It’s CicLAvia but on a freeway. The first ArroyoFest said ‘connecting communities’ with bikeways and walkways — the same message today
Caltrans officials were taken aback by the concept.
On Father’s Day 2003, two Occidental College professors and members of environmental and cycling groups organized the closure of a section of the 110 Freeway, also known as the Pasadena Freeway, for several hours so people could walk, push strollers with babies, and ride bikes, skateboards, and scooters on the emptied freeway.
“‘Are you serious?’ they inquired. ‘Do you really want to shut down the freeway for people to bike and walk on it?’ said Robert Gottlieb, Occidental College professor emeritus and one of the original ArroyoFest organizers, recalling Caltrans’ initial reaction to the idea.
“They came around,” he chuckled during an interview on October 10.
Caltrans authorized the first-ever closure of a Southern California freeway to accommodate pedestrians, skaters, and cyclists. On a mid-June morning in 2003, the first ArroyoFest drew 8,000 participants of all ages who biked, walked, and even somersaulted across six freeway lanes between South Pasadena and Northeast Los Angeles.
Now, 20 years after the historic closure of a freeway in Los Angeles for pedestrians and bicyclists, ActiveSGV and LA Metro will do it again.
The second ArroyoFest will be held on October 29th.
ArroyoFest 2023 will be held on Sunday, October 29, when six lanes and six miles of the Arroyo Seco Parkway will be closed to traffic from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. The freeway-turned-open-streets runs from Glenarm Street in Pasadena to Avenue 26 in Los Angeles’ Lincoln Heights neighborhood. People can start their walk or ride by using the freeway on-ramps.
The southbound lanes will be designated as a giant sidewalk for pedestrians, including walkers, runners, wheelchair users, and small children with their parents or guardians. Northbound lanes are for wheeled vehicles such as bikes, skates, scooters, e-bikes, and skateboards. According to ActiveSGV, which has organized several open streets rides, faster riders must yield to slower riders, and all riders must stay to the right because the lanes will be bidirectional.
This is not a competition. There are no awards. Everyone rides or walks for fun at their own pace, and they can enter the freeway at any of the car-free zones. Three street hubs will provide entertainment, food, and games: Mission Street in South Pasadena, which will be car-free for one mile to Garfield Park; Sycamore Grove Park in Highland Park; and Lacy Street Neighborhood Park in Lincoln Heights (at Avenue 26, which will be car-free at the Pasadena Freeway).
Approximately 3,000 runners are expected to run on the freeway lanes in a 10K that begins in South Pasadena and ends in Lincoln Heights. They will be given pre-loaded TAP cards to ride back on the Metro A Line, which parallels the Arroyo Seco.
“In terms of the Arroyo Seco Parkway, this will be only the second time that the public will be able to walk and bike on it,” said Wes Reutimann, deputy director and founder of ActiveSGV, the event’s organizer. “Not only will it be legal, but it will also be enjoyable.” This is a truly unique opportunity to experience the Arroyo Seco in a new light.”
How does it feel to walk on a freeway?
Gottlieb said his inbox is overflowing with emails from people who attended the first ArroyoFest and want to attend the second one on Oct. 29. Some have stated that they will be bringing family members who were unable to attend the first time or were not yet born.
“People said how quiet it was,” he recalled. “You are truly living in a transformative moment.” You don’t have the usual noises associated with freeway driving.”
Walking or riding a bike or scooter on freeway lanes where cars usually went 60 mph was a sensory overload. “When you’re walking or biking, you see the world in a very different way than when you’re driving. “It was a magical experience for people,” Gottlieb said.
This is similar to a CicLAvia, which is a closure of city thoroughfares for cyclists and pedestrians. The first CicLAvia was held on Oct. 10, 2010, seven years after the 2003 ArroyoFest. According to Reutimann, this is the ideal freeway for a CicLAvia-style event. He said it wouldn’t be the same if it was held on the 210 Freeway.
Arroyo Seco: Past, Present, and Future?
The Arroyo Seco Parkway (110 Freeway) was constructed in 1940 and follows an ancient dirt trail used by indigenous Tongva people to travel from Los Angeles’ birthplace to the San Gabriel Mountains.
It was the first freeway in the West in modern times. It was built in 1940 to connect Los Angeles’ first suburbs along the Arroyo Seco, a canyon and tributary fed by mountain runoff that empties into the Los Angeles River, which is now hidden by concrete flood control walls.
The parkway, designed in 1930 by architects Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and Harland Bartholomew, was intended 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 has maximum posted speeds of 35 mph and 45 mph in segments, was part of a scenic drive.
That quickly changed, and today, 120,000 drivers per day speed through the curves, past small parks, towering sycamore trees, and stone bridges, flying by the green space with a tunnel vision of simply getting to their destinations. According to Gottlieb, it became the most accident-prone freeway in Los Angeles County.
Nonetheless, Gottlieb, who directed the college’s Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, and Marcus Renner, an Occidental faculty member and East Pasadena resident, chose the Pasadena Freeway to demonstrate the need for a more walkable, bike-friendly Los Angeles County 20 years ago.
Renner also gave credit to the late Dennis Crowley, who led the California Cycleways group and advocated for the closure of the freeway to bicycles. He advocated for the construction of a bikeway along the Arroyo Seco that would connect Los Angeles and Pasadena. Crowley passed away in 2008.
“All of us liked the idea of shutting down a freeway in L.A. — the heart of car culture,” Renner said on October 10. “It would make an imaginative powerful statement.” Renner wrote in a magazine article, “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.”
Gottlieb described the first ArroyoFest as “making hope possible.” “You can be at this event and think about the possibilities that can be pursued,” he said, referring to more connecting bike paths, safer walking spaces, and less freeway congestion.
One “possibility” is that existing freeways be decommissioned.
Streets For All and an urban planning architectural group have proposed converting the three-mile Marina Freeway (CA-90) into a 128-acre park with bike lanes and bus rapid transit serving 4,000 homes. During the last few weeks, the concept has gained traction on social media and in other media outlets.
Gottlieb suggested that planners consider transforming the southern edge of the 2 Freeway, which fades out onto Echo Park streets, into bikeways and green space.
Will there be more?
Apart from such lofty goals, Gottlieb stated that both the first and second ArroyoFests emphasize the use of public transportation. The Gold Line, which ran from Los Angeles to Pasadena, was part of the message. “We wanted to highlight public transit as a real alternative,” he told reporters.
Metro awarded ActiveSGV $496,000 to plan and execute the second ArroyoFest in the hopes that many people will notice the A Line (formerly Gold Line) along the 110 Freeway and use it to return from the hubs in the afternoon, after the freeway reopens to car traffic.
Renner, who is working on a Ph.D. on “Arroyo Seco placekeepers” at UC Davis, wants ArroyoFest to become a regular event.
“We need to start talking about having it on a regular basis,” Renner told reporters. “What occurs on a parkway?” We use it for cars, but we occasionally open it for bicycles.”
A Quick Look: 626 Golden Streets ArroyoFest 2023
- October 29th. From Glenarm Avenue to Avenue 26, freeway lanes will be closed to traffic from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. The ceremony begins at 6:40 a.m. on Mission Street in South Pasadena. The open streets activities hubs will be open until 3 p.m.
- Scooters, strollers, skateboards, wheelchairs, bicycles, tricycles, unicycles, rollerblades, roller skates, penny farthings, and other items are permitted on the route.
- 300 volunteers are needed for the website. To volunteer or learn more about the event, visit 626goldenstreets.com.