The story of the small town of South Pasadena successfully stopping the 710 Freeway from ripping apart its quaint neighborhoods and destroying a town dedicated to preserving a slower, quieter, and scalable way of life is apparently legendary in civil engineering programs across the country.
Fred Minegar, a civil engineer and traffic consultant for South Pasadena, who also happens to serve as a Councilmember in the City of Laguna Niguel, fondly recalled to me studying about this great and rare feat at his New York University graduate program.
When I hear our long time No 710 activists, preservationists, and former mayors recount the stories over the past several decades of wins and losses, fear and hope, fierce loyalty to and love of their city in the epic saga that is the battle of the 710 freeway in its various incarnations, I’m always reminded that there is no stronger force than a group of dedicated people banding together for a just cause, in this case to protect their 125 year old cherished city. I also hear the frustration that this battle has gone on for far too long, and continues to cost the city resources that could be spent on public amenities and infrastructure.
So, here we are studying alternatives to the 710 freeway and waiting for Caltrans and Metro transportation authorities to process the thousands of letters of questions, comments largely pointing out the flaws, risks, and deficiencies of the tunnel alternative.
The study costs have far exceeded the allocated funds, are being spent from Measure R funds which are dedicated for use in the travel corridor between Alhambra, Los Angeles/El Sereno and Pasadena. Since the inception of an underground freeway tunnel extending under three cities (LA, South Pasadena, Pasadena,) there has been a transformation in awareness and crystallizing of vision among urban planners, public health and civic leaders throughout the State and LA County of the need to reduce VMT (vehicle miles travelled), and offer safe and convenient transit options to get people to their destinations.
The Complete Streets or Great Streets movement is transforming the way people live and move about. South Pasadena experienced this transformation with the Gold Line as thousands of people who drove to and from, and through the city every day would take the train reducing car traffic, increasing active transportation, and stimulating economic growth nearby. Pasadena has four Gold Line stations and is the fastest growing city in the San Gabriel Valley if not LA County.
It is a highly desirable place to live, work, shop, dine and study, especially for young professionals and entrepreneurs. The prospect of a tunnel portal spewing and gathering 40,000 more cars and trucks daily, and ventilation portals creating hot spots of concentrated pollutants near sensitive receptors like schools, hospitals, and medical offices is highly objectionable to the City as evidenced by their adoption of a resolution opposing a tunnel and supporting multimode Complete Streets alternatives such as the Beyond the 710, and Connecting Pasadena alternatives.
The Cities of La Canada, Glendale, Sierra Madre work closely with South Pasadena and Pasadena in public outreach efforts to regional and state leadership to embrace the progressive vision of locally supported transportation projects that also benefit the region as outlined in the recently passed Measure M. It’s high time to get beyond building new freeways and stop the bleeding of resources studying alternatives that lack local support.
The support for and passage by a large margin of Measure M, which included language explicitly denying funds for the 710, made it clear to the Metro board of directors that voters in LA County do not care to see funds spent on a 710 freeway. Millennials especially came out strong and voted to invest in a transit oriented future. We owe it to them to move forward in connecting cities and communities in healthy, viable, and sustainable ways.
We owe it to them to be wise with our collective resources, to act with resolve today by not repeating the convenient mistakes of the past, and to get on with the business of investing in a better future for all of LA County.