Pasadena is gearing up for a historic and festive event on Sunday, Oct. 29, when the Arroyo Seco Parkway, also known as the 110 Freeway, will be closed to vehicle traffic and opened to people walking, biking, or on any form of active transportation, for six hours.
The fun event, called ArroyoFest 2023, marks the 20th anniversary of the first time that the parkway was transformed into a car-free zone for biking, walking, and exploring.
If you’re into running, you can sign up and arrive early for the “Run the 110” event, a chip-timed 10K point-to-point run. This starts promptly at 7 a.m. at the north end of the route in South Pasadena. Runners need to arrive at the starting line by 6:30 or 6:45 a.m.
ArroyoFest is not just a street festival, but a community movement that aims to reconnect people with the natural and urban landscapes of the Arroyo Seco corridor. The event was first held in 2003, seven years before the popular cicLAvia series began in Los Angeles.
Professor Robert Gottlieb, founder of the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College and the Henry R. Luce Professor of Urban and Environmental Studies, relates how ArroyoFest was inspired by multiple factors, such as the interest in re-envisioning the LA River and the Arroyo Seco Stream as natural and cultural assets, the LA County Bike Coalition’s bike ride along the LA River program, Dennis Crowley’s idea to bike on the Pasadena freeway, and the desire to promote biking and walking as part of a transportation and livability agenda.
“So that led to some discussions with a number of groups about maybe really expanding this agenda of biking and building out ways to put biking and walking in front of the transportation agenda and livability agenda,” Prof. Gottlieb said. “That led to this idea of doing the bike ride on the freeway and a walk on the freeway. We approached Occidental, and when Caltrans and the Highway Patrol and some of the other agencies that would need to sign off on such an event were approached, they initially really dismissed it as implausible. They thought it was almost a joke.”
The transportation agencies were worried about how car owners would oppose closing down the freeway for something like a bike ride, Gottlieb said. But eventually, with Occidental College stepping in, the skepticism was at least modestly reduced.
Gottlieb said the planning for the first Arroyo Fest took a challenging two years. He said that they used an inside and outside strategy, involving community groups, elected officials, and leading figures from Los Angeles, South Pasadena, and Pasadena, to persuade them to approve the event.
Gottlieb’s group also developed a traffic plan, got insurance, and expanded the agenda to include the history and vision of the Arroyo Seco corridor. Finally, the agencies gave the event the go-signal.
Since then, several events have followed to give importance to the environment and to take care of the Arroyo Seco.
“Folks were really inspired to think about developing different kinds of initiatives, including cicLAvia, which is this quarterly ride down city streets,” Gottlieb said. “It really expanded the bike movement to think about creating more infrastructure that allowed people to bike. And also there were groups that formed around walking issues, including ActiveSGV, and they began doing all kinds of transportation and mobility-related events including street-related bike rides.”
ActiveSGV began using the ArroyoFest brand as well as the same route from the Glenarm Power Plant down to Downtown LA along the 110 freeway. Gottlieb said ActiveSGV has “done a marvelous job of mobilizing, getting people engaged with this idea.”
ArroyoFest was also inspired by the vision of Charles Lummis, a journalist, activist, and founder of the Southwest Museum, who advocated for the preservation and appreciation of the Arroyo Seco as a cultural and ecological treasure. As part of ArroyoFest, the Highland Park neighborhood will host the annual Lummis Day Festival at Sycamore Grove Park, offering a day of live music, poetry, food, and community starting at 10 a.m.
Wesley Reutimann, special programs director at ActiveSGV, said the 20th anniversary edition of ArroyoFest will feature three activity hubs along the parkway, each offering a variety of entertainment, education, and engagement opportunities for all ages and interests. The hubs are located at Lacy Street Neighborhood Park in Lincoln Heights, Sycamore Grove Park in Highland Park, and Downtown Mission Street in South Pasadena.
“The parkway’s southbound/westside lanes will essentially be transformed into a giant sidewalk reserved for pedestrians including runners, walkers, people with small children/rollers, and people with wheelchairs able to move freely in either direction,” Reutimann said. “The northbound/east side lanes will be reserved for wheeled devices including bikes, scooters, and skateboards.”
Another major feature of the event is 626 Golden Streets, a free open streets event that extends ArroyoFest to the neighboring cities of Alhambra, San Marino, and Arcadia, with more than 20 miles of car-free streets for people to enjoy.
Lacy Street Neighborhood Park will be the Arroyo History Zone, which will showcase the rich and diverse history of the Arroyo Seco Parkway and its surrounding communities through historical displays, tours, talks, and interactive activities.
As to road closures, Reutimann said the Arroyo Seco Parkway will be closed from Glenarm Avenue in Pasadena to Avenue 26 in LA’s Lincoln Heights neighborhood.
In addition, one mile of local streets in South Pasadena will be closed to vehicular traffic: Orange Grove Blvd. from SR 110 to Mission Street, and Mission Street from Orange Grove Blvd. to Marengo Ave. Attendees will be able to enter the event route via any on/off ramp between Avenue 26 and Glenarm Ave.
Organized by ActiveSGV, ArroyoFest is actively supported by various partners and sponsors, including the City of Pasadena, Metro, Caltrans, the Arroyo Seco Foundation, Lummis Day Foundation, and many others.
ArroyoFest is free and open to everyone. Participants can join at any point along the route and use any form of active transportation.
For tickets, go to www.eventbrite.com/e/lets-walk-the-arroyofest-tickets-718879286297.