Love her or hate her, 527 miles of freeway characterize LA

LA’s freeway system consists of 527 miles of streets. These twelve long strips of asphalt and concrete connect us to the people and places of this great region. But they also pollute and divide neighborhoods – a story that is picked up in the current news cycle and processed into a political debate. “Freewaytopia” is a new book that examines how freeways have shaped Los Angeles – for better and for worse.

“[Los Angeles is] the intertwining of celebrity and highways. They are, so to speak, the cathedrals of our city. They are those sexy landmarks, world famous, and they help define Los Angeles, ”writer Paul Haddad told KCRW.


An aerial view shows the 101 South. Photo by Paul Haddad.

Haddad argues that every highway has its own personality. “They take on these personalities, which reflect the drivers passing through or the neighborhood. And there is a kind of emotional validation loop between the driver and the motorway. “

He uses the example of the patch of the 405 that goes through the Sepulveda Pass. “We all hate the San Diego Freeway because it’s the busiest freeway in the country. And that’s why everything about it is great. … It has big nicknames that we attach to it, like Carmageddon. ”

In other circumstances, Haddad said motorways can take on more positive connotations. “You have the Harbor Freeway and the Golden State Freeway. These are workhorses. These are highways that are like, ‘Your buddy has a pickup truck and he’ll haul all of your things for you for just a few six-packs,’ right? And there are a lot of trucks and they rely on the transportation of goods and goods. So these are your reliable highways. “


A postcard shows the LA freeways. Image courtesy Paul Haddad / Public Domain.

The racist legacy of the LA freeways

Haddad admits that while highways are inanimate objects, they can be racist guidelines.

“We expect that. And even Caltrans, the California transportation group here that designs and manages the highways, made a statement late last year recognizing that minorities are placing a disproportionate burden, and that [freeways] have bothered [those] Communities more than wealthy neighborhoods, ”says Haddad.

He uses the example of the Beverly Hills Freeway, which would have started at 405, runs along Santa Monica Boulevard and would be connected to the current 2, the Glendale Freeway. It was never built.

“I think when you talk about injustices in infrastructure and highways, you also have to look where no highways are being built,” says Haddad. “And certainly the Beverly Hills Freeway that runs through the Westside wasn’t built because there were enough people, powerful people, to oppose it and make sure it didn’t go through their neighborhood.”


The 110-105 exchange can be seen. Photo by Paul Haddad.

While writing Freewaytopia, Haddad says he learned more about Angelenos’ suppression of color. He says many black communities in Crenshaw, South LA and Santa Monica were torn apart during the construction of the 10 Freeway.

“There were a lot of black families over there at the western end of the Santa Monica Freeway who couldn’t find another place to stay,” he explains. “Not only have they been evicted through the significant area of ​​the motorway they are driving through, but they have not been able to find any other accommodation because of the remains of redlining. And they had to turn to the Fair Housing Council to try to alleviate this problem. “

What do we do now?

Amid calls for private cars to be abandoned for public transit and other eco-friendly alternatives, Haddad says it would be difficult to completely shut down freeways in LA since Angelenos relies on them. But he says there is still a lot of work to be done to ease traffic jams and repair neighborhoods torn apart by highways. He points to the potential of building cap parks over submerged freeways, such as a piece of the 101 in Hollywood.

“A green belt there would cost more than a billion dollars. But … look at the benefits, both health and soul, that would be offered to people in these very dense neighborhoods in the Hollywood area, ”he explains. “It would be great if there were environmental impact reports that we could do for some of the underwater highways through the dense areas of Los Angeles.”


This map shows LA 1949 with no highways. Photo by LA Department of City Planning.

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