A Highway Teardown Appears Likely, In an Unlikely Place

The sign says it all. Photo: ##http://la.streetsblog.org/wp-content/pdf/12.0317Streetsblog.pdf##City Fabrick##/Brian Ulaszewski

The sign says it all. Photo: City Fabrick

As the nation prepares for the expansion of the Panama Canal and all port cities go crazy deepening and widening everything in sight, the second biggest biggest port in the country is doing something unexpected: planning a highway teardown.

The LA Times reported this week that Long Beach officials are studying the possibility of replacing a one-mile stretch of the Terminal Island Freeway with a park.

The paper glorified the situation only slightly — the proposed plan would build a local street too, so the Times reporters’ assertion that the conversion “would mark the first time a stretch of Southern California freeway was removed and converted to a non-transportation use” isn’t entirely accurate. But no one would argue that it’s a great deal to trade in a mile of underutilized highway — and 20 or 30 surrounding acres of weeds and dirt — for an 88-acre park and a local street that integrates into the local street grid.

Along with the proposal to move some industrial uses away from the neighborhood schools, the park could transform this truck-choked neighborhood, which is plagued by high rates of childhood asthma. “This shifts the freight trucks and associated negative health impacts a mile away from schools and homes, creates the largest park in West Long Beach and potentially improves traffic in the area,” said Brian Ulaszewski, the director of the non-profit urban design organization CityFabrick and the man behind the greenbelt proposal [PDF].

“This is done by creating a second north-south corridor in the community,” he said. “That acts as a pressure relief valve for what is currently the only one: Santa Fe Avenue.”

The Terminal Island Freeway was never connected to the 91 freeway as planned, and so has become somewhat obsolete, according to James Moore, director of USC’s transportation engineering program, quoted in the LA Times article. As it is, the entire road runs just four miles and has comparable vehicle counts to nearby city streets.

Last month, the state approved a $225,000 environmental justice grant for Long Beach to study options for the stretch of roadway, including the possibility of converting it into an 88-acre greenbelt, in a part of town starved for green space.

Long Beach Port is, indeed, planning for growth in advance of the Panama Canal expansion. There are proposals for $10 billion worth of investment into the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles over the next decade, which could bring three new rail yards into the Westside neighborhood, as well as two widened interstate freeways.

In the proposal, Ulaszewski writes that the rapid redevelopment of the area gives the community a perfect opportunity to redesign in a way that could mitigate the harmful effects of traffic and industry the Westside community has been living with for a long time now. It looks like Long Beach is ready to seize that moment.