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    ArroyoFest is set to close the 110 Freeway for walkers, bikers to enjoy
    • October 12, 2023

    The idea blew the minds of Caltrans officials.

    In 2003, two professors from Occidental College and folks from environmental and cycling groups organized the closure of a section of the 110 Freeway — also known as the Pasadena Freeway — for several hours on Father’s Day so people could walk, push strollers with babies, and ride bikes, skateboards and scooters on the emptied freeway.

    ” ‘Are you serious?’ they said. ‘Do you really want to shut down the freeway for people to bike ride and walk on it?’ ” said Robert Gottlieb, professor emeritus of Occidental College and one of the organizers of the original ArroyoFest, remembering Caltrans’ initial reaction to the idea.

    “They came around,” he said with a chuckle, during an interview on Oct. 10.

    Caltrans allowed what was the first-ever closure of a Southern California freeway to make way for pedestrians, skaters and bicyclers. On June 15, 2003, the first ArroyoFest attracted 8,000 participants of all ages who biked, walked and even somersaulted across six freeway lanes between South Pasadena and Northeast Los Angeles on a mid-June morning.

    Now, 20 years after the historic closure of a freeway in Los Angeles for use by people on two feet or two wheels, ActiveSGV and LA Metro will do it a second time.

    Second ArroyoFest on Oct. 29

    626 Golden Streets ArroyoFest 2023 will take place on Saturday, Oct. 29, when six lanes and six miles of the Arroyo Seco Parkway will be closed to cars from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. The freeway-turned-open-streets stretches from Glenarm Street in Pasadena to Avenue 26 in Lincoln Heights, a community in Los Angeles. People can begin their stroll or ride by entering via the freeway on-ramps.

    The southbound lanes will be reserved for pedestrians, including walkers, runners, wheelchair users and small children with their parents or guardians, sort of like a giant sidewalk. Northbound lanes are for those riding wheeled devices including bikes, skates, scooters, e-bikes and skateboards. ActiveSGV, which has organized several open streets rides, says faster riders must yield to slower riders and all should keep to the right because the lanes will be bi-directional.

    This is not a race. There are no trophies. Everyone rides or walks for pleasure, at their own pace, and can enter the freeway at any of the car-free sections. Entertainment, food and games are offered at three street hubs: Mission Street in South Pasadena, which is car-free for one mile to Garfield Park; Sycamore Grove Park in Highland Park; Lacy Street Neighborhood Park in Lincoln Heights (at Avenue 26, which will be car-free at the Pasadena Freeway).

    About 3,000 runners are expected to hoof it on the freeway lanes in a 10K that starts in South Pasadena and finishes in Lincoln Heights. They will be given loaded TAP cards to ride the Metro A Line train back, which parallels the Arroyo Seco.

    “In terms of the Arroyo Seco Parkway, it will only be the second time the public will be able to walk and bike on it,” said Wes Reutimann, deputy director and founder of ActiveSGV, the event’s organizer. “It is not only legal, but it will be enjoyable. This is really a unique opportunity to experience the Arroyo Seco in a different way.”

    What’s it like to walk on a freeway?

    Gottlieb said his inbox is filling up with emails from people who remember the first ArroyoFest and want to be there on Oct. 29. Some wrote they’re bringing family members who missed it the first time or weren’t born yet.

    “People said how quiet it was,” he remembered. “You are really experiencing a transformational moment. You don’t have the noises of the normal aspects of driving a freeway.”

    The effect of walking or riding a bike or scooter on lanes of a freeway where cars usually went 60 mph was a treat for the senses. “You are walking, or biking and seeing places around you in a very different way than when driving. It was magical for people,” Gottlieb said.

    Walking on the 110 Freeway (Arroyo Seco Parkway) during the first ArroyoFest in 2003 was a people jam. There were also bicyclers and people on scooters, skateboards and the like. A new ArroyoFest: takes place on Oct. 29, 2023. (photo by Brian Biery)

    This is similar to a closure of city thoroughfares for cyclists and pedestrians known as a CicLAvia. The 2003 ArroyoFest sparked the idea, seven years before the first CicLAvia was held on Oct. 10, 2010. Reutimann said this is the perfect freeway for a CicLAvia-type event. It wouldn’t be the same if held on the 210 Freeway, he said.

    Arroyo Seco: Past, Future?

    The Arroyo Seco Parkway (110 Freeway) was built in 1940 and follows an ancient dirt trail used by indigenous Tongva people to travel from the birthplace of Los Angeles to the San Gabriel Mountains.

    In modern times, it became the first freeway in the West. Built in 1940, it connected Los Angeles’ first suburbs located along the Arroyo Seco, both a canyon and a tributary fed by mountain runoff that empties into the Los Angeles River, now hidden by concrete flood control walls.

    The freeway, known as a parkway, was designed by architects Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. and Harland Bartholomew in 1930, and was supposed to be a pleasant ride between suburban towns and downtown Los Angeles, allowing drivers to feel the curves of the river bed and view the peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains. Its curvy, sinuous alignment — which at segments has maximum posted speeds of 35 mph and 45 mph — was part of a roadway designed as a scenic drive.

    That soon changed and 120,000 drivers a day now speed through the curves, passing small parks, towering sycamore trees and stone bridges, flying by the green space with a tunnel vision of simply getting to their destinations. It became the most accident-prone freeway in Los Angeles County, Gottlieb said.

    Nonetheless, 20 years ago, Gottlieb, who headed the college’s Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, and Marcus Renner, co-organizer also from the faculty of Occidental and resident of East Pasadena, chose the Pasadena Freeway to demonstrate the need for a more walkable, bike-friendly Los Angeles County.

    Renner also credited the late Dennis Crowley, who headed the California Cycleways group, who pushed for closure of the freeway for bikes. He advocated for a bikeway to be built along the Arroyo Seco connecting L.A. with Pasadena. Crowley died in 2008.

    “All of us liked the idea of shutting down a freeway in L.A. — the heart of car culture,” Renner said on Oct 10. “It would make an imaginative powerful statement.” In a magazine article by Renner, he wrote: “We viewed the act of shutting down L.A.’s first freeway as a symbolic gesture to stimulate discussion about how to create livable urban communities.”

    De-commissioning freeways

    The first ArroyoFest was what Gottlieb described as “making hope possible.” That can still happen on Oct. 29: “You can be at this event and think about the possibilities that can be pursued,” he said, namely more connecting bike paths, safer walking spaces and less freeway congestion.

    One “possibility” is the de-commissioning of existing freeways.

    Streets For All and an urban planning architectural group have drafted a plan to turn the three-mile Marina Freeway (CA-90) into a 128-acre park, with 4,000 homes served by bike lanes and bus rapid transit. The idea has gained publicity on social media and other media outlets during the last few weeks.

    .@streetsforall and @SWAgroup team up on a proposal to turn the three-mile Marina Freeway/CA-90 into “Marina Central Park,” a 128-acre green space with nearly 4,000 homes, bus rapid transit, and bikeways

    — Urbanize LA (@UrbanizeLA) August 17, 2023

    Gottlieb suggested planners look at the southern edge of the 2 Freeway, which fades out onto the streets of Echo Park, for a transformation into bikeways and green space.

    More to come?

    Besides such aspirational goals, Gottlieb said both the original and the second ArroyoFest emphasize taking mass transit. The Gold Line from L.A. to Pasadena was about to open up in June 2003 and was part of the message. “We wanted to highlight public transit as a real alternative,” he said.

    Metro awarded ActiveSGV $496,000 to plan and pull off the second ArroyoFest, hoping that many will notice the A Line (formerly Gold Line) along the 110 Freeway and even use it to get back from the hubs in the afternoon, after the freeway reopens to car traffic.

    Renner, who is finishing a Ph.D on “Arroyo Seco placekeepers” at Occidental College, wants to make ArroyoFest a regular event.

    “We need to start talking about having it on a regular basis,” Renner said. “What happens in a parkway? Well, we use if for cars, but sometimes we open it for bicycles.”

    At a Glance: 626 Golden Streets ArroyoFest 2023

    Saturday, Oct. 29. Freeway lanes closed to cars 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. from Glenarm Avenue to Avenue 26. Opening ceremony at 6:40 a.m. at Mission Street in South Pasadena. Open streets activities hubs continue until 3 p.m.

    • Allowed on route: Scooters, strollers, skateboards, wheelchairs, bicycles, tricycles, unicycles, rollerblades, roller skates, penny farthings, and more.

    • Website: 300 volunteers are needed. To volunteer, and for more information about the event, go to:

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    Related links

    Arroyofest feature on KCET – YouTube
    Photos: The streets were devoid of cars in South Pasadena, Alhambra and San Gabriel
    How 626 Golden Streets ciclovia-type event this Sunday is an argument for a car-free LA County
    California Art Club: Arroyo Seco culture never goes out of style
    Organizers say 100,000 biked or walked ‘626 Golden Streets’ event from South Pasadena to Azusa


    ​ Orange County Register