Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On this day: First Freeway

The term "freeway" today is well-steeped in the English language. But on this day in 1940, the first such freeway opened in California. What is now known as the Arroyo Seco Freeway opened in LA. In the early 20th century, the Pacific Electric railway ruled long-distance travel in Los Angeles; it'd be a thing of the past within 20 years, and freeways would sprawl across LA and much of the rest of the country. The term freeway only arose in the mid-1930s. It jumped in relevance in 1940 and 1941, but with the coming of the war disappeared for the next couple of years (what with tire and gas rationing and no cars being built). Of course, after the war, it rose steadily as the Interstate system was built, and then leveled off and fell as the system reached maturity.

What are the peaks in 1989 and 1994? The Loma Prieta an Northridge earthquakes which, amongst other things, collapsed freeways, snarling traffic in the Bay Area and LA, respectively, and making big news of freeways.

As far as the Arroyo Seco Freeway is concerned, it peaked with its opening in 1940 and 1941, fell dramatically during the war, and then peaked with its completion in the early 1950s.

The next peak, in 2003, was when the road was closed to traffic for a day to allow cyclists, rollerbladers and pedestrians to access the roadway where, for more than 60 years, only cars had ventured. The road, of course, reopened later that day.

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