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Gaslamp Drive pedestrian plaza gets key from City Council OK

Plans to create a seven-block pedestrian plaza in the Gaslamp Quarter received unanimous approval from a city council committee on Wednesday — the first-ever vote by city officials on the long-awaited project.

“This is an important milestone in our city,” said councilman Joe LaCava, vice chair of the council’s active transportation and infrastructure committee. “It’s really going to be a game-changer.”

Banning cars and parking on Fifth Avenue between Broadway and K Street is expected to make the area a magnet for tourists and locals, helping fill vacancies in the Gaslamp and changing the downtown landscape -city.

Concerns about the impacts of the street closure on bus routes that serve low-income neighborhoods have been the subject of recent meetings between city and metropolitan transit system officials.

“We have developed mitigation measures that we believe will help with rerouting,” said Duncan Hughes, deputy director of the city’s transportation department.

Buses on Route 120 will turn a block early to avoid the Fifth Avenue closure. Buses on Route 3 will turn onto Seventh Avenue instead of Fifth Avenue and use Broadway to connect to Fifth Avenue.

“It’s the smallest detour we can manage, and we’re making changes to signage, striping and traffic light timing to accommodate the buses,” Hughes told the committee on Wednesday.

Regarding emergency vehicle access, Hughes said the Gaslamp Quarter Association will be required to maintain a 20-foot-wide emergency access lane on Fifth Avenue for such vehicles. In addition, certain removable bollards that will delimit the new square will be marked for quick removal in the event of an emergency.

These bollards will replace the makeshift bike rack barricades the city has used since it began experimenting with the pedestrian plaza concept on Fifth Avenue at the start of the pandemic.

Since July 2020, various parts of Fifth Avenue have been closed to motor vehicle and pedicab traffic for various hours five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday.

Bicycles and scooters are allowed, but scooters are limited to a maximum speed of 5 mph by a technology called geofencing.

Michael Trimble, executive director of the Gaslamp Quarter Association, said Wednesday the experience was popular and smooth. It brought more people to the Gaslamp, and there were no issues with pedestrian safety or business deliveries, he said.

Trimble said merchants are eager to take advantage of the full-fledged boardwalk, which will expand the car-free zone to seven blocks every day of the week. The plaza will be closed to motor vehicles from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., creating a nine-hour window for deliveries and trash pickup.

The city eventually hopes to add street furniture, public art, trees, murals and possibly outdoor entertainment venues. Officials say it will be similar to the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica and many public squares in Europe.

When the idea was first floated over three years ago, the block between K Street and L Street was included. But this block was removed to avoid impacts to rail operations along Harbor Drive.

The boardwalk will connect to the existing protected bike lanes on J Street, which are part of the ongoing implementation of the city’s downtown mobility plan.

A traffic analysis by the city shows that the pedestrian esplanade will not significantly increase congestion on 4th Avenue, 6th Avenue or the cross streets, which will remain open to traffic.

A one-block pedestrian square in Little Italy, Piazza della Famiglia on Date Street between India and Columbia streets, has become very popular.

Hillcrest merchant leaders said on Wednesday they would also like such a place.

“It’s important for us to see busy neighborhood streets as a multipurpose asset, rather than just a place for cars,” said Ben Nicholls, executive director of the Hillcrest Business Association.

Wednesday’s committee approval allows the Gaslamp Drive project to be forwarded to the full council for approval.

California Daily Newspapers

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