MAIN STREET — Armed with sticky notes, markers and most importantly, opinions, residents on Monday met with city officials to give their input on an elaborate proposal for the future of Downtown and the Civic Center.
City Hall is planning on a number of improvements to the area in anticipation of the Exposition Light Rail, which is expected to bring several hundred passengers with each inbound train to the terminal of Colorado Avenue at Fourth Street, impacting a notoriously congested section of Santa Monica.
Some suggested improvements that have been placed on the table include extending the freeway off-ramp at Fourth Street to Main Street via Fujinomiya Drive, perhaps taking it all the way to Ocean Avenue, constructing a roundabout at Main Street in front of the Rand Corp., and some changes to improve traffic and the pedestrian experience on Colorado Avenue.
City officials are also proposing to “deck” or cover the I-10 Freeway and build a park that would be contiguous with the Palisades Garden Walk.
Residents split up into breakout groups where a city planner at each table led a discussion about the proposed changes, gauging their interest on a number of topics, including the freeway decking, off-ramp, roundabout, and parking. Many said they didn’t like the idea of creating a roundabout in front of the Rand Corp., while the consensus seemed to favor the proposal to create a plaza off the Expo stop, requesting that it be hardscape.
While residents seem to have mixed opinions on many of the issues, one thing they generally agreed on was that covering the freeway was a good idea and extending the off-ramp might not be.
Some even suggested to direct all northbound traffic to the Fifth Street exit and force cars on the Fourth Street off-ramp to head south, dispersing the traffic even more.
Paul Casey, a long-time resident, said that decking worked well in Seattle where a park was created over the freeway.
“It can really connect the Civic with Downtown to make it a fluid experience so that you’re not aware that there is a freeway,” he said.
Dennis Allard, an Ocean Park resident, spoke favorably of the idea to cover the I-10 Freeway from Fourth Street to Ocean Avenue, noting it would essentially be an extension of the McClure Tunnel.
He was less enthusiastic about the proposal to extend the freeway off-ramp, adding that the bigger issue with traffic is getting on the I-10, not off.
“I’m not sure if we’re going to need that,” he said.
He said the better solution would be more mass transit, adding that he would like to see more lines added to Santa Monica.
“(Expo) should be one of 10 rail lines we put in,” he said.
Mike Spinelli, a Sunset Park resident, said that he had concerns with the freeway off-ramp suggestion, which he believes might push traffic onto Fifth Street where cars could be stopped every several minutes to wait for a passing train, causing further congestion.
He was among the many residents who seemed interested in exploring the idea of extending the off-ramp to Main Street, but felt it would not be a good idea to have it cut through Palisades Garden Walk.
City officials said that if a street is to cut through the park to Ocean Avenue, it would not necessarily be open at all times, perhaps closing during holidays and on days of events.
Casey said that pushing the off-ramp down to Main could help address some of the traffic issues at Fourth Street, especially if cars are not allowed to go north.
The Pico Neighborhood resident spent much of his time stopping at various tables during the community meeting, occasionally giving his opinion.
He said the overall vision for the Civic Center gives Santa Monicans a place in the city that is not “car dominated.”
“It’s the only place we have to work with, where we can have people first, not cars first,” he said.