OP-ED: Pedestrian-Friendly Means Safe and Convenient Crossings
People crossing at an unmarked intersection along Broadway in Alamitos Beach. There are five signalized intersections over less than a mile of the thoroughfare. Photo by Brian Ulaszawski.
Despite carrying nearly forty thousand vehicles a day, Second Street in Belmont Shore is one of the most pedestrian friendly corridors in Long Beach. A synergistic combination of compact land-use development and multi-modal infrastructure forms a walkers’ paradise. Design elements like the wide sidewalks, curb extensions, street trees, benches and outdoor dining provide a vibrant street life for local residents and visitors from beyond the Shore.
While these elements are all useful components of Second Street’s pedestrian environment, perhaps the most essential characteristic is the safe and frequent opportunities to cross the street. In quiet neighborhoods, the movement of cars, bicycles and pedestrians is controlled by little more than “Stop” signs. On more heavily travelled thoroughfares like Second Street, movement is controlled by traffic lights and painted lines that clearly define who belongs where and when, providing safer locations for pedestrians to cross these busy streets.
Placing traffic signals at intersections is typically saved for locations deemed to have enough opposing movement to create potential conflicts. These conflicts can be related to general or to specific movement like transit, bicycles or pedestrians. Many busy corridors will go two or three blocks without a traffic signal, which makes movement at those uncontrolled intersections difficult, especially for pedestrians due to their slower speed and greater exposure to oncoming cars.
Though legal, it can be intimidating and often unsafe to cross wider streets without the security of traffic signals and marked crosswalks. Also, without controlled intersections, there is a tendency for vehicle traffic to move faster. This further impacts pedestrian movement and can also negatively affect the quality of life for those living and working along the thoroughfare.
More frequent controlled and signaled intersections with marked crosswalks do not necessarily impede traffic flow.. Second Street efficiently moves traffic through Belmont Shore, yet is conducive to biking, walking or parking. There are 14 signalized intersections along the just over half-mile length [one every 210 feet], stitching the north and south sides of the street together into a convenient, safe business district. The frequency of opportunities to safely cross the street also significantly reduces the number of people crossing midblock where they might be less visible to drivers.
While it might not be practical to add traffic signals and marked crosswalks at every intersection in the City, effort should be made to address areas where pedestrian activity already exists. In just over the past three months, there had been five pedestrian fatalities in Long Beach and two of them can be directly attributed to the lack of safe pedestrian facilities for crossing major thoroughfares. In those cases, the surrounding land-uses support pedestrian movement that the city’s infrastructure needs to reinforce.
In Wrigley Village, a pedestrian was struck and killed crossing Pacific Avenue near 25th Street. That portion of Pacific Avenue has the same Commercial Neighborhood Pedestrian [CNP] District zoning as Second Street and is flanked by denser residential neighborhoods than Belmont Shore. Yet there is a half mile between the signalized intersections at Willow and Hill Street, where there are four intersections in between that would be potential candidates for new signaled [?] intersections with marked crosswalks.
Just this past month, there was a pedestrian fatality on Lakewood Boulevard near the Traffic Circle [north of Outer Way]. While it is unclear how the legal designation was made, the police report states that she was in an area that is not designated for pedestrian traffic. There are over a thousand residential units to the west, severed from two-thirds of a million square feet of neighborhood-serving retail by Lakewood Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway.
This past June there was another pedestrian fatality at the intersection of Anaheim Street and Linden Avenue. Just steps from St. Mary Medical Center, one of Central Long Beach’s largest employment centers, and a couple blocks from the second most significant transit node in the City [First Street Transit Mall is the first most important], this intersection is not signalized. While extremely dense with residential and commercial activity there are four blocks [quarter-mile/five-minute-walk] between signalized intersections at Atlantic Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard.
Along with increasing safety, decreasing distances between signalized intersections can also have a distinct benefit to economic development as evidenced by Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls. While there are many factors that have contributed to Bixby Knolls recent success, doubling the number of controlled intersections from three to six in the pedestrian core over the past decade has played a significant role. People are more inclined to patron more than one business if they can conveniently and comfortably walk between them.
The monthly First Friday events were much more difficult to navigate as a pedestrian before installation of these newer signalized intersections. Traffic speeds are calmer and pedestrians are more visible along this length of Atlantic Avenue between Bixby Road and San Antonio Drive. Still, even with these additional signalized intersections and a couple more opportunities [at Armando and Claiborne Drive] for additional ones, there is half as many safe crossings here as along the similar length of Second Street in Belmont Shore.
Adding more, controlled intersections will not eliminate conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles. Unfortunately, there will still be people [on foot, bike and behind the wheel] lacking the necessary attentiveness to safely share the road. But increasing the opportunities for pedestrians to more safely cross major streets where they already want to do so could help make a difference between life and death. These are just a few examples where signalized intersections could be used to facilitate safe pedestrian movement. There are many more needed across Long Beach.