By Nick Kipley
In the 1890s people suddenly were interested in bicycles. Capitalizing upon this trend, Pasadena opted to build an elevated bike “toll road” connecting what is now considered “Old Town,” with what in L.A. is now either roughly Olvera Street or somewhere near where City Hall currently stands.
Swooping along the Arroyo Secco, this path could have been one of the defining regional transport systems between Pasadena and Los Angeles, were it to have been completed. Had it been built, the Pasadena/Los Angeles cycle path could have been a through-way for cyclists and health enthusiasts racing between the two cities with their beating hearts and personal records standing as the only legitimate odometer.
But as Southern California developed – and people lost interest in riding heavy, gearless bikes in the sun – it became apparent that only the preliminary section of this elevated path was to be built before the whole project was deemed unfeasible (given the fact that the bike tolls made no money for the system and also by the early 20th century, Americans had ditched bikes to all suddenly become interested in cars). Thus, the path was eventually scrapped for lumber and the Arroyo Secco Highway – arguably the region’s first “freeway” – was built to cut through the region instead.
Now, after a century of cars, Southern California is gradually becoming a bit jaded on the idea. Mobility trends are shifting back to the 19th century modes of walking and cycling in many ways in urban areas where parking can sometimes seem frustrating, and the price of fuel has risen to the point that going to the gas station can sometimes feel like you’re buying lunch for an ungrateful coworker who never buys you lunch in return.
Capitalizing on this trend in mobility, Pasadena has launched what is being described as a “free streets event” with the help of the organization CicLAvia and a nearly $500,000 grant from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
What that means is that this Sunday, Pasadena residents will get to experience a section of their city devoid of cars that runs roughly the length of the Rose Parade. From the intersection of Pasadena and Colorado, and running along Colorado to Bonnie Avenue, what is arguably the city’s main east-west thoroughfare will be closed to cars and open to bicyclists, pedestrians, dog-walkers, families with strollers and at least one undoubtedly futuristic mobility-thing that some professor at Cal Tech built in his or her garage which will be seen creeping along, electrically, at a walking pace.
In addition to the east-west route, portions of Lake and Raymond avenues will be closed off to car traffic as well.
In an interview with the Independent regarding Pasadena’s new development and plans for the future, Mayor Terry Tornek expressed interest in helping facilitate a community in which residents could get around with less dependency on their cars. “The real tug of war,” he said, is between what he called an evolving and more “intense” kind of urbanization and “neighbors who have lived here for years.” In other words: the Pasadena of the future should balance its new developments not with new parking garages but with strategies geared for alternative modes of transit, calling for a Pasadena that balances sustainable development with “increased walkability.”
As this will be the first big public project with Tornek as mayor, it will be interesting to see, this Sunday, how CicLAvia and the mayor’s vision for a bikeable, walkable Pasadena fits in with how the city capitalizes on the mobility trends of the future the same way they did in the past.