Glassell Park's Decade-Long Effort at Building a Bus Shelter

Glassell Park's de facto transit hub | Google Maps

Some 1,000 feet from the river in front of Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies, an oddly-shaped trapezoidal piece of land serves as one of Glassell Park's de facto transit hubs. No less than seven bus lines pass through the unusual piece of land that sits at the junction of San Fernando Road, Eagle Rock Boulevard, and Verdugo Road. This transit-rich island, however, is devoid of shade or seating. It has been for almost a decade.

"We went out there and all we saw were people waiting for the bus in the shade of a telephone poll. It was a bizarre sight to see people lined up in the shade of single pole," says architect Michael Pinto, who at the time in 2004 was leading a class of Sci-Arc students in a plan to build a canopied bus shelter for transit riders.

Pinto and his students worked diligently on their design. Apart from design, the class also intended to help build the structure, thereby slashing costs for the city even more. The Sci-Arc class met with General Services, the Bureau of Engineering, and the council district, gathering comments and concerns. One of the biggest concerns from the departments was that this trapezoidal island is not only a transit hub, it was also a utility hotspot. All kinds of wires and pipes crisscrossed underneath the concrete island: electric, gas, telephone. No maps were provided to the class, but a guideline was set: nothing could penetrate deeper than 24 inches.

In response, the class designed a steel frame structure, which could be prepared offsite and put together with a wrench at the site. "Basically, we had to design a tinker toy," says Pinto. The class's design featured five mini-pavilions that stretch from one corner to the other. It allowed transit riders to watch for buses on both side of the line, but also made room for seating and shade. The students also charted sun patterns and ensured their canopy placements would yield the greatest amount of shade.

The Glassell Park community and the class worked hard to approve the plan with the Bureau of Engineering, which asked for a number of details. "The plan checker forced us to design and detail every connection and size every bolt," recalled Pinto. Working through the details added an additional six months, yet the Sci-Arc students stayed the course even after having formally finished the class. In support of the modern design, 650 signatures from the community were gathered.

Sci-Arc's original design for the Glassell Park Transit Pavillion | Image courtesy of Helene Schpak
Sci-Arc's original design for the Glassell Park Transit Pavillion | Image courtesy of Helene Schpak
City alternatives to the Glassell Park transit pavilion
City alternatives to the Glassell Park transit pavilion

The project, however, still stayed in limbo. In the meantime, the community was able to gather funds that would go toward its construction. In 2008, with the help of Congressman Xavier Becerra's office, Glassell Park received a $190,000 federal transportation grant with matching funds attached. It cobbled together $237,500. Glassell Park sent the project out to bid with a city-approved contractor, who returned an itemized estimate of the construction at $146,113, but a preliminary estimate by General Services yielded a $310,455 estimate in 2011. The estimate included benches and landscaping.

The next year, the estimate costs to the Sci-Arc designed ballooned even more to $630,000, versus an in-house design cost of $390,000. Their estimate included $100,000 for possible utility relocation, which the Sci-Arc students sought to avoid by designing the pavilion to go no deeper than 24 inches. What seemed to be a fruitful, if glacial, process now stalled in the face of possible expenses.

In a meeting two weeks ago, Council District 1 and a room of about twenty community members gathered to discuss what was to be done about it. According to Helene Schpak of the Glassell Park Improvement Association, the community expected a productive discussion of this project -- a way forward. Instead, according to Schpak, the city proceeded to de-emphasize the design the community worked hard on and presented its own alternative.
"I just don't think the district ever gave real consideration to the transit pavilion," says Schpak. "We were given short shrift. It should have been a meeting that would go over all the numbers. Our transit pavilion wasn't even on the table to be discussed."

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"Construction cost of the original design has increased since that time," says Louis Reyes, spokesperson for Council District 1, "We just came into office this past year and what we're doing is looking what has happened since then. We determined that we didn't have enough funding to execute this design, but we gave alternatives of what to do."

According to the district's presentation, the concern isn't just about price. It says the $630,000 construction estimate is already dated. New estimates would probably come in at higher expense. It also noted that Glassell Park's transit hub design came with multiple, non-standard parts, which make it difficult to maintain. Such non-standard design come with liability issues, which led the Bureau of Street Services to decline its maintenance. Finally, since Sci-Arc designed the project, an underground survey of utilities have been completed, which showed the possibility of more utility relocation the original design did not account for. All this, plus the looming expiration of the Federal Transportation grant monies, has spurred the district into proposing its own alternative.

City alternatives to the Glassell Park transit pavilion
City alternatives to the Glassell Park transit pavilion
City alternatives to the Glassell Park transit pavilion
City alternatives to the Glassell Park transit pavilion

Pinto says the design has tried to approximate Sci-Arc's plan. It also has canopies through an approved Recreation and Parks vendor, USAShade. Instead of modern-looking benches, it has proposed wooden benches and decorative pavers with tubular fences for safety -- all of which have been pre-approved and would not need to go through a bid process. It is, in short, a known alternative to Glassell Park's modern design.

The city's response has disappointed some in Glassel Park. Recently, the Glassell Park Improvement Association has released a letter expressing their disappointment. It asks, "Our Transit Pavilion has been criticized as being too modern. Is that what scares the city? Why is it that other communities in our city embrace modern and artistic design but Glassell Park and Cypress Park are continually overlooked?" The letter requested a "full and complete accounting of costs, an open communication with the community of ways to fill any funding gaps, and an explanation from the city of what they require to support this structure."

Reyes, however, stressed, "It's a budgetary issue. It doesn't look like we'll be able to fund the old project as it was." He also notes that in a survey conducted after the transit pavilion meeting five of the fifteen respondents voted to proceed with the Sci-Arc design, despite its many unknowns. Eight wanted to pursue the city alternative. Mixed reviews also came up in the comments. Two commenters simply wanted a structure to move forward either way. Others noted that it was possible to simplify the Sci-Arc design to meet the cost constraints.

To date, no clear way forward has been presented, but the community and the district only has until October 15 to apply for additional grant funding towards the transit shelter's construction. "We need the consent of the community to move forward," says Reyes.

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