Over Twenty Years Later, Long Beach Mobility Element Gets a Much-Needed Update
After several drafts and decades since its last update, the Planning Commission opted to forward the Mobility Element (ME) update–the singular document which dictates the way in which the city will enact mobility policy over the course of the next 20 years–and hand it to the City Council for final approval and adoption into the city’s General Plan.
The ME–like one of its previous counterparts, the Housing Element, that I analyzed earlier in twoparts–is part a required general plan document in all California cities and counties that guides long-term development in regard to how people, commerce, and resources move about or what is generally put under the umbrella term of “circulation.”
The update to the ME is largely headed by mobility expert Ira Brown, who was actually a part of the previous 1991 ME.
The Element has to take into consideration a multitude of legislative acts which involve the planning and development of mobility systems within Long Beach: The Complete Streets Act (AB 1358) which generally assures that all types of roadway users are considered in planning; a Sustainable Community Strategy as required by SB 375 which focuses on reducing greenhouse gases; consistency with the General Plan, including Long Beach’s optional elements (Historic Preservation, Seismic Safety, Air Quality, and Local Coastal Program).
Finally, since Long Beach is a coastal city which has a certified Local Coastal Program, adhere to the four requirements of said program (increase reliance on public transit; decrease reliance on automobiles; provide more parking; increase ped/bike access).
Clearly, the ME is essential in that it provides “the opportunity to determine the future of transportation in [Long Beach] and affect associated impacts on the community,” as City Fabrick Executive Director Brian Ulaszewski put it in his public comment. City Fabrick has been consistently involved in the its development since its initiation as “Long Beach 2030.”
Long Beach, like Los Angeles, is mostly built-out with right-of-ways that are either impossible or deeply difficult to expand; in this sense, the updated ME focuses on a desire to make the existing mobility network more efficiently. Though the 1991 ME was rather ahead of its time–largely seeking to reduce single-occupant automobility–it mainly focused on making the street network safe and more efficient for private automobiles and largely ignoring a larger investment in transit, ped, and bike access and infrastructure.
The new ME uses what Ira Brown described as a “context-sensitive” strategy that “addresses the function of the street, neighborhood character, and the needs of all mobility users. This approach lends itself to a more balanced mobility system that also integrates land use and urban design objectives for better place-making.”
One of the examples provided were the newly added Boulevard street type which reflect roadways “characterized by moderate speeds, a balanced multimodal function, wide sidewalks, and more intensive land use oriented towards the streets”–i.e. what Streetsblog is all about in regard to their mission.
This makes the updated ME “leapfrog” in nature: one piece corresponds to the next, creating a network in which each depend on each other for their efficiency.
This policy is fascinating in that, for example, it doesn’t necessarily remove regional corridors or arterials from their original purpose but simply realigns them to have a specific role and identity that contributes to the betterment of its surrounding neighborhood.
In turn, this leads to a wider pedestrian plan within the updated ME, focusing heavily on increased ped capacity and amenities, including more efficient connections to other modes of travel and open spaces, and increasing the temporary closure of streets for activities (block party, anyone?).
This then in turn leads to a larger bicycle safety and connectivity: a designated system of Bike Boulevards (e.g. Daisy) with more amenities, a closure of gaps in existing bikeway system, and–yes, they used the word–actively supporting ciclovias.
Which then in turn goes into the transit plan that, like its 1991 counterpart, has a main goal of increasing transit for work and non-work missions. Of course, we all know this is easier said than done since we played the same harp in ’91 but there was a more logical, common-sense approach: include arrival times at all stops and on all buses, include Long Beach Transit more directly in Site Plan Review processes while also supporting Transit’s efforts to create a universal access pass, and continue to drive support to extend the Metro Green Line to the Willow Station Blue Line Station (admittedly a beautiful dream for many).
This then all leads to Almighty Automobile. There is a painfully obvious point: we live in Southern California, a culture fueled by fuel-driven machines that–even for some of the most progressive folk–are simply hard or impossible to give up. However, like in ’91, there is not some utopian dream in the updated ME of eradicating autos in SoCal more than there is a desire to decrease single-occupancy of autos for everyday travel. In this sense, the emphasis was on the growing trend car-sharing, “neighborhood” cars, and the development of a network of charging and alternative fueling stations throughout the city.
The updated ME now faces the City Council for final adoption into the General Plan.