DOWNTOWN — As the high season for shopping nears, Santa Monica officials are planning to test new ways to ease traffic congestion Downtown and make the gift hunting experience more pleasant for drivers and pedestrians who visit the city’s busiest commercial district.
Beginning next Wednesday, pedestrians will be able to walk diagonally across the intersection at Second Street and Santa Monica Boulevard, as officials try out a “pedestrians only crossing phase” geared toward speeding the flow of walkers around Downtown.
The feature is new to Santa Monica but is used in other shopping districts in the region that attract heavy foot traffic, like Westwood Village and Old Town Pasadena.
“We absolutely think that this could be one of the ways to move people around Downtown in a less frustrating way,” said Kathleen Rawson, CEO of the Bayside District Corp., which manages Downtown for City Hall.
Bayside’s ambassadors will be in the vicinity to explain the unorthodox intersection, Rawson said, and City Hall will paint pedestrian indicators on the asphalt.
Officials are also adding a second westbound lane for vehicle traffic to the busy stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard between Fourth Street and Ocean Avenue. Parking spaces on the north side of the street, including spaces where cab drivers regularly wait for fares, will be temporarily eliminated in a bid to reduce congestion.
“None of these solutions is the magic formula, but what it will be is a combination of a number of initiatives that will help the free flow of vehicles and pedestrians in Downtown,” Rawson said. “We are being systematic with the city in trying things to see what works and what doesn’t work.”
Both changes will be evaluated during the next two months and could become permanent if the results are favorable, according to City Hall’s principal transportation engineer, Sam Morrissey.
It remains to be seen whether the changes will succeed. But there’s little doubt the already clogged streets in Downtown could benefit from traffic reduction measures over the holidays.
“It’s hard to get around. There’s too many pedestrians. It’s hard to make turns,” noted Kevin Andersen, a Santa Monica resident who was a customer of the Britannia Pub Downtown on Monday afternoon.
An extra vehicle lane on Santa Monica Boulevard in the Downtown area could help reduce delays for drivers, he said, though he pointed out the added lane, which will displace metered parking spaces, may make convenient parking even harder to come by.
Amy Hopper, another Santa Monica resident who was Downtown on Monday, said she agreed there’s a need to cut down on the gridlock. She just wasn’t sure if the city’s planned steps would make a significant difference.
“It might help, but there’s going to be a lot of traffic anyway,” she said. “There’s so many pedestrians. And there will be so much shopping [during the holidays]. It would be nice if more people took the bus.”