Businesses and pedestrians in Long Beach may soon be able to make better use of some of the city’s streets, sidewalks and parking lots, as officials consider opening them up for public use.
The City Council voted unanimously at its Tuesday, May 19, meeting to direct the City Manager to create an “open streets” initiative that would, among other goals, help speed up the economic recovery process for businesses by allowing them to serve more customers in the outdoor spaces while still following social distancing rules to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.
During the meeting, city staff gave the council an idea of what that program could look like. Long Beach’s traffic engineer Carl Hickman told the panel about different options for reducing vehicle traffic to make way for businesses and pedestrians, all of which could be utilized on different types of streets.
Neighborhood streets could be closed to all vehicles except for local traffic, for example. Arterial streets could be partially closed by implementing a temporary road diet, allowing businesses to expand partway into the road and slimming down the number of lanes available to vehicles. Major streets, meanwhile, could be completely closed to all vehicle traffic except for emergency use.
Any of those options, along with other ideas, could be implemented throughout the city during certain hours or certain days of the week.
Above all, Hickman said, the city would approach the idea with an emphasis on flexibility that would include input from business owners and residents alike.
“This is rather unique for the city,” he said, “but I think we can be flexible enough and accommodating and make things happen.”
Council members agreed that flexibility will be key.
“One-size-fits-all will never work,” Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo said. Still, “a full reopening could be even bigger and better with opportunities like this.”
Along with offering up streets and sidewalks for public use, Mayor Robert Garcia said he would like to see creative use of parking lots, including potentially using the Convention Center lots to host drive-in movies.
Garcia said that while Long Beach staff should come up with ideas that could work anywhere in the city, “this is certainly not a mandate to do them everywhere.
“But for neighborhoods, council offices and businesses that want to partner with the city to create these spaces,” he added, “it should be a kind of project-by-project review.”
Although the item did not include a timeline for when Long Beach should implement a plan, Garcia said he hoped the city would “move quickly” on the idea.
“I’d love to see some of these neighborhood corridors open up soon,” he said.