Staff Reporter

What happens when 15,000 additional vehicles each day are brought into what is already one of the most congested areas in all of Southern California?

Traffic conditions improve.

At least that's what L.A. city officials, developers and traffic consultants insist will be the outcome when several major commercial projects are developed along Third Street near Fairfax Avenue.

And the feat, they say, can be accomplished without widening the traffic-choked streets. Instead, it will rely on a combination of more traffic signals, synchronizing signals, widening intersections and possibly a mass transit center.

The bulk of the measures will be undertaken by Santa Monica-based Caruso Affiliated Holdings to mitigate the impacts of the 14,000 daily vehicle trips expected to be generated by its 900,000-square-foot retail project, The Grove at Farmers Market.

"We think this will have a major positive impact in the area," Caruso said. "The area has declined over the years and needs to be cleaned up and re-gentrified. Our project is a major impetus to this, since the city usually waits for somebody like us to pay for these improvements."

The proposed infrastructure improvements, detailed in an addendum to the original environmental impact report, are scheduled to be addressed during a public hearing before the Los Angeles Planning Commission on July 21.

Details on the impacts of the construction process itself still need to be worked out. Should approvals go through, Caruso would like to break ground in September and open in February 2001.

"We have a good developer here who will work closely with the community and the city to mitigate construction impacts," said Rochelle Ventura, chief deputy for City Councilman Mike Feuer, who represents the area just west of Farmer's Market.

Among those likely to be most impacted are the 11,000 residents of Park La Brea, an apartment community that stretches along Fairfax just south of Farmers Market.

"Some 22 percent of our residents are senior citizens. They're worried if they can get to a doctor," said Donald Harris, a representative of the Park La Brea Residents Association. "Our concern is about health and welfare and cultural opportunities, and we see this project (The Grove) only enhancing that."

The traffic mitigation measures being proposed by Caruso include installation of an Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control (ATSAC) system, which synchronizes signals to match traffic conditions. The system would be put into 62 intersections throughout the area bounded by Highland Avenue, San Vicente Boulevard, Sixth Street and Wilshire Boulevard.

In addition, Caruso would like to open up Stanley Avenue, which has been closed off between Beverly and Third.

Five new traffic signals would be added along Fairfax, Third and Stanley, presuming the street opening is approved. The Grove would be made accessible through five driveways: two on Fairfax, two on Third Street and a main access to the parking structure on Stanley Avenue.

The developer also hopes to build a transit center on Stanley that would encourage mass transit use. The center would accommodate taxis, buses, shuttles, carpools and vanpools.

"Clearly, there will be some disruption to the area with the project, but without the project, we're more hard-pressed to create these future improvements," said Charlie Rausch, city planner in the environmental review section of the Planning Department.

But is getting those street improvements worth the price of bringing so many thousands of additional cars into the already-developed area? And are the proposed measures sufficient to handle the additional load?

"There is a point where it would be a problem to add more trip-generating projects, if streets are at Level F (severest congestion level) already," said Maen Harani, a traffic consultant with Korve Engineering in San Bernardino. "Mitigation measures can only go so far. You can do mitigations that will allow for more development, but if you run out of those mitigations, or the streets already have maximum queuing lanes, or there is no more room for left-turn lanes, if you exhaust all those measures, you are asking for trouble. Overall, you have to look at the geometrics of the road."

Any motorist who has ever braved the roadways around Third and Fairfax can attest that the "geometrics" are no picnic. Traffic is snarled, elderly pedestrians take far longer than signals allow to cross the street, vehicles dart in and out of parking lots cutting off through traffic and delivery trucks double park.

And The Grove is only one of several projects slated for the three-mile stretch of Third Street between Robertson and La Brea, which has emerged as a trendy shopping corridor for the 1 million people who live within a five-mile radius.

Beverly Hills-based Casden Properties is said to be in the process of buying the shopping center across Third Street from Farmers Market, where it plans to erect a 1,400-unit apartment complex. The center, anchored by a Ross Dress For Less store, is currently owned by Park La Brea's parent company, San Francisco-based Prime Property Capital.

Officials at Prime Property and Casden Properties could not be reached for comment last week.

On the adjacent site to the west, the 250,000-square-foot Town and Country Shopping Center is being eyed for a rehabilitation, but not this year or next, said a representative at the Arba Group, which manages the center.

And farther west, beginning at Fairfax and extending to Robertson, merchants and property owners are assessing the feasibility of a business improvement district. If approved, that district would likely undertake additional improvement projects.

Feuer's office has hired consultant Downtown/Main Street Visions to work with the community members, who have been meeting for the past eight months on the issue. The two-mile stretch would encompass about 250 to 300 merchants.

"We're taking advantage of the synergy of the Farmers Market project," said Ronald Cano, principal at Downtown/Main Street Visions. "There will be lots of consumer recognition for that project, and our merchants need to prepare themselves to capitalize on it."

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