CITY OF LONG BEACH,
Doing More with Less: Reinventing Traffic Engineering Services in a Mature City
Long Beach is a major Southern California city with a population of about 440,000. Its infrastructure is largely built-out, and during the early ‘90s the city experienced significant economic downturns including naval base and aerospace industry closures.
Historically, the city has had a traditional traffic engineering division, whose activities included enforcing engineering standards, warrants, codes, and regulations. A by-the-book approach had become the norm for responding to resident complaints, largely attributable to the more than 1,000 traffic safety and operational complaints the agency received each year. These complaints were in turn handled by a staff which was roughly 30 to 50 percent smaller than comparable agencies, and shrinking.
To respond to the growing constituent calls for action, the City Council in 1993 determined that to address these concerns quickly, and in light of limited staff resources, an aggressive short-term program of consultant assistance would develop traffic management programs for 23 of the most severely impacted neighborhoods. Contracts were issued, and work began with more than 65,000 questionnaires being sent to area residents. Roughly a year later, plans for each neighborhood, developed through resident steering committees, were adopted by the City Council.
Problems with the Action Plan
Then it got difficult. While the consultant studies had identified numerous physical improvements that could in concept address residents’ concerns, numerous implementation issues remained unresolved. These included consultation with other residents, who had not been involved with the steering committees and were opposed to the travel inconveniences associated with "traffic calming" measures; the maintainability of some proposed improvements; the aesthetic impacts of other projects; and requests from other neighborhoods to address traffic safety concerns. Due to the open-ended nature of these concerns, addressing them fell upon city engineering staff, who were unaccustomed to dealing with such non-quantifiable issues.
Reconsidering Traffic Engineering Programs and Priorities
The need to deal with this unfamiliar task required us to step back and reconsider overall traffic engineering programs and priorities. This effort consisted of six basic elements:
The results of this effort are difficult to quantify, but have been encouraging with citywide accident rates down slightly. While the volume of constituent requests remains high, staff responses have also improved as staff employ other resources available through the agency, such as police officers and neighborhood watch groups. These avenues provide opportunities for increasing community awareness of traffic issues, facts, and options.
Numerous physical changes have also resulted from this program, virtually all at very limited cost through a few relatively simple process changes. For example, proposed traffic modifications were integrated into ongoing street resurfacing projects wherever possible. Second, low-cost materials (such as paint and plastic posts rather than concrete) were used in light of the potential for subsequent changes.
It has been said that the fundamental characteristic of traffic is that it should always be moving. To the extent that this also applies to traffic engineering services, the City of Long Beach is well on its way to providing new and better ways of meeting constituent needs.
Contact: Edward Shikada, City Traffic Engineer, Long Beach, 562/570-6331.
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright ©1996, U.S. Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.