Note: This article originally appeared on the Long Beach Post.
A week ago, Second District City Council District Suja Lowenthal, along with a team of City staff and consultants, presented initial concepts for reimagining the Broadway Corridor through Alamitos Beach, Bluff Park, Bluff Heights and Belmont Heights.
Some of the primary urban design concepts included creating activity nodes, increasing safety and calming traffic speeds but perhaps the most controversial was the concept of a road diet on Broadway. Though there are many different types of according to the Federal Highway Administration: a road diet typically involves converting an undivided four lane roadway into three lanes made up of two through lanes and a center two-way left turn lane. The reduction of lanes allows the roadway to be reallocated for other uses such as bike lanes, pedestrian crossing islands, and/or parking. Road diets have multiple safety and operational benefits for vehicles as well as pedestrians, such as:
- Decreasing vehicle travel lanes for pedestrians to cross, therefore reducing the multiple-threat crash for pedestrians,
- Providing room for a pedestrian crossing island,
- Improving safety for bicyclists when bike lanes are added
- Providing the opportunity for on-street parking
- Reducing rear-end and side-swipe crashes, and
- Improving speed limit compliance and decreasing crash severity when crashes do occur.
The idea of removing a lane from a major thoroughfare like Broadway seems like a recipe for disaster, but there are plenty of relevant examples of such changes not negatively impacting traffic and in many cases improving overall conditions. It is not necessary to cite precedents in San Francisco or Portland; instead Long Beach itself can provide many instances of successful road diets–and Broadway is not the only potential candidate for applying a road diet in the city.
In fact, within close proximity of this length of Broadway are a half-dozen examples of road diets, encompassing almost ten miles of roadway. Before reading the following examples, imagine the streets of Alamitos Beach and Downtown as they are today because the past had a very different picture.
Cherry Avenue between Ocean Boulevard and Broadway had diagonal parking added to the east side [originally parallel] of the street just a year ago. Junipero Avenue between Ocean Boulevard and 6th Street had bike lanes added to either side. Both of these streets were wide enough to make these improvements without removing any car lanes. Along with the bike lanes and additional parking narrowing the vehicle travel width tends to slow cars down while decreasing the distance pedestrians must cross traffic.
Third Street between Junipero Avenue and Alamitos Avenue used to have a second westbound travel lane. This was to facilitate the one-way portion of 3rd Street through the Downtown onto the Interstate 710 Freeway. Around the same time as the bike lanes on Junipero were installed, the second westbound lane on 3rd was removed in exchange for bike lanes in either direction. The former lane markings are still faintly visible on the pavement today.
Shoreline Drive between Chestnut Avenue and Pine Avenue was reconfigured to remove the third eastbound travel lane three years ago. This provided the opportunity to convert the parallel parking to diagonal, adding a half-dozen more public stalls as well as calming traffic speeds along this portion of Shoreline Drive. There is certainly much more opportunity to retool the entire length of Shoreline to create additional public parking as well as further calm traffic speeds, all without causing congestion or negatively impacting the Long Beach Grand Prix, which uses portions of the waterfront street network for its racetrack.
Probably one of the most contentious road diets in recent memory for Long Beach has been those on Broadway and 3rd Street through the Downtown. While the reconfiguration of these one-mile lengths of one-way streets were to install protected bike lanes, they also had the additional benefit of significantly calming traffic speeds and improving pedestrian safety along the two corridors. To make a comparison, witness the high rate of traffic speed along Downtown’s other coupled corridor of 6th and 7th streets which very closely resembled Broadway and 3rd before the road diet. Capacity of the coupled corridors was largely maintained by providing left-turn lanes at all the intersections.
First Street through the East Village once had two lanes in both directions but the excess lanes were shed in 2002 to convert parallel curbside parking to diagonal. Diagonal parking was added to Linden Avenue around the same time. These changes significantly expanded parking for the Arts District commercial core as well as made the area much more conducive for pedestrians.
Probably one of the most dramatic changes to the Long Beach street network in recent history is the road diets on every local street in Alamitos Beach. First, Second and Appleton Street along with Bonito, Cerritos, Esperanza, Falcon, Gaviota and Hermosa avenues were all converted to one-way streets in the ’90s. The road diet in this case included removing the travel lane in the other direction, providing the width to add diagonal parking, expanding available public parking by 50% at the time. Later, bike lanes were added on First and Second Street which all together significantly calmed traffic speeds and made living in the dense residential neighborhood more bearable.
These road diets encompass a significant number of streets around this portion of Broadway, each providing their own unique challenges and opportunities. None had brought the transportation network to a screeching halt and instead they have improved it by providing more parking, bike facilities and pedestrian amenities. An Alamitos Beach and East Village with around a third less parking, no bike lanes and perilous streets for pedestrians seems unimaginable, so re-visioning Broadway could similarly be possible. Broadway should be further studied as the benefits can be great for the local community.