HIGHWAYS TO BOULEVARDS BLOG: Long Beach, Part 2

This post is a part of CNU’s Highways to Boulevards Blog series, which features interview summaries and insights from some of the best minds at the frontline of our Highways to Boulevards Initiative

The following post is Part 2 of a 2 part series on the Terminal Island Freeway in Long Beach, CA. For this installment, CNU spoke with one of the leaders of this highway initiative, City Fabrick's Brian Ulaszewski, about the history, current redundancy, and possible future of the Terminal Island Freeway. Read Part 1 on Long Beach here.

According to a 1958 master plan, Los Angeles was to have a dense grid of freeways expanding on the system we see today, to include a Beverly Hills Freeway, extension of the 91 Freeway into the South Bay, and converting Pacific Coast Highway into a freeway that connects coastal cities from Santa Monica to Orange County. 7th Street in Long Beach was to be converted into a freeway as State Route 22 continued west past the Veterans Hospital through the center of the city.

Did you get all of that?

The fact that these additional freeways went unrealized has rendered other portions of the system less necessary because of disconnectivity. The Terminal Island Freeway (I-103) spans 3½ miles from the Port of Long Beach to the Union Pacific Intermodal Container Transfer Facility [ICTF] which lies on a wedge of Los Angeles between the cities of Long Beach and Carson. The primary purpose of the freeway has been to move freight from the port to rail yards to the north. It was originally intended to extend to Union Station, fifteen miles north but stopped at Willow Street in West Long Beach. 

Its intended use today? To be more than a little redundant.

Development of the 20-mile-long, multimodal Alameda Corridor in the 1990’s has made extending the Terminal Island Freeway unnecessary. The last mile of the freeway carries less than 14,000 vehicles a day, but unfortunately over half of those are freight trucks driving behind a half dozen schools and thousands of homes. Alameda Street [State Route 47] provides nearly as convenient a connection to the ICTF, and Union Pacific has even purchased land to better connect to the freight corridor.

When Pushing for A Better Road, Few Push Back

In the beginning, there was a lot of adversity to the proposal to remove the freeway based on perception; consider that Southern California is the “Land of Freeways.” But we (City Fabrick and advocates) provided a significant amount of quantified data on traffic counts for the Terminal Island Freeway in relationship to not only freeways removed in other communities but also compared to Long Beach streets that were redesigned for traffic calming.

While the Central Freeway and Embarcadero in San Francisco provide fairly stark differences to the Terminal Island Freeway, the real sales pitch came with familiar neighborhood streets that carry more traffic that were put on road diets or had roundabouts added.

The concept started with completely removing the Terminal Island Freeway but the plan was revised based on input to instead replace the freight corridor with a local street. We actually determined that integrating this replacement street into the local street grid could actually improve local traffic conditions by relieving pressure on the only other continuous parallel corridor in the area, while shipping truck traffic to a underused, newly created truck route. This creates the dual benefit of reducing congestion and obvious benefits to public health and community conditions created by relocating trucks a mile away from students and residents.

Removing the Terminal Island Freeway in West Long Beach makes practical sense because it can improve public health conditions, create opportunities for community amenities and reduce traffic congestion. Long Beach is a built-out city with limited opportunities to find new park space, and to find 20 to 30 acres of surplus public land to utilize for open space in an under-served community is to be taken advantage of.

Pictured: Underutiized land surrounding the Terminal Island Freeway

Shipping People, Not Containers

Over 40% of the container shipping entering the United States enters through the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. The communities surrounding the combined port complex, including Wilmington and West Long Beach bear the brunt of the environmental impacts from this national goods movement economy and its supporting infrastructure. These neighboring residents suffer significantly more health impacts than others in the region including higher incidents of asthma, cancer and lung disease. 

West Long Beach is proposed to be completely surrounded by Billions [with a “B”] of infrastructure projects including three rail yards [2 new and 1 expansion], two new bridges and the largest freeway expansion project in the nation.

This community is already heavily impacts by the air, noise, visual and light pollution from this freight infrastructure which will only be expanded and solidified for at least the next half-century. As significant as the benefits can be from removing the Terminal Island Freeway in West Long Beach this will only mitigate a small portion of these impacts. There is a still a long way to go to balancing the needs of the nation’s goods movement and these geographically focused impacts.

An all-too-familair scene on Southern California streets.

Future of Transportation in Long Beach

The City of Long Beach has been quite progressive with many of their transportation initiatives between the innovative bicycle facilities and placemaking projects. About the newly released Mobility Element of the City's General Plan:

"With the updated Mobility Element, we are developing a plan that more thoughtful relates our transportation to land-use development based on the other elements of the General Plan [including Housing, Open Space and Land-use]. While this is about safely, efficiently moving people, commerce and communication, it is also about making sure the infrastructure serves those living and working in the City.  So we are looking at context-sensitive design, health impacts and place-making as it relates to transportation." Amy Bodek, Director of Development Services Department, City of Long Beach

One thing we try to focus on in the short term is the many nonzero-sum opportunities that exist in cities like Long Beach, between the existing wide streets, dense street grid and surplus infrastructure. The Terminal Island Freeway is just one of those win-win situations that we hope show the opportunities to reimagine infrastructure to better serve the community.

CNU would like to again thank Brian Ulaszewski for his contributions to this post and his ongoing efforts to rescale and reconnect streets in Long Beach.

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