The Four Key Elements of a Thriving Pedestrian Mall

The 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, a great example of a successful pedestrian mall.

The 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, a great example of a successful pedestrian mall.

Last week I posted an initiative to implement a pilot project that would close off part of Pacific Avenue to cars, once a month, for 6 months. The idea would essentially turn part of downtown Santa Cruz into a temporary pedestrian mall to see whether or not such an idea could be feasible, if not beneficial to the community at large. The idea isn’t a new one, and has actually been debated by locals for decades, but for one reason or another has never been implemented. This proposal would do just that, for relatively little cost.  Now, before people start with the criticisms, let me explain a bit of my reasoning.

Part of my research included a recent study that was done regarding how to make pedestrian malls work. Several case studies were identified and incorporated into the research to determine what factors make pedestrian malls successful. Out of that study, four key elements were identified that led pedestrian malls to grow into thriving public spaces: accessibility, use, design, and comfort.

The 4 key elements for creating a successful pedestrian mall.

The 4 key elements for creating a successful pedestrian mall.

Accessibility is dictated by three factors: frequency, connectivity, and pleasure. For a mall to be successful there must be ample pedestrian and bicycle access, as well as frequent and nearby transit stops and busses to the area. Parking access to the public space must also be provided in the near vicinity.

Downtown Santa Cruz accommodates for all of these stipulations. Due to UCSC and the need for public transportation for students, the busses run quite frequently with no more than 15 minutes in between departures. The metro station downtown also perfectly provides community members with access to the proposed space.  Furthermore, bike use rates have greatly increased over the past 10 years and the downtown area has over 100 bike lockers along with many posts to lock and secure bikes. This allows for even greater public access to the mall without car use.

The study also states that parking structures, preferably hidden behind buildings along the street edge, are necessary for access to and the success of pedestrian malls. In downtown Santa Cruz there are several parking structures behind the suggested blocked off mall area such as the Locust garage, Cedar/Church garage, Cedar/Cathcart parking lot, Central branch library, Sentinel, Calvary Church, and Pearl Alley parking lots. These are just the ones located directly by the blocked off area and within a 5 min walking distance. There are a total of 22 parking lots in the downtown area.

Next is use, which is defined by density, mixed-use, active uses, and attractions. The ability to attract people and create a space that brings people together instead of dispersing them is key. As suggested in the study, it is vital that a large number of people live in the downtown area for a mall to thrive. The area must also be diverse in nature with different attractions such as parks, marketplaces, museums, theaters, etc. Buildings must have a variety of uses to help create the physical and economic diversity that fosters active street life. Universities within close proximity to the mall are also shown to be great creators of an active street life.

Santa Cruz is only around 10 miles across in total. The greater population is within a mile of the downtown location. Near the proposed mall there are several theaters, a farmers market every wednesdayan antiques fair every monththe Santa Cruz Museum of Art and HistoryThe Louden Nelson Community Center, and the San Lorenzo Riverwalk and Park all within a mile. There is also a trolley to ferry visitors to and from the beach and Boardwalk areas. The downtown area has a diversity of businesses; banks, retail, office space, cafes, restaurants; all of which are necessary to create active and diverse use. UCSC is within 3 miles, and although it could be closer, a majority of students live off campus and relatively close to the downtown area, providing the necessary population for a thriving downtown space.  And, as I mentioned before, there are frequent busses between the university and downtown.

Design includes location, enclosure, visual interest, and urban form. Amenities such as places to sit, trees, water features and lighting together produce a successful mall. It is necessary for the mall to be located in the heart of a community or in the downtown area where the highest level of pedestrian traffic exists. Buildings should be located along and facing the public space and relatively close together to help define the area. A focal design element such as a fountain or clock located in the middle of the public space is also a preferred element.Along Pacific Avenue there are a multitude of benches and eating areas, trees that line the street, lighting structures and water fountains in several places.  Buildings and businesses line and face in towards the proposed mall area and a clock tower stands at the top of the street directly in the middle.

Comfort dictates the feelings associated with the public space. The space should be appealing and properly structured for weather and maintenance issues. Cleanliness and upkeep to the area are important along with awnings and coverings for weather issues. The proposed area for the Santa Cruz mall is well maintained, clean, and provides several awnings from businesses. And of course the downtown area of Santa Cruz has always had a particular feel to it, one that most would say is earthy, fun, casual and comfortable.

Pacific Avenue has all of the elements needed to be a successful pedestrian mall, why not try a pilot program?

Pacific Avenue has all of the elements needed to be a successful pedestrian mall, why not try a pilot program?

Santa Cruz possesses many of the attributes that satisfy the four elements found to be deciding factors in pedestrian mall success rates. Many concerns arise from the notion that without cars there will be less commerce. While this may be true for malls with previously large open roads with plenty of traffic, Pacific Avenue has never been home to a multitude of cars due to one way streets and parking structures within the vicinity. The downtown area has unique architecture and a diverse and eclectic population. A new Pacific Garden Mall would further connect the community and create an even more thriving public space.


  1. Joe Kerr says:

    Was just down there eating dinner, while comming out with my date this guy was vomiting in the street then he followed us to our vehicle and demanded we give him our Doggie Bag! Never again will I place foot on that mall is what I promised my Date.

  2. Dell says:

    Pedestrian malls have been tried before in the USA. They do not work! Perhaps we love our cars too much. We do not need to run another experiment here in Santa Cruz that will negatively impact our local businesses. I suggest you do some research and see if you can find an example in the USA where Pedestrian malls have been successful and present the information to support your idea.

    • As Chelsea’s photo caption clearly states, the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California is a great example of a successful pedestrian mall.

      • Dell says:

        A photo does not prove a malls was a success. A photo can show mall is beautiful. Santana Row is beautiful and a success with a design that has car traffic. The designers of Santana Row included car traffic for a reason.

  3. @Dell — The photo is certainly a helpful visualization attesting to the success, and overall positive vibes, of the 3rd Street Promenade. I’ve been to Santana Row, and I’ve spent plenty of time at the 3rd Street Promenade. I do not need a photo for proof of what I have already experienced for myself.

    Santana Row is exclusive private property; described as an “island facade of highest society.”

    Although a license is required, the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica is described as, “one of the best places to street perform in all of the world.”

    Santana Row is not a good model or comparison for Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. However, the 3rd Street Promenade is a good comparison for how Pacific Avenue could truly thrive and benefit our community of residents and visitors alike.

  4. In response to you Joe Kerr: I as i’m sure anyone after hearing that story am very sorry that you had such a negative experience downtown. However, if we all gave up after one bad experience, we wouldn’t have light bulbs or the declaration of independence or anything else that took a couple (or 1,000) tries to get it right. Downtown vagrancy obviously needs to be addressed, especially if you and those you love feel unsafe. The new pedestrian mall downtown is meant to uplift the area not make it worse. With a little TLC i believe we can make downtown even more vivacious than it already is creating a more community friendly, safer, funner space.

  5. And secondly, to Dell: I am very aware of the success rates of pedestrian malls. That is why I wrote this article to provide some empirical data on the key elements that dictate a prosperous mall. There are several examples of malls that have worked despite the majority. [The Pearl Street Mall]( in Boulder, Colorado is currently celebrating 35 years of success, others include [The Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, Virginia](, [The Church Street Marketplace]( in Burlington, Vermont, and as previously stated, [The 3rd Street Promenade]( Another [article]( I found discusses the downfalls of pedestrian malls while also highlighing the recent return of them to American cities in an effort to revamp the community and become more environmentally friendly. I completely understand your concern but to reiterate, many failed malls were due to huge roads with sometimes up to four lanes being closed. Pacific avenue already has barely any traffic and part of it is even one way. Please keep in mind that this is also just a pilot program to test out the waters. If it doesn’t work or has a negative impact it does not have to be further implemented.

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