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Here Comes the Train - and Bikes and Pedestrians  

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

February 16, 2011 – The Lookout is conducting a series of interviews with city notables to get a sense of what's to come in Santa Monica. Last week, we sat down with the city's Director of Planning Eileen Fogarty who shared her vision of what the city will look like as it develops in the next few years. Today's story will look at the Expo Light Rail that will cut through the city by 2014, if all goes as planned.

Sometimes the uniniatiated have a hard time following the specialized language city planners use to describe their projects.

But strip away the jargon, and Santa Monica Director of Planning Eileen Fogarty is a visionary.

Fogarty oversaw the rebuilding of downtown Santa Cruz after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and now she's charged with using her talents to help transform Santa Monica into the city residents and visitors need and want.

And her office has to do it all within guidelines hammered out by the community and the city in Santa Monica's Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE.)

One of the terms Fogarty uses the most is “connectivity.” As she explained and showed pictures of the projects coming through her office to the Lookout Thursday, the meaning of the word became clearer and clearer.

Under LUCE guidelines, it means more ways to get from place to place without driving. It means more pedestrians and bicycles and bus trips, and fewer cars.

But in a larger sense, connectivity represents a kind of grid. For instance, if you think of your neighborhood, how many pathways are there to get from your house to your favorite grocery store?

In city planning terms, it means how many ways are there to get from project to project, like from the Expo Light Rail station at Fourth and Colorado to the Promenade and to the Civic Center.

Now visualize all these pathways superimposed on a map of Santa Monica, and you have some idea of what city planners have to keep in mind as they make decisions about traffic and development.

The Expo Light Rail's Bergamot Station. Drawing courtesy of the Santa Monica Planning Department.

And probably the greatest challenge to that grid will be the Expo Light Rail line which will cut through the city from Bergamot Station in the east to the end of the line at 4th Street and Colorado Avenue.

It's due to be completed by 2014, and planners are busy figuring out how to use the changes it imposes on the city to enhance connectivity, working with both public and private developers to create the best grid of pathways possible.

The first place the train will stop will be the aptly named Bergamot Station, once a stop for Los Angeles' Pacific Electric rail system and now a thriving arts center.

It's located near the eastern edge of the city between Michigan Avenue and Olympic Boulevard, and is at the center of a lot of new development.

While community input for public works, including the station, is still in the “visioning” phase, an adjacent biotech complex owned by Agensys is scheduled to break ground soon and plans for the controversial Bergamot Transit Village – a mix of office, residential and retail space – are in the works.

Lionsgate, the Santa Monica College Academy on Stewart Street, the Roberts Center and the Village Trailer Park all plan to build or expand in the neighborhood.

That'll mean a lot of people will need to come and go, and one of the community's objections to the Bergamot Transit Village is that it alone will generate too much traffic.

So planners have allowed for plenty of alternative transportation – a LUCE ideal.

Part of the development agreement with Agensys includes plans for green space, walkways and bikeways.

And the city's proposed plans for the Bergamot Station include new connecting streets, crosswalks, pedestrian walkways and lots of open space.

Private developers will have to enter into agreements with the city – as did Agensys – agreements which can contain requirements to support alternative transportation, as well as LUCE directives like affordable housing.

And stakeholders – residents and business owners – are getting their say at community meetings.

The ultimate goal, Fogarty said, is to create a neighborhood where people can work, live and shop within walking and bicycling distance, a small-town feel with lots of green space and wide sidewalks.

But not everyone will get off at Bergamot Station. Some will stay on the train.

Before the it reaches the end of the line, the light rail will stop just east of Memorial Park near Colorado Avenue and 17th Street.

It's an ideal location for pedestrians and bicyclists to make their way from the station to places that attract a lot of people – Santa Monica College, Crossroads School and the local hospitals.

The stop is also near the heart of two of the city's most populous residential districts, the Pico Neighborhood and Sunset Park. Many who live there will be able to take the train to work, leaving their cars at home or in “park and ride” spaces at the station.

Or they can park their bikes at Memorial Park.

A cyclists' parking lot may be necessary because tentative plans call for a bike path next to the Expo Line at least as far as 17th Street. It would be similar to the bike path on the beach, and a fence would protect it, Senior Transportation Planner Michelle Glickert told the Lookout.

End of the line. Drawing courtesy of the Santa Monica Planning Department.

Those who stay on the train until the end of the line – where the Sears automotive center once stood at 4th Street and Colorado Avenue – will pull into a plaza welcoming visitors to Santa Monica's most popular destinations: the beach, the pier, and downtown shopping areas.

The stop will be “transit oriented” – that is, it will be an easy place from which to walk, bike or take a bus in all directions.

As riders get off, the first thing they'll see is the newly redesigned Santa Monica Place shopping mall.

The exterior “used to look like a huge blank wall,” Fogarty said, and she expressed pride in the artistry of the new facade, which features various art installations, windows, and an open path to the Third Street Promenade.

And parking structures 7 and 8 at Santa Monica Place will soon house two rooms dedicated to bike riders.

One will have lockers, showers and a restroom and will be open to cyclists with a keycard 24 hours a day. The other will be a “full service station” where people can rent, buy or repair their bikes. The rooms will be ready by summer if all goes according to plan, said Glickert.

People getting off the train who turn their gaze westward will see the Colorado Esplanade, and whereitends, the Pier.

Unlike the present street, the esplanade will feature wider sidewalks, ample room for bikes, and only two opposing lanes for cars.

And perhaps the biggest surprise will be a small freeway-cap at the end of the esplanade linking the Pier, downtown and the oceanfront that will make walking easier and more inviting.

But more about freeway capping in the next article, as the Lookout gets to see how Fogarty's department plans to help change downtown Santa Monica.

 


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