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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Trouble on the 110 Freeway

The winding 110 Freeway carves a fine line between history and safety.

The stretch of the winding 110 Freeway between Downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena carves a fine line between history and safety. In fact, the road was the first of its kind built in the West. When it was constructed in 1940 it was meant to imitate roads in the East that favored leisurely Sunday drives and speeds around 45 miles per hour.

Some drivers, like the Martha Benedict, President of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council, fight for the preservation of this historic road. “It’s marvelous to come down from South Pasadena when you’re just on this lovely slide down the hill,” Benedict said.

But some Highland Park residents who are only separated from the freeway by a chain link fence have witnessed the dangers of the 110 firsthand.

“I’d rather take the street,” said resident Tania Sinquimani. “I won’t drive on [the 110].”

And it’s hard to blame her after she witnessed the death of a 1-year-old in a fatal crash on the stretch of the 110 near her home. “I heard the mother screaming 'My baby, My baby,'” Sinquimani said.

Neighbor Richard Urioste added, “We could see the smoke coming up from the freeway. Then my son went over there and saw people trying to break the windows to get the baby, but they couldn’t get inside.”

A recent study done by Caltrans shows that the 8 mile stretch of the 110 Freeway north of Downtown L.A. experiences the highest accident rate of any freeway in the area. Many experts, like USC’s James Moore, say it's because it's not built for the type of speeds it experiences today.

“Is the road safe to travel on? Yes it is. Is your risk of an accident higher? Yes it is. I think if we brought speeds down slightly we would see a substantial decrease in the number of accidents and increase in safety.”

The parkway has undergone some recent safety updates like adding a new median and guardrails, but this came as a disappointment to preservationists like Benedict.

“I think the character of an area, the uniqueness, the history is far more valuable than some efficiencies or conveniences. I know that safety can be looked at with a view towards preservation.”

We can only hope that compromising view is one that is looked at soon.

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