Downtown Long Beach is abuzz, literally abuzz like angry bees, with the sounds of the race cars from the Long Beach Grand Prix practicing on the waterfront racetrack. It is April, with spring in the air, the scent of fresh blossoms and burnt rubber encompasses the adjoining neighborhoods of the East Village and Alamitos Beach. As the pedestrian bridges over Shoreline Drive and South Pine Avenue, bleachers and barricades define the route the racetrack follows this year.
But something is different this year versus previous years as discussion of the future of Shoreline Drive and other waterfront streets begin to gestate.
The most compelling story for race fans is that of the potential return of Formula One after organizers have expressed interest in bidding for the lease when Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, LLC’s agreement with the city expires in 2015. While the discussions appear to only be in the preliminary stages, there is the potential for scenarios starting in 2016 that continue IndyCar or Formula One or even both. Changes to accomodate the Formula One circuit would require significant investment into the racetrack, with quotes of construction costs ranging between $10 million to $50-100 million depending on the source.
About the same time the City of Long Beach updated the Mobility Element of the General Plan, redefining how people, goods and resources are to move throughout the City.
As the new law of the land, this City Council approved blueprint for transportation in Long Beach dictates among other things where new bike lanes go, traffic signals are improved and where pedestrians have the priority over other modes of transportation. The Mobility Element specifically identifies Shoreline Drive as a “boulevard.” Like Ocean and Bellflower Boulevards Shoreline would have landscaped medians, scenic routes and wide sidewalks.
The Mobility Element also identifies just about the entire Downtown Waterfront to be a “pedestrian priority area” which requires treatments that enhance safety and comfort for walkers, such as the curb extensions on 2nd Street in Belmont Shore or street trees like those on Pacific Avenue in the Wrigley neighborhood.
There is a long way to go to reach those desired outcomes as the current conditions of the Downtown Waterfront are fairly pedestrian unfriendly, but the City of Long Beach is about to embark on developing a guide for how to achieve that pedestrian paradise with the Downtown and Transit Oriented District Pedestrian Master Plan.
These two paths of the slowest (pedestrians) and fastest (race cars) of ground-bound movement appear to not intersect, at least in an amicable fashions. Yet if they are planned in conjunction with each other, the two can coexist and possibly thrive together, as evidenced by the open street event that has taken place for pedestrians, bicyclists, skaters and strollers the days before the closed streets of the waterfront racetrack are turned over to race cars. It is a great placemaking event with little additional investment for race organizers.
Downtown Waterfront has constantly changed over the past century as it was expanded into the sea. Over a similar time period Shoreline Drive has extended from its origins at the I-710 Freeway to Alamitos Avenue with incremental changes, including the most recent to remove the interchange swooped from the Queensway Bridge to South Pine Avenue.
The Grand Prix continues to evolve over nearly 40 years with different racetrack configurations, sponsors and organizers and potentially will make significant changes over the next couple years.
Combining discussions of the future of the Long Beach Grand Prix with mobility planning in the Downtown can create a unified vision for a dynamic waterfront for everyday out of the year. There will be those who will rally behind such a holistic concept while others might instinctively resist it because the two seem so diametrically opposed. Opposing that collaboration has yielded the pedestrian vacuum that exists between the waterfront and Ocean Boulevard today, it might be worth trying a different approach now.