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Commentary: the Bay Area Needs its Own “Arroyo Fest”

What San Francisco and Oakland can learn from Los Angeles... yes, Los Angeles

“Arroyo Fest,” October 29. Photo: Streetsblog/Joe Linton

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Los Angeles closed seven miles of the Arroyo Seco Parkway for one Sunday last month and let people use it for cycling, walking, and just having a good time. From our sister publication, Streetsblog Los Angeles:

...tens of thousands of Angelenos did the unthinkable: enjoyed spending time on a freeway. Arroyo Fest 2023 removed cars from about seven miles of the 110 Freeway, known as the Arroyo Seco Parkway. Instead, the freeway was filled with people on foot, on bike, on skates, on scooters.

San Francisco, of course, has Sunday Streets, one of the earliest and most successful and celebrated examples of a temporary conversion of car space for other uses. The Bay Area also boasts the annual "Niles Canyon Stroll & Roll," which removes cars from a stretch of highway 84.

Sunday Streets, Valencia, 2022. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

San Francisco has its Marathon closures. And the Golden Gate Bridge was famously closed to traffic in 1987 for its 50th anniversary. But there's no equivalent to "Arroyo Fest," where the city closes a freeway for pure recreation.

The two places to do it seem screamingly obvious.

The first is the stub of the Central Freeway and 101. The city is already talking about removing or undergrounding these freeways, which are in need of seismic retrofits or removal. The other is I-980 in Oakland. 980 is one of the top candidates for removal on the Federal government's "Reconnecting Communities" program.

I-980 cuts downtown Oakland from West Oakland. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

A Sunday Streets/Arroyo Fest-type event on 980 and the Central Freeway would be a great opportunity for the Bay Area to rethink these spaces. While planning continues on how these two gashes in the Bay Area's urban fabric can be healed, people will be able to get a feel for how different the city would be without them (the lowered background noise alone will be impressive). It will also give planners a chance to build support and hear from the public about these plans. It might be particularly exciting if both freeways were opened for walking and rolling on the same day, so Bay Area residents could BART back and forth between them and compare notes.

Another view of Arroyo Fest, 2023. Photo: Streetsblog/Linton

San Francisco has made great strides over the years wrestling space back from auto dominance. The weekend/Great Highway Park, regular weekend closures of parts of Hayes and Valencia, the Shelley Promenade, and the JFK Promenade all show that space devoted to cars doesn't always have to be devoted to cars. And Los Angeles isn't often the place to look at for ideas about how to make a city more bike and pedestrian friendly. But Arroyo Fest helped remind people that there was a time before freeways--and that some of them may no longer even be necessary. Arroyo Fest is an obvious event for the Bay Area to emulate.

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