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City officials are trying to decide what the Exposition Light Rail stations should look like, with discussions about a mixed-use development at the Downtown station a possibility.

DOWNTOWN — When riders of the long-awaited Exposition Light Rail hit the end of the line and descend on the corner of Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue, what should they see?

Should the final station by the sea feature a mixed-use development with ground-floor commercial and apartments on top, or would a more minimalist design better accentuate the beach lifestyle Santa Monica is known for and better prepare visitors for a bustling Downtown?

Those were some of the questions city officials asked themselves this week during their first opportunity to weigh in on the design of the three major light rail stations to be built in Santa Monica: Bergamot Station, Mid-City/Memorial Park and Downtown.

“I don’t feel [the Downtown station] needs to be a grand statement,” Councilman Richard Bloom said, agreeing with Mayor Bobby Shriver, who advocated for fewer articulated canopies and more open space. “When people are getting off … they are going to be in an environment that features this incredible mall directly across the street, the [Santa Monica] Pier right down the street and Palisades Garden walk will be within a few steps of this station. I wouldn’t want the station to overshadow its surroundings.

“When people are arriving in Downtown Santa Monica, they will be thinking, ‘Where am I going?’ Not, ‘What does this station look like?’”

Council members expressed a desire for stations that were easily accessible to those who disabilities, the elderly as well as bike riders who need secure spaces to lock up their bikes. Stations, particularly the one at Memorial Park, should also have space for park-and-ride and shuttle drop-off and pick-up, council members said, as the city’s two major hospitals and Santa Monica College have expressed a desire to run shuttles to the station for employees who chose not to drive into work, helping reduce traffic on Santa Monica streets.

Phase 1 of the Expo Line between Downtown Los Angeles and Culver City is under construction. Phase 2 covers approximately 7 miles through West Los Angeles and Santa Monica along Colorado Avenue to reach the end of the line in Downtown. When Phase 2 is completed in 2015, it will take approximately 46 minutes to travel from Downtown Los Angeles to Downtown Santa Monica on the light rail, Expo officials said.

The Expo line is projected to be one of the busiest light rail lines in the country, with a projected ridership of 64,000 boardings per weekday along the entire alignment. The estimated cost for the entire Phase 2 project is $1.5 billion. Measure R, passed by the voters in November of 2008, will provide full funding necessary to complete the line. The projects to construct a bicycle path and a maintenance facility near Stewart Street Park will be designed and constructed by Expo through separate contracts.

City staff is currently negotiating with the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority on design changes to the stations to create what is called a “baseline.” Design features in the baseline will be covered by the authority, however, any enhancements the council advocates for will have to be paid for by City Hall. Council members made it clear that they don’t want stations that are so ugly that they would make a train take a dirty road. They would like to see stations that are unique and reflect Santa Monica’s vibe.

“I want someone who is leaving or arriving to know they are in Santa Monica,” Councilman Bob Holbrook said.

The council did vote unanimously July 13 to move forward with negotiations with Expo, incorporating several design elements into the baseline. For Bergamot, the council would like to see separate station platforms for east and west bound trains (side-loaded) with pedestrian track crossings at both ends of the station, and entrances in the center of the platforms to integrate the station with the adjacent Bergamot Art Center and the large ridership pool north of Olympic Boulevard.

For Memorial Park, the council wants incorporated into the baseline entrances at both ends of the station platform to facilitate circulation, capacity and customer service, and an off-street transfer area to accommodate surges in ridership and connections to bus, bike, and “kiss-and-ride” in place of a dedicated long-term parking lot.

At the Downtown station, the council would like to see an entry at the south end of the platforms to serve the Civic Center and Santa Monica High School, entry at the north end of the station platforms through a city controlled plaza, pedestrian circulation through the station from Fourth to Fifth Street, and enough room left over for possible development opportunities on city-owned land. The council is also concerned about the height of elevated tracks coming into the station.

It seems City Hall believes the authority should include more features in the baseline given that the Downtown station will mark the end of the line and is deserving of a design that marks that distinction, and that the Colorado Avenue alignment the council advocated for will cost approximately $65 million less than the Olympic alignment largely due to the reduced need for elevated track construction, according to city staff.

Councilman Kevin McKeown was particularly concerned about the authority allegedly cutting costs because of budget constraints. He additionally was not pleased with a proposed design for the Bergamot Station, which has riders walking farther distances to get off and on the station platform, diverting them away from Bergamot Station while creating “a blockade to the Pico Neighborhood.”

“We in Santa Monica have worked for years to make this possible … and we have deliberately put these stations in the middle of things and the entrances and exits are crucial to the functionality of these stations, and I’m hearing some rumors about a desire to cut costs and a number of the entrances are put in places that are thrifty and short sighted,” McKeown said.

Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor emphasized the importance of creating multi-modal stations that cater to all types of travelers, with the baseline design featuring sensible entrances and exits. If the stations are not built right, that could turn off thousands of future riders, she said.

“We don’t want to discourage people because it’s difficult when it shouldn’t have been. If that happens we will have failed,” O’Connor said. ‘We need to build it right the first time.”

kevinh@smdp.com