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Century City Planning Redux

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With the redesign and reconstruction of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood still a fresh memory, West LA residents, commuters, businesses, and a handful of pedestrians are bravely tolerating another major improvement project now taking place along a westerly swath of the Boulevard.

A $68.5 million dollar Santa Monica Boulevard Transit Parkway Project attempts to transform the idiosyncratic (some might say disjointed) 2.5-mile long streetscape that follows the spine of the Century City corridor between the Beverly Hills border and the 405. The project, which is a multi-agency effort, attempts to incorporate aesthetic and practical improvements with amenities designed to accommodate and encourage multiple forms of transit use. The managed chaos began last year, and the last of five phases is projected to be wrapped up in March 2006.

According to the project website, "The merging of the two roadways and the railroad right-of-way will improve the vehicular level of service through the corridor. A dedicated bus lane in Century City will enhance bus transit operations. In addition, impressive landscaped medians and sidewalks along the 2.5 mile project will lend a unique character to the area which the community can enjoy for years to come."

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Not that we might have a Big Dig situation on our hands, but the Board of Public Works is rightfully concerned with timely and on-budget construction, as well as putting considerable good-faith community outreach muscle into the project. The website contains regular newsletters and a special hotline dedicated to street closure updates and notifications.

Under the radar as this factor tends to be, the plan includes joining the numerous grade changes and erasing other reminders of LA’s obsolete electric streetcar system. The area badly needs a makeover, true. But LAist always laments the final removal of median-right-of-ways, tracks, and other vestiges from our early mass transit network. (It broke our heart to see the original buried tracks revealed and then hauled away when Santa Monica Boulevard was torn up a few years back.)

And while many of the project motives are well-intended, including the improved freeway on- and off-ramps and the addition of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) bypass lanes on the 405, let’s face it — Century City is hardly considered one of the warmer, fuzzier neighborhoods in the city. The project’s greatest benefits will be traffic engineering improvements — the impact of which will be closely tracked by invested City entities — rather than a softer, kinder landscape with which to offset the boxy, multistory towers and the recently-purchased (along with a gang of other malls) Westfield Shopping Center. The latter is now also known as as a quaint modernist progenitor to the Grove.

Century City has joined the ranks of other future-gazing, master-planned districts of the 1950s and 1960s that demand intensive rethinking within a few decades after their construction. Certain examples from this era are defended by some, reviled by others. In this case, the development on land which served as 20th Century Fox’s backlot incorporated density, a modicum of integrated land use, and other cutting-edge planning principles, some of which were never realized. But now it just feels like an anonymous Le Corbusier-type landscape with little of interest to engage the average pedestrian or passerby.

Yet Century City’s crucial and strategic location remains undisputed. Even if LAist doesn't care much for that part of town, we hope the new Transit Parkway will efficiently serve both neighborhood locals and the tens of thousands of Angelenos who simply use the corridor to get from one place to another.