Beyond Freeways: Commerce, Community, and Contention along Los Angeles’s 710 Corridor

How a freeway crushes communities, how residents are fighting back plans to make it even bigger, and what alternatives have been presented to yet more of the same….

By Justin Gerdes
Photographs and additional reporting by Leila Dee Dougan
Edited and with an Introduction by Richard Risemberg
Produced by Richard Risemberg and eByline


By Richard Risemberg

All the physical constructs of a culture are born into nests of perceptions. For the 710 freeway in the eastern third of Los Angeles County, those were perceptions of infinities: an infinity of real estate, an infinity of air, an infinity of oil, an infinity of time to spend in traffic…an infinity of public health to absorb the poisons, stress, and dullness of life in the shadow of its roaring traffic. Of course the infinities filled up with choking smog, blanketing noise, and congested roadways, and they became instead a prison guarded by an asphalt dragon.

In the flush of a delusional lust for the automobile, we built a corridor that kills its children and depresses its economies. Sometime in the late 20th century, Lewis Mumford said that “Adding highway lanes to deal with traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity.” Los Angeles has spent the last sixty years proving him right. Relentlessly building more streets, more highways, more freeways has led not to free-flowing wind-in-the-hair drives, but to the worst traffic jams in the country, perhaps the world: a twice-a-day stasis of inert and frustrated drivers sitting alone in their sequestering boxes, listening to hate-radio rants as they squeeze along asphalt channels…. The beast they thought they’d ride to freedom instead digests them, squeezing them out at the end bereft of human spirit.

In an era of global warming, peak oil, obesity, stress, and foundering economies, it becomes imperative to find better ways to move ourselves, and our goods, among our neighborhoods. More specifically, if we wish to keep the economy we favor in this country and remain somewhat human, we must move as much transport as possible to modes such as rail, which uses one-third the fuel and orders of magnitude less land than individual motor vehicles do to move goods and people alike.

Yet, in an era where cities from Seoul to San Francisco to New York are tearing down freeways and finding that, contrary to gut feelings, traffic flows more smoothly, economies flourish, and neighborhoods burgeon, Los Angeles finds itself almost alone in trying to extend and expand a freeway through the heart of the region.

The excuse here is freight traffic from the port. This series, by environmental reporter Justin Gerdes and documentary photographer and videographer Leila Dee Dougan, will investigate the premises and promises of differing visions for the 710 corridor and its communities, and how it grew into its present form.

Follow the links below to read Mr. Gerdes’s detailed and hard-hitting examination of the perils and possibilities being explored or ignored as the region decides the future of this vital transportation corridor.

Part I: Birth of an Asphalt Monster
Part II: The Beast that Eats Our Children
Part III: Riding to the Rescue
Part IV: The Price to Pay

Easy-to-read, mobile-friendly e-book versions of the entire report are available at modest cost from Smashwords, iTunes, and Amazon. A free PDF version of the entire series is available here.

In the interests of full disclosure, let me state that I am presently an unpaid officer of GRID Logistics Inc, a company mentioned in this series. My interest in freeways, rail, and community developed long before GRID existed, and in fact it was an editorial on the 710 freeway that I wrote for the Los Angeles Business Journal that led to a presentation to one of the grassroots groups involved in corridor issues, which itself led to contact with Dave Alba, the founder of GRID. After a couple of years of investigation, I decided formally to ally myself with GRID. However, I instructed Mr. Gerdes to show no favoritism to GRID – which he would not have done in any case.

About Contributing

Once upon a time, environmentalists lived in the forests, while the many of the rest of us moved the suburbs to be near the forests. Today we’re on our way back. Living near nature is an attractive notion, but many who tried it found nature soon vanished and they were left isolated. For both environmental and social reasons, living in the suburbs or the forest is not sustainable. Today we know cities are good for people and for forests. We know that the less land each of us occupies, the more space there will be for nature. In a city, we have a smaller footprint. Living in a city isn’t only good for the planet, it’s good for all of us. When home, work, shopping end entertainment are close, it encourages walking and promotes the active lifestyle that keeps us healthy. The New Colonist is about moving in from the suburbs, moving into and reclaiming towns and cities that have been depopulated, and building more housing in healthy cities. It’s about building smarter and closer-in new developments; building transit-oriented, mixed-use developments in new communities, and bringing more transportation options to communities where a car is presently the only option. Sustainable city living–chronicling the return from the suburban diaspora–is the focus of …Move In. City Life is good for you. It’s good for the your health. It’s good for the planet. Eric Miller Richard Risemberg


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