Footsteps on the Pasadena Freeway

Times Staff Writer

The eight-mile stretch between Glenarm Street in Pasadena and Avenue 26 in L.A. is a harrowing course of switchbacks and hairpin access ramps navigated by drivers who routinely exceed its 55-mph speed limit. On any ordinary day, stepping foot on it could mean losing a leg, if not your life, to a speeding SUV.

Not so this Sunday. From 7 to 10 a.m., those who are so inclined will have the opportunity to walk and bike not by the freeway, not near the freeway, but on the freeway during the first ArroyoFest, a one-day festival designed to "explore ways to improve the quality of life for communities along the arroyo and throughout the region." For the event, the Arroyo Seco portion of the 110 Freeway will temporarily close, allowing bicyclists and walkers to experience the historic parkway free of cars and the noise, pollution and speed that usually accompany them.

"Freeways are the symbol of lifestyle in California," said Marcus Renner, one of the event's coordinators, during an interview at ArroyoFest headquarters -- a storefront office sandwiched between a pet shop and stained-glass wholesaler in Eagle Rock. "We're taking that symbol and turning it on its head. We're taking this piece of road where people experience it all the time separated from each other in their cars, and we're making it a community space."

The idea is for participants to use the community space to slow down and see things they may never have noticed while whizzing past -- the stable at Via Marisol, for example, or Heritage Square off Avenue 43 -- and that doing so will connect them with the area's landscape and history and with one another. Participants, Renner says, are encouraged to play music, carry banners and talk to strangers while they ride or walk.

The event's promoters hope to draw 2,000 cyclists and 10,000 pedestrians to the freeway in its traffic-free state, with bikers having free rein of the road from 7 to 8:30 a.m. and walkers from 8:30 to 10 a.m., at which point the freeway will reopen.

But biking and walking are just one aspect of ArroyoFest. Off the road, in Sycamore Grove Park (on Figueroa between avenues 45 and 50), is more traditional festival fare -- local vendors selling arts, crafts and food; area community groups pushing their agendas in informational booths; and, of course, entertainers strutting their stuff onstage.

In the main band shell: Latin, folk and rock musicians; Afro-Haitian and Middle Eastern dance troupes; and speakers on the area's history, parks and transportation. A second, more family-oriented stage will feature Aztec storytelling, gospel music and an industrial percussion session.

It's an eclectic lineup, to be sure, but that's by design. The coalition of nonprofit groups, community leaders and government officials who organized ArroyoFest planned the event to reflect the socioeconomic diversity of the communities lining the arroyo -- from Latino-dominant Lincoln Heights on its south end to the more affluent environs of Pasadena up north.

"It's got this extraordinary diversity class-wise, ethnic-wise, just different kinds of communities, and it's all here in the arroyo corridor," said Robert Gottlieb, a professor of urban and environmental policy at Occidental College who helped plan the event. "The outreach part of it, the people involved, the music -- it's all designed to give value to the different parts of the communities."

And it has another purpose: to put forth an idealistic model of what might be -- a space where people have the option of walking and bicycling in addition to driving their cars, a space where the freeway experience is enhanced with roadside plantings, a place where history is not forgotten.

The Arroyo Seco Parkway was dubbed "the first freeway of the West" when it opened in 1940. Lined with parks and designed with graceful swoops and turns that mimicked the path of the nearby Arroyo Seco stream, it was about enjoying the journey as much as reaching the destination. ArroyoFest is trying to recapture that sensibility.

"There's a sense that this is a very special place.... It was the founding culture at the turn of the century that connected people with natural places," said Gottlieb. "You've got all kinds of incredible opportunities here, and that's part of our message."

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ArroyoFest

When: Sunday. Bike ride starts at

7 a.m. Walk from Pasadena starts at 8:30. Walk from L.A. begins at 9 a.m. (All bikers and walkers must be off the freeway by 10 a.m.) Festival in Sycamore Grove Park runs from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Where: On the 110 Freeway

(from Glenarm Street in Pasadena to Avenue 26 in L.A.), and in Sycamore Grove Park along Figueroa (between avenues 45 and 50)

Cost: $10 for bike ride; walks and festival are free.

Info: www.arroyofest.org

For The Record Los Angeles Times Saturday June 14, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction ArroyoFest -- An article in Thursday's Calendar Weekend about Sunday's ArroyoFest misstated the number of anticipated participants. The event's promoters hope to draw 3,000 pedestrians, not 10,000 as stated.
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