Although the construction of the Arroyo Seco Parkway birthed both L.A.'s freeway system and a moment of free-wheeling cultural optimism, it was also the beginning of a chain of events that would culminate with the current failure of mass transportation in Southern California.
The Parkway was originally designed as a hybrid between a (then) modern roadway and a scenic route, inviting motorists, albeit theoretically, to "smell the flowers" and enjoy the view. The 8.5-mile artery that links Los Angeles to Pasadena, now one of America's National Scenic Byways, has long stretches that curve unexpectedly, forcing drivers to slow down and pay attention to the landscape. In an era of powerful cars whose top speeds double and triple those common at the Parkway's birth, this high-minded bit of design not only creates potential safety hazards, but also fails to address today's transportation needs.The construction of the much anticipated Gold Line, which on average transports more than 50,000 commuters a day through the same transportation corridor, along with the greater use of the 2 freeway and the rise of commuter bike trails along the Arroyo Seco, are slowly replacing the highly trafficked and rudimentary parkway. Just as the Highline in New York City was re-purposed as a city park once it had outlived its usefulness, infrastructures such as the Arroyo Seco Parkway could potentially be re-imagined to respond to changing needs and behaviors in the city.
The area got a glimpse of one such possible re-imagining in 2003 when Professor Robert Gottlieb and neighborhood activists, such as Nicole Possert, were able to have the Parkway shut down for a one-day event, the Arroyo Fest, and reclaim the Arroyo corridor. The event was a success, and it signaled that real alternatives existed for the reuse of our old motorways. It also provided a glimpse of what Highland Park once was: a destination, not a thruway.
Photo by Flickr user waltarrrrr used under a Creative Commons license.
Above, professor and Director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College Robert Gottlieb discusses car culture in Los Angeles and the benefits of rethinking and re-purposing roads; Caltrans' Corridor and Special Studies Branch Chief Linda Taira describes the pioneering architectural value of the Arroyo Seco Parkway in context with tourism efforts.