By Jorge Casuso
May 13 – Make the train station an urban gathering place, drop the roundabout, don’t add too much parking, think twice before extending the freeway ramp to Main Street and definitely think about capping the freeway.
Those were the general recommendations from the Santa Monica residents who attended a special workshop Monday at the Civic Auditorium to help plot the future of the Civic Center and Downtown.
The City Council was expected to consider the recommendations Tuesday night when it compiled a list of projects that would be bankrolled in part with Earthquake Redevelopment funds.
Monday’s discussion focused on the Expo light rail terminal slated to go on the Sears Automotive site at the corner of 4th Street and Colorado Avenue. The trains, which could begin rolling in as early as 2015, will carry between 200 and 400 passengers.
“It is the single thing that will influence the Downtown most in the next 20 years,” said Bob Odermatt, a planning department consultant.
The station will add crowds of pedestrians to an already busy intersection that funnels cars from the freeway off ramp and serves as a major stop for the Big Blue Bus.
“How to reduce traffic is quite a challenge,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, a traffic consultant.
Tumlin suggested restoring the grid of smaller streets that once crisscrossed the Civic Center and extending the off-ramp over the freeway to Main Street, and perhaps further to Ocean Avenue.
But although Tumlin said he was surprised he wasn’t “driven out of town” after floating the idea, it didn’t gain much traction at the workshop.
Most of the six groups gave the concept mixed reviews, with some vocally opposing it.
“That’s one issue where we need to do some significant work,” Tumlin conceded.
To alleviate the traffic crunch near the 4th street off-ramp, one group suggested maintaining the right turn at 5th Street, but allowing vehicles to only turn left at 4th Street away from the station.
Several of the workshop groups pushed for trolleys and shuttles that would take visitors through the Civic Center to the pier and other destinations, reducing the number of pedestrians ion the street.
One group envisioned carts beach goers could rent to haul their umbrellas and picnic baskets, while another group suggested encouraging pedestrians to use the south side of Colorado, a far less busy walkway.
And several groups backed building a pedestrian bridge from the station – which would be above grade – to Santa Monica Place, which is expected to open in August 2010 after a major remodel. (“Santa Monica Place to Open in August 2010,” May 7, 2009)
Some of the groups pushed for building as little parking as possible to help reduce the number of cars on the street.
One group was “very adamant about no more parking, period,” while another group said that if parking is added, it “should be very expensive” and short-term.
The groups also sketched a vision of a light rail terminal that would be an urban plaza with a coffee shop, food and kiosks.
Much of the excitement at the workshop was generated by the prospect of capping a four-acre stretch of freeway with a park. But the idea – first floated by former mayor Michael Feinstein – is an expensive proposition, Odermatt said.
Land Downtown is going for $500 a square foot, about the same cost as capping the freeway. To cap all four acres from fourth street to the Pier – at 43,500 square feet per acre – would cost some $87 million.
The project could be pulled off “if we involve the private sector and take it in little pieces,” Odermatt said.
He also noted that a similar project in Dallas is being bankrolled in part with federal stimulus funds.
One idea that gained little if any support was building a roundabout in front of City Hall.