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|Planning to Avert a Downtown Parking Crunch|
By Gene Williams
April 19, 2011 -- Anyone who runs a business in Downtown Santa Monica knows that parking and traffic circulation – or the lack of it – can often be a headache and an endless source of discussion. The question is what to do about it.
The good news is that a number of major projects slated for the near future include facilities that will make parking Downtown easier. The bad news is that there is bound to be some discomfort while all these projects are being built.
That’s why Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. and City officials are getting a head start on construction by taking steps to free up parking and mitigate congestion 18 months before the first bulldozer rolls in.
The Downtown Interim Parking Plan endorsed by DTSM, Inc. and passed by City Council on March 8 is a multi-faceted approach toward making the best use of Downtown’s parking options – and some smart technology – to alleviate the stress that all the proposed building activity could bring.
The plan calls for relocating monthly parkers to a centralized location and providing free shuttle service, creating a Downtown valet parking program and exploring interim parking locations. It also calls for working with Downtown tenants who have major leases in the City owned parking structures to release unused spaces for public use.
“The good news is that we are beginning to implement parts of this program right away,” said Kathleen Rawson, CEO of DTSM, Inc. “We want to have time to monitor progress and make necessary adjustments to ensure all facets of the program are successful.”
A key component of the plan includes a financial incentive for monthly parkers in Downtown parking structures to move to the Civic Center parking structure.
People with monthly passes to the City’s Downtown parking structures – most of whom are Downtown employees – will receive a reduced monthly rate of $68.75 to relocate. A free shuttle will ferry the Civic Center parkers to and from Downtown.
The savings are equal to five months free parking over the course of the year, Downtown officials said. But perhaps the best part of the deal is that the monthly parkers who move will also receive free anytime-use passes for the Big Blue Bus worth $80 per month.
The City hopes to get 400 to 500 monthly pass holders to relocate. Because not all of the monthly pass holders are Downtown at the same time, those numbers are expected to free up about 300 Downtown parking spaces on any given day – spaces that Downtown businesses will need for their customers, parking officials say.
Monthly pass holders have until December 31 to take advantage of the reduced rate. The City may adjust parking rates – either by lowering Civic Center rates or raising Downtown rates – if it feels a stronger incentive is needed.
To gain parking for an additional 80 to 100 cars, the City will buy back spaces it leases to the Douglas Emmett real estate company. Under a long-term lease that originated in 1968, Douglas Emmett presently has 155 City parking spaces at the top of Structure 2 — but the company only uses about one-third of them.
The City will buy back the unused spaces for $20 per space per month – money the City says it will recoup with a profit by charging the going parking rate.
Freeing up space for Downtown customers will become especially important beginning April 2012, when the City plans to tear down and rebuild City Parking Structure 6 located on Second Street between Broadway and Santa Monica Boulevard.
Demolition of Structure 6 will take 342 spaces offline until mid-2013. When completed, the new structure will have more than twice as much parking — enough for 748 cars, 90 bikes and 13 motorcycles on eight parking levels above ground and another three levels underneath.
Innovative amenities planned for the new structure include a façade of aluminum fins to reflect diffused sunlight into the facility, solar panels expected to generate 80 kilowatts and charging stations for 30 electric vehicles.
But before the dust settles, Downtown will lose another 339 spaces in April 2013 when City Parking Structure 3 on Fourth Street is slated to go down to make way for a new AMC Movie Theater.
The two projects will overlap by three to six months, which means Downtown will be short nearly 700 parking spaces during the time both structures are down.
City and Downtown officials say there will be enough parking resources to carry the load until 2014, but it will take some work to make sure all parts of the Interim Parking Plan are well coordinated.
“There are several moving pieces of this program,” Rawson said. “There is no one Band-Aid that addresses all of the issues.”
In anticipation of the crunch, the City is ready with replacement parking on property it owns on Arizona Avenue between 4th and 5th streets – the site used each winter for the ICE at Santa Monica skating rink. By the time Structure 3 goes down, the temporary parking lot on the site will be expanded to 67,500 square feet.
To make more room for cars – as well as for future redevelopment – the Interim Parking Plan calls for demolition of City-owned buildings, including those presently occupied by Carlson Appliances, Angelo’s Pawn Shop and Ezai Flowers. The buildings are set to go down January 2013 after the tenants’ leases expire.
The City will operate the temporary site as both a self-park and valet- assisted facility, depending on demand, in order to maximize its use. The City is also considering a full-service valet option.
Parking valets can get more cars into less space by parking the vehicles in tandem. They also help ease traffic congestion by reducing the number of motorists who circle the block in search of a place to park.
City planners acknowledge that permanent replacement parking will have to be found for the spaces lost when Structure 3 is demolished. The temporary parking site looks to be a prime candidate.
“If Structure 3 goes down, there is a desire to have replacement parking nearby and that site is perfect,” said Miriam Mulder, Project Manager for the City’s Architectural Services Division.
But it’s not a done deal, Mulder added. The public process for determining permanent uses for the site is just beginning. In themeantime, City and Downtown officials are working to ensure that the annual ICE at Santa Monica tradition will continue during the coming years of construction.
The City is also looking at other sites for temporary replacement parking, including the North Civic Center Lot and the old Sears Automotive site at 400 Colorado Avenue. But these sites can only be used for parking on a limited basis, if they can be used at all, City officials say.
The North Civic Center Lot will be needed as a staging area for the nearby Village project, after which it will be transformed into the Palisades Garden Walk. The old Sears site will become the terminal station for the Expo Rail. The three projects are all slated for completion during the next five years.
But temporary lots aren’t the only place to add parking.
City officials say the parking structure at the Main Library regularly has 200 to 300 empty spaces. The City plans to capitalize on that untapped resource by promoting its use.
In addition, the Interim Parking Plan calls for partnering with owners of private garages to make their facilities more available to the public on non-peak days. This has worked well in the past during special events, such as Glow, Cirque du Soleil and Ashes and Snow, according to City officials. But on an everyday basis it’s more difficult.
“The challenge working with private operators is their peak is often our peak,” Don Patterson, the City’s operations manager told the City Council. Peak hours for Downtown parking are generally every day from early afternoon through early evening, Patterson said.
But all the parking in the world doesn’t do any good if you can’t find it or are stuck in traffic. The City is turning to technology to help balance the parking-circulation equation, both for the short-term and the long-term.
Smart phone applications are already available to let drivers know where to park and how to avoid delays. To get real-time parking information visit smgov.net/parking or download the SAMO Park app onto your phone, iPad or iPod Touch. More apps should be available in the
coming months. In the future, additional way-finding technology will include electronic signs with traffic and parking information.
Also in the future, expect to see more automated parking systems —like the one already installed in the City-owned structures at Santa Monica Place.
Automated parking systems speed up the time it takes to get in and out of a structure by showing drivers which spaces are available and by allowing them to pay before they get into their cars to leave.
In addition, motorists won’t have to wonder whether or not they have change before parking on the street. The City has begun installing parking meters that accept credit cards. A few of these high-tech meters are already in place. More are expected to come.
But almost without a doubt, what will most ease Downtown’s traffic and parking woes is the Expo Rail, City and Downtown officials agree.
When the train arrives in 2015, it will connect Downtown Los Angeles with Downtown Santa Monica and bring thousands of visitors to the beach city each day without adding a single car to its streets.
By that time — or perhaps a year later — the City hopes to have a number of other major infrastructure and development projects completed – including the Colorado Esplanade, the Village Project, a rebuilt California Incline, a new bridge to Santa Monica Pier, Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square, a cap over the freeway and a rehabilitated Civic Auditorium, which will be operated by the Nederlander Company.
Together, these projects are expected to improve traffic circulation, create a more pedestrian-friendly connection between Downtown and the Civic Center and bring world-class shows and live entertainment back to Santa Monica.
And then, when all the projects are finished, the City will again start looking at more parking – this time at the Civic Center.
At its March 8 meeting, City Council voted to set aside the existing Civic Center surface lot as a potential site for a subterranean parking garage. City staff recommended the site near 4th Street and Pico Boulevard, saying that it’s easy to build on and readily accessible from the freeway and Downtown.
Though the Civic Center surface lot is 8 to 12 years away, officials say it could accommodate 6.5 acres of subterranean parking on four levels — enough room for nearly 1,000 cars, if needed.
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