How can an arterial streets be improved? Lancaster, a city of 158,000 provides some lessons. The city recently completed an $11.5 million dollar project to revitalize its main street, Lancaster Boulevard. The main street, like many in North America, was in decline due to competition from commercial centers and strip malls. For years, big box retailers and regional malls had captured nearly all new commercial growth. The City was looking for a strategy to revitalize the main street and settled on a revitalization that emphasized slowing traffic and improving the streetscape. The results, profiled by NRDC Switchboard and the San Diego American Planning Journal are incredible.
The City hired the architecture and planning firm Moule & Polyzoides to redesign Lancaster Boulevard from a four lane arterial into a walkable main street. The most innovative part of the project was implementing the “Ramblas” concept. The Ramblas, which runs in the middle of the street, includes a flexibly designed space that could be used for either parking or for special events.
Other elements included widening sidewalks, building awnings and arcades, providing outdoor dining, enhancing crosswalks, planting trees, and adding lighting, gateways and public art.
The economic results? According to Moule & Polyzoides forty-nine new businesses have opened, property values rose by 10 percent (the rest of the city saw a 1.25 percent decline), and 800 permanent jobs were created. Furthermore, there were significant benefits to public safety. Traffic collision rates were cut in half, while injury-related collisions plummeted 85 percent as a result of the new street design and traffic pattern (based on a comparison of the two years prior to the transformation with the two years following).
Those are impressive gains and demonstrate how transforming streets can transform communities. Lancaster Boulevard is a great example of how an arterial can be retrofitted to create a street that attracts development, improves safety, and promotes walkability.