Downtown mobility planners seek input on alternative transportation

By Gary Walker

Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole says community consensus can build a better downtown.

Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole says community consensus can build a better downtown.

With Expo Line light rail rolling into the city on May 20, Santa Monica officials are reworking planning guidelines for the evolution of transportation, development and housing in the city’s downtown area over the next several decades.

Starting next month, city leaders plan to hold a series of public meetings to encourage more public comment on what they’re calling the Downtown Community Plan, which will set future guidelines for mobility, architectural preservation and the height and density of new construction.

“This is a key planning document and we have to get it right,” Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole said. “From the outset, I’ve emphasized the importance of reaching consensus to guide downtown development in the years ahead.”

Santa Monica Mobility Division Manager Francie Stefan said conversations will include connectivity to the Expo Line as well as holding the line on the number of vehicle trips in the downtown area during peak hours.

“But I’d also like to look forward to what might be on the horizon. For example, what is the future of self-driving vehicles, and what does that mean for ridesharing? How will the downtown evolve to welcome people walking and more and more people choosing to bike and take transit? And what does the expansion of regional rail throughout Los Angeles County mean for how we as a region will be getting around in the future?” Stefan pondered.

Many of the concerns, however, exist very much in the now.

“People have many different types of mobility needs. Some with children or disabled family members need to drive for some tasks; people without a car will be looking for opportunities to ride a bus, take Expo and bike or walk. Everyone’s mobility needs change throughout their lives, and throughout their day, week and month,” Stefan said. “This diversity is important to remember, so we are working on both building awareness of mobility options as well as expanding comfortable facilities that work for many users.”

During a press briefing at City Hall in late March, Cole and members of the city’s planning and transportation departments announced that they would extend their timeline for completion of the downtown community plan from this summer to the end of the year or even early 2017.

Likewise, the public comment period has been extended to May 3.

“It makes sense to take adequate time to ensure the entire community understands how all the policies work together to support the community’s goals,” Planning and Community Development Department Director David Martin said.

Cole referred to the successful renovation of the Third Street Promenade in 1989 as an example of how city planners can transform sectors of the city into thriving areas by incorporating community input and creative planning.

Dates for the upcoming community meetings about the Downtown Community Plan will be posted on the city’s website,

The city’s Planning Commission will review the document after staff completes it, and the Santa Monica City Council is expected to vote by next spring on whether to ratify it.