Atlantic Avenue

Cars speed down Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls.

Atlantic Avenue soon will be one lane in each direction in Bixby Knolls.

Part of Pine Avenue is closed to vehicles in the core of downtown Long Beach.

Parklets — boxed-off seating areas where parking spaces used to be — dominate Second Street in Belmont Shore, and can be found in Naples, on Broadway and other streets.

Those measures were taken to help restaurants, where eating indoors still is banned, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. It narrows the space for vehicles on the street, and cuts into parking spots, but there still is talk about making the changes permanent once that pandemic abates.

Similar measures are planned along Atlantic Avenue in the Bixby Knolls business district. This proposal, though, would take traffic from two lanes to one in each direction, at least in the restaurant- and brewery-heavy stretch from Roosevelt Road to the south to Claiborne Drive on the north.

But this public works proposal wasn't started by restaurant owners. Instead, it was concern over speeding cars expressed by Blair Cohn and Eighth District Councilman Al Austin. Cohn, the longtime executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, said it would only be a matter of time before someone dies if nothing is done.

"We've seen the speeds on the street increase dramatically," Cohn said. "There's nobody out there, and people have been speeding on wide-open freeways. But now people are coming back. We've seen some big crashes in the last two months."

Public Works Director Eric Lopez and Austin unveiled the proposal last week at a zoom presentation. It is different than any Complete Streets or parklet plan in the city.

In Bixby Knolls, most of the eateries are on the east side of Atlantic. So on that side of the street, outdoor dining will be allowed on the entire sidewalk, from storefront to curb. What now is room for parallel parking will become the walkway, while vehicles will park in what was the first lane of traffic.

That will leave a single lane of northbound traffic, separated by a median from the southbound lane. Left turn lanes will remain where necessary.

Much of the west side of the street has retail shops, professional offices and two strip centers with parking lots. The sidewalk will remain open on that side of the street, with outdoor dining allowed where there is space.

But to squeeze the traffic into a single lane, angled parking will be installed at a 30-degree angle from the curb. That puts parked cars into the first traffic lane, with space to back out, then merge into southbound traffic. That plan also increases the number of street parking spaces from 65 to 81 stalls.

According to Public Works spokesperson Jessica Carey, this project is being considered a temporary component of the Open Streets program, and is paid for by Metro Open Streets, National Association of City Transportation Association (NACTO), and CARES Act money. It should take four to six weeks to complete, she said.

Austin said he wants the project completed quickly "This open streets, traffic calming project can’t happen soon enough," he added. 

Cohn, cautioned that this approach is an experiment, and both he and the city will be watching to see if traffic is pushed into neighborhoods or onto Long Beach Boulevard to the west. That could require more changes on other streets, or on Atlantic.

"It's going to be a different look when it's done," Cohn said. "We can adjust as we go… If it kills it (customer traffic), we'll rip it out. But we have to try something."

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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