Santa arrived early, rolling along the historic Arroyo Seco Parkway, better known as the 110 Freeway, on bike, waving to his many onlookers, some enjoying a good hearty laugh.
Another cyclist towered over all others on a double decker bicycle as he rode by, while others were dressed, perhaps in the Halloween spirit, as clowns, witches, and ghosts, joining the massive gathering, out for a morning ride, walk, skate, jog or run – all taking part in Sunday’s ArroyoFest, in a car-free environment.
Then of course, there were some like David Cutter, who provided musical entertainment for the masses, playing a piano on the freeway, mostly classical sounds, while touting his business. Those taking in his performance were urged to signup and learn more about the Pasadena Piano Institute.
“What better setting to introduce people to my music,” said Cutter, taking a break before resuming his performance. “I perform at a lot of community events.”
The Arroyo Seco Freeway, the first freeway built in the Western part of the country and certainly one of the oldest in the U.S., opened in 1940. It was closed to vehicular traffic for the first ArroyoFest in 2003 and reintroduced 20 years later last weekend for those seeking the same exciting adventure.
In other words, as the event website pointed out, the parkway was “transformed into a giant sidewalk” as the wide openness provided ample space for human-powered foot traffic, two-wheelers and the alike.
Behind the scenes, traversing roads in all directions, monitoring the action on bike and carrying out a multitude of tasks was Wesley Reutimann, special programs director for Active San Gabriel Valley, the key organizer behind the attraction. Reutimann is well versed in 626 Golden Streets outings, where community members of all ages are given an opportunity to walk, bike, dance, jog, run and socialize in a fun-like setting as roadways throughout the Southland are closed off to cars. A relative newcomer to such events, LA County held its first CicLAvia in October 2010.
The knowledge gained over the years by Reutimann and others paid off handsomely in time for Sunday’s spectacle. “It’s great to see it coming together,” he said about halfway into the four-hour ArroyoFest. “So far so good, pretty smooth.”
Looking from an overpass as the spectacle was unfolding below brought a positive reaction, Reutimann saying he was relieved and pleased at the same time that it was going well, adding, “I feel fortunate that we could restage this event which we heard so many wonderful things about after the original one, and bring it back to the community.”
The second ArroyoFest was originally slated for November 2020, but was put on hold as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and resurrected this year after dozens of meetings as a core group of staff from ActiveSGV, under Reutimann’s leadership, worked in conjunction with numerous non-profit and public agency partners to make it happen. Hundreds of volunteers were called upon to put the finishing touches on what many were calling a success in the end.
A huge undertaking, Reutimann stressed that the permitting requirements, seeking sponsorships, and putting all the pieces in place was in the works – on and off – for about five years.
“To see tens of thousands of people show up is special because there are not a lot events like this,” he said.
Among those Strolling along the freeway taking in the sights and sounds was Gail Rolf, a resident of Pasadena, who was strolling along with Hector Arrieta, whom she had just met. “The idea of walking on the 110 Freeway just blows my mind. I think the whole concept is just fabulous.”
Arritea, who also lives in Pasadena, drives the 110 daily on his way to work and participated in ArroyoFest to see the freeway from a different perspective. “There’s a lot you don’t see when you’re driving,” he said. “It’s unique. That’s what kind of inspired me to come out.”
Janet Pocket from Pasadena hopes organizers will make it happen yearly, the idea of closing the freeway so people can frolic in the unusual surroundings. “I don’t think it’s impacting people too much trying to get somewhere,” she said of the thousands of cars traditionally found where she was walking at an easy pace.
Pamela Conway on foot liked the idea of seeing people dressed in costumes and expressing their sense of humor. “It’s a really nice community feel,” said the Pasadena resident.
Jeff Brydle and his wife, Jan, of Pasadena were taking it all in as they walked near the freeway’s divider between the six lanes.
“It’s a lot fun,” said Jeff, who hoped to go back and ride the freeway on bike later in the day. “I think this should be an annual event to raise awareness that we don’t have to take cars everywhere. It would be really nice to ride bicycles or walk if we can.”
Added Jan, “I think this is great. You get to see the freeway from an entirely different perspective. You get to listen to the birds, it’s nice.”
Nate Capaldi and his wife Sharon from Pasadena had a wheelchair between them as they pushed it down a lane generally used by automobiles. “We think they should have it more often than once every 20 years,” said Nate. “I think it’s a good idea.”
Alhambra’s Jay Ho said it was “nice to see everyone gather for a really good time. We hear about a lot of bad things in the news. It’s good to see people get together for a real good time. When people get together like this, we realize there’s more to the world than what you see in the news. I’m a huge fan of events like this one.”
The aspect of seeing a family outing, others exercising, individuals on bikes, including some tandems, made the day meaningful for Pasadena’s Brian Plazo, who was out walking his dog, “Cosmo,” while reflecting on the monumental day.
“It’s kind of nice,” said a laughing Plazo. “It’s great to enjoy the outdoors and enjoy each other.”
JoAnn Mauries from Alhambra, alongside her friend Erica Pickens, who makes her home in San Gabriel, liked the idea that countless pedestrians were provided the opportunity to “take a long walk into LA.”
They were part of an organized 10K run in conjunction with ArroyoFest drawing roughly 4,000 participants, but opted for a slower pace, hardly in a hurry. Asked if she planned on winning the race, Mauries said “No,” before bursting out with laughter. “I’m just enjoying it for the scenery and getting that cool [participation] medal.”
Pickens noted that she took part in the run because “I wanted to challenge myself. It’s not something I normally do, plus when is the freeway ever shut down where you can walk instead of drive through it? It’s a fast-paced freeway, but today it’s just nice to take it slow and enjoy the scenery.”
Seeing all the “nook and crannies,” as Steven Viscarra of Pasadena described it, made the morning walk for him rather unique. “It’s really nice to come out here and be part of it.”
An early morning ArroyoFest opening ceremony, launching at 6:40 a.m. in front of the South Pasadena Recreation Center at Orange Grove Park drew a group of area politicians making remarks, including South Pasadena Mayor Jon Primuth, City Councilmember Michael Cacciotti, State Senator Anthony Portantino, and Kathryn Barger, a member of the LA County Board of Supervisors, and others.
“I was here 20 years ago with my family,” recalled Portantino, admiring the sizeable amount of people on hand for the 2023 version, suggesting it should be showcased at least every five years. “I like what I see. It’s exciting.”
Barger said the “sense of community” is what made an impact on her, along with “closing the streets where there is no traffic” made for a monumental occasion, recognizing its importance for the environment and the health of others.
When it comes to the environment, furthering that crusade is Cacciotti, who also serves as the vice chair for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a regulatory agency improving the air in much of Southern California. He rolled up to the ArroyoFest on his bicycle and was struck by the number of runners heading down the path as part of the 10K, which included a good section of the Arroyo Seco Parkway.
“Twenty years ago we opened the Gold Line (now the A-line) light rail from Los Angeles, through South Pasadena, onto Pasadena,” he exclaimed. “Now the Gold Line goes all the way to Azusa Pacific University. Air pollution has improved, more people are riding transit, they’re out riding bikes, transitioning to electric cars. A lot of things have changed. Cancer in the region has been reduced by 50 percent. Seeing people walking and bicycling instead of sitting in polluting cars – allowing people to take back their streets to improving air quality – is a good thing.”
On that note, Primuth in looking out for the betterment of the city, said South Pasadena is “part of a region that is working hard to solve transportation solutions with more active transport in the use of bikes.”
He recognized it was another important day for South Pasadena, a municipality he oversees in his mayoral role to shine. “Our city is proud, proud, proud to host this event,” Primuth told the crowd. “We do a lot for active transportation in the city and we’re looking to do a lot more.”
Following his comments, the mayor said he was pleased that “People are discovering what we have, the nature of the city,” he said, urging out-of-towners to return.
He said the ArroyoFest was a great opportunity to promote South Pasadena, “but we want to make sure it works for our residents.”
Smiles seemed to be everywhere from the estimated 50,000 in attendance, enthralled by the rare opportunity to be part of something that seldom comes around. Many navigating their way down the long path held the same sentiment of wanting it to be held more often.
While traversing the stretch of freeway, northbound lanes were reserved for bikes, skateboards, scooters and wheeled devices and the southbound lanes for pedestrians to maximize safety.
A section in the business district of Mission Street in South Pasadena was one of three main activity hubs where an array of attractions were set up under tents, garnering support from the large crowd on hand. 626 Golden Streets workers were busy taking participant surveys at their info booth in return for the chance to win ArroyoFest swag. Survey results are designed to improve future events of its kind.
Over a loudspeaker one official stressed that the ArroyoFest “is not a race,” urging safety first as participants could access the freeway from any on-and-off along the way from Glenarm Avenue in Pasadena to Avenue 26 in Lincoln Heights, where another activity hub was held. The third took place in Highland Park.
The 110 Freeway was open to the throng of people out for a good time from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. as the California Highway Patrol worked to put motorists back on the major thoroughfare by noon. Activities in South Pasadena’s Mission Street continued until 2 p.m.
Along with Metro, other event sponsors included Foothill Transit, VinFast and Athens. Event partners, lending a hand to the effort were Aztlan Athletics, which organized a fun run in connection with the ArroyoFest, attracting approximately 4,000 participants, the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, California Conservation Corps, and Dan Sipple Illustration.
Back in the day when the Arroyo Seco Parkway first opened, automobiles meandered through the area at speeds of 45 miles per hour. That no longer is the case, as the onetime slower traffic has risen dramatically over the years, sometimes causing accidents and changes to its structure to improve the driving experience as speeds have increased.
“This is supposed to be a national historic byway for people to soak in the views in the Arroyo Seco,” explained Reutimann. “This was always designed to be a parkway, even though it’s often treated as a freeway. We always joke that we’re ‘putting in the park of the parkway’ as this event gives people a chance to slow down and really enjoy the views. It was great to highlight that element with this year’s ArroyoFest.”
And he quickly followed that up saying, “I think that’s neat, pretty special, for people to enjoy the novelty of being on a freeway, learning about some of its history, getting some exercise, running in the 10K or being with their families doing something fun and different.”
And for some, Reutimann and others just pulled off the unthinkable.
“In car centric LA of all places to close a freeway for people to run, walk and bike seems really out there,” he said. “It’s fun to see people connect and get some real enjoyment out of this.”