It’s been named one of the top “Freeways Without Futures” in the nation and described as a “perfect example of obsolete infrastructure.” Its removal has been fought for by City Fabrick founder Brian Ulaszewski since 2010, long before the existence of Fabrick itself. It has been a blight on a neighborhood that sees some of the least amount of park space in the entire city.
Nearly half a decade later, the project to remove a large portion of the Terminal Island (TI) Freeway in West Long Beach, after having gone out to bid in an RFP with an estimated bid value of $225K, has a team to take the project on: Meléndrez, y’know, the crew leading that tiny project known as the MyFigueroa project in LA and the Bixby Park re-design.
The final decision to go with Meléndrez needs approval from Council next Tuesday and there are no issues anticipated.
Now with a backing team, this marks a major event in Southern California’s urban design history, being the first freeway removal project that mirrors existing projects such as the removal of both of San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway and Central Freeway.
The project is simple: the existing northern length of the freeway, following the development of the 20-mile long Alameda Corridor and the still-underway modernization of the Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF) by Union Pacific Railroad, is redundant. Not only do shipping companies use it less and less, the traffic itself matches those of 4th Street along Retro Row (some 13,700 AADT). And if plans for ICTF follow through, you can drop that down to 8,700 AADT–less than the traffic 3rd Street receives in the quiet neighborhood of Alamitos Beach.
According to the bid, the “TI Freeway Transition Plan will define the community’s vision for replacing an underutilized freeway to mitigate pollution impacts to address long-standing community health concern” while giving “qualified candidates the opportunity to produce a plan for one of the most heavily impacted communities in Southern California.”
They are not exaggerating when calling West Long Beach “heavily impacted”: west side residents have a paltry acre per 1,000 residents or what amounts to about a soccer field. This is far below the National Recreation and Parks Association’s standards for a Healthy City, set at a minimum of 10 acres of parks for every 1,000 of its residents. In fact, it’s legally deemed “park poor,” particularly compared to the East Side, a portion of Long Beach that averages a staggering 16.7 acres/1,000 residents thanks to the massive 650 acre El Dorado Park.
With overwhelming evidence that suggests accessibility to green space not just encourages physical activity but actually contributes to the overall health of a community (lower rates of respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, on and on), this project is both reasonable and ethical in its development given that it will increase park space on the West Side by some 50% with the addition of 20 to 30 acres of park space. This is not to mention the elimination of many trucks passing by west side schools, specifically Cabrillo High, Reid High, and particularly Hudson Elementary, which sits toe-to-toe with TI’s edge.
The success of the aforementioned projects—more of which can be found in Portland (Harbor Drive Freeway), Boston (Central Artery), Seoul (Cheonggye Expressway), and other cities—mirror the benefits in regard to of freeway removals. Dissenters against such projects claim but are ultimately proved wrong in the following areas:
- The traffic congestion feared by having a lesser roadway capacity can be absorbed by alternate routes (the aforementioned Hayes Valley in San Francisco, where part of the Central Freeway was removed, is a prime example of this);
- Fewer people use their cars when roadway capacity is lessened
- The removal of certain spans of roads does not mandate nor necessarily guarantee a needed shift in the entirety of transit paths;
- And the excessive right-of-way paths can be altered into public, open space that generate activity on multiple levels–communal, civic, commercial–rather than simply diminish transit
What Meléndrez brilliantly proposed is using the TI project as a tie to the larger West Long Beach Livability Implementation Plan, a plan dedicated to prioritize various proposed planning projects based on their ability to increase overall livability of the West Long Beach community. It combines a variety of key planning elements—Port of Long Beach Green Port Policy, Mobility Element, Community Livability Plan: 1-710 Corridor Neighborhoods, Long Beach RiverLink, The Yards Westside Plan, Open Space and Recreation Element and the 2013-2121 Housing Element—to assess how to improve the Westside as a whole through the TI project.
“When we began looking at the Westside,” said Meléndrez principal Melani Smith, “we identified a bunch of projects that could be done on the community level: parks, biking elements, improving pedestrian access on the bridges over the 710… That was back in 2009 and a lot of these projects have not implemented so we are hoping to bring those projects back into the fold.”
Teaming with Parsons Brinckerhoff, a firm who not only has an entire team dedicated to complete streets but has also been alongside Meléndrez while studying the Westside, and Westbound Communications, who will be handling outreach for the TI projects and has currently been doing outreach for the Gerald Desmond bridge, Smith holds one belief:
“The perspective I am bringing is that this has to be a community-generated set of ideas. The goal of this project is to look back at all these previous projects and identify what can be done now that we actually have the ball rolling on vastly altering the livability of West Long Beach.”
This is precisely why Smith and crew will be hosting the first community meeting about the massive TI project—but not just that project. The first meeting, to be held December 6 at 10AM in Silverado Park, will be divided into two parts: 1) take in the West Long Beach Livability Implementation Project and have the community weigh in on and create criteria for how projects are included; and 2) discuss the first phases of the TI removal project.