Lancaster: Creating Complete Streets for Prosperity
August 30, 2012 5 Comments
One might never guess that Lancaster, a quiet city of 157,000 located an hour north of Los Angeles on the border of the Mojave Desert, is slowly and discreetly undergoing a sustainable and social revolution. Therefore, when I heard repeatedly of the amazing transformation that the city was undertaking, I went to go see it for myself.
The changes occurring revolve around the revitalization of “The Blvd,” a segment of W. Lancaster Blvd. in the heart of historic Lancaster. The Blvd was completely remade in 2010 to encourage economic investments in the city’s downtown district, and with the addition of over 40 new businesses to the area, the project has been a resounding success for businesses and residents. The city estimates that the $10 million dollar public investment has encouraged over $100 million in private investments.
What makes The Blvd so attractive is the traffic calming measures and attention to detail embedded in the project. See photos on the right. The top speed for would be “cruisers” is 15 mph. The truly amazing part is that this speed is maintained without the use of a single traffic light or stop sign. Instead, the narrow lanes framed by trees and the frequent crosswalks require drivers to pay close attention to the road. At the same time, these slow speeds invite pedestrians and bicyclists to feel comfortable traversing back and forth between the businesses that line the street.
In addition to the slower speeds, The Blvd was designed as a space for public events. At many of the intersections, the City has installed a unique bollard system to block the street off from automobile traffic. The Blvd is now a host to weekly farmers markets, concerts, holiday events (such as Halloween Booolevard) and even an annual go-cart race. It is a place where neighbors and residents can interact and develop a sense of community.
The Blvd isn’t Lancaster’s only complete streets improvement. The City has been working to improve conditions for bicycling and walking by applying for numerous grants to make these improvements and upgrades. In 2010 Lancaster completed its Master Plan for Trails and Bikeways and in the 2011-12 fiscal year, the City committed 24% of its Capital Improvement program to implementing this plan.
The City received 6 California State Safe Routes to School grants for infrastructure improvements. Two of the grants have been successfully constructed and two more are in the final design stages. The two completed State/SR2S from Cycle 2 and Cycle 5 projects were for (1) installing flashing beacons and (2) improving pedestrian crossings near schools. The two projects currently under construction from Federal Cycle 7 and Cycle 9 are more ambitious and will install bulb outs, curb cuts, pedestrian paths and bicycle lanes. The remaining Federal Cycle 10 grants were only recently received and will create road diets, bulb outs, curb cuts and bike lanes. The Federal Cycle 10 grants also include noninfrastructure educational and encouragement components. Under the education portion of the grant, the Antelope Valley Partners for Health is working with the city to implement walking school buses as part of this effort to increase the number of children and families who walk and bike.
Lancaster has also been designated a HEAL Partnership by Kaiser Permanente to address the growing obesity rate. As part of this work, the Antelope Valley Partners for Health partnered with the City to create six “Wellness Homes.” This program started with the City’s purchase of seven vacant houses, which were refurbished and turned into community centers. The homes host after school activities, classes on healthy eating, and exercise classes while their backyards have been converted into useful community gardens.
Lancaster’s leadership is motivated to make a difference. Under Mayor Rex Parris’ direction, the City is set to become the “Solar Capital of the World.” To date, over 100 sites in the City signed up for the Solar Lancaster program. In addition, most of the public buildings and many parking lots have been retrofitted with solar panels. Lancaster expects to see reductions in its energy costs of 15-20% from these investments, a savings that will free up needed revenues for other activities. “In recognition of these forward-thinking endeavors, Lancaster has been designated by the US Department of Energy as a “Clean City.”
Another innovative idea that has been developed is the City’s “Cool Center.” The Cool Center is a community space hosted by Southern California Edison which offers games and recreational activities during the day for community members along with a reprieve from the heat. It also serves as an educational center to teach residents about energy efficiency.
Lancaster proves that complete streets and community investment can pay huge dividends in private investment and quality of life. It also serves as a model for how other cities in Southern California can become more livable, walkable, and bikeable!