Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Transient Oriented Development (TOD)

The W Hollywood Hotel & Residences, perched atop the Metro's Hollywood & Vine Red Line Station, has simultaneously raised the curtain and lowered the standard, establishing itself as LA's largest Transient Oriented Development (TOD) complete with a public plaza that offers convenient single serving drug sales, discrete nooks for defecation and urination, secure yet public overnight sidewalk accommodations, and a popular valet-adjacent vomitorium. Let there be no mistake, when it comes to the creation of great public space, the W Hollywood turns its back and runs.

The inadvertent pursuit of the Transient Oriented Development (TOD) title over the more highly sought after Transit Oriented Development (TOD) status is just one of the many miscommunications and misunderstandings that have occurred during the long and contentious W Hollywood development process.

Gatehouse Capital and Legacy Partners have spent over a decade developing the land owned by the Metro. Along the way they engaged in a journey that City Council President Eric Garcetti referred to as "sometimes painful, but worth the effort." (wait until he sees the vomitorium!) Jeff Cohen, Chief Operating Officer of Gatehouse, agreed with Garcetti and said the process he went through was "not for the faint of heart."

Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President Leron Gubler rises above the fray and simply states that the W Hollywood was developed with a unique "local focus" in mind and a commitment to alleviating congestion, explaining "That’s why the project is right next to an MTA subway stop."

All of which prompts me to suggest that Eric and Jeff and Leron hop on their bikes and pedal over to the "local focus" Transient Oriented Development known as the W and join me in looking for the bike parking. There are directional signs, three of them, alerting the public to the bike parking. There just isn't any bike parking.

This is a problem for several reasons:

1) Failure to deliver on the TOD promise: This is a $600 million Transit Oriented Development, funded with significant amounts of your (the public's) money on land owned by you (the public). The TOD promise comes with assurances that the project will cater to cyclists and pedestrians and that it will have a positive impact on the community, creating human density and offering opportunities to live, to work, to shop and to socialize, all without having to further congest the streets with private motor vehicles.

2) Lack of Metro oversight and accountability: Evidently the Metro's Bike Planning Department was unaware of the decade long development process that went into bringing the W Hollywood to the ribbon cutting ceremony. Apparently the Metro staff didn't get invited to the ribbon cutting ceremony and were unaware that the project has passed the finish line, leaving behind a public plaza at the Hollywood & Vine Metro Station that is the responsibility of...nobody!

3) Lowers the standard for future TOD projects: This is the largest TOD in Los Angeles and there will be more. Now is the time to raise the bar and to engage in development that is so brilliant that it causes those around the world to covet and envy, not to giggle and mock. When the City Council, the CRA, the Chamber of Commerce, the BID, the Metro, the LADOT, the LAPD, the LASD, and the Federal Government all get together, one would think two things would happen.

* Real leaders would rise to the occasion and create powerful and effective teamwork.
Unfortunately, the public hears nothing but the difficulty of working with so many agencies and authorities. This is a cry for leadership.

* Real innovators would rise to the occasion and create a world class Transit Oriented Development.
Unfortunately, the public hears nothing but the limitations of scale with so many details to be resolved. This is a cry for innovation.

4) Demonstrates a lack of standards: Whether it's the simple process of deciding in advance who sits at the big table and who waits until the ribbon cutting to get a shot at the scraps or whether it's deciding in advance what the design standards are for TOD, this project is a scream for attention. Cyclists and pedestrians are the user group that is to be considered from the beginning of the project conception, not after the project delivery. Simple access and accommodation standards are given to the designers and architects in advance, not squeezed in after construction. Does the Metro and the City of Los Angeles have those standards? If yes, why weren't they implemented? If not, develop and implement them immediately before engaging in any more missteps.

5) When this many authorities working with this much money use "I assumed!" as an operating mantra, it borders on professional negligence. The details matter. They are significant. They are the telltale whisps of smoke that indicate a much larger problem, one that may not surface for some time. But they are significant and one can only wonder, "What else was completely overlooked?"

6) Bike parking should be visible to those who ride by. It should reinforce that this is a rideable community. It should reinforce that cyclists are welcome on the Metro, whether they leave their bikes secured at the stations or take them on the train or bus. It should be visible so that the community's eyes are on the cyclists and their bikes. It should reinforce that bikes are an integral part of the Metro's commitment to a robust and comprehensive Transportation System. It should be part of the basic foundation of accommodation, not an afterthought that comes up when everything else is done.

7) Public Space should encourage good behavior! As we gathered for a site survey, it was apparent that wherever we stood, we were in the way. Great public space isn't just open, it's designed to foster social interaction, yet the benches here are fixed and allow people to sit back to back but not to face each other. Where do people "hang out" and relax? Where do couples or small groups sit and chat? The Metro's Hollywood & Vine open space attracts transients and discourages community. Tough charge, backed up by reality. What looks good on paper doesn't always translate into reality. Environmental architecture is not simply positioning a "rain forest" to the east and specifying bamboo for the planter, it is "designing for good behavior," a standard that applies to all disciplines, from law enforcement to transportation to development to hospitality.

Twelve days ago, I called Lynne Goldsmith, Metro's Bike Planning Manager, to report that the W Hollywood had made it past the ribbon cutting and still the Metro hadn't installed any bike racks. She explained that the Metro has big plans, but that the bike racks wouldn't be installed until later in the year when the Metro "programmed" the small room off to the side of the rest rooms, next to the elevator. I pointed out that the W Hollywood has been in development for a decade and asked how the Metro could justify waiting until after the opening to begin thinking about "Where do the cyclists fit?"

(Goldsmith's promise should be tempered with the knowledge that the Metro's Hollywood & Western Red Line Station also has a room set aside for bike parking. At one time it even had racks stored in it, now gone, and the room is still empty years after the development was built, with your money!)

Goldsmith told me how busy she was and suggested that I call Greg Angelo, Director of New Business Development in the Metro's Real Estate Department. We chatted, he suggested that I talk to Goldsmith. I pointed out that she said she had no authority and had sent me to him. I offered my opinion on the "little room of urine" that was the current plan and pointed out that it violated basic Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) standards. He became a bit argumentative and told me that I can't complain of a deficiency without proposing the solution. I proposed that the new deficiency was a failure to perform and that the solution was for him to join me for a site survey and to take responsibility for doing his job. We were off to a great start.

One of the simplest and snarkiest solutions to the criticisms of the public is to demand that all interaction be solution-oriented. This closes down feedback and deprives people from participating in the "discovery" process that is part of real innovation. The solution may not be present as the problem is experienced but that should not discourage people from yelling "Fire!" when they see a fire. Angelo seems to think that the solution that eluded the Metro for years is my responsibility for identifying during the process of pointing out that the Hollywood & Vermont Red Line Station is lacking Metro oversight and accountability. The new rest rooms have never seen paper supplies. The bike parking signs are up, the bike parking isn't. He didn't know that until I called. I've already earned my keep, he hasn't.

It gets worse.

I get an invitation to a site survey at the Metro's Hollywood & Vine Red Line Station. Then I received an amended invitation moving it out an additional day. No request of availability or convenience, after all, the public is always available to complain, but it's the Metro staff's time that is valuable. Still, I'm pleased that the meeting will take place and I simply adjust my schedule, pleased that Goldsmith and Angelo and others from the Metro will be joining me for a survey of the Metro station.

Tuesday arrives and I lock my bike up to a light pole on the public plaza. I'm joined by Ron Durgin of Sustainable Streets and Enci of illuminateLA, both of whom take a one hour survey of the W Hollywood Hotel &; Residences with me. When we return to the small empty room off to the side of the elevator, we find Lieutenant George Grein, Retired, of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. He has just interrupted a drug deal in the future home of the Metro's safe, secure, and effective Hollywood & Vine bike parking. We are later joined by Sergeant Cliff Yates of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department who is the supervisor for this area of the Metro. Both Grein and Yates concur that isolation and seclusion are bad ideas for bike parking and that the evidence of human waste, transient accommodations, and drug activity would support my contention that the bike parking should be located elsewhere.

Goldsmith and her assistant, Tony Jusay, arrived and seemed to have a hard time letting go of the little room as a bike parking solution without having another option to grab. Since we were still standing in the little room, I offered that there may be many solutions but it is imperative that we agree that the little room was not one of them. At this point, Goldsmith engaged in displacement activity that had her cleaning the broken baby carriage, the floor mat, the newspapers, the barricades, and the debris, all as we watched and wondered how this moved the site survey forward. Jusay was able to get her to return to the discussion.

Ben Cien, Vice President of Construction and Design at Gatehouse arrived and we now had a fairly robust discussion going, all of it focused on the little room of horrors. All that was missing was somebody from the Metro who had the authority to say "Yes!" Apparently Angelo was unable to make the meeting, too busy to even communicate with the group or to offer an alternative meeting time. Too bad because the resulting two hour survey was then an exercise in "Who's in charge?"

Cien explained that he thought "everybody had signed off on the plan to install a little door" and to make the now "open and secluded little room" into an eventually "secured and secluded little room."

The LASD representatives stayed out of the fray, the cycling representatives argued vehemently against bike parking that requires security cameras and security officers, neither of which are in place, in order to be safe. Both Cien and Goldsmith offered arguments that the camera monitoring and the close proximity of the W Hollywood security would make the environment safe. (Hence the drug deal and the human waste and the evidence of overnight accommodations!)

The cyclists walked the larger facility with Cien, a pleasant host who seemed proud of the many W Hollywood elements. He was comfortable in his skin, greeting guests and staff as we walked through the hotel, the back hallways, the sidewalks, and the parking garage. We chatted about the project including the LEED elements and even offered up that if the employees of the W Hollywood were offered Urban Cycling classes, they would be more likely to ride their bikes to work, take advantage of the employee dressing rooms and bike parking. (there were three large bike racks in the employee parking area of the garage but only one bike)

We measured off some public plaza space as options for bike parking, having arrived prepared to actually survey. We offered some criteria for the eventual solution including visible, close to the entrance, secure, protected with a canopy or cove, out of the passageway, and we looked for opportunities. Essentially, the bike parking must work for the casual cyclist who arrives for the first time, no membership card for a "bike room" or other pre-arranged bike parking. Simple racks that a casual visitor would feel comfortable using and that would serve as secure and effective bike parking. It starts there, not with the VIP program that requires registering, a key card, a membership, and a visit to One Gateway.

Goldsmith had prepared for the meeting by packing a large bag of "That's not possible!" and suggestions such as a canopy or moving the planter or doing anything other than using the little room was met with "That's not possible!" Since she can't say yes and she has no plan and she isn't prepared and she hasn't asked, how does she know the answer will be "No!"

I'm not sure how this project turned into such an environment of limitations but somehow Lynne Goldsmith's contribution to the two hour bike parking survey was a series of "No!" responses to suggestions covering bike parking location, style, visibility, canopy, accessibility, and responsibility. Of course, when listening to Goldsmith speak authoritatively on limitations, from political to financial to social to environmental, I remind myself to never take a "No!" answer from somebody who doesn't also have the authority or power to say "Yes!"

The site survey ended with the obligatory confusion and lack of resolution over authority. The LASD typically is responsible for the Metro Station and the plaza area with the developer/property manager responsible for the actual development. Again, the ribbon has been cut and those at the meeting were unclear of who had authority and who maintained the rest rooms and who was in charge.

I'm not sure who is going to step up on this one. It might be County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky who also serves on the Metro Board. Perhaps Metro CEO Art Leahy will decide that the buck stops with him. Maybe Doug Failing, the Metro's Executive Director of Highways and Interim Director of Planning, or perhaps Roger Moliere, the Metro's Chief of Real Property Management & Development, will take a shot at solving the bike parking problem that has caused "paralysis of analysis" within the Metro's Bike Planning department. Angelo is already a no-show and Goldsmith is simply in charge of "No!"

This may seem like a lot of effort, all simply to get some bike racks installed on the public plaza on top of a Metro station at the new W Hollywood TOD but it's much much more.

This is the largest Transit Oriented Development in the City of Los Angeles. The $600 million that is invested in this TOD project came from many sources including you, the public. The Metro's budget comes from you, the public. A standard is being set, not just with the use of public funds, but with the implementation and design of TOD projects of which there will be more. In addition, the Metro is busy, working on the Expo and the Orange Line Extension. The mistakes they make will be repeated unless we work together to raise the bar. The Eastside extension has bike racks installed at Soto and at Mariachi Square. In both cases they need to be reinstalled correctly. That feedback doesn't come from the Metro, it comes from cyclists who care enough to insist on excellence.

Transit Oriented Development is the concept that was sold to the public. The Metro, Gatehouse Capital, Legacy Partners, the CRA, the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Improvement District, the LA Department of Transportation, the LA Police Department, the LA Sheriff's Department, the Federal Government, CalPERS, and Deutsche Bank Berkshire Mortgage all have a piece of this project and it's a shame that we're still standing on the public plaza having a "Who's in charge?" discussion while the work remains incomplete.

For too long, the question "Is there any room left over for the cyclists?" has been the battle cry for the Metro's Bike Planning Department. This is the last time. Who is the person who will say 'Yes!" to bike parking at the Metro's Hollywood & Vine Station.


ubrayj02 said...

I've got safety vests and hard hats. My friends weld. Show us where the racks need to be and we'll get it done.

Joe Zaccaria said...

I recently visited LA and after looking at the W from a nearby cafe I checked it out. I am a CPTED professional and I immediately saw these deadzones that you speak about in your article. I also wondered about the public realm planning as I walked around. I've been involved in hundreds of large-scale design projects all over the worlds and I would say this project should be documented in a book entitled, "How Not to Build TOD".

How could your Metro get it so wrong? Perhaps like most transit authorities, you have a senior executive and management staff that don't use transit, bikes, etc? After all, its tough to design proper TOD when you are constantly tooling down the freeway in your BMW!