After six months of being based in a makeshift depot outside City Hall, bus traffic returned this week to a Santa Rosa transit mall renovated to create a more open, modern feel.

Plenty of work remains on the $2.8 million project, but enough of the new infrastructure is in place to allow the city, county and regional transit buses to the return to their long-time haven on Second Street between Santa Rosa Avenue and B Street.

"It's cleaner and looks more modern," Angela Holden, 31, said Wednesday as she waited for a county bus to take her to Petaluma.

"These pole things are pretty cool," she said, gesturing to the new curving light stanchions that arch over the roadway. She described them as "new-agey."

The slender, tapered light poles are the most visually striking change to the mall. They replace thick blue steel structures that lined the sidewalks and contributed to the confining feel of the area, which is sandwiched between the Roxy movie theater and six-level city parking garage to the south and two hulking AT&T buildings to the north.

In addition to bay and route numbers, each pole is mounted with two bright, energy-efficient LED lamps, one illuminating the street and one the sidewalk.

Also installed are two curved-roof bus shelters, new benches, two new crosswalks, new sidewalks offering easier access for people with disabilities, 10 security cameras, bright steel cladding and a tile mural of a stylized oak tree along the bathroom exterior.

Still to be completed are the bathroom interiors, custom artistic panels creating a barrier between the mall and parking garage, a new information kiosk, permanent signs and multi-agency transit maps, some with real-time arrival and departure information when those systems become operational, said Jason Parrish, project manager.

Eventually, machines dispensing reloadable electronic fare cards, similar to the Clipper Card used on most Bay Area transit systems, will be installed at the kiosk, which won't be staffed right away because of budget concerns, he said.

Those same concerns led to a reduction in service on some Santa Rosa city routes and most fares increasing by a quarter beginning Feb. 1.

The city had hoped to complete the work by September before the rainy season began, but delays pushed the project back a few months. Most of the other upgrades should be completed by late February, Parrish said.

The design aesthetic for the upgrades was chosen largely because it best complemented the goals of having the transit mall feel more open, bright and user-friendly, Parrish said.

The more comfortable people feel, the more often they'll ride, which carries with it numerous benefits for the city and environment, he said.

Not everyone was thrilled by the changes. Some riders, chilled by wind and shade that dominate the Second Street location, said they preferred the sunny City Hall lawn. Others said the new bus locations were initially confusing, while others predicted the open-air shelters won't provide much protection from wind and rain.

Parrish said the shelters have no sides because there wasn't enough room on the sidewalk for that type of design.

"You're still going to have the largest umbrella in downtown to stand under, so to speak," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter @citybeater.