Willow streetscape project in LB steps forward with initial designs

<strong>Proposed streetscape amenities and pedestrian-friendly improvements are pictured in this preliminary design of the proposed Willow streetscape project.</strong>

Proposed streetscape amenities and pedestrian-friendly improvements are pictured in this preliminary design of the proposed Willow streetscape project.

Sean Belk
Staff Writer

Preliminary designs of a nearly $3-million project to revamp the streetscape of a 1.1-mile stretch of Willow Street, extending from the Los Angeles River to the Blue Line transit station to Atlantic Avenue, were presented to Long Beach residents at a Wrigley Association meeting Tuesday, Jan. 7.
With construction expected to begin next year, the project aims to “encourage walking, biking and transit use” along the corridor that runs through the Wrigley district and borders Signal Hill on the east.
During the meeting, city planners and contractors presented initial designs, schematic plans and renderings while fielding comments and suggestions from residents. The team is expected to come back with final plans in the next six to eight months, after which the Long Beach City Council will vote on appropriating funds for construction by summer.
Initial designs call for installing new median landscaping, neighborhood and City entry signs, colored concrete imprints and two-level light fixtures for high and pedestrian-level lighting. Plans also include: adding textured buttons on wheelchair ramps to meet ADA requirements; involving local artists to paint traffic and utility boxes; and enhancing crosswalks at four major intersections along Willow Street at Golden Avenue, Magnolia Avenue, Pacific Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard.
A majority of the funding for the improvements comes from a $2.5-million federal grant awarded by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The project aims to spur “transit-oriented development” that would bring about local and regional benefits, said 7th District Long Beach Councilmember James Johnson.
“Willow, historically, is a great corridor… but it has underperformed,” he said. “If we make Willow really nice, then people might get off the Blue Line, start walking, shop, spend money… when people spend money you get more shops.”
Johnson added that the region would benefit from “less people driving, more people walking and taking their bike places… and more amenities near the Blue Line.”
Steve Tweed, Long Beach transportation planner, said the federal grant covers 70 percent of the project’s funding. However, the City is required to match the federal grant with the remaining 30 percent in funding, which will most likely come from City coffers and State transportation funds, he said.
The presentation comes after the City Council awarded a nearly $350,000 contract last year to transportation engineering firm Albert Grover & Associates and Armstrong and Walker Landscape Architecture to proceed with the design phase in collaboration with the City’s public works department.
The initial plans call for keeping the existing eucalyptus trees along Willow Street intact, however trees that are unhealthy, crowded or have poor form would be removed while new trees of other species would be added.
Landscape architect Anna Armstrong said there are currently no “street trees” along Willow Street, and the new trees will provide pedestrians with shade. However, irrigation is a main consideration as well as power lines. One resident said trees are needed since the lack of trees make the street “unbelievably hot” during the summer months.
Tweed said plans may also include adding a new Wrigley district monument sign, but that would have to be worked out between the Wrigley Association and the Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance that have clashed over the use of the district’s logo in the past. “That will be an interesting work-through,” said Colleen McDonald, president of the Wrigley Association. “We hope we’ll be involved.”
Alan Burks, a Long Beach-based architect and boardmember of the Wrigley Association, added that there should be a design “narrative” to the project that focuses on the historical significance of Willow Street. He said Willow, which turns into Katella and Sepulveda, is “the longest street in Southern California,” adding that light poles should complement the “moderne-style” architecture of buildings along Willow developed in the ‘30s and ‘40s.
“You’re tackling a lot of individual elements… I don’t really see a cohesiveness,” Burks said. “It’s important to realize that Willow is a very important street, not only for Long Beach but for the entire area… You can go from the west valley to Disneyland on one street.”
Tweed said the initial designs are merely concepts, and the comments and suggestions will be considered in drafting the final plans. He said the City has received about $20 million in awarded grants for pedestrian- and bike-friendly-improvement projects planned throughout the city. Other projects so far include Long Beach Boulevard streetscape improvements and the Daisy Bike Boulevard Project.

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