By Eric Gray
Long Beach Boulevard has a long and winding history. Nestled in the center of Downtown Long Beach, the boulevard was once known as American Avenue until 1959, when the City of Long Beach changed its street signs to reflect the name of our city. For years, Long Beach Boulevard was home to many car dealerships, but change occurred decades later, and many of these dealerships left the city for Signal Hill which put together an aggressive plan to capture the lucrative automobile industry. In 1990, the Metro Blue Line entered the Long Beach Boulevard scene and began offering train service to many people traveling to and from Los Angeles.
Today, Long Beach Boulevard is a mixture of scattered residential developments, businesses, and home to metro stations located at 1st street, 5th street, Anaheim St, Pacific Coast highway, and Willow St, where you can hear the sound of train bells buzzing throughout our city. Geographically, the boulevard begins on the north end as a continuation of Pacific Boulevard in Walnut Park in Los Angeles, travels south to Uptown Long Beach through Midtown, and ends at Ocean Boulevard in Downtown Long Beach where the fountains at Terrace Theater Plaza greet visitors and residents alike.
Because Long Beach Boulevard is one of our few major corridors in the city with the Metro Blue Line boldly traveling through it, many see this as a negative distractor from revitalizing the corridor. I believe we have to look at this differently, however, and realize the strong opportunity we have as a city to capitalize on this transit asset. With the right planning, we can encourage more pedestrian activity, job growth, and urban renewal within the Downtown and Midtown regions.
Plans are already on the way
The City of Long Beach for some time has been working to approve a number of projects to enhance our corridor and has put substantial effort into doing so. Projects such as the CSULB Downtown Village approved for Long Beach Boulevard and 4th street will house up to 1,100 students and faculty members with new classrooms and an art museum. The Broadway Block, slated to incorporate the former Acres of Books location on 3rd street and Long Beach Boulevard, will also include close to 400 residential units, creative office space, and additional university space. Further north, “The Prestigious 1598” is being sold as “the only new condo for sale in Long Beach,” and features 36 condos with 5 retail spaces for sale.
The approved projects aforementioned are very encouraging; however, additional planning opportunities must not be overlooked, and we must engage in a continued and often revisited re-envisioning process that takes into consideration the need to accommodate private and public sector job growth along the Long Beach Boulevard corridor, residential net worth equity opportunities, a faster enhanced safe blue line, more affordable and middle income housing opportunities, and a vibrant business culture that embraces and compliments the metro stations architecturally.
Long Beach Land Use Element Battle
Across Long Beach, there is a fierce debate over the proposed Land Use Element. Many in the community are fighting against additional density in their neighborhoods for a variety of reasons, ranging from parking issues and concerns to over population, increased traffic, and the desire to keep single family neighborhoods preserved. Long Beach Boulevard in the Downtown and Midtown regions are better suited for development than areas like East Long Beach, Alamitos Beach, and Wrigley. Building to scale for both organizations and residents on Long Beach Boulevard will not only help build our local economy, but it would take away some of the pressures being imposed on the city to build more residences and the potential negative impacts to these neighborhoods. This can be done steps away from the metro blue line while incorporating parking to allow for travelers outside of the metro route to reach this area.
Pride in Ownership Now
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and some may have more tolerance for status quo street designs and upkeep than others. I believe that throughout the Long Beach Boulevard Corridor in the Downtown and Midtown regions there is much opportunity for improvement to be made that can be done before developments are complete. Potential improvements include:
• An improved street tree design by planting shaded trees in between the existing rows of California fan palm trees
• Repainting the historic light poles
• Replacing decades old tree grates
• Creating shared green space and pocket parks
• Pop up shops, restaurants, and artistic spaces
• Boulevard monthly fairs
• Property façade improvements
• Continuing to improve median planting
The Dream of the Metro Blue Line Is Becoming Reality
Picture one of the safest, comfortable, and affordable train routes taking passengers from Downtown Los Angeles to Downtown Long Beach in less than 30 minutes. Its a dream many in our community have discussed over the years, and with the help of the City of Long Beach and its partners, it is slowly becoming a reality. Not without its problems, the Metro Blue Line is making strides. Earlier this year, the Long Beach Police Department took over policing duties from the LA County Sheriff’s Department after many complaints that laws were being violated and not enforced thoroughly. Over the next 12 months, the remaining rail cars in the Blue Line will be replaced with redesigned interiors, wider seats, and safety features. The long awaited project of synchronization of traffic lights with the Metro Blue Line was also announced in May by the city and its partners to cut down travel time by 10 minutes. We hope to see creative ways to further reduce travel time.
Long Beach Boulevard, the namesake passageway that cuts through our city, deserves the type of thoughtful planning, attention, and action with the goal of bringing together our diverse communities into a future space that is more livable, successful, and vibrant. It can further be a beacon to those looking for a job, a place to live, or a place to celebrate the use of transit as a way to reduce pollutants.
Moderate improvements can help bring up the quality of life for residents who live near the corridor and tourists visiting our city. Increased sales tax revenues from a more successful and vibrant corridor can help to further fund programs to assist people experiencing homelessness and repair streets, sidewalks, and alleyways.
I believe the time has come for the community and city to come together to revitalize Long Beach Boulevard, our namesake corridor.