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SGV Connect 120: Basking in the Afterglow of Arroyo Fest

Tens of thousands of cyclists, runners, walkers, skaters and more took to 110 Freeway last weekend. Hear Streetsblog's team speak about their experiences, and speculate on what Arroyo Fest means for the future.

This week's SGV Connect podcast is a special episode where the Streetsblog San Gabriel Valley team, Chris Greenspon, Joe Linton and Damien Newton, sit down and discuss the great success that was Arroyo Fest 2023. All three were at the event but experienced it differently. Linton and his daughter biked the route. Newton completed the "Run the 110" 10K race. Greenspon walked along the 110 later in the morning.

Of course, this is Streetsblog so we also discuss what the success of the event could mean for future open streets and open freeway events in the region and Newton even dreams of permanent freeway closures and replacements.

A lightly edited transcript of the podcast appears after audio links. There's also one correction that's noted in the transcript but not the audio. At one point Newton states there were 1,700 people that completed the race. The number is actually over 4,000.

For more Arroyo Fest coverage, check out SBLA's photo/recap post and listen to SGV Connect 118 which explored the 2003 Arroyo Fest and previewed the 2023 version.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Arroyo Fest 2023 - photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog

Catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunes, Google Play, or Overcast.


(Note: Text in italics is audio that was taken during ArroyoFest itself.)

Chris Greenspon  0:09  
Hi, it's Chris Greenspon You're listening to SGV Connect #120, our ArroyoFest after special. We're going to take you through our experience. We all did a different mode of transportation there. And we all recorded some on site narration of the things we were experiencing, seeing and hearing. You're gonna hear that kind of audio laced into the episode throughout. So anyway, Damian hit us with that ad copy.

Damien Newton  0:34  
Oh, right. Well, this and every episode of SGV Connect is sponsored by Foothill Transit. Offering car free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to go Gold Line Stations across the Foothill and the Silver Streak into downtown Los Angeles. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit at Foothill Foothill Transit! Going good places.

Joe Linton  0:53  
This is Streetsblog editor Joe Linton, reporting from the off ramp to the Avenue 60. On the 110 freeway on the morning of ArroyoFest. My daughter and I are here got up at the crack of dawn. It's colder than I thought it'd be but it's warming up, I can see the sun arriving. And it's not quite crowded yet with cyclists but there are definitely 10s...probably hundreds of cyclists.

Damien Newton  1:26  
Alright, so I am near the starting line now. And there are 1000s of people in front of me and we are 18 minutes away from the start. So this is going to be a pretty pretty big race, maybe the biggest 10k I've done attendance wise. I do look forward to seeing the final numbers for this, this is going to be a big, well attended race.

Chris Greenspon  1:53  
I'm walking towards the 110 on Orange Grove Avenue just past the cover band and a row of porta potties. Both are always an encouraging sight and sound at these open streets events. We're about to get on the 110. And now let's talk about what we and so many other people have glowingly said about ArroyoFest, Joe.

Joe Linton  2:19  
Yeah, I think I mean, this is some people have been saying this online, but I think it really had some of the energy of the of the very first open streets event in Southern California. I mean, actually ArroyoFest 2003 is sometimes as good as that. But CicLAvia itself started in 2010. And people didn't know what to expect. And just you know, 10s of 1000s of people, more than 50,000 people showed up and it was downright crowded. With bicycles, the walk side, you guys can probably speak to that but wasn't wasn't quite as crowded early on. It wasn't quite as crowded. But it really got to a point on the freeway, you know, where three lanes of three car lanes wasn't enough to hold lots of cyclist wishing by so there was a lot of slowing down and, y navigating space with other human beings, the things people do in cities around the world every day.

Chris Greenspon  3:16  
Yeah, it's almost like it should have been widened. Damien, what did you make of the vibe out there? And that was in jest, SGV Connect devotees? Please, Damien, and take over.

Damien Newton  3:27  
Yeah, thank you. Thank you, Chris, almost giving me a heart attack before you put the microphone out. Maybe if we had extended it instead of widening it. <Laughs> Anyway, usually when I do these types of events, I'm doing that with my family who is completely bored of hearing me drone on and on about the benefits for open streets events, or I'm doing them with other activists. So this was new for me, because I'm doing it with running groups, not just like my friends that run but like surrounded by people, and it was a different discussion. No one was talking about the broader impacts it was more "oh, it's gonna be cool, we get to run on the freeway." It was pretty much a vibe. But then when we were actually out there running there were "Oh, this is cool." There were people way more people stopping to take selfies, and I was...depending how you view it...I was either at the back of the fast group or the front of the middle group timewise. And so I was around people that were serious runners, and they were stopping and taking pictures. They were talking about how cool it was they were they were doing this race. This is not normal conversation for a race unless you're in like a themed race like a Disney Race or a Rose Bowl Race or something like that, where you're in a unique environment. And that's what it was. It was a unique environment. And if you're not a runner, most five and 10 k's are on streets that are closed. That's just that's how they do them. You're in downtown or you're in the west side or your wherever it is a lot of it's on the road...but on the freeway had a very different feel for people and you saw I see way more pictures from other runners than I'm used to for these types of events. Usually pictures are at the start of the end with your friends. They're not in the middle of the race.

Joe Linton  4:55  
Damien, can you can you talk about a little bit about like so what was the route? Also, I think something that's unusual on runs to is that they gave people tap cards right and forced you guys onto the train. So talk about like, where it started and where it ended and how it basically worked.

Damien Newton  5:13  
Well, it started. I'm about 200 yards away from the South Pasadena station and we ran onto the freeway. We actually ran north for a little bit just so that we could I guess, be at exactly 10k..runners don't want a 9.8k medal. So then we turned around and ran basically south to the end. And it ended at the activity center at the south end of the route.

Joe Linton  5:32  
Yeah, which is in the Lincoln Heights right? Cypress Park, close to Dodger Stadium.

Damien Newton  5:38  
It was. One of the theories that I had as to why...there was a lot of discussion online that we'll get into is...why are we doing this only until 11. I was like, well, when they were planning this, they didn't know if the Dodgers were going to be in the World Series. And that was probably part of it. I mean, it'd be really hard to have a Dodgers World Series game and have a chunk of the 110 close until just a couple hours before the game starts. I was thinking that that might have played into that decision making but yeah, it was right there. And a lot of runners got on the Gold Line to get there because between the heavily heavily heavily advertised lack of parking...I probably got an email from the Ron the 110 every day in the week before telling me not to bother to drive and park. Between that and the free tap cards not just free. tab cards unique tab cards, all I can show mine off to the people in the room with me. I would guess almost everybody that ran took Metro to get there.

Joe Linton  6:29  
And what was the run? Like? Was it quiet? Was it loud? Was it fast? What's what was what was actually being out there running on a freeway? What was your experience?

Chris Greenspon  6:39  
And downhill at that?

Damien Newton  6:40  
Well, I was gonna mention the downhill because I've well stated on this podcast and elsewhere, I was in a Halloween costume. And I was not expecting to have my strongest race day. But I did really well in large part because it was downhill. Also, I ran into one of my run partners who's in a lot better shape than me and she dragged me along with her. So that helps too. But yeah, it was a lot of it was downhill. There was more talking than usual on the race. But I mean, other than that, it was quiet. And I think the talking was people going "oh, wow, this is cool." Which I actually said a few times out loud to the people I was running with. My friend Juanna who I was out with, we talked about how this was like a really cool race. And she's the type of person that does like 40 mile races and stuff like that, like, you know, my marathons are wimpy. And she was like, "No, this race is fantastic. This is one I'm gonna remember."

Joe Linton  7:31  
The freeway is so crowded. Lots and lots, hundreds 1000s of bikes, people on bikes, escapes, wheelchairs, scooters, more people arriving by the minute.

Chris Greenspon  7:46  
Now this is a sight, we're finally coming down into the much more green area of the 110 just got under a bridge then of course, down straight away in the distance. You see Mount Washington, people waving

Joe Linton  8:03  
People getting lost people find each other. And it's it's I think it's one of the most crowded open streets events I've ever seen. And the walk side is just as crowded as the bike side.

Damien Newton  8:14  
Okay, so I am done the race. I have done the festival I have seen there were 1741 people registered for the 10k. (Note, this is wrong, there were 1741 people that had finnished the race when I checked my times on the app. There were actually over 4,000 people that ran the race). Of course, we saw plenty of people running along the route that were not signed up, which is great. You know, I wanted my fancy medal but not everybody does. And it was a it was a great time. It really was a unique experience. Got a lot of great pictures. A lot of fond memories. Hope I get to do this again before I'm 65. Now I'm gonna go back out and walk the route a little bit.

Chris Greenspon  8:48  
Okay, so now do you want to go into the wrinkles? of the show of the whole event?

Joe Linton  8:54  
Yeah, just some of the buzz online. A concern raised by some cyclist was...advocates...on you're not some cyclists called it a shitshow some some called the dangerous. There were a lot of crashes of cyclists here and there. I mean, and when I say a lot, it's probably, you know, 50,000 cyclists and you know, two dozen of them maybe fell or something. I should say 50,000 participants probably. That's a guess. But certainly 10s of 1000s of folks participating in any event and I'd say more than half of those. probably more than two thirds of those, would be bicyclists. So probably 30-40-50,000 bicyclists. I think that we we don't share space that well in Southern California and that's drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, people taking transit. We're not used to these spaces where there's lots of people, and everyone's moving, and we need to really look out for each other. I talked to my daughter, "You need to know who's behind you and who's in front of you." You know? Every day on Southern California freeway's one or more people die. The freeway was safer than you know, every day in Southern California. But  I think there were a lot of small scale crashes and probably a few broken bones. And anybody else want to touch on that?

Chris Greenspon  10:35  
I would say? One thing that maybe should have been a hard rule would have been none of the three wheeled scooters with the two in front. maybe I'm misunderstanding physics here, but it seems like those were easier to tip forward. I saw at least three or four kids fall straight forward onto the freeway. With those again, the the really flimsy three wheeled scooters, as opposed to like some of the more modern razors that look like they're set up pretty stable. What about you, Damien, did you observe any precociousness or precariousness?

Speaker 2  11:10  
Well, again, I was in a really different situation, almost a controlled environment as you're gonna get in that sort of event where you know, everybody was running. So there wasn't a lot.. I mean, we did see a person trip. But like, that's not unusual. I will say when, in the early morning when you're running, even if you're running fast on the southbound side, you're watching the bicyclists zip pass on the northbound side, some of them pretty fast. It wasn't very crowded yet. We were very happy for that separation. And I know some of the people that ran back the other way that I talked to afterwards said the same thing like that separation was great. As far as the people on two feet instead of two wheels were two wheeled menaces you. So it was great. As far as we thought on foot. We didn't have the "Oh no, we're too crowded." It was like up there they are over there going much faster than we are.

Chris Greenspon  12:01  
Towards the end, I did see a few bikes on the walking side.

Joe Linton  12:05  
Yeah, I wondered that too:the speed differential. And so you had, four year olds on bikes with training wheels, and what they call MAMILS, middle aged men in lycra, fancy road bikes trying to get their miles in. And I think that there probably could have been some notice to...I hate to second guess the organizers did an awesome job...and this is sort of reaching for criticism, but  it's sort of slow cyclists on one side. If you're going less than eight miles an hour or something, you're welcome to be on the walk side. If you're willing to be really chill. It's kind of like bicycling on a sidewalk in LA. It's often a good choice, if you're willing to slow down. And if, if you want to go fast, it doesn't really make sense. Anyway, I hate to dwell on the small number of crashes with the so many people and so many smiles and people what was fun as event got going. So there's a concrete barrier that's maybe three, two or three feet wide at the top.

And a lot of people were climbing up on the barrier and shooting selfies and getting the pictures of the freeway signs, Downtown to your right or whatever. It was really was a great vibe. It was it was fun to be in that space. And it's something where I think, "every CicLAvia is fun for me." And it's sort of like church. I had my great Sunday's whatever. And yet, there was a feeling at ArroyoFest, sort of like the first CicLAvia, that this was something big and new, and actually media wise, that has borne out. Open streets now under especially funded under Metro, there's maybe a dozen a year. Not quite one a month, but they rarely make the news. And this one, we got front page coverage in the LA Times lots of gorgeous photos. And TV news covered it. And how was your feed? Every other thing on my Instagram and Facebook was people's people's photos at this event. So it felt like it felt like a real happening and a real newsworthy thing. And not just another sequel?.

Chris Greenspon  14:36  
I think considering that. It was the first time that probably almost anybody...the majority of the people who participated ever got to do a thing like that go hang out on the freeway. The turnout scale was bound to be legendary. And with that considered, I think safety wise, it actually went pretty well. And honestly It was kind of nice that despite the like you said, the proliferation of media coverage, it was nice to go do something like this. And I didn't see a single TV camera the whole time. And I guess it feels like you can be more yourself. Maybe that was what I liked most about it. The sense of isolation, even though obviously, there was 10s of 1000s of people. It felt like being in another place in another world at times.

Joe Linton  15:28  
Yeah, it does. I mean, the quiet in the middle of the city in a space like that, it did feel kind of uncanny in some way. So let's talk about the future. I'm going to preface this with in 2009, everybody was like "CicLAvia will never work in Los Angeles" In 2010, we did it! I was one of the people who was working on the first one, although there were a lot of people doing it. I'm not the author. But I'm one of the one of the folks. And I think there was a sense after CicLAvia that, "This changes everything. We've demonstrated that if you build it, they will come." And yet, here we are, you know, a decade later. And I think less has changed than I would have hoped for at the time. So what's the implications for the future for this event?

Chris Greenspon  16:18  
So I think this, without a doubt has to raise Active SGV's credibility with the entire San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments Consortium. I mean, they're already very well regarded. But in the towns where they haven't really done much yet. I think this gives them if not a blank check, a very, very, very strong resume point. I mean, being having a successful event on the cover of the LA Times makes me wonder whether we might see an event on on Temple, in La Puente,, in Baldwin Park over to Walnut. That's something I would enjoy personally. But I can't imagine that we will not be seeing more Active SGV open streets events, especially along the L line as those continued to complete in the coming years.

Joe Linton  17:06  
So I do think that yes, it will make Active SGV, who did a phenomenal job, getting all the permits and organizing them in and bringing it all together. I think it'll make them more in demand for doing 66 Golden Streets. Communities can see this, the success and the happiness of stuff like this and ask for more open streets.

But I also wonder, going beyond events to permanent treatments of public space. I think that car free space is at such a premium in Los Angeles. And people go to malls and the beach and stuff like that. And they have this experience of sharing space. And I think we need to look at our downtowns, Los Angeles, of course, but Pasadena and all the you know, these A Line stations. You guys call it the L Line, I call it the A Line or the Gold Line. I think we do need to look at instead of, you know, widening streets and building massive parking structures around our transit stations, to look at where can we do Paseos and bike facilities and shared space that we keep cars out of that people can come together in? That's what I hope grows out of it. 

I think we've accepted, "we" being Southern California, we've accepted that we can come together for CicLAvia you know, for 626 Golden Streets, for ArroyoFest, once a month, twice a month, but I think we do need to look to can we do this, if not 24/7, even weekends. 

Why don't we close a few blocks of a street in historic downtown area in Arcadia for example. But why don't we do that, you know, every weekend for two months during the summer or something like that. So why don't we make this space proliferate? And if it's too hard to close the street permanently? Can we do it all weekend? Can we do it for a season? Can we do it for four Sundays in a month or something like that? So I think there's kind of so I'm talking about there's kind of two ends of the open street spectrum: one is massive event like Heart of LA orArroyoFest, you know, close and iconic area, bring lots and lots of people. But I think the other end is important too. It's a little bit more like a farmers market. Can we take an area and actually I mean, the folks you've written about...the Complete Streets plan in El Monte... and looking at revitalizing some of the downtown areas that are having trouble drawing in customers. Activate that space by keeping cars out of it, and bringing music and vendors and people into it. And I don't know I say all this and I'm not, I don't want to be naive that that's an easy task. That's against the grain of what of what we do in Southern California. But these carfree spaces are really are important, are precious, and are perhaps the future of bringing people together. 

Chris Greenspon  20:37  
What I want to go out on is...nonstop we were hearing leading up to this, you know, in our previous interview with Marcus and Robert, about the history of ArroyoFest and people were saying, you know, just regular everyday people were saying, "Oh, who knows this isn't going to happen again, for 20 years." That joke certainly got beaten to death. But I'm wondering in your seasoned opinions. Do you think that within a more reasonable timeframe, we can do an open freeway event again, maybe not on the 110? And if so, where would you suggest but do you think it's within grasp?

Joe Linton  21:16  
Yeah, I mean, I think the wild rousing success of ArroyoFest says there's an appetite for this, that this is a fun thing, and that Angelenos will show up. I think you need to pick a freeway that's close to transit. A lot of freeways are really boring spaces that I think the Arroyo Seco Parkway, the 110 Freeway between downtown and Pasadena is probably head and shoulders, the most picturesque freeway on the west coast...maybe not the west coast, but certainly in Southern California. But I think you have to pick it well. I think you can't just say, "Hey, we're gonna close the, the 405 in Westwood, everybody show up." There's folks thinking about this at Active SGV at CicLAvia that could probably figure out where, where it makes sense to do it. But it is very difficult to work with Caltrans to repurpose Caltrans space for anything other than lots and lots of cars all the time. And I think there there are glimmers of change at that. But when you do a bike path project, and it takes three inches of Caltrans space away, it takes decades to get that project approved. And I think some of that's changing, but I mean, hopefully the success of a royal fast helps pull Caltrans into a more multimodal acceptance of this sorts of shared space. But I've perhaps been in the trenches too long to expect that we'll see ArroyoFest three anytime soon, and that we'll see other open streets events on freeways soon, but I hope I'm wrong.

Damien Newton  23:03  
Well, and there's the holy grail to have a freeway closure. I mean, on the west side, we had the 90 freeway debate briefly. We talked about possibly doing a study and the local advocacy group Streets for All was his was trying to get a federal grant to do a study and everyone seemed on board with it. And then a couple of neighborhood councils found out about it and flipped out because that's the role of our neighborhood council system to flip out and stop good things from happening. And they were successful. The mayor was, I believe one person said it might have been Ted Rogers, that she was "for it before she was against it." And she came out against it. And these freeway closures, though that I mean...that's after CicLAvia for a couple of years, we had pretty good momentum and building bike infrastructure. And as far as I mean, some of it was Sharrows. But 2010 We were happy just to get Sharrows some places. You know, Villaraigosa had, Mayor Villaraigosa the mayor of LA, had a goal for 200 miles of bike infrastructure year, including those dastardly sharrows. But still, it was happening and there was momentum and for whatever reason, maybe it's Villaraigosa got rid of the low hanging fruit. Maybe it's because Garcetti was too tactical, but that momentum really stalled and fizzled during the Garcetti years. So is the momentum here to do another ArroyoFest? Or is the momentum to go that big next step and look at the freeways that aren't seeing huge volumes of traffic, aren't seeing a regular influx of cars and say, "do we need this or can we do something else with this land?" The 90 may be off the table now, thanks to some crazy angry people. But they've been entirely...

Joe Linton  24:36  
...It does look like it lost a lot of momentum. But I don't think it's a shut book just yet. 

Speaker 2  24:42  
That's exciting for me. But, you know, the battle over the 710 extension was was decades and I think that ArroyoFest shows that maybe we don't need those freeways, especially the ones that aren't your commuter freeways. And that's a lot of land to do something else with. They always say, "we're not growing more land or making more land," but we kind of can if we repurpose land that's not being utilized to the best extent that it is.

Chris Greenspon  25:06  
Well, that's a fabulous note to go out on.

Joe Linton  25:09  
Well, actually one one more closing note.  I heard at least a few folks showed up at a row fest that was their first open streets event. So there are regular open streets events, and the next one coming up is in South L.A. on Martin Luther King Boulevard, the date is December.

Damien Newton  25:30  
I think it's the 3rd but I'm looking at I think it's December 3, but I'm just double checking it, but it's definitely the first Sunday in December.

Joe Linton  25:36  
Yes, the first time in December. We think it's December 3 on Martin Luther King Boulevard in South L.A. So check them out there. They're always a treat. And I think they do give you a sense of what NLA that's less totally festooned with cars might look like.

Chris Greenspon  25:54  
All right, well, that wraps us up for SGV Connect 120. In the meantime, listen to these sounds of ArroyoFest.

Transcribed by

Arroyo Fest 2023 - photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog

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