own city.

    There’s too much complacency and resistance to change here.

  • Joel C

    “I’m sorry, that is a failure of the imagination of Metro, W, and YOU!”

    “If you think riding a bike cannot be a luxury experience that is your problem.”

    Congratulations on your eclectic and luxurious lifestyle.

    But I would expect that W, as a business, has looked at the numbers and decided that there are not enough few bike-riding luxury-item purchasers riding around Hollywood to make it worth their while to install bikeracks.

    My bigger point is that the big failures are not the developers. They are doing what developers (or in this case, hoteliers) do: focus on short-term profits. The failure is with our representatives and public staffers who control development in the city and who negotiated away the TOD value from this site.

    If you feel strongly about the way Metro and L.A. City allowed this site to be built, then let them know. Make it clear that our city needs to be developed in a pedestrian-, bike-, and transit-friendly way, from this day forward. L.A. is changing, business as usual is not going to cut it in the new L.A.

  • Michael

    Since when is having affordable housing a prerequisite for a TOD? That’s just reinforcing the “only poor people ride the bus” stereotype. A well-marketed, expensive TOD could in fact encourage more people to try public transit that haven’t before.

  • Joel, that really is a bit dishonest. The W has a responsibility to its shareholders not just in the short term, but in the long term as well. Of all places to over-focus on the automobile, directly on top of a subway station is one of the worst! Private industry can do wrong, and they have clearly done wrong by not exploiting the subway station the hotel sits on top of. It is easy to use platitudes about Los Angeles’ culture, but the reality is that going back even one generation you’ll see that things have changed rapidly around here, and things are changing yet again. The standard operating procedure of the mid-20th century is not the only profitable way to run a hotel.

  • Chris Loos

    Did anyone happen to catch the “New Hollywood” story on the Channel 4 news last night? They focused on the W, and interviewed a group of guys who gushed about how great it is to be able to take the Metro from Downtown to the new hotel.

    Great PR for Metro!

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