When the Arroyo Parkway (now known as the 110 or Pasadena Freeway) opened in December of 1940, it was hailed as a marvel of modern motoring. While the Pennsylvania Turnpike staked the claim of first United States freeway (opening in October of 1940,) the Arroyo Parkway came in a close second. In fact, some historians argue that it more closely matches the definition of a modern commuter freeway. Connecting downtown Los Angeles with Pasadena along the Arroyo Seco, it represented a huge leap from the early highway/parkway system. Here's a little perspective on what was considered so revolutionary at the time: engineers designed the curving road to accommodate modern speeds up to a whopping 45 mph.
The completion of the roadway came after decades of other failed or short-lived proposals dating back to 1895. The most interesting project has to be this one:
In 1897 -- at the height of a nationwide bicycle craze -- the California Cycleway Company purchased a 6-mile right-of-way from downtown LA to Avenue 54 in Highland Park. 1 1/4 miles of elevated wooden track were built between Pasadena's Hotel Green and South Pasadena's Raymond Hotel. In 1900 the bikeway opened to great fanfare, with high expectation of turning a profit. A toll booth was located in what is now Pasadena's present Central Park. (For 10 cents you could bike one-way. A round-trip fare was 15 cents.) But, as we all know, greater Los Angeles was destined for an automobile culture. The bikeway was eventually torn down and sold for scrap lumber in the first decade of the 20th Century.
But the Arroyo Parkway endures. In fact, the 110 remains largely as it was almost 60 years ago, right down to the original bridges and narrow lanes -- with modern-day SUVs taking those 45-mph curves at almost double the speed. It's considered a National Civil Engineering Landmark, a State Scenic Highway and a National Scenic Byway. Here -- during an oddly traffic-free moment -- it posed for an interesting study in high contrast. (Don't worry, I didn't stand on an overpass with my camera. I was in the passenger seat when my family was waiting at a red light.)