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200 L.A. Buses Get New, Greener Home

Division 13 rendering (Credit: RNL Design)

Los Angeles’ love affair with cars may be over, but the evidence remains. Carchitecture — which is exactly what it sounds like — had a heyday in the city of American Graffiti and to this day you can find a strip mall shaped like a Cadillac grill, a four-level freeway interchange certified as a civil engineering landmark, and any number of car washes and gas stations elevated to the level of public art.

Come February, though, a $120 million project will show some love to a new mode: the city bus.

The Metro Division 13 Bus Maintenance and Operations Facility is the first of its kind in more than 30 years, and with a sleek design, LEED certification, rainwater cistern and roof garden, it reflects the city’s changing view of public transportation.

“Metro [Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority] was really looking at how to set a new precedent with county infrastructure,” says Will Todd, an associate with the architecture firm behind the facility, RNL Design. “Instead of just walling it off, they wanted to open it up.”

The center covers about eight acres and sits at the northeast corner of East Cesar Chavez Avenue and Vignes Street in downtown. But instead of resembling a closed-to-the-public fortress, sparse panels and LED lights allow passersby to look up and see buses moving around, especially at night. A large orange “ribbon” frames the side adjacent to East Cesar Chavez, and a plaza, bus stop and landscaping elements cater to pedestrians on the more foot-traffic-heavy Vignes Street.

Metro 13 will be the agency’s 11th service and maintenance facility — and it makes sense that they would want to showcase it. The roughly 200 buses that will be stationed there take a lot of energy and water simply to get through their daily routine. The station has fueling infrastructure (the buses run on compressed natural gas), a maintenance shop, a parts storage room and a lounge area for operators. And with an every-other-day bus wash, service crews would normally use about 9 million gallons of water a year.

This building, however, goes a step above the LEED status required by the city. In L.A., any building over 50,000 square feet has to be certified Silver. Division 13, however, is pursuing an NC-Gold status, and that higher rating is the result of what Tim Lindholm, Metro’s executive officer in charge of the project, calls an abundance of low-hanging fruit.

“It was just screaming for LEED certification because there’s so much ventilation and mechanical and electrical equipment and a lot of water usage,” he says. “There were a lot of opportunities to design smarter.”

One of the main ones: a massive stormwater cistern that can hold up to 4.3 million gallons per year. That rainwater — when it’s available — will supplement the facility’s supply, making up about 45 percent of its total usage.

Another is the green roof over the administration building, where workers can walk during their breaks. The plants will filter some of the stormwater draining into the cistern.

It’s difficult to compare this facility to Metro’s others, Lindholm says, because most were built in the ’80s, and some were constructed as early as a century ago.

“Many of our properties come from the old Pacific Railroad — they’re legacy properties that we’ve had for a long time,” he says. “And our Division Two still operates out of an old yellow car maintenance building built in 1906.”

Division 13 rendering (Credit: RNL Design)

One glaring difference, however, is the amount of space the facility takes up. At eight acres, it certainly doesn’t look small. But Lindholm says that most of the other service centers take up between 15 and 20 acres — with a large portion of the space dedicated to bus parking. In downtown, Metro didn’t have that luxury, so the facility was stacked with an open-air lot on the top floor.

“More urban cities like Chicago and New York use this model, but it’s a first for L.A.,” Lindholm says.

The project’s funding was sourced from numerous pots. About $52.2 million came from the Federal Transit Administration in the form of discretionary grants. The remainder came from local funds.

Elsewhere in Southern California, expensive capital projects for transit haven’t always been well received. Without adding any new lines to the mix, Anaheim’s ARTIC has been called “an $188 million station to nowhere,” and critiqued for its heavy bill.

But Lindholm says the agency hasn’t heard any pushback from riders regarding this project, perhaps because it’s intent is basic maintenance.

“I think our customers understand that to have efficient service, a bus requires pretty intensive maintenance,” he says. “It’s very important that we take care of the buses and keep them in a state of good repair.”