No vehicles were allowed along a 5-mile stretch in the San Gabriel Valley Sunday, paving the way for thousands to go the distance or parts of it on bicycles, by foot, scooter or inline skates during a seven-hour open streets event.
The 626 Golden Streets Mission to Mission pushed alternative transportation methods for those making their way from South Pasadena, through Alhambra to San Gabriel – or vise versa – with little obstruction. Participants, including many families, could go any length they chose, from a block, not leaving a city, or the entire stretch, crossing into each town. When they got there, activity zones provided live music, entertainment, E-mobility demos, kids play areas and more.
Elected local and statewide officials who threw their support behind the 626 Golden Streets kicked it off by making remarks from the staging area in downtown Alhambra. Among them was South Pasadena Mayor Michael Cacciotti, who also serves as a board member for the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
“Biking, walking and using mass transit reduces harmful pollution, improves our air quality, protects our health and saves our planet,” said Cacciotti, who rode his bike through the three host communities on his well-used bike. “With a little bit of effort we can all do our part.”
In 1974, the idea of open streets was launched in Bogotá, Colombia as advocates of bicycling and recreation initiated an effort to close city streets to cars, and the worldwide movement grew from there.
More than 100,000 people came out to enjoy the first 626 Golden Streets event in March 2017, an 18-mile route through South Pasadena, San Marino, Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, Irwindale, and Azusa. Occasional rain showers didn’t dampen the spirits of those enjoying the ciclovia-type event, the largest of its kind in North America.
“It really took off from there,” said the enthusiastic Cacciotti.
Two years later the second of its kind, the Mission to Mission was held in May 2019, followed by the SGV Streets and Treats in El Monte and South El Monte in October the same year. Then the Coronavirus pandemic hit, curtailing efforts to continue it until Sunday.
Open streets events had become an event thousands looked forward to before its two-year hiatus as the political forces on stage for Sunday’s opening welcomed its return.
“It’s a great event, really well organized,” insisted Cacciotti. “One real side benefit of the 626 is that it gives a chance for all the stores and businesses, a lot of mom and pops, along the route to be open and attract all these people. It’s a great day for the local economy.”
Wes Reutiman, with ActiveSGV and the brainchild behind the 626 open streets events, recognizes the massive amount of work behind the effort, saying it takes “a really good team, folks coming together in tandem over a lot of months,” he explained. “Since we had done it before it was somewhat easier this time. Some of the core work was already completed like a traffic control plan, identifying the hot spots, that sort of thing.”
He likes the idea of reducing the task of incorporating three major hubs – South Pasadena, Alhambra and San Gabriel – over a route that took people down a much longer path from South Pasadena to Azusa. “This year it has been a much more manageable size,” he assured. “It’s better for our mental collective health.”
A slimmed down State Senator Anthony Portantino, whose 25th District represents South Pasadena, was among those behind the microphone greeting the crowd at the opening in Alhambra.
“We are out here to basically appreciate the quality of life of walking, riding our bikes and taking the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate our immediate surroundings,” he said. “Closing down streets, reminds us to take a breath and enjoy it. It’s nice to be back in person to see people and socialize. Shutting down the streets so we have a slower pace, appreciating each other I think is what’s exciting.”
Portantino, who has reinvented himself with a new look by losing 160 pounds, added: “I spent four decades on a couch eating potato chips and now I ride my bike everyday.”
After the past two 626 Golden Streets events were cancelled due to the pandemic, Congresswoman Judy Chu, who represents the City of South Pasadena, said ActiveSGV decided “to repurpose the funds for those events so that they could provide about $800,000 in grants to cities and businesses for demonstration bike lanes, pedestrian walkways, and outdoor dining parklets. They partnered with the SGVCOG (San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments) to pursue these initiatives and were able to fund projects in Alhambra, Glendora, Pasadena, Monrovia, and many other cities. And the most remarkable part about this is that what started as temporary projects, became permanent in several cities.
As an example, Chu said in Glendora “they’re making permanent their pop-up pedestrian plaza that provides a shaded picnic area in their downtown area for residents to enjoy food and relaxation outdoors. And at the Pasadena Playhouse District, a $10,000 grant from ActiveSGV has led to permanent outdoor dining parklets. It’s incredible what they’ve done to support the entire San Gabriel Valley community during the pandemic, while at the same time making it more environmentally sustainable.”
She concluded her talk saying, “None of this would be possible without the hard work of ActiveSGV. So, I want to congratulate you on a remarkable event, and thank you to everyone here today for helping make this a reality!”
Chu also thanks the cities of Alhambra, San Gabriel, and South Pasadena, the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, and LA Metro for “being a part of this effort and making it happen,” she said. “But the real force behind this remarkable day is ActiveSGV, led by their incredible Executive Director David Diaz!”
Looking out at those on hand for the opening ceremonies, she noted, “After two long years this event is finally back and better than ever!”