Parking Main Street

While Second Street in Belmont Shore is largely considered Long Beachs premiere shopping district, other up-and-coming areas now vie for the attention of diners and shoppers.
In particular, Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls and Fourth Streets Retro Row are garnering attention from local and even national media for their charm and uniqueness. Historically, both of these districts were commercial districts; their markets, restaurants, and movie theaters drew patrons primarily from surrounding neighborhoods. In the last few decades, however, these two shopping districts (like many other similar neighborhood shopping districts nationwide) have largely lost the competition for consumer dollars to shopping malls. However, some of these half-forgotten shopping districts have recently been rediscovered, whether as neighborhood-oriented commercial nodes (like Bixby Knolls) or as specialty shopping destinations (like Retro Row).

As new businesses open in these rediscovered local shopping districts, the increased activity understandably brings additional automobile and pedestrian traffic. In the past, curbside parking along both Fourth Street and Atlantic Avenue was sufficient for shoppers, but compared to the earlier era in which these local shopping districts were originally built, cars have become a much more dominant part of the urban landscape. Meeting the need for parking has now become one of the biggest threats to sustaining the growth of these shopping districts. But creative approaches can lead to context-sensitive parking solutions that support these vibrant shopping districts and the neighborhoods they support.

Since Second Street in Belmont Shore is arguably Long Beachs most successful local shopping district, it is worthwhile to consider how the district accommodates traffic and parking while maintaining a great pedestrian environment. There is plenty of convenient on-street parking on Second Street and its fifteen adjacent side streets. Most businesses in the area do not have space for parking; a series of public parking lots provides an efficient solution. Land for these public parking lots has come from purchasing residential land north or south of Second Street (using revenue from the parking meters themselves); the understandably high cost of such properties has encouraged creating just enough parking to meet the basic needs of shoppers. This has helped preserve the residential character of the adjacent neighborhood.

Though it does not yet have the resources to develop centralized parking facilities on the scale of Second Street, Fourth Streets Retro Row has successfully converted a long-vacant property at the intersection of Fourth and Cherry into a small public parking lot, thereby augmenting their free curb-side parking. To subsidize the rent and maintenance of the parking lot, its stalls are metered. As whole, then, Retro Row is reversing the usual practice of charging for convenient on-street parking while providing free or discounted the more distant off-street parking lot.

With limited opportunities for additional off-street parking lots and little resources to purchase property for new parking lots, the businesses of Retro Row will have be creative to create additional parking facilities. One possibility would be a shared-use agreement with Burbank Elementary School (at Fourth and Junipero) to use their faculty parking lot on evenings and weekends, which happen to be peak periods for the shopping district anyway. The business association might agree to take over maintenance of the lot from the School District.

In contrast to Retro Row, in some respects the Bixby Knolls commercial district has too much parking. Atlantic Avenue north of Interstate 405 was developed in the mid-twentieth century, when society was orienting itself to the automobile. Zoning requirements during this period ensured that businesses on Atlantic Avenue to this day have as much land dedicated to parking as to their stores. Many business owners covet these parking stalls because they provide potential patrons with easy access to their stores.

What is less discussed is the redundancy of all this parking, and the value in patrons feeling comfortable leaving their cars in one location so they can visit multiple businesses in a single trip.  Creating an agreement to share these existing private parking lots would likely meet every imaginable need for existing and new businesses. Inexpensive meters would provide sufficient income to maintain all these parking facilities.

Parking is one of the most common issues facing resurgent neighborhood shopping districts that lack the large fields of parking that have helped make shopping malls so successful in the past. In Long Beach, some shopping districts (like Second Street) have been able to adapt; others have just begun to address the issue. Shopping districts in older neighborhoods like Retro Row will have to seek creative solutions to limited parking opportunities; for those in newer neighborhoods (like Bixby Knolls), the easier challenge is to better use existing resources. Effective parking solutions will be crucial to the success of our neighborhood shopping districts, which in turn play a key role in the diverse urban fabric of our city. 
City of Long Beach
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