DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - County transportation officials have heard loud and clear from critics who say their subway and light-rail stations are a visual patchwork with too many colors and too many materials. That’s going to change with the Regional Connector, they promise.

In conjunction with the release Wednesday of preliminary station designs for the $1.34 billion Regional Connector, Metro officials launched a new design program aimed at streamlining the look of rail hubs. The approach hinges on what the agency is calling its “kit of parts,” a collection of infrastructure elements and materials, from trash cans to digital display monitors, that will be used to assemble future stations, starting with the three Regional Connector hubs.

The shift aims to get beyond a smorgasbord of materials — red paint and brick floor here, teal tile and a cement landing there and steel and glass somewhere else. The new approach, officials say, will make for a more cohesive look and more efficient maintenance.

“The visual field in general, there’s just a lot of clutter,” said Martha Welborne, Metro’s executive director of countywide planning, said during the presentation at the Los Angeles Times building. “We’re trying to create a framework to organize all this stuff so it doesn’t look quite so cluttered visually and it’s easier for the passenger to find what they need to find.”

The design shift comes in response to a set of directives passed by the Metro board in 2010.

While the designs could evolve over the next year after they’re subjected to community input, the preliminary Regional Connector stations would seem to offer a passenger experience quite different from other Downtown underground stations.

Instead of accessing stations like those for the Red Line via an escalator portal that descends to a mezzanine for ticketing, then further to the platform, Regional Connector riders will get their tickets at street level. Kiosks will be built into aboveground, glass-enclosed station entrances.

While no station will be the same, the three Regional Connector hubs will echo one another through shared materials, namely an emphasis on durable, long-lasting concrete, steel and glass, and drought tolerant plants. The approach is expected to save the agency money in future maintenance savings, though it is unclear whether the kit of parts will lower initial station construction prices.

“We’re still costing it out,” Welborne said. “It’s probably not radically different because we want to use the best materials.”

Three Stations

The Regional Connector is intended to improve connectivity of the existing subway and light-rail network. It will allow passengers to ride from Pasadena to Long Beach, or from East L.A. to Culver City, in one trip. Those rides currently require two transfers.   

The new link will extend north from the Seventh Street Metro Center station (where the Red, Purple, Blue and Expo lines converge) and travel under Flower Street. It will curve to Hope Street at Second Street where the first of three new stations will get built. Passengers will exit at Hope Street, behind the under-construction Broad museum.

The route continues east to Second Street and Broadway. Tentative plans call for a single portal that will front Broadway, but Metro will ask candidates for the design/build contract to incorporate a second portal that would front Spring Street. That would produce two entrances, officials said (the station rendering depicts the option with two portals).

The third station, at First Street and Central Avenue, will displace three Little Tokyo restaurants. Because trains will rise from underground to link up with the at-grade Gold Line, the station is relatively shallow at about 40 feet — the other stations approach 90 feet in depth.

Metro has started removing underground utilities along the route. That effort will continue through the end of the year. Construction is tentatively slated to start in late 2013, but a pending legal challenge could push that date back. Current plans call for the project to open in 2019.

Thomas Properties Group, one of two Flower Street property owners suing to block Metro’s proposal to tear up a chunk of the Financial District street for construction, has asked a judge to halt the project while its complaint makes its way through court. A hearing is slated for Sept. 14. In the meantime, Metro is proceeding on schedule, agency spokesman Dave Sotero said.

Metro will host two more community meetings to discuss the Regional Connector and station designs, from 1-3 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 28, at the Colburn School, and from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Aug. 29 at the Japanese American National Museum.

Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at ryan@downtownnews.com.