Info

SGV Connect

SGV Connect is Streetsblog Los Angeles' podcast that explores the people, places, projects and events that make up the changing face of transportation in the San Gabriel Valley. SGV Connect is hosted by Damien Newton and Kris Fortin. This feed also hosts SGV Connect's predecessor podcast, #DamienTalks.
RSS Feed
SGV Connect
2024
June
May
February


2023
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February


2022
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February


2021
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
April
March
February
January


2020
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2019
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
January


2018
December
November
October
September
August
July
May
April
March
February
January


2017
December
November
October
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2016
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2015
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May


All Episodes
Archives
Now displaying: November, 2023
Nov 22, 2023

Jeanie Ward-Waller is not a household name in California, but until recently she may have had the most important job in the state as far as Streetsblog readers are concerned. Ward-Waller served as the Deputy Director of Planning and Multimodal Programs at Caltrans, where she not only oversaw many of the great programs that we regularly highlighted at Streetsblog; but also served as the internal whistleblower to make certain the agency was working to meet its own climate and equity goals.

 

While we were all surprised when Politico announced earlier this fall that she was fired/demoted, in retrospect maybe the surprise was that she lasted as long and accomplished as much as she did.

 

Below you can find the audio of a twenty minute chat we had last week, and then a stack of links about her time at Caltrans and Calbike before that and then a lightly edited transcript of the podcast.

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller Streetsblog Highlights, going from most recent backwards:

 

Analysis of her reassignment

I Lost My Job at Caltrans for Speaking Out Against Highway Widening

2021 Interview About Her Work at Caltrans
On a panel about speeding up buses
On the challenges of incorporating equity:
JWW created new Walk and Bike Technical Advisory Committee at Caltrans, with wider representation
Hired at Caltrans
At CalBike advocating to get Caltrans to adopt a Complete Streets policy:
SBCA gave out very few "Streetsies" and this was the best one
Standing up to California Transportation Commission

 

Interview Transcript:

 

Damien Newton

So as mentioned in the intro, I'm here with Jeanne Ward-Waller, who recently was the Deputy Director of Planning and Multimodal Programs at Caltrans. We're talking today about some of the changes that have happened at Caltrans recently, including that she is no longer the Deputy Director of Planning and Multimodal Programs at Caltrans. 

 

For those of you that don't know, Jeanne has been a frequent guest on Streetsblog, California, or I shouldn't say guest frequent source person quoted in stories. Not just with Caltrans...but before that she was with Calbike. When she was first put in this position, we were all very excited. And I'll actually put some links to some of our old Streetsblog California stories in the text that accompanies this podcast if people are interested. But having said all that, welcome to our podcast, Jeannie.

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

Thank you. Thank you, man. That's great to see you. Great to be with you.

 

Damien Newton

Thank you. So I did mention that you have a much longer history than just working at Caltrans recently. So why don't we do a little bit of your biography to give some people that might not be as familiar with you an idea as to why there were so many people across the state really excited when you were originally tapped for this position to Caltrans.

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

Thank you. Yeah. I appreciate all those nice things. I am originally I don't know how far back you want me to go. But I'm a trained engineer. I did start my career as an engineer working in Boston. I transitioned into advocacy via a bike trip across the country, which was where I kind of cut my teeth on advocacy and fundraised for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. And just like very serendipitously, at the end of that trip, I met the founder of that organization, Deb Hubsmith, who hired me to move to California and start working in advocacy here in Sacramento. 

 

I consider myself so lucky, because I just absolutely...it was the career shift that I needed. I loved being in advocacy so much, and certainly have found my passion in the world of sustainable transportation. But I spent a couple of years working for Safe Routes to School, as you said, I then moved to the California Bicycle Coalition as a policy director there. And then found my way to Caltrans, about six years ago. I started at Caltrans as the Sustainability Program Manager, helping to build that program, which was really pretty new at the time, and had grown out of that Caltrans reform effort from about 10 years ago. 

 

And so I was really excited...I felt like if I was ever going to try to make change inside of government, that that was the place to do it. And that program was new, growing and really came out of the idea of how do we change. The Department of Transportation and make it more modern, more oriented towards schools of climate inequity and community quality of life, the things that we want to see in our transportation system today. After a few years in that program, I was  appreciated and recognized for my brand of change. 

 

I was promoted into the Deputy Director role over the planning and modal program, which is a pretty large portion of Caltrans, kind of the part of Caltrans is responsible for looking into the future and deciding how the policies and the work of the department need to shift. And that was my job. I took it very seriously because both as an advocate, and then as a civil servant, public servant, I felt like that work is really, really important.

 

Damien Newton

When people describe what these positions were, the shorthand is, "It's Jeanie's job to make sure that Caltrans is actually trying to meet the climate goals that the governor and the legislature have put out." But sometimes shorthand is inaccurate. Sometimes it doesn't go far enough. Sometimes it glosses over. Is that  accurate? Were you the internal person who was trying to make sure that Caltrans was helping them meet climate goals?

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

It is accurate, but I wasn't the only one. There is also a deputy director of sustainability, who is a governor appointee. That person's job is also oriented around our climate goals. But because I oversaw the planning program, and also the modal programs, multimodal programs, which included our rail and transit programs; I was more on the implementation side of how we get future projects to be better aligned with our climate goals. And thus reach the goals that we have set out in our statewide plans like the California Transportation Plan, which the  legislature requires  that document show the path to our 2050 Climate goal; which is an 80% reduction in GHG, which is massive. So that's a very ambitious plan. 

And somehow what we do today, and the projects that we're initiating, that are coming in the future; need to kind of put us on the path to those goals. So that was the work of the Planning Program, which was in my purview.

 

Damien Newton

What are some of the things that you were able to work on at Caltrans that were exciting to you, or particularly things that you can point out and be," Wow, the six years that we've spent there up to now we're really worthwhile looking at these great things."

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

Oh, my gosh...so many things. And I'm incredibly proud of the time that I spent in Caltrans. 

 

And I also want to say, it's not just me. I don't want to take credit for all of the great things that were happening. I was in a leadership position, which is important to help set the course. But there are just so many good people at Caltrans, so many people that I worked with that were on my team. Some work in different parts of the department that are really responsible for making change happen. And so, it was really fun work, a lot of things that I'm really proud of. 

 

We were working on something called CSIS or the Caltrans System Investment Strategy. And that is a set of metrics that help us determine whether the projects that we're doing in the future are aligned with the goals that we have, not just climate, equity, safety; but multiple different policy priorities. And that, I think, is really fundamental to trying to make good decisions in the future. That's something that's still ongoing. It's not complete, it will be something that iterates over many years and gets better with time. But we've spent a huge amount of time on that. 

 

Now, the thing I take a lot of pride in is helping to really create the equity program. I founded a Caltrans office of race and equity and brought people together from different parts of the department that were working on Native American liaison issues and  community engagement issues, and we created a kind of cohesive unit in headquarters that was responsible for leading that work. And there have been policy policies that have grown out of that work, also something that we call the equity index, which is also telling us about where and what are the characteristics of communities where we're doing projects? And how do we make them better, from an equity perspective, reduce harm, improve benefits. 

 

So those are a couple of things. 

 

There were other things that were actively underway, like we were working on transit priority policies and projects, which I think Caltrans has a huge amount of opportunity to improve how transit flows, especially, not just on the state highway system that Caltrans owns, but also across the system, often on local streets. That's also still underway. It's to be seen, what comes of some of those efforts. Without me there, I think all those things need a really strong champion to to really be implemented and live up to the goals that we have.

 

Damien Newton

A lot of the headlines have used the word "fired," that you were fired, or let go from your position. But you were really internally reassigned, but the reassignment was done in such a way that it's just basically the same thing. Because you haven't left Caltrans, you're still there, but you're currently on family leave. Let's just untangle all of that at first so people can understand exactly what's going on. 

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

Because I was in an executive role, it's a little bit of a unique state government position, where you can be terminated in an executive role. Because as I mentioned, before, I had come into Caltrans in a civil service classification as the sustainability program manager, I had return rights...legal rights to return to that classification. And based on the longevity I have at Caltrans actually one level above that level. The details are not that important, but functionally it is kind of a demotion, if I accept my rights of return, which I have I've done and at this point. I've been on family leave for the last month and a half, but I am still an employee of Caltrans. 

 

But I will not return to Caltrans in the role I was in before and it's not clear what my role will be when I return

 

Damien Newton

In the meantime your old position still exists. And hopefully, it's still working on some of these issues. It's been reported in a lot of the press, including Melanie and Streetsblog, California that the impetus for them making a change was really the opposition you were giving internally to a freeway project in the Sacramento region. I think a lot of us were sort of caught off guard when all this happened. I remember when we all read the Politico story,  at Streetsblog we're like, "wait, what's happening? Really? That doesn't make sense." Can you sort of explain what you think happened as best you can, without tripping on the legal case that you have against Caltrans? I mean, was this a surprise, or was it something you saw coming as you were expressing opposition to some programs, or some projects, that Caltrans was pushing that really weren't living up to the goals that the agency was publicly expressing?

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

Short answer is that it was a total surprise to me. 

 

And I'll tell you, the reason that I was surprised by the change by the termination is that the questions that I was asking about this specific project in Sacramento are the kinds of questions I asked every day in my job at Caltrans: is this project aligned with our goals? Are we living up to the public benefits that we're claiming we will get from these projects? Those were the kinds of questions I asked every day as an employee of Caltrans. 

 

And frankly, I felt like that was my job. I was put in a job where I'm a change agent. It's part of my job description, to sort of look into the future and figure out how the department needs to change. And so it would be me not living up to my duties in that job, if I wasn't asking questions, like I was asking. Frankly, as a public servant, I take really seriously that we need to be telling the truth to the public, and we need to create the required opportunities to have public engagement and public input to our work. So that requires being transparent, and also requires being honest in our analysis. And I was concerned that wasn't happening on those two projects that are the exact same location. 

 

So it kind of functionally seemed like one project, but this location on I-80. I was very surprised by the termination. And the timing of it was right on the heels of me saying I was concerned about accountability. And not really seeing any response to those questions prompted me to say, "I really think this warrants an external audit, this is the kind of thing whistleblower opportunities exist for when you're asking questions, and they're not being answered, and nobody's taking it seriously. I just felt like I had an obligation to appeal to other forms of accountability and government. So again, none of that was different from what I had always done in my time at Caltrans. And so it was a big surprise. when the next thing to happen was that I was terminated in my role.

 

Damien Newton

I'm  down here in Greater Los Angeles. Caltrans has been getting beat up a lot recently in the past week...I mean by Streetsblog, always...but in the past week in the mainstream press because of what went on with the I-10 fire in East LA. When we were doing our pre interview you were talking about how the role of Caltrans keeps changing and expanding. And to be fair to people working at the agency, it's really hard to keep up with all of the "extra things." 20 years ago, it was "build the freeways" and maybe be a landlord for some random houses along the 710 corridor. 

 

But now there's all these different things they have to take into account. So I guess what I'm trying to ask is, how fair is it to just level  some of these larger accusations at the agency? How difficult is it to sort of be at Caltrans these day. You're someone who is got a few things to say about the agency, but you also bring a different perspective than I think your average person that just exists in California or even your Streetsblog editor.

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

I think it's incredibly hard, especially at the leadership level trying to make decisions about priorities. I think the job of Caltrans today is so much more complicated than it was, as you said, even 20 years ago. The crises of the past that Caltrans has dealt with and responded  incredibly well to are things like earthquakes and  damage to the system...mudslides. We see a lot of these emergencies, crises, where the system gets impacted severely, and Caltrans can respond in an incredible fashion, and usually does and I think will to this fire and the damage that was done to the 10 freeway. That is really the bread and butter and what Caltrans does really well. 

 

And building and maintaining the highway system is what this agency was established to do and has done through its whole history. The "new stuff" is complete streets, and how do we deal with these other users that aren't in a car that maybe want to be in a bus or train or have options, or, maybe don't want to travel want to have like, options to not have to travel as much or as far. Those are like way more complicated problems that interact with air quality land use, community opinions, and all of this other complicated stuff. 

 

Certainly being landlords of folks who are unhoused in particular is just such an intractable difficult issue and to think about engineers who are trying to build highways, suddenly having to figure out how to, like, take care of people. It's just...it's not what people came to Caltrans thinking that they would be doing. And so I do think that the agency's job has become incredibly complicated, and I'm very sympathetic to that. I think we need to appreciate what Caltrans does well, and keeping the roads open and keeping them working pretty well  is impressive. The other things are very hard. And there, it's gonna take a lot of time and a really strong push. 

 

You need people like me, right? You need people to push for change to actually change an organization like that. And sometimes it takes a generation. You need to bring in all new people with all new ideas, trying to think about problems differently, before you really get true change in an agency.

 

Damien Newton

All right, well, we are hitting our artificially created time limit of 20 minutes, but you know, it's the internet. So it's not like it's a hard and fast rule. I always like to close with the assumption that maybe there's something I missed or a question I didn't ask. So if there's a question I didn't ask that you really want to answer; feel free to ask it now. If not, I think maybe just take a short look into the future and tell us what should advocates who are interested in working on issues with Caltrans...what should we be looking for in 2024 and beyond. You can just answer your own question or mine or do both in either order.

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

That's a really good question. Maybe I'll at least partly answer it, because I don't have a magic looking glass. So I don't know exactly what's going to come in the future. But I do think that there's so much more work to do with Caltrans and with all of Caltrans partners. Down in your neck of the woods, obviously, LA Metro is working hand in glove with Caltrans. So there's a lot of kind of accountability and influence and engagement to do with all of the folks that are making these decisions. But it's so important...I would just say there's more money in transportation now than there ever has been. 

 

Caltrans' budget is bigger than it's ever been. And that's because there's both more state money as well as more federal money flowing into transportation right now. And so the decisions that get made in the next five to 10 years are going to create the system and the communities of the future. And so I just think  it's such an important time to be engaged and to be doing this work, and to be paying close attention to asking the hard questions for what Caltrans and other agencies are doing. So I really appreciate the work of advocates. I talk to advocates all the time. A lot of them are my good friends. 

 

I think it's important that we all be honest with each other both about what we're doing well, and what we need to improve. So I just want to leave with maybe some appreciation. 

 

Damien Newton

All right, well, hey, thank you so much for your time. Again, there's some links and some of Jeanie's story that go back to... I don't know if we have  one's back to your Safe Routes days. I'm sure if I look hard enough, we can find some quotes or two.I often say the the people that do open streets and the people that do Safe Routes to School don't know how lucky they have it, because the opposition to taking kids to school safely or to doing an open street event is so much less than the opposition to so many of the other issues we work on. 

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

It's like mom and apple pie! And biking across the country....that was part of why I picked it as an organization to focus on biking across the country. We were biking through the south and all across the country everybody cares about their communities being safe for kids to be able to walk and bike to school. So I agree with you. It's an issue that goes to my heart, and always will be.

 

Damien Newton

Thank you so much for your time today. And again, there's some links to some old Jeanie Ward-Waller stories on Streetsblog, California that are included with the text that accompanies this podcast and we will keep in touch and keep an eye on what's going on.

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

Thank you so much, Damien. This is fun.

 

 

 

Nov 3, 2023

This week's SGV Connect podcast is a special episode where the Streetsblog San Gabriel Valley team, Chris Greenspon, Joe Linton and Damien Newton, sit down and discuss the great success that was ArroyoFest 2023. All three were at the event but experienced it differently with Linton and his family biking the route, Newton completing the "Run the 110" 10k race and Greenspon walking along the 110 later in the morning.

Of course, this is Streetsblog so we also discuss what the success of the event could mean for future open streets and open freeway events in the region and Newton even dreams of permanent freeway closures and replacements.

A lightly edited transcript of the podcast appears after audio links. There's also one correction that's noted in the transcript but not the audio. At one point Newton states there were 1,700 people that completed the race. The number is actually over 4,000.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunes, Google Play, or Overcast.

Transcript:

(Note: Text in italics is audio that was taken during ArroyoFest itself.)

Chris Greenspon  0:09  
Hi, it's Chris Greenspon You're listening to SGV Connect #120, our ArroyoFest after special. We're going to take you through our experience. We all did a different mode of transportation there. And we all recorded some on site narration of the things we were experiencing, seeing and hearing. You're gonna hear that kind of audio laced into the episode throughout. So anyway, Damian hit us with that ad copy.

Damien Newton  0:34  
Oh, right. Well, this and every episode of SGV Connect is sponsored by Foothill Transit. Offering car free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to go Gold Line Stations across the Foothill and the Silver Streak into downtown Los Angeles. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit at Foothill transit.org Foothill Transit! Going good places.

Joe Linton  0:53  
This is Streetsblog editor Joe Linton, reporting from the off ramp to the Avenue 60. On the 110 freeway on the morning of ArroyoFest. My daughter and I are here got up at the crack of dawn. It's colder than I thought it'd be but it's warming up, I can see the sun arriving. And it's not quite crowded yet with cyclists but there are definitely 10s...probably hundreds of cyclists.

Damien Newton  1:26  
Alright, so I am near the starting line now. And there are 1000s of people in front of me and we are 18 minutes away from the start. So this is going to be a pretty pretty big race, maybe the biggest 10k I've done attendance wise. I do look forward to seeing the final numbers for this, this is going to be a big, well attended race.

Chris Greenspon  1:53  
I'm walking towards the 110 on Orange Grove Avenue just past the cover band and a row of porta potties. Both are always an encouraging sight and sound at these open streets events. We're about to get on the 110. And now let's talk about what we and so many other people have glowingly said about ArroyoFest, Joe.

Joe Linton  2:19  
Yeah, I think I mean, this is some people have been saying this online, but I think it really had some of the energy of the of the very first open streets event in Southern California. I mean, actually ArroyoFest 2003 is sometimes as good as that. But CicLAvia itself started in 2010. And people didn't know what to expect. And just you know, 10s of 1000s of people, more than 50,000 people showed up and it was downright crowded. With bicycles, the walk side, you guys can probably speak to that but wasn't wasn't quite as crowded early on. It wasn't quite as crowded. But it really got to a point on the freeway, you know, where three lanes of three car lanes wasn't enough to hold lots of cyclist wishing by so there was a lot of slowing down and, y navigating space with other human beings, the things people do in cities around the world every day.

Chris Greenspon  3:16  
Yeah, it's almost like it should have been widened. Damien, what did you make of the vibe out there? And that was in jest, SGV Connect devotees? Please, Damien, and take over.

Damien Newton  3:27  
Yeah, thank you. Thank you, Chris, almost giving me a heart attack before you put the microphone out. Maybe if we had extended it instead of widening it. <Laughs> Anyway, usually when I do these types of events, I'm doing that with my family who is completely bored of hearing me drone on and on about the benefits for open streets events, or I'm doing them with other activists. So this was new for me, because I'm doing it with running groups, not just like my friends that run but like surrounded by people, and it was a different discussion. No one was talking about the broader impacts it was more "oh, it's gonna be cool, we get to run on the freeway." It was pretty much a vibe. But then when we were actually out there running there were "Oh, this is cool." There were people way more people stopping to take selfies, and I was...depending how you view it...I was either at the back of the fast group or the front of the middle group timewise. And so I was around people that were serious runners, and they were stopping and taking pictures. They were talking about how cool it was they were they were doing this race. This is not normal conversation for a race unless you're in like a themed race like a Disney Race or a Rose Bowl Race or something like that, where you're in a unique environment. And that's what it was. It was a unique environment. And if you're not a runner, most five and 10 k's are on streets that are closed. That's just that's how they do them. You're in downtown or you're in the west side or your wherever it is a lot of it's on the road...but on the freeway had a very different feel for people and you saw I see way more pictures from other runners than I'm used to for these types of events. Usually pictures are at the start of the end with your friends. They're not in the middle of the race.

Joe Linton  4:55  
Damien, can you can you talk about a little bit about like so what was the route? Also, I think something that's unusual on runs to is that they gave people tap cards right and forced you guys onto the train. So talk about like, where it started and where it ended and how it basically worked.

Damien Newton  5:13  
Well, it started. I'm about 200 yards away from the South Pasadena station and we ran onto the freeway. We actually ran north for a little bit just so that we could I guess, be at exactly 10k..runners don't want a 9.8k medal. So then we turned around and ran basically south to the end. And it ended at the activity center at the south end of the route.

Joe Linton  5:32  
Yeah, which is in the Lincoln Heights right? Cypress Park, close to Dodger Stadium.

Damien Newton  5:38  
It was. One of the theories that I had as to why...there was a lot of discussion online that we'll get into is...why are we doing this only until 11. I was like, well, when they were planning this, they didn't know if the Dodgers were going to be in the World Series. And that was probably part of it. I mean, it'd be really hard to have a Dodgers World Series game and have a chunk of the 110 close until just a couple hours before the game starts. I was thinking that that might have played into that decision making but yeah, it was right there. And a lot of runners got on the Gold Line to get there because between the heavily heavily heavily advertised lack of parking...I probably got an email from the Ron the 110 every day in the week before telling me not to bother to drive and park. Between that and the free tap cards not just free. tab cards unique tab cards, all I can show mine off to the people in the room with me. I would guess almost everybody that ran took Metro to get there.

Joe Linton  6:29  
And what was the run? Like? Was it quiet? Was it loud? Was it fast? What's what was what was actually being out there running on a freeway? What was your experience?

Chris Greenspon  6:39  
And downhill at that?

Damien Newton  6:40  
Well, I was gonna mention the downhill because I've well stated on this podcast and elsewhere, I was in a Halloween costume. And I was not expecting to have my strongest race day. But I did really well in large part because it was downhill. Also, I ran into one of my run partners who's in a lot better shape than me and she dragged me along with her. So that helps too. But yeah, it was a lot of it was downhill. There was more talking than usual on the race. But I mean, other than that, it was quiet. And I think the talking was people going "oh, wow, this is cool." Which I actually said a few times out loud to the people I was running with. My friend Juanna who I was out with, we talked about how this was like a really cool race. And she's the type of person that does like 40 mile races and stuff like that, like, you know, my marathons are wimpy. And she was like, "No, this race is fantastic. This is one I'm gonna remember."

Joe Linton  7:31  
The freeway is so crowded. Lots and lots, hundreds 1000s of bikes, people on bikes, escapes, wheelchairs, scooters, more people arriving by the minute.

Chris Greenspon  7:46  
Now this is a sight, we're finally coming down into the much more green area of the 110 just got under a bridge then of course, down straight away in the distance. You see Mount Washington, people waving

Joe Linton  8:03  
People getting lost people find each other. And it's it's I think it's one of the most crowded open streets events I've ever seen. And the walk side is just as crowded as the bike side.

Damien Newton  8:14  
Okay, so I am done the race. I have done the festival I have seen there were 1741 people registered for the 10k. (Note, this is wrong, there were 1741 people that had finnished the race when I checked my times on the app. There were actually over 4,000 people that ran the race). Of course, we saw plenty of people running along the route that were not signed up, which is great. You know, I wanted my fancy medal but not everybody does. And it was a it was a great time. It really was a unique experience. Got a lot of great pictures. A lot of fond memories. Hope I get to do this again before I'm 65. Now I'm gonna go back out and walk the route a little bit.

Chris Greenspon  8:48  
Okay, so now do you want to go into the wrinkles? of the show of the whole event?

Joe Linton  8:54  
Yeah, just some of the buzz online. A concern raised by some cyclist was...advocates...on you're not some cyclists called it a shitshow some some called the dangerous. There were a lot of crashes of cyclists here and there. I mean, and when I say a lot, it's probably, you know, 50,000 cyclists and you know, two dozen of them maybe fell or something. I should say 50,000 participants probably. That's a guess. But certainly 10s of 1000s of folks participating in any event and I'd say more than half of those. probably more than two thirds of those, would be bicyclists. So probably 30-40-50,000 bicyclists. I think that we we don't share space that well in Southern California and that's drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, people taking transit. We're not used to these spaces where there's lots of people, and everyone's moving, and we need to really look out for each other. I talked to my daughter, "You need to know who's behind you and who's in front of you." You know? Every day on Southern California freeway's one or more people die. The freeway was safer than you know, every day in Southern California. But  I think there were a lot of small scale crashes and probably a few broken bones. And anybody else want to touch on that?

Chris Greenspon  10:35  
I would say? One thing that maybe should have been a hard rule would have been none of the three wheeled scooters with the two in front. maybe I'm misunderstanding physics here, but it seems like those were easier to tip forward. I saw at least three or four kids fall straight forward onto the freeway. With those again, the the really flimsy three wheeled scooters, as opposed to like some of the more modern razors that look like they're set up pretty stable. What about you, Damien, did you observe any precociousness or precariousness?

Speaker 2  11:10  
Well, again, I was in a really different situation, almost a controlled environment as you're gonna get in that sort of event where you know, everybody was running. So there wasn't a lot.. I mean, we did see a person trip. But like, that's not unusual. I will say when, in the early morning when you're running, even if you're running fast on the southbound side, you're watching the bicyclists zip pass on the northbound side, some of them pretty fast. It wasn't very crowded yet. We were very happy for that separation. And I know some of the people that ran back the other way that I talked to afterwards said the same thing like that separation was great. As far as the people on two feet instead of two wheels were concerned...you two wheeled menaces you. So it was great. As far as we thought on foot. We didn't have the "Oh no, we're too crowded." It was like up there they are over there going much faster than we are.

Chris Greenspon  12:01  
Towards the end, I did see a few bikes on the walking side.

Joe Linton  12:05  
Yeah, I wondered that too:the speed differential. And so you had, four year olds on bikes with training wheels, and what they call MAMILS, middle aged men in lycra, fancy road bikes trying to get their miles in. And I think that there probably could have been some notice to...I hate to second guess the organizers did an awesome job...and this is sort of reaching for criticism, but  it's sort of slow cyclists on one side. If you're going less than eight miles an hour or something, you're welcome to be on the walk side. If you're willing to be really chill. It's kind of like bicycling on a sidewalk in LA. It's often a good choice, if you're willing to slow down. And if, if you want to go fast, it doesn't really make sense. Anyway, I hate to dwell on the small number of crashes with the so many people and so many smiles and people what was fun as event got going. So there's a concrete barrier that's maybe three, two or three feet wide at the top.

And a lot of people were climbing up on the barrier and shooting selfies and getting the pictures of the freeway signs, Downtown to your right or whatever. It was really was a great vibe. It was it was fun to be in that space. And it's something where I think, "every CicLAvia is fun for me." And it's sort of like church. I had my great Sunday's whatever. And yet, there was a feeling at ArroyoFest, sort of like the first CicLAvia, that this was something big and new, and actually media wise, that has borne out. Open streets now under especially funded under Metro, there's maybe a dozen a year. Not quite one a month, but they rarely make the news. And this one, we got front page coverage in the LA Times lots of gorgeous photos. And TV news covered it. And how was your feed? Every other thing on my Instagram and Facebook was people's people's photos at this event. So it felt like it felt like a real happening and a real newsworthy thing. And not just another sequel?.

Chris Greenspon  14:36  
I think considering that. It was the first time that probably almost anybody...the majority of the people who participated ever got to do a thing like that go hang out on the freeway. The turnout scale was bound to be legendary. And with that considered, I think safety wise, it actually went pretty well. And honestly It was kind of nice that despite the like you said, the proliferation of media coverage, it was nice to go do something like this. And I didn't see a single TV camera the whole time. And I guess it feels like you can be more yourself. Maybe that was what I liked most about it. The sense of isolation, even though obviously, there was 10s of 1000s of people. It felt like being in another place in another world at times.

Joe Linton  15:28  
Yeah, it does. I mean, the quiet in the middle of the city in a space like that, it did feel kind of uncanny in some way. So let's talk about the future. I'm going to preface this with in 2009, everybody was like "CicLAvia will never work in Los Angeles" In 2010, we did it! I was one of the people who was working on the first one, although there were a lot of people doing it. I'm not the author. But I'm one of the one of the folks. And I think there was a sense after CicLAvia that, "This changes everything. We've demonstrated that if you build it, they will come." And yet, here we are, you know, a decade later. And I think less has changed than I would have hoped for at the time. So what's the implications for the future for this event?

Chris Greenspon  16:18  
So I think this, without a doubt has to raise Active SGV's credibility with the entire San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments Consortium. I mean, they're already very well regarded. But in the towns where they haven't really done much yet. I think this gives them if not a blank check, a very, very, very strong resume point. I mean, being having a successful event on the cover of the LA Times makes me wonder whether we might see an event on on Temple, in La Puente,, in Baldwin Park over to Walnut. That's something I would enjoy personally. But I can't imagine that we will not be seeing more Active SGV open streets events, especially along the L line as those continued to complete in the coming years.

Joe Linton  17:06  
So I do think that yes, it will make Active SGV, who did a phenomenal job, getting all the permits and organizing them in and bringing it all together. I think it'll make them more in demand for doing 66 Golden Streets. Communities can see this, the success and the happiness of stuff like this and ask for more open streets.

But I also wonder, going beyond events to permanent treatments of public space. I think that car free space is at such a premium in Los Angeles. And people go to malls and the beach and stuff like that. And they have this experience of sharing space. And I think we need to look at our downtowns, Los Angeles, of course, but Pasadena and all the you know, these A Line stations. You guys call it the L Line, I call it the A Line or the Gold Line. I think we do need to look at instead of, you know, widening streets and building massive parking structures around our transit stations, to look at where can we do Paseos and bike facilities and shared space that we keep cars out of that people can come together in? That's what I hope grows out of it. 

I think we've accepted, "we" being Southern California, we've accepted that we can come together for CicLAvia you know, for 626 Golden Streets, for ArroyoFest, once a month, twice a month, but I think we do need to look to can we do this, if not 24/7, even weekends. 

Why don't we close a few blocks of a street in historic downtown area in Arcadia for example. But why don't we do that, you know, every weekend for two months during the summer or something like that. So why don't we make this space proliferate? And if it's too hard to close the street permanently? Can we do it all weekend? Can we do it for a season? Can we do it for four Sundays in a month or something like that? So I think there's kind of so I'm talking about there's kind of two ends of the open street spectrum: one is massive event like Heart of LA orArroyoFest, you know, close and iconic area, bring lots and lots of people. But I think the other end is important too. It's a little bit more like a farmers market. Can we take an area and actually I mean, the folks you've written about...the Complete Streets plan in El Monte... and looking at revitalizing some of the downtown areas that are having trouble drawing in customers. Activate that space by keeping cars out of it, and bringing music and vendors and people into it. And I don't know I say all this and I'm not, I don't want to be naive that that's an easy task. That's against the grain of what of what we do in Southern California. But these carfree spaces are really are important, are precious, and are perhaps the future of bringing people together. 

Chris Greenspon  20:37  
What I want to go out on is...nonstop we were hearing leading up to this, you know, in our previous interview with Marcus and Robert, about the history of ArroyoFest and people were saying, you know, just regular everyday people were saying, "Oh, who knows this isn't going to happen again, for 20 years." That joke certainly got beaten to death. But I'm wondering in your seasoned opinions. Do you think that within a more reasonable timeframe, we can do an open freeway event again, maybe not on the 110? And if so, where would you suggest but do you think it's within grasp?

Joe Linton  21:16  
Yeah, I mean, I think the wild rousing success of ArroyoFest says there's an appetite for this, that this is a fun thing, and that Angelenos will show up. I think you need to pick a freeway that's close to transit. A lot of freeways are really boring spaces that I think the Arroyo Seco Parkway, the 110 Freeway between downtown and Pasadena is probably head and shoulders, the most picturesque freeway on the west coast...maybe not the west coast, but certainly in Southern California. But I think you have to pick it well. I think you can't just say, "Hey, we're gonna close the, the 405 in Westwood, everybody show up." There's folks thinking about this at Active SGV at CicLAvia that could probably figure out where, where it makes sense to do it. But it is very difficult to work with Caltrans to repurpose Caltrans space for anything other than lots and lots of cars all the time. And I think there there are glimmers of change at that. But when you do a bike path project, and it takes three inches of Caltrans space away, it takes decades to get that project approved. And I think some of that's changing, but I mean, hopefully the success of a royal fast helps pull Caltrans into a more multimodal acceptance of this sorts of shared space. But I've perhaps been in the trenches too long to expect that we'll see ArroyoFest three anytime soon, and that we'll see other open streets events on freeways soon, but I hope I'm wrong.

Damien Newton  23:03  
Well, and there's the holy grail to have a freeway closure. I mean, on the west side, we had the 90 freeway debate briefly. We talked about possibly doing a study and the local advocacy group Streets for All was his was trying to get a federal grant to do a study and everyone seemed on board with it. And then a couple of neighborhood councils found out about it and flipped out because that's the role of our neighborhood council system to flip out and stop good things from happening. And they were successful. The mayor was, I believe one person said it might have been Ted Rogers, that she was "for it before she was against it." And she came out against it. And these freeway closures, though that I mean...that's after CicLAvia for a couple of years, we had pretty good momentum and building bike infrastructure. And as far as I mean, some of it was Sharrows. But 2010 We were happy just to get Sharrows some places. You know, Villaraigosa had, Mayor Villaraigosa the mayor of LA, had a goal for 200 miles of bike infrastructure year, including those dastardly sharrows. But still, it was happening and there was momentum and for whatever reason, maybe it's Villaraigosa got rid of the low hanging fruit. Maybe it's because Garcetti was too tactical, but that momentum really stalled and fizzled during the Garcetti years. So is the momentum here to do another ArroyoFest? Or is the momentum to go that big next step and look at the freeways that aren't seeing huge volumes of traffic, aren't seeing a regular influx of cars and say, "do we need this or can we do something else with this land?" The 90 may be off the table now, thanks to some crazy angry people. But they've been entirely...

Joe Linton  24:36  
...It does look like it lost a lot of momentum. But I don't think it's a shut book just yet. 

Speaker 2  24:42  
That's exciting for me. But, you know, the battle over the 710 extension was was decades and I think that ArroyoFest shows that maybe we don't need those freeways, especially the ones that aren't your commuter freeways. And that's a lot of land to do something else with. They always say, "we're not growing more land or making more land," but we kind of can if we repurpose land that's not being utilized to the best extent that it is.

Chris Greenspon  25:06  
Well, that's a fabulous note to go out on.

Joe Linton  25:09  
Well, actually one one more closing note.  I heard at least a few folks showed up at a row fest that was their first open streets event. So there are regular open streets events, and the next one coming up is in South LA on Martin Luther King Boulevard, the date is December.

Damien Newton  25:30  
I think it's the 3rd but I'm looking at I think it's December 3, but I'm just double checking it, but it's definitely the first Sunday in December.

Joe Linton  25:36  
Yes, the first time in December. We think it's December 3 on Martin Luther King Boulevard in South LA. So check them out there. They're always a treat. And I think they do give you a sense of what NLA that's less totally festooned with cars might look like.

Chris Greenspon  25:54  
All right, well, that wraps us up for SGV Connect 120. In the meantime, listen to these sounds of ArroyoFest.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

1