Revisioning the Broadway Corridor: Part I

This is Part I of a two-part series. For Part II, click here.

The Broadway corridor—vaguely defined as the 3-mile extension between Belmont all the way westward to Alamitos—has long been a concern of not just mine, but the thousands of residents that sit behind and between businesses on the storied stretch. It’s home to Long Beach’s Gayborhood, Bixby Park, as well as the Temple and Redondo shopping and dining areas. And unlike other districts, like Downtown where the population has varied perpetually, Broadway is a veteran ‘hood that is composed of a large majority of people who’ve been there for some time.

But it lacks two major things: safety and accessibility, both in the sense of placemaking and the ability to get around.

Given this, when Councilmember Suja Lowenthal—following the heed of public opinion, the On Broadway Association, and other groups—decided to tackle Broadway, she first went to citizens to gather dreams and then to designers to gather dream-building ideas to create a Broadway Visioning Study.

“One thing that became very clear in our analysis is the fact that Broadway tends to be looked at as a single project,” said RSAUD Principal Designer Roger Sherman. “Broadway is not used a corridor that people will walk up and down.”

Nodes of Interest, Broadway Corridor

Nodes of Interest, Broadway Corridor

Sherman went on to point out—contrary to a villages concept that broadly “spreads the butter,” in his words, along the entire strip—that there are nodes of interest that people walk to from other neighborhoods because the spread of Broadway is vastly mixed. Unlike Pine or 2nd Street, Broadway has a large proportion of residential units in between pockets of business—and it would be vastly beneficial, both financially and design-wise, to approach it from a nodular angle rather than a strip angle.

Five nodes were identified along Broadway that represent the largest sectors of businesses huddled together: Orange (home of At Last Café, My Bicycle, Sweetwater Saloon, Mi Lupita, that awesome donut joint…); Gaviota (home of Paradise, The Brit, Mineshaft, The Crypt, Off Broadway Salon…); Junipero (home to Hot Java, The Bicycle Stand, Movement, Star of Siam, Chen’s…); Temple (home to Moss & Rock, Gallagher’s, GooseFire Gallery, Makai, Gypsy’s, Syndicate…); and Redondo (home to Reno Room, The Attic, The Library, Con Rev, Sasha’s, E.J. Malloy’s, Baddeley’s, Somatic…).

Gaviota Node, enlarged.

Gaviota Node, enlarged.

Each node then had a design that catered to the area’s aura, so to speak. For example, Redondo Avenue’s node had a “lazy afternoon” theme, harkening to the casual placemaking ideals of Sunset Triangle Plaza in Los Angeles and the Gardens by the Bay area of Singapore. Orange Avenue, on the other hand, was provided an “urban chic” look harken to the sleek curvature seating of Battery Park in New York and the triply lines of the Black Market area of Superkilen in Copehagen.

Sherman noted that these themes were nothing set in stone, but rather a general strategy that would cater to a far more complicated issue: safety.

Safety along Broadway falls into many categories, adding to the complexity: the need for safe, more prominent crosswalks; the need to calm traffic speeds down; the need for more lighting; the need for wider sidewalks…

Matthew Littell, Principal of Utile, started tackling this with traffic and pedestrians, focusing more on the pedestrian while presenting multiple possibilities for calming traffic.

3-Lane diet on Broadway & Falcon.

3-Lane diet on Broadway & Falcon.

To the grumble of some—heaven forbid you lose a lane for two blocks!—Littell’s most fascinating (and ambitious) proposition sits at his test site: Falcon and Broadway. Home to the World Famous Falcon Bar (and Resort, as some locals love to add) and the Pizza Place, Littell talked about dropping Broadway to 3 lanes via a chicane-like with a scramble crosswalk at the center.

“By actually having the center of the road shift and kind of wiggle,” Littell said, “it’s a way of easily calming and slowing traffic.

Even more brilliant: the design adds additional parking spots (one on the north side of Falcon and another two more on the west end of Broadway) and pedestrian real estate via curb extensions (which can actually create outside public seating and greenery for patrons). One can tell by the before-and-after comparisons that the added amenities and lane diet immediately, from the perspective of a car driver, forces them to be more aware. Unlike the dead-on-no-one-in-my-way look of how Broadway currently is, which fosters a my-own-bubble culture amongst car drivers while exacerbating danger, this design—though admittedly ambitious—is the type of urban scoring we need to see on our streets.

Before le chicane and after: 4 lanes versus 3 lanes.

Before le chicane and after: 4 lanes versus 3 lanes.

Bemusing: despite the possibility of added spots—not a ton, but not a loss—citizens still managed to gripe about parking come the end of the presentation. And for someone who has been mugged twice—once at Broadway and Orange and once at Third and Temple, one block north of Broadway—I found it odd that many felt parking was not only the largest issue but one that would somehow create safer streets.

One resident complained that, when attempting to find parking for a friend’s holiday party, he circled mindlessly and eventually had to—oh, the humanity!—park at home and ride his bike. Another citizen, noting the recent string of robberies along the Broadway corridor of people on their cell phone, claimed that if the area had more parking, victims would have been able to get inside their home quicker and avoid getting mugged.

These misaligned observations fail to note the larger issues and that is the design of Broadway fosters and attracts horrible incidents—and that denizens of the neighborhood should never feel the need to rush home in order to avoid mugging and that biking in one’s neighborhood makes those walking feel safer and more involved.

Take a look at West Hollywood, home of one of the most infamous parking disasters in Southern California, where a single pole on a street could be the host of some four or five parking signs and where the city has had to implement permitted parking. There’s an interesting thing about WeHo, whether you like it’s aura or not: its citizens love it—and they love it because, despite perhaps having to walk farther due to parking constraints, they walk along well-lit, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks where people are continually out and about. They, in succinct terms, feel safe and that is more important for them than parking nearby. There is a mutual understanding that urban, dense environments are going to provide discomforts—parking constraints, occasional noise interruptions to your quiet living room, traffic—but that the vibrancy of the urban ballet, as long as it is safe, far outweighs those concerns.

Sherman and Littell both understand that one of the most important goals of design is not to solve world problems like hunger; design can’t achieve that on its own. But what design can do is foster connectivity and community.

The Broadway Visioning Study Group will meet once again come January of next year.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.