By Nick Kipley
Monday night’s meeting of the Pasadena City Council was held in the Pasadena Convention Center rather than the City Council Chamber to accommodate a larger number of citizens than normal. The one item on the agenda consisted of looking into ways in which the logistical demand of connecting the two existing stubs of the SR-710 freeway could finally be met after nearly 50 years of opposition from communities along the proposed route.
All throughout the evening, the phrase “move people not cars” kept coming up. During public comment, many citizens expressed the common view that the traffic solutions of Southern California emerging from the Second World War simply do not work in this day and age. And this much is true. The Eisenhower-era experiment of overlaying a modern, pre-existing city with a defensive grid of freeways in order to provide for the rapid movement of strategic resources between military bases in the event of a Russian strike is long outdated.
Even back then, the freeway boom only mildly made sense because the Los Angeles Railroad and Pacific Electric Red Car had been bought by General Motors and then subsequently dismantled, thus forcing people to buy private cars.
The solutions proposed, however, hardly took into account the fact that the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have become overloaded with cargo given the scale of the U.S. trade deficit with China, and the scale of the “New-Panamax” sized container ships that Asian and European merchant groups have switched to using in recent years.
Since these new, huge, modern ships move all their freight in containers, and since these containers need to be moved by truck to the distribution centers built in the industrial exurbs of the Inland Empire in the past six to ten years, and since there is no conceivable space to build new freeways, and since all the usable land in Southern California is usually snapped up like real estate companies like the last of a puddle drying up in a parched well, this has created notorious gridlock everywhere from the Pacific to the Mojave, every day, from now on.
Not to mention, despite air-quality and emissions standards passed on passenger cars, the explosion of truck traffic on what was supposed to be the world’s first privatized public transportation system has begun to build L.A.’s notorious smog belt up again, as can be seen when the sky turns totally white in the San Gabriel Valley from late June through to the early October Santa Anas.
There is now more truck traffic than the original freeway planners could have ever foreseen, especially since the container ship as it came to be known wasn’t popularized until the mid-sixties, and all the distribution centers and warehouses of the day were located near train yards rather than the 65-acre trucking warehouses of the I.E.
These original railyard-based warehouses were clustered around Downtown L.A. in what is now the “Arts District” today; or along the railway lines in what are to this day known as the “Gateway Cities” of the region.
The freeways cutting through these industrial of formerly industrial areas—the 5, the 710, the 605—are no longer arterial even in the slightest sense, they are now choked with at least two packed lanes of idling semi-trucks backed up all the way to the port. And the proposed SR-710 tunnel would be put in place to connect a sorely divided region that is the western San Gabriel Valley. A tunnel would alleviate the amount of truck traffic on the road for everyone in the region until new solutions to move freight from the port, inland, could be achieved. It is not clear whether this shift will occur either before or after the collapse of the global petroleum industry, or if it will take place whenever it is that California falls into the sea, leaving the newly formed port city of Tuscon to deal with the unique problems that all sprawling, parched, consumer-driven, highly privatized societies on the brim of the Pacific face.
During the meeting, the City Council viewed presentations from the Pasadena SR-710 Alternative Working Group (PWG), a team of experts who focused their efforts on providing the council with solutions for regional connectivity.
These solutions included building light rail connecting the two “stubs” of SR-720, enhancing pre-existing bus routes/creating designated bus-lanes for rapid busses, and putting into place a series of interconnected bike paths throughout the San Gabriel Valley. One such bike lane would connect Pasadena with East L.A. After these series of solutions, the room broke into applause several times.
It should be noted that the mean age of the room must have been in the mid-seventies, many of them West Pasadenans given the support showed for District 6 Councilmember Steve Madison when he made a series of arguments against the tunnel. It became clear that there also must have been a lot of retirees, given the positive reaction that arose when David Grannis of the PWG said, “Fear of losing our mobility affects our older generation,” and then went on to describe how in the future, self-driving cars will undoubtedly keep the retiring Boomer generation on the road, hopefully forever. “Technology,” he said, “You can see it happening today.”
In other words, these are people who very likely couldn’t ride a bike from East L.A. to Pasadena if their lives depended upon it. Which begs the question: when it’s 106 degrees outside and the entire sky is white with truck exhaust, who would want to ride a bike five miles uphill along the winding hills skirting the Arroyo Seco Parkway? That is, aside from someone whose life depended upon it?
And what’s even more interesting is that many of the voices opposed to the tunnel seemed to be concerned with how they had been somehow tricked given the Metro company claimed that the tunnel would be a toll tunnel, or truck route, making the whole thing an inconvenient to them rather than a possible way to make it down to the beach or the airport faster.
Even more strange was the fact that most of those in attendance were very opposed to the damage that boring a tunnel might cause on the above-ground historic structures and neighborhoods of West Pasadena, yet were all in favor of boring a tunnel in order to construct a light rail line that would conceivably connect “underserved neighborhoods” such as East L.A. with a portion of Pasadena whose neighborhoods apparently aren’t as historic and culturally significant and generally just old and rich and WASP-y as West Pasadena (the region for putting this proposed light rail line underground, by the way, is so citizens wouldn’t be forced to contend with new at-grade crossings, like the ones on the Metro Gold Line, because such crossings are obviously a dangerous nuisance that could potentially be the downfall of the entire city).
Needless to say, when the vote was taken it became apparent that there will be no SR-710 Tunnel anytime soon. This reporter would like to conclude this piece by saying he wrote this entire thing while stuck in traffic on an L.A. Metro bus.