Michael Gougis - Contributing Writer
April 09, 2013 – Streets that reflect the surrounding neighborhoods. Roadways that accommodate people who aren’t in cars. Effectiveness measured in something other than automobile traffic congestion.
These are the guiding ideas for the city’s new outline for addressing transportation issues for the next two decades and change. And they will have an impact on the way people live, work, play and travel in Long Beach for years to come.
“If we’re going to talk about transport, I would say that the great city is
not the one that has highways, but one where a child on a tricycle or bicycle
can go safely everywhere.”
Mayor of Bogota, Colombia
The recently-released document, known as the Mobility Element of the city’s General Plan, updates the city’s 1991 Transportation Element of the General Plan and is required as part of the city’s overall planning process. The revised document reflects a sea change in the way Long Beach planners look at streets and roadways, says Derek Burnham, planning administrator.
“If you look at the 1991 transportation element, it is all about moving cars. We’ve really shifted the policy to moving people. There’s walking, there’s biking, there’s riding the train. We wanted to look at mobility more holistically and wanted to capture all of the ways that people get around,” Burnham says.
“It’s sort of a road map and a work plan, if you will, for mobility improvements in the city.”
The document incorporates the needs of a much broader range of transportation systems than in the past.
“This Mobility Element takes a much more balanced approach to multiple modes of mobility,” the document states. “Goals, policies and implementation measures are designed to create a system of complete streets that support and encourage all mobility users, regardless of age or ability, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, motorists and truckers.”
The emphasis on “Complete Streets” was institutionalized in state law in 2008, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a measure requiring transportation planners statewide to include pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders in their plans for the creation and operation of roadways in the state.
The draft calls for tradeoffs in the future that may result in impacts that in the past would be considered unacceptable.
“On street segments where automobile travel is not emphasized or where intersection or roadway widening is not practical, the City may accept some vehicle congestion in exchange for pedestrian, bicycle and/or transit improvements,” the document states.
In some areas, in other words, moving mass amounts of car traffic isn’t as important as encouraging people to walk, for example.
“There are certain areas where we want to give some modes more priority over others,” Burnham says. “We don’t want to see this as a zero-sum issue. But in some cases, if we have to choose, we want them (non-car uses) to have a higher priority than vehicles.”
Burnham cited the installation of dedicated bicycle lanes on 3rd Street and Broadway as examples of shifting transportation priorities.
“In doing so, we took away a traffic lane. That certainly can add a little traffic congestion on those roads. But certainly if you walk on those roads, they’re much more amenable to pedestrians. It’s a better environment for two modes of travel (walking and bicycling).”
Guiding the selection of the streets involved will be an approach called “context-sensitive street classification system,” the document states. This will take into account “all road users and the character of adjacent properties and buildings,” according to the draft.
“Before, it was all about the vehicle capacity,” Burnham says. “When you shift to context-sensitive, you’re also concerned about what’s around that street. Who uses the roadway? We look at the street classification within the broader context of the community it is in.”
In other words, the idea is to make transportation decisions based on the uses surrounding the roadway. A road bisecting a pair of huge retail developments or malls is going to perform a significantly different function than the same size roadway that is surrounded by high-density mixed-use residential and commercial structures.
The challenge is easy to understand. The city’s population is expected to grow 15 percent between 2008 and 2035. Physically, “Long Beach is mostly a built-out city with a developed street network. Very limited opportunities exist to acquire additional right-of-way to widen streets and accommodate additional vehicular traffic,” the draft states.
“As a result, the city is aiming future improvements at making the existing mobility network more efficient by encouraging other modes of transportation (primarily walking, bicycling and public transit) and by using innovation and technology to improve the flow of traffic.”
The document outlines several methods of doing this, including, Multimodal Connectivity, which is simply making it easier to move from a bicycle to a bus to a train, and making bicycle and bicycle routes safer and more pleasant to use.
- Pedestrian traffic improvements will be the priority in several areas, including much of downtown and the East Village neighborhood, along Santa Fe Avenue on the West Side, from Pacific Avenue to Atlantic Avenue between Pacific Coast Highway and Willow Street, east of the Traffic Circle along Pacific Coast Highway and the Los Coyotes Diagonal, and Atlantic Avenue north of Wardlow to Artesia Boulevard.
- Bicycle improvements (designated routes, set-aside lanes, or separate paths) are proposed throughout the city. The average trip length in Long Beach is five miles, according to the draft plan. With the proper bicycle route network, these trips could be accomplished in 30 minutes via pedal power, the document states.
- Public transit will take priority along the east-west corridors of Ocean Boulevard, 7th Street, Anaheim Street, Pacific Coast Highway and Willow Street west of Long Beach Boulevard. The designated north-south public transit corridors will be Long Beach Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue, Lakewood Boulevard north of Pacific Coast Highway, and Bellflower Boulevard between 7th Street and Willow Street. On these corridors, transit-oriented improvements and projects will take priority.
Burnham says the document has been tentatively set for a hearing before the Long Beach Planning Commission in May, and city councilmembers are expected to address the document in late July. Burnham noted that the draft is the end result of a lengthy process that has involved a significant amount of community involvement to date.
“This has been under development for several years. It’s been a pretty engaging process,” he says.
The public can access a copy of the document at www.lbds.info.