Plans for a pedestrian extension to the Santa Monica Downtown Transit Mall Project are currently being developed, according to city officials.

The pedestrian and streetscape project along Second and Fourth Streets — Phase III of the city Downtown Urban Design Plan —is designed to improve the streets parallel to the Third Street Promenade between Wilshire Boulevard and Colorado Avenue.

With the intention of enlarging the walking district of downtown and encouraging foot traffic beyond the Third Street Promenade, city officials say the improvements will include new pedestrian lighting to illuminate the sidewalks and the replacement of trees along Second and Fourth Streets.

Increased visibility of crosswalks — with enhancements focused on three mid-block crosswalks between Wilshire Boulevard and Arizona Avenue, Arizona Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway — are also part of the planned improvements, according to city officials.

The budget for Phase III also allocated money for an artist to participate in the design process as part of the project team.

The artwork created will be incorporated into the functional elements of the project.

“The downtown community has been looking forward to this for a long time and it’s an exciting project,” said Ellen Gelbard, Santa Monica Planning and Community Development Department deputy director.

She added that with city parking structures on Second and Fourth Streets, there is already pedestrian traffic, but the city hopes to improve the ambiance of the area and make it a nicer walking environment.

The Santa Monica Downtown Urban Design Plan began in 1997 with the overall goal of improving traffic conditions in the downtown area, upgrading the quality of downtown streets for pedestrians and improving transit facilities in the area.

Other key components of the overall streetscape plan included street furniture and public art concepts.

With this plan, the city hoped to balance traffic flow — one of the main objectives of the plan — by altering existing lane configurations and by posting signs that would direct visitors to the multiple streets that lead to downtown.

Officials say visitors to the area primarily use Santa Monica Boulevard to access downtown, and improved signage can help alleviate congestion by better distributing traffic.

The Downtown Transit Mall project, a $15 million renovation of a five-block stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway, was completed in June 2002 and represented Phase II of the Downtown Urban Design Plan.

The city wanted to create a desirable environment that would encourage visitors and residents to leave their cars behind more often and enjoy the surroundings on foot, according to officials.

The mall brought to Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway wider sidewalks, dedicated bus lanes, stylish bronze bus stop shelters, the addition of benches for the public, new street lights, bike racks and drinking fountains.

The city says the wider sidewalks have enhanced the pedestrian experience and there has been an increase in sidewalk dining, as hoped for and anticipated.

Although many city officials and business owners disagree about whether the flow of traffic has been positively affected by these improvements and about the success of the transit mall in general, Phase III will move forward.

A federal Transportation Enhancement Activity (TEA) grant through the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will fund part of Phase III.

The city is planning to begin its initial outreach to the community in the fall and will hold meetings and workshops with the community and downtown stakeholders regarding plans for the pedestrian extension, according to Gelbard.

Following the community outreach stage, the Phase III development committee will incorporate suggestions and work on alternative designs, eventually taking the designs to the Santa Monica City Council.

Once the City Council adopts the designs, construction planning can begin.

City officials say downtown merchants appreciate the aesthetic improvements of the transit mall and the increased foot traffic to their stores.

The city hopes Phase III’s continued expansion of pedestrian-friendly areas will result in a greater flow of shoppers to Second and Fourth Streets.

To reach Julie Kirst:

jkmailtalk@yahoo.com

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