CULVER CITY— “When the train comes …”
When talking about any aspect of Santa Monica’s future, those words start a lot of sentences.
“… everyone will sell their cars, eradicating all traffic jams and pollution.”
“… no one will care because this is a city where people like to drive.”
Culver City’s train came a year and a half ago on Dec. 20. It’s early, but city officials have seen some things change and other things stay the same.
Santa Monica, which is much larger than Culver City, gets its Expo Light Rail sometime in 2016. The Daily Press reached out to those in Culver City who deal with traffic, business, and crime to see what might be in store for the city by the sea.
Traffic is a wash in Culver City, said City Engineer Charles Herbertson, with high ridership numbers, but traffic increases around the station.
“I think we looked at it from more of a regional perspective rather than a local perspective,” he said. “Based on the fact that any given day the parking lot, which has 500 spaces, is filled up it appears that a lot of people are taking the train in lieu of driving. But there’s a local impact around the station caused by that.”
That traffic has not been a big problem, he said, because it tends to filter in over the course of the day.
Herbertson is hoping that more people will start taking the bus service, which has been increased in the area, to the station.
Construction from transit-oriented development and from Phase 2 of the Expo, which begins right outside of Culver City’s station, is also causing temporary increases in congestion.
Before USC home football games this season, the parking lot filled up three hours in advance and every train was standing room only, Herbertson said, an example of a regional benefit.
“There’s a lot of traffic around here on game days,” he said. “But can you imagine how much worse it would be at the Coliseum if people weren’t taking the train?”
Neither Culver City nor Metro has studied the traffic impacts of the Expo Line, but average weekday ridership for the whole line is over 26,000, which eclipses ridership predictions for 2020.
“It’s obvious that there’s some reduction of traffic on the freeway — although we don’t have any measurement of this — because people are taking the train,” Herbertson said.
Getting to the freeway, however, is still a challenge.
“It’s always been pretty heavy, especially on National Boulevard, heading to the freeway northbound, and that still is the case,” he said.
Expo brought business to Culver City before the station even opened. Two multi-million dollar developments are in the works directly next to the station, said Sol Blumenfeld, community development director.
No financial study has been done, he said, but anecdotally he can tell it’s helped local merchants.
“I don’t think it’s hurt business at all,” he said. “Our train station is located a few blocks from our downtown. It’s certainly stimulated development (around the station) but it also has improved the local economy.”
It makes the city more attractive for employers, he said, because their workers can take the train and leave their cars at home. Business owners at the Hayden Tract, a creative office space, told Blumenfeld that they love the station.
“I’ve heard from some … that many of their employees use the system, so it’s a major help for them because it facilitates trips to and from their business,” he said.
While the Expo line, the station, and parking lot are patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Culver City police feared that the train might cause an increase in crime for the rest of the city.
“In general we have not had any measurable increase in crime related to … the increased number of people that are now in our city as a result of taking the Expo line, or anything related to the Expo line,” said CCPD Lt. Allen Azran.
Illegal parking is on the rise around the station, he said, particularly before those USC games as the parking lot fills up.
But there was no notable increase in the homeless population, Azran said.
“As far as crime [increasing], even though we thought there was a possibility that may be the case, it actually is not,” he said.