The Last LA Freeway
March 27, 2015 1:50 AM   Subscribe

Although competing theories about urban planning were part of the long battle, it was about more than just the best way to move people through a sprawling megalopolis. The freeway became a focal point for resistance to paternalistic urban renewal, but then, ultimately, an example of socially responsible civil engineering. When the rubber finally hit the road on the 105, Judge Pregerson’s ruling ensured that central planners could no longer impose public-works projects on communities without residents having their say.
posted by ellieBOA (10 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
That was a great read, thanks for posting it.

I loved this bit about 30s Los Angeles - I've read a lot about this history of the city, but I've never come across this particular detail:
“There was no freeway then. There were trains, and you could hear the trains whistle, you could hear the roosters crow,” he says. “At noon, the gas company downtown blew a whistle. You could hear it all over the city. That was their lunch break.”
Also, just a fascinating story.

I always associate the 105 with picking up my fiancee from the airport. One time I picked her up on the 4th of July, and from the ramp onto the 110 - the same one the article talks about - you could see all the fireworks going off all over the whole city, for miles in every direction.
posted by teponaztli at 2:50 AM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Growing up in NJ, the freeways of California always sounded so magical, like they were some special kind of road that we didn't have out here in the east. I was somewhat disappointed when I found out that "freeway" basically meant the same as interstate.
posted by octothorpe at 4:42 AM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

Antelope Freeway, one mile.

Antelope Freeway, one-half mile.

Antelope Freeway, one-quarter mile.

Antelope Freeway, one-eighth mile...
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:03 AM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

New freeway construction is now a virtual nonstarter in this city. The Long Beach Freeway, or the 710, was supposed to run all the way north to Pasadena, meeting up with the 210. That project is held up by a tangle of court proceedings, environmental reports, and “meetings with the community.” The judge handling the case just so happens to be Harry Pregerson’s son. There is a small chance the project will go through. One of the ideas being floated is a tunnel under South Pasadena, most likely prohibitively expensive.

Most of the folks fighting the 710 extension live in South Pasadena -- an upper middle class enclave with good schools and an OG Trader Joe's. Because of their success, traffic that would go through their city (or under it) goes around it* instead, with some negative impacts on the neighboring communities (Alhambra and El Sereno, primarily), which have considerably fewer resources to fight that blight. Those burgs, along with a few others, are aligned with CalTrans in this struggle.

*Some still goes through, but the city did a lot to deter that in the late 70s or early 80s by erecting barriers on several residential streets where they meet El Sereno and Alhambra.
posted by notyou at 6:47 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

One more note on this 710 derail -- CalTrans owns a bunch -- hundreds -- of Arts and Crafts era homes in Pasadena and South Pasadena along the 710 corridor. For many years these were not well maintained, but that's changing as in recent years CalTrans has seemed to do a better job of it (after years of local complaints). A recent law required CalTrans to sell homes and lots that fell outside any of the five route proposals still considered possibilities.
posted by notyou at 7:12 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am glad to live where the freeway revolt started early and won early, that's for damn sure.
posted by ocschwar at 7:20 AM on March 27, 2015

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) sponsored a 10K fun run and bicycle race across the freeway for everyone involved in the project.

Ohohohohoho... there is such beautiful, twisted irony of what are, by and large, "highway departments" (or "roads departments," as some states called these agencies, which you can still see with the Nebraska Department of Roads) letting non-cars use a freeway for part of a day. Sure, there are nods to "multimodal access," but so much money is poured into car- and truck-focused infrastructure.

Looking at the initial items listed in 'this kind of “judicial activism” that would later enrage conservatives,' it's mostly responsible project design and scoping. If you're building one thing that could serve multiple purposes, it's a lot cheaper and faster to build it all at once, rather than tear it up and add in those elements later. But the imagined conservatives are potentially against public transit and addressing environmental impacts of project, which they still rile against when they're addressed in modern projects that have to address these issues by law. Judge Harry Pregerson was just ahead of the curve (significantly so for wanting to provide child care for those working on the freeway).

It's "the Century Freeway’s final consent decree, filed in 1979, included a housing program, jobs program, jobs training program, affirmative-action program, and a child-care program, all under the guise of a freeway project that somehow also had to have a train running down the middle" that really looked like a New Deal project. But the problem, if you're using federal funds, is that a lot of that is well beyond the scope of a transportation project, so Caltrans or another state agency would have to pay for those added benefits with state money, which really would set the heads of conservative folks on fire. But it would probably be a lot more cost effective than doing projects separately, except you really don't want to build a bunch of low-income housing near freeways, due to health impacts. Then you're back in the realms of environmental justice.

“We don’t build brand-new freeways anymore,” says Frank Quon of Caltrans.

Of course you don't. The costs for building a wholly new section of road, let alone a whole freeway anywhere that it could be of potential benefit (heavily/densely developed areas) would gut the annual budget for most state transportation agencies for a decade, easily. If you take out bonds, you're paying debt service for decades and limiting your state's ability to do other projects even after the new Mega Project is done. And then you have to maintain it for ever. System preservation, the least sexy discussions in the already unsexy realm of public infrastructure. People only care about roads when they're congested or falling apart. Otherwise, driving on unimpeded roads is as natural as breathing for many people in the US. And why would you spend time thinking about how you breath, unless you're having issues breathing?

/transit planning nerd rant
posted by filthy light thief at 7:31 AM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

Obligatory: L.A. Freeway -- Guy Clark
posted by dancestoblue at 7:48 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

'There were trains, and you could hear the trains whistle, you could hear the roosters crow,”

Just an interesting side note, my morning commute parallels the Expo Line between between 5:30 and 6:30am. I hear trains whistle (more like honk) and ring, and roosters crow regularly.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:54 AM on March 28, 2015

Much of Penelope Spheeris' punkspoitation film Suburbia was filmed in the old Downey/Norwalk neighborhoods that were seized for building the 105 freeway. The abandoned houses were just sitting there throughout the 80s and were popular hide-outs for runaways, gangs, addicts, etc.
posted by quartzcity at 11:49 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Going flat   |   The Foundling Wheel's return. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments