Congress for New Urbanism (CNU), an urban planning nonprofit, has put together a list of highways in America that are, they claim, causing a blight on surrounding neighborhoods. The CNU has rated the portion of the 710 in Pasadena as one of America’s “Freeways Without Futures.”
The CNU list highlights how mid-20th-century urban planning is starting to fall out of favor, so much so that many of the cities and states where these freeways are located are now planning to remove them.
CNU started listing these roadways in 2008, and it has been coming with an update every two years since. In this year’s “Freeways Without Futures” report, the nonprofit listed ten freeways it believes are “opportunities for progress” as cities, citizens, and transportation officials struggle to find ways to reverse “decades of decline and disinvestment.”
“Each one presents the chance to remove a blight from the physical, economic, and environmental health of urban communities. Their intended benefits have not justified the tragic consequences, but converting these highways into human-scaled streets offers a chance to begin repairing the damage,” the CNU report said.
Pasadena’s Route 710 is No. 6 on the list.
“Built in the 1960s, the highway cuts through Pasadena and interrupts several surrounding neighborhoods,” CNU said. “Since its construction, there has been a long and bitter battle over the interstate’s fate. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has proposed connecting 710 to the 210 via a tunnel while community activists fight to convert it into a boulevard.”
The CNU report said many of the massive highway systems— including the 710—were built during the fervor of 20th-century urban development and were constructed to support the ascendance of automobiles that were being mass-produced and made available through easy financing schemes.
“Automakers played a key role in this development: The American Highway Users Alliance, which GM founded in 1932, lobbied for tax breaks that would lead to sustained highway funding over time. Just two decades later, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the National Interstate Highway Act, which allocated $25 billion over ten years toward 41,000 miles of interstate highways,” the report said.
The new highways were regularly constructed at the expense of neighborhoods. Some of them developed into “border vacuums,” a term coined by urban activist Jane Jacobs that refers to the role infrastructure can play in depriving growth in the surrounding areas.
CNU said local governments have only recently started to evaluate what tearing down these aging highways could do for neighborhoods that were hardly considered during their construction.
For the 710, the debate has been going on for decades. The highway ends abruptly in the San Gabriel Valley, specifically in Alhambra, where freight traffic has been spilling onto local streets for years.
A proposal to build a tunnel through Pasadena, South Pasadena, and El Sereno to connect the 710 and 210 and close the 4.5-mile gap in Los Angeles’ freeway network died when the board of directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted unanimously in May to withdraw its support to the project.
Instead, Metro’s board voted to spend $700 million on a range of solutions to ease congestion and other problems. This was to the satisfaction of groups and individuals who have been warning that building the tunnel would not only be too expensive but would result in greater disruption, including significant noise and pollution impact in Pasadena and the other cities where the tunnel would be.
In publishing the list, the CNU said it intends to bring together decades of lessons, resources, strategies, and sweat equity into a comprehensive look at the current state of urban highway removal.
“This report sets out to empower local highway teardown advocates, political leaders, and forward-thinking engineers working in their communities to forge ahead,” the report said.