Long Beach looking at lane reductions to calm dangerous segment of Spring Street

A section of Spring Street that runs through El Dorado Park in East Long Beach could have its lanes reduced in an effort to slow down vehicles on a stretch of road where five people have died over the last nine years.

The city is currently doing outreach on a project that could reduce the stretch of Spring Street between Studebaker Road and Coyote Creek east of the 605 Freeway overpass from six lanes of traffic to just four.

Two preliminary plans show lane reductions in both directions that would make way for added infrastructure, including a protected bike lane on each side of Spring to increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

One version of the project would also change how the southbound Spring Street exit works with the free-flowing exit onto westbound Spring being eliminated. Another plan would require traffic to yield for cyclists and vehicles already traveling on Spring.

Councilwoman Stacy Mungo Flanigan said that the safety of that corridor has been a concern since she was first elected in 2014. However because this road is used as an entryway into a heavily-used park and involves off-ramps to the 605 Freeway, it required a more comprehensive solution with CalTrans.

Mungo Flanigan was careful to say that nothing has been finalized, adding that she’s looking forward to getting more input from residents to make a decision that’s right for the community.

“I don’t know that we know what the project entails right now,” Mungo Flanigan said. “Right now we have options.”

Mungo Flanigan said her office is expecting to host a community meeting focused on the project sometime in the next 90 days.

Rochelle Kramer, who lives in the Rancho Estates Neighborhood north of Spring and is part of the Rancho Neighborhood Organization, said she’d support a project like the one proposed because walking or biking down that street can be intimidating. Some neighbors have resorted to driving to the park because of safety concerns, Kramer said, which has required the purchase of annual passes.

“Some residents have parking passes and they drive which is kind of crazy that people have to drive to the park when it’s right there,” Kramer said.

Kramer said that bike lanes would be good for both cyclists and pedestrians but she hopes that the project is more comprehensive and looks at the narrow sidewalks and the numerous poles and signs that make it unsettling to walk on.

“I hope the plan is not to just throw in a bike lane and call it a day,” Kramer said.

The improvements are expected to cost about $335,000, which would be paid out of the city’s Public Works capital improvement project fund. Jennifer Carey, a spokesperson for Public Works, said if the project is approved it could take about two months to complete.

But before that it will require both community support for the project and approval from CalTrans, and the city of Los Alamitos because a portion of the project in the neighboring city would connect bike lanes on Coyote Creek. Carey said the approval from CalTrans is likely to be a “fairly cumbersome process” and the city is in the middle of that right now.

In the meantime the city is working on doing more public outreach to make sure that residents in the area know what’s being proposed.

The city won’t be using green bollards to separate cyclists from motorists if the project is approved. Instead of the bollards, which saw over 1,100 residents sign a petition to have them removed from a segment of Studebaker Road in 2017, these new bike lanes would be separated by concrete curbs with reflective paint. The new lanes would connect existing bike lanes on the riverbeds to other existing and future bike lanes that are part of the city’s bicycle master plan.

The plan could eventually lead to the speed limit being reduced by 5 mph. Speed limits are set by surveys that take into account collision history and roadside conditions, but also how fast 85% of people travel on a given stretch of highway or road.

California’s vehicle code sets the maximum speed for roadways at 55 mph and Spring Street currently has a limit of 45 mph in the proposed project area.

A 2019 study by researchers at the University of Colorado at Denver found that merely installing bike infrastructure led to declines in road fatalities of all types. Cities like Portland (75%), Seattle (60.6%) and San Francisco (49.3%) all saw dramatic decreases in road fatalities after expanding bike lanes.

The City Council adopted a Safe Streets plan in July to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety on city streets.

Over the past nine years, cyclists, pedestrians and motorists have all been killed on this stretch of Spring Street. In total, five people have died along the proposed project site since 2012.

In 2015, the mother of a 20-year-old man killed by a hit-and-run driver filed a lawsuit against the city claiming the city had overlooked the dangers that the street posed to pedestrians.

In February, Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna was struck by a vehicle while crossing the Spring Street near the El Dorado Nature Center. Luna suffered minor injuries.

Editors note: The story has been updated to show that Rochelle Kramer said residents are driving to the park instead of walking due to safety concerns. 

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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