I am very excited to introduce Eric Roy. Eric is doing an entertaining and informative series for Shortcuts about our freeways, how they were named and the culture behind the road sign.
A sporadic and erratic series of ruminations on California’s monumental contribution to transportation culture.
By KCRW news anchor and host Eric Roy.
California’s first freeway, the Pasadena Freeway. Official designation: California State Route 110
The Pasadena Freeway opened to the motoring public on December 30, 1940. The Arroyo Seco Parkway, as it was called, was a (then) state-of-the art, controlled-access high-speed thoroughfare designed to link Pasadena with downtown Los Angeles. While the Pasadena Freeway is widely considered to be the first freeway built in the United States, the California Department of Transportation, a/k/a Caltrans says merely that the new freeway was “among the first in the nation.” Why? Well, it turns out that the original stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, also a state-of-the art, controlled-access high-speed thoroughfare, opened on October 1, 1940. Bastards! But, wait. The Penn turnpike is a TOLL road, which is, by definition, NOT a FREE way. And, on top of the fact that you don’t have to pay to drive on a freeway (other than through your taxes, which is a different thing and not appropriate for you to bring up at the present time), the deal with a freeway is that you jump on, drive a zillion miles without stopping and get off. On a toll road, you have to keep stopping at all those irritating toll plazas to shell out your shekels. And, even the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission claims only that their super bitchen road is America’s “first superhighway.” All righty, then. A superhighway may be close to being a freeway, but like a cigar, it ain’t one. Case closed. We win. USA! USA!
The original stretch of the Pasadena Freeway, which actually stopped somewhat short of downtown L.A., was named the Arroyo Seco Parkway because it largely runs alongside Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco (“dry stream bed” in Spanish). From the point of view of the famed “Little Old Lady From Pasadena,” which is to say if you’re headed south, the Pasadena Freeway begins where the surface street South Arroyo Parkway/State Route 110 changes into State Street around a curve and then, at the intersection with Fair Oaks Avenue, stops being a surface street and simply flows into the freeway.
The Pasadena Freeway ends in downtown Los Angeles, where it meets the Hollywood Freeway/U.S. Highway 101 in an interchange known famously (at least locally) as the Four Level, the world’s first “stack interchange,” as opposed to a cloverleaf interchange. Now, the freeway doesn’t physically end there and if you continue southbound past the 101 you will not plunge over a concrete cliff. You will find yourself on the Harbor Freeway, with a proud San Pedro identity. It has a surprisingly separate and distinct history and is officially designated as Interstate 110 Say, what? Pasadena Freeway = State Route 110, Harbor Freeway = Interstate Highway 110. Whyyy? To answer that my friend, we must rewind a bit. Next time, we’ll do just that.