I-710 and #MeToo

Last night, I went to the opening of “710”, an exhibition described as:

An exhibition considering the timeline, the geography, and the politics of the 710 interstate freeway and its incomplete five-mile northern extension — an invisible line that marks the longest running development dispute in American history. Covering 23 miles and over 60 years of local, state, and federal planning, the exhibition looks at our ever-changing relationship to the freeways and the matrix of transportation, industry, environment, and neighborhood power that it has come to represent.

For many residents of the San Gabriel Valley, the 710 is the freeway that will never be built. The five mile gap between Valley Boulevard in the south and West California Boulevard in the north marks the battle lines of an intergenerational conflict over the very meaning of “development”. For the California Department of Transportation, the 710 is the freeway that is always about to be completed. One more feasibility study, one more environmental impact report, one more funding cycle or election away… always just on the horizon of final connection, of “closing the gap”. In 2018, with the overland freeway proposal dead and the tunnel alternative currently de-funded, we look back on a struggle that has spanned the entire freeway era in America, from modernist ideal to paleotechnic dinosaur.

I was at the exhibit because some of my source materials for California Highways were on loan to it. It was held in one of the houses near the 710 northern stub (near the “fork in the road“). On the way home, it got me thinking. First, that I need to add some material on the highway pages covering the pre-2000 period of the gap completion fight (this will be done in the June updates to the site). Second — and the reason for this post — it got me thinking about the arguments both for and against the highway. The argument against the gap completion is clear: the impact on the local communities, the destruction of beautiful and historic homes, the impact on air quality and traffic in the communities, the visual blight. But (and this wasn’t heavy in the exhibition), what is the argument for? Primarily, one would think it is thru truck traffic (and even that might be limited — some of the alternatives wouldn’t allow thru trucks on the gap segment). It is completion of a line on a map. But it doesn’t benefit the local community except for a few minutes of time. In this day and age — and much as fellow roadgeeks might dislike me for saying it — there’s no strong reason to complete the route, other than traffic flow. How does one balance larger congestion relief with devastating impacts on the communities traversed — especially in an era on increased sensitivity.

This, in turn, got me thinking of how Caltrans built freeways in the 1950s, and how attitudes have changed. In many many ways, it is like the #metoo movement as a reflection of how societal attitudes have changed, and how what was once acceptable is not anymore.

Consider: In the heyday of freeway building, the need for “traffic privilege” overrode everything. We built where there was no road. We widened and “expresswayed” and “freeway-tized” existing roads. We cut through the hearts of communities, poor or rich, we didn’t care. The rights of the roadbuilder were supreme. In a paternalistic and colonial sense, the freeways were built “because they were good for you”. Close your eyes and think of the empire.

But we’ve learned quite a bit — and become more sensitive. We are still building new freeways, but often they are in areas where there is nothing now, and only the environment to complain (think about the High Desert Corridor as an example). When freeways are built through communities, often the past of least resistance — meaning the path of redevelopment — is taken. Translation: Build through the lower income communities that can’t afford to protest and fight back. Again, examples of this are clear in the distant and recent past: Building I-5 through Boyle Heights. Building the Century Freeway through Inglewood and South LA. The proposal to widen I-710 through the working class communities south of I-10 (although that is being fought). There is the increasing sense, however, that this is wrong. We’re widening the freeway, but for what end. Are there other solutions possible?

Then there are the wealthier communities: the ones that can afford to protest. Beverly Hills. Hollywood. Pasadena. South Pasadena. They make us realize that quite a bit will be lost in our quest to save a few minutes. They make us realize that what was once acceptable may not have been the right answer.

In the case of the 710, of course, this was a problem of Caltrans’ making. Caltrans policy in the 1950s and 1960s was to build the hardest parts first, and then connect them: meaning they built the interchanges and then the roads to connect them. In the case of the 710, the location of 134/210/710 interchange and the terminus N of I-10 at Valley Blvd created the problem, for it had to connect one unchangeable point with another unchangeable point. That created the Meridian Alignment and almost guaranteed the battle. If Caltrans had chosen to not build the stub portions of the interchange, they would have had the flexibility to pick any point along the 210 as the end of the 710, and to pick other points along the 10, and could likely have limited the construction to business districts, and widening of an existing road vs. creation of a new route. Caltrans, essentially, boxed themselves into a corner.

As a PS: For the argument about the freight traffic from the port, which was the principal reason that Long Beach built what became the 710 in the first place, and is the primary freight traffic on the 710: there is an easy answer. Rail. Find a distribution point out of the city, and build a dedicated rail line from the Port to that distribution center. Rail takes much less right of way, does not require interchanges, and can have much higher density of containers than trucks ever can. It can also use non-polluting engines. Use rail to bring things to the out-of-city distribution point, and then run trucks from there to other points.


5 Replies to “I-710 and #MeToo”

  1. I am in agreement in placing more freighy on rail. As both a transportation user and advocate, I still see the need on completing this freeway. It would address the problem of forcing through drivers onto the 5 and the 101 Freeways in downtown LA, even as there is a readily available alternative (the 710/210 west combo) that in fact is mostly built and underutilized. With the freeway, traffic can shift onto the east, thus taking with it the impacts that residents along the 5 and 101 needlessly have had to endure. To say nothing of the through traffic on Fremont Avenue and parallel streets. (There is no north-south street west of Fremont for geographic reasons.) We now have the opportunity to build it as a deep bore tunnel (which wasn’t even in people’s imaginations when this and other freeways were conceived). Technologies that this tunnel would employ will only get better over time.

    And therein lies my gripe. We already have the means to build this needed project in a way that can benefit all groups. Why are they still fighting it? We need to accept these opposition groups for what they are: NIMBYs. Even if a project will help them out, they will feel it intrudes on their space. To that effect, they have built political power over the decades (and money certainly helped) in attacking and defeating needed improvements. In doing this they choose to ignore outright the needs of their neighbors or, at best, offer token ideas (in this case, their Beyond the 710 proposals) that makes them feel accomplished but do nothing to solve the overall problems. NIMBYs are, effectively, collective sociopathy.

    This is despite them routinely using and benefitting from other transportation facilities and impacting those communities. I am in one such community and I am willing to accept the cons that come with the freeway network we have because the benefits are demonstrated. This is the regional network of freeways that was envisioned, not as piecemeal individual freeways, to allow motorists to have options as to how they will arrive to their destinations when they must drive.

    So, I can support the project and explaun the needs and benefits with conviction and without irony. NIMBYs will oppose it only to satiate their pride, refusing to concede that they can win this war in the most ironic way possible: by approving the project as currently envisioned and participating in making it even better.

    They may rejoice in believing that this tunnel proposal is “dead”. Rest assured, however, that whatever accomplishments they acheive will not prevail in the long run: The 101 and the 5 will still be loaded with through motorists, the traffic on Fremont and other parallel streests will linger, and the existing 710 and 210 freeways will not disappear. So as long as there is a need, the solution, the know-how and the initiative, nothing is ever truly “dead”.

    1. You missed the main point of the post, which was that the language we use, if you were to view it in how women or minority groups were talked to, would sound completely wrong. Just try reading this stuff as if you were talking to some poorer minority group. Read it as if you you were a man coercing a woman to have sex with you. Completely wrong. If things like this are going to succeed today, we need to find a different way of framing our arguments — or recognize when “no” means “no”.

  2. My apologies if I misconstrued your point. Language can play a strong role in making people subscribe to a certain line of thinking and advance our understanding of facts and feelings towards one another. That is why proponents of whatever they believe must build their arguments with facts and reason, not with feelings and force.

    Ultimately, as demonstrated with the #metoo movement and this project is that people’s views of what is good and what is bad will change over time. As an example, I take joy in how the former has given women a voice where there was none, and I hope this attitude is here to stay. As for the latter, however, the pendulum can always swing in the other direction, but only with consensus and not through forceful imposition. My responsibility as an advocate is to continue framing and refining my arguments, incorporating the newest developments, so that others can see the good in what I am advocating.

  3. I could rebut all of Parada’s comments but I won’t waste my breath. I will say this: The 710 exhibit displayed by Before Present was very informative. Tim and Julia did a great job. I especially loved the propaganda piece by Caltrans from 1984. It was hysterical. Nice post. I think your point of view is interesting. The solution to the so-called problem lies mostly with the ports. The Alameda Corridor is operating at about 50%. Why? Since the LA harbors handle 40% of US goods, most of the shipping containers go outside the city. If we were able to get more containers on rail and out to an inland port rather than to local warehouses for redistribution, the number of trucks clogging the freeways would drop significantly. That coupled with a redesign of the freeway stubs and TDM/TSM would go a long way to moving people.

    1. I’ll agree with you on the solution being the ports.

      I’m not sure I’d agree the Caltrans pieces were “propaganda”. That’s a pejorative term; they were presenting their point of view. I do believe a highway providing a continuous route from the port around downtown, on the E side (vs. the 405) would be useful. Is the 710 that route? It might have been — had Caltrans constructed it back before there was significant population and business in this area, had Caltrans initially put in a surface street expressway between the points for future upgrades. But Caltrans never did that. They built the stub-ends early (because that’s how they did things back then), and hoped to acquire the right of way in the future. That was the mistake — the stubs dictated the connecting route, and that route became increasingly non-viable as populations grew and society changed with respect to consideration of impact. The minute the surface street option went off the table, it should have died. Tunnels are useless for truck traffic; tunnels provide limited local exits that don’t benefit the communities through which they pass. So you get neither the commercial traffic benefit nor a benefit for the communities — you get completion of a line on a map, and that’s not a reason to build a freeway.

      Had Caltrans not built the stubs as stubs, but instead picked different points or ways to connect the 10 and 210 at some point W of the 605, things might have been different. Using a routing such as 164 along Rosemead or in a different commercial area might have been much more viable in the 1970s, and the money spent on legal fights could have been put to better uses.

      But what people forget is that History is neither good nor bad, it just “is”. As things stand now, completion of the 710 is unviable: it would not achieve the goals it was originally proposed to achieve, and would have negative impacts on communities. But what struck me more about the discussion was the language we were using. It was colonialism all again: take this highway, it will be good for you, even though it might hurt right now. Close your eyes, lie back, and enjoy it. That attitude is something communities are no longer taking, and the notion of #MeToo has increased awareness of when we are using such coded language. We’re in an era of consent: we just don’t believe government agencies when they say something is good for us: there needs to be consent from all impacted parties. I think that’s a key lesson to take away from this for future efforts — be they new rail, new roads, new transit, road diets, and such. Mutual consent.

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