NoHo Ped Tunnel Construction Underway, To Connect Orange and Red Lines

Diagram of North Hollywood Station Underpass project. The new tunnel connect the NoHo Red Line subway station with the Orange Line BRT station across the street. Image via Metro
Diagram of North Hollywood Station Underpass project. The new tunnel will connect the NoHo Red Line subway station with the Orange Line BRT station across the street. Image via Metro Fact Sheet [PDF]
Construction is underway for a new tunnel that will make it easier for riders to transfer between Metro’s Orange and Red Lines. Per Metro’s fact sheet [PDF], the new tunnel, officially the North Hollywood Station Underpass project, is expected to be completed in Spring 2016. Riders are already detouring around the pedestrian-unfriendly construction site barriers.

The North Hollywood Station Underpass is a $22 million capital project, funded in part by a $10 million U.S. Department of Transportation Bus Facility Fund grant. According to a Board report [PDF], Metro estimates that the project will save riders approximately 44 seconds as they transfer between the Red Line subway and the Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

According to the Metro project page, once the tunnel opens, “pedestrian traffic will be deterred from crossing Lankershim.” I hope this doesn’t mean that the surface crosswalk at Chandler Boulevard North will be removed. If this is the case, so much for the 44-second savings, as bus-to-bus connecting passengers will have to walk further to get to another surface crosswalk, or go down into the station and then come back up to the surface to catch the Orange Line.

Eliminating the existing crosswalk would also be inconvenient and possibly dangerous for cyclists heading west from the Burbank-Chandler bikeway onto the Orange Line bikeway. Like too many Southern California livability projects, instead of creating the kind of redundancy that is found in local car transportation systems, it sounds like one walkway will open and another will be closed. 

(Updated 4:45pm – Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero requested that SBLA note that the crosswalk across Lankershim at Chandler North will “remain permanently to facilitate pedestrian/bicyclist crossings.”)

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Diagram of the North Hollywood Station Underpass. In the foreground are the existing escalators, stairs, and tri-color arched shade structures at the NoHo Red Line Station. Diagonally through the middle are the Red Line tracks running below Lankershim Boulevard. In the upper right are the existing Orange Line station (not pictured) and new tunnel, escalators, stairs, and elevator. Image from Metro

The tunnel will connect to the mezzanine level of the North Hollywood Red Line Station, next to the existing elevator that connects the mezzanine with the train platform. 

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Tunnel construction will re-locate this existing public art. Photo via Metro

Tunnel construction will punch through the existing west wall of the mezzanine, next to the west elevator. Today, this wall features a tile mural artwork. The mural is mounted on a “knock-out panel.” The project will remove the knock-out panel to make way for the tunnel entrance.

Earlier this year, the construction contract was awarded to Skanska. The contractor recently installed construction fencing at the site. According to Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero, Skanska will be drilling and installing soldier piles this month, and excavation will happen for the next couple of months.

I visited the North Hollywood construction site last week.

View of the North Hollywood Underpass construction site last week. This and subsequent photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
View of the North Hollywood Underpass construction site last week, photo taken looking south over construction fence. Lankershim Boulevard is on the left; the Orange Line is just behind the fence on the right. This and subsequent photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Though it is a balancing act to temporarily make space for construction, and all of us need to sacrifice some convenience during construction now for an improved facility later, it appears that the priority during construction is maintaining car traffic on Lankershim Boulevard at the expense of pedestrian convenience and safety. Unfortunately, this is not news. It is an ingrained Southern California car-centric construction practice.

Construction fence at
Construction fence last week at North Hollywood Orange Line Station. View is looking south from Chandler Boulevard North; Lankershim Boulevard is on the left.

The walk path between the Orange and Red Lines is possibly the most heavily trafficked pedestrian crossing in the San Fernando Valley. It is unfortunate that construction detours do not appear to respect this.

Westbound pedestrians transferring from the Red Line to the Orange Line do so via a crosswalk in more or less the same location as in the past. The crosswalk was on the south side of Chandler Boulevard North; it has been moved to the north side of the same intersection.

Eastbound pedestrians transferring from the Orange Line to the Red Line are expected to detour south and cross Lankershim at the signal at Chandler Boulevard South.

According to Sotero, “For patrons getting off the Orange Line and walking to the Red Line Station… there is no additional walk for the disembarking passengers. It’s about the same difference, just a different direction.”

When I walked it last week, I got to the Red Line portal about 30 seconds before passengers who followed Metro’s detour.

It’s not the end of the world to walk 30 seconds out of the way, but, like drivers and cyclists, pedestrians will flow along the path of least resistance. I observed that around a quarter of pedestrians were ignoring the signs and the barriers and instead walking through the Orange Line busway turnaround area. 

Pedestrians walking the desire line through the bus turn-around area.
Theoretically, all these pedestrians are supposed to keep to the right, but significant numbers walk through the bus turnaround area. (The detour signage is visible in the middle right, at the far end of the orange barrier.)

In absurdist engineer design, a detour sign has been placed well past the point where pedestrians would have already chosen which way to walk.

Passengers getting off the Orange Line walking to the Red Line are directed to right via this signage. Many ignore the sign and continue to the left as before.
Orange Line passengers walking to the Red Line are directed to the right via this signage. Many ignore the sign and continue to the left as before.

Prior to construction, significant numbers of pedestrians were already using this cut-through, as it is a more direct route than using the (now closed-for-construction) sidewalk around the turnaround area.

If it were up to me, Metro could have just okayed the busway pedestrian cut-through practice to keep foot traffic flowing pretty much the way it always has. It is a bus-only right-of-way, with only trained Metro operators driving one bus through there every four minutes at peak times. It is probably a safer place to walk than most Los Angeles intersections.

But, no, Metro is aware of the cut-through and has plans to curtail it. According to Sotero:

[Metro has] requested law enforcement to be there to help ensure pedestrians follow the signs. We will also put additional handrails along the pathway adjacent to the circular Orange Line right-of-way to help prevent illegal or unsafe encroachments. [This week, Metro] will place some netting with stands to show the right-of-way is closed to pedestrians. By the end of this month, we should have the handrails installed, which will remain through the duration of construction.

In addition, construction has closed the sidewalk on the west side of Lankershim between Chandler North and Chandler South. This sidewalk probably isn’t all that trafficked, as it doesn’t get people going from station to station, but I observed one pedestrian walking in the street to get around this closure.

With the sidewalk closed, this pedestrian chose to walk in the street rather than cross to the other side of Lankershim.
With the sidewalk closed, this pedestrian chose to walk in the street rather than cross to the other side of Lankershim.

There are wide car lanes and a painted median on Lankershim; these could be temporarily narrowed to maintain a walkway. But that would mean valuing pedestrian safety and convenience above motorist speed and convenience.

Car traffic gets this painted median while sidewalks are closed.
Car traffic gets this painted median while sidewalks are closed.

All in all, I am looking forward to a more direct and faster connection between these stations, even if it means I have to put up with inconvenient detours during construction.

LADOT and Metro are also working together to synchronize signals to improve Orange Line travel speeds. More on that story later this week.

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