City improves downtown traffic, bus service
Santa Monica, Calif., has reconstructed traffic lanes and sidewalks to improve bus movement through downtown. The project provided a facelift to a 10-block area and eased pedestrian and vehicle access to popular attractions.
Prior to the reconstruction, Santa Monica’s downtown had become a confusing mix of pedestrians, passenger vehicles, transit and commercial traffic. Tourists finding their way to the famous Santa Monica Pier, Muscle Beach and “Baywatch” Beach clogged streets for the city’s 90,000 residents and the buses that provide express service to downtown Los Angeles.
Working with a design team led by Oakland, Calif.-based Amphion Environmental, the city developed a plan for a Transit Mall that would manage and improve traffic circulation, enhance the pedestrian and passenger experience and provide better connections to nearby areas. The plan included widening sidewalks, dedicating bus lanes and installing bus shelters, transit information kiosks and signs. It also reallocated public rights of way for outdoor cafes, pedestrian uses, transit priority lanes and mixed-use vehicular lanes.
The project got under way in April 2001. To keep residents and businesses informed of the construction, the city established a community outreach program that included signs, notices, stakeholder meetings and a 24-hour hotline. Working with the Los Angeles office of Kansas City, Mo.-based Black & Veatch, construction managers; Calabasas, Calif.-based Valley Crest Landscape, general contractors; and Playa Del Rey, Calif.-based Harris & Co., public outreach managers, the city coordinated with business associations, police and fire departments, utility companies, private developers and other groups to schedule construction.
Construction was staged to ensure that no street was ever closed and to minimize disruption to merchants, residents and visitors. Crews worked in segments two blocks long and one-half street wide for six-week periods. Plywood and clear, sound-adsorbing acrylic barrier panels stretched along two blocks of sidewalk to separate pedestrians from the construction. K rails, a type of concrete barrier, enhanced safety for pedestrians and construction workers; wooden footpaths provided access to businesses; and signs and banners helped customers find the shops they wanted. Following 14 months of construction, the $13.3 million Transit Mall was completed in June 2002.
The reorganization of traffic patterns downtown creates a loop that helps balance bus circulation by shifting some route segments off heavily traveled streets onto less busy parallel streets. The new transit lanes and associated passenger/sidewalk amenities form the “on-street” transit facility at the center of the city for use by the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus and Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Downtown’s dedicated bus lanes allow buses to bypass congested traffic lanes, making the bus a faster and more reliable experience for riders. “The Transit Mall is all about moving people downtown in a different way than before, and the new amenities really encourage people to take advantage of alternative modes of transportation,” says Stephanie Negriff, director of transportation services for the city.