Copyright 1997, 2004, 2013, 2015 by Jim Hull

(Please cite the author if you quote from this work)


No, this is not some angst-driven, existential musing with a clever title. I really mean to discuss how to get to downtown Los Angeles on the Pasadena Freeway during morning rush hour.

Why should we stop the presses for what might appear to be a trivial scrap of commuter info? A number of people, deeply troubled and intimidated by the daunting size of this problem, have asked me to advise them. What, are they all moving to Pasadena? Regardless, it is my duty as a citizen to help them if I can.

LA-area real estate prices are always bloated, so Angelenos are ever in search of cheap digs. More and more people are pouring into the film industry, so housing in Burbank and Glendale - the locus of new showbiz growth - is tight. It makes sense for these folks to foray further east, to the San Gabriel Valley, where prices are (somewhat) lower, charming bungalows are abundant, shade trees grow in profusion, and the culturati - at Caltech, JPL, the Huntington Library, and the Pasadena Playhouse - bump elbows with the glitterati on the newly hip boulevards of Old Pasadena.

Still, central Los Angeles is where so many of the jobs are and, no matter where we may live hereabouts, eventually we reckon with the uncertain adventure of a morning drive "downtown." If you live in Pasadena, you will have to consider a ride on that odd, curving, three-laned, 55-speed-limited highway which happens to be the oldest freeway in the world, the spur of Interstate 110 known as the Pasadena Freeway.

Opened as a scenic highway in 1940, the Arroyo Seco Freeway boasted complete freedom from the dangers of intersections - most crossroads are bridges or tunnels - and the brave new world of onramps, which have about as much in common with a modern freeway access lane as your driveway. The designers allowed the concrete thoroughfare - two lanes each direction - to meander for most of its distance along the path of the Arroyo Seco wash. That dry creek twists and curves, and so does the freeway. This was thought an asset, affording motorists a constantly changing view as they wound their way downtown.

In later years a third lane of asphalt was added each way along the median, and the road got its modern moniker, the Pasadena Freeway. There is some confusion about just how much of Interstate 110 is called the Pasadena Freeway. Officially it begins at the I-10 Santa Monica Freeway, but most local traffic reporters call it the Harbor Freeway until it crosses under the world-famous four-level interchange at the Hollywood Freeway. To further confuse things, here is some official government gobbledegook (which I am, sadly, unable to attribute) on the exact naming of the Pasadena Freeway: That part of the California highway system frequently referred to as the Pasadena Freeway, which is the section of Interstate Highway Route 110 lying between milepost 25.7 and milepost 31.9 is hereby designated a California Historic Parkway pursuant to Section 280, and is named the Arroyo Seco Parkway. Rest assured, everybody still calls it the Pasadena Freeway.

But enough smalltalk. Here's how to do it:

At this point you will inch forward in heavy traffic at perhaps 8 miles an hour until you reach your exit downtown. However - and here come the cute tricks - you can save a few precious minutes by applying the following simple techniques:

At this point you're on your own; find your offramp and escape.

This system should save you at least a few minutes each way. Use it! ... On the other hand, should EVERY person who drives the Pasadena Freeway read and follow these instructions, they won't work anymore. Hmm...

In that case, never mind! Please disregard everything I've said here. Thank you.



If you find any part of this work quoted without credit to the author, please let him know! Thank you.



But caveat auctor: Jim reserves the right to put your little screed on his Web site! (And he has no dignity about this, so be careful what you say...)



Your directions on how to manage the 110 Freeway are dead-on; however, there are much quicker ways into Downtown and back that can be used even in the worst traffic. Traffic is heaviest at 8 a.m. If one is in Pasadena and needs to be in downtown in a hurry, may I suggest the following few auxiliary routes:

Taking the 210 west to the 134 Ventura Freewau west to the 2 Glendale Freeway south automatically saves 10-15 minutes from the 110 south at rush hour. From there, one can either take the 2 south to its completion and drive downtown via Glendale or Alvarado Blvds (turning towards Downtown as early or as late as necessitated), or, if one needs to get off early into Downtown (say, Spring St.), one can take the 2 south to the 5 south to the 110 south, thus skipping the whole traffic backup created before Dodger Stadium. There is strategy involved in each:

For the 2 south to Glendale Blvd., there is a huge traffic load from about 7:30 to 8:15; it is a bottleneck due to so many people exiting the freeway (5 lanes) to Glendale Blvd. (2.5 lanes). To navigate this, one should start out by getting into the far-left lane before the 2/5 interchange so as to avoid those trying to get onto the 5. Once one has passed the 5, get into the furthest-left lane, because all the lanes merge and this one is the last to merge, thus skipping five minutes of traffic. This one also has the option of moving into an empty #1 lane once the freeway has unloaded onto the street. By this time, it has only been ten minutes or so since you left Pasadena (or less, if you drive like a banshee; I do). From here, you can get into the #2 lane comfortably. Alvarado veers right after a few lights, which requires you to be in the #2-4 lanes. From here you are just minutes from Downtown. Take Sunset towards Downtown if you need to be in northern Downtown, or keep going all the way to Pico if you need to be at the Convention Center. My quickest time to Loyola High School (Venice and Normandy, two blocks from USC and 1.3 miles from the Staples Center) is 14 minutes at 6:45 a.m.

For the 2 south to the 5 south to 110 south, far fewer directions are in order, but far more maneuvering. On the 2 south, get into the #2 lane until the 5 south comes up. The later one merges onto the 5 south, the more time one saves in getting Downtown. Once onto the transition that connects the 2 freeways, be in the #1 lane of two lanes, for the #2 lane goes out onto Dodger Stadium. (There is a secret way around Dodger Stadium and through Elysian Park which beats all ways into Downtown, but that way is reserved for those in a real jam and have me behind the wheel.) Continue onto the 5 south. The lane you are in will take you directly onto the 110 south. Get into the left lane of the two that go onto the 110 south if you want to get into the flow of traffic safely, or take the outer lane if you want to be a bit risky and save some time off of your commute. 

Often, the 110 south itself is backed up due to rain or extremely bad traffic. If it is backed up beyond Avenue 42, there are several routes which one can take onto Huntington Dr., which leads either into Downtown (via Pasadena Ave. or Main St.) or onto the 10 Freeway, which leads one into the four-level interchange with the 110 in Downtown.

Getting out of Downtown: While getting into Downtown is often confusing, getting out requires lots of geography and a good feel for traffic. Everyone knows that the 110 north past the tunnels is a straight shot, but getting up the hill and through the tunnels can make one want to drive off of the road and into oncoming traffic. To counteract this, one can take Figueroa through Downtown and enter the freeway at the end of Fig. If going through the tunnels, one should stay in the #3 or #4 lanes because #1 is backed up with 5-north drivers and #2 is filled with those slowing down to cut into the line of 5-north drivers.

There are alternate routes out of Downtown as well. One can do the reverse of the two ways to take the 2 -- one of which is useless, because it requires one to get onto the 5 north from the 110 north, thus making one wait in the tunnels; the other can take quite a long time, and the wait on Alvarado for the 2 at rush hour can be easily described as "brutal" -- or one can take Figueroa (or any street which cuts over the freeway, such as Alpine) and go over the freeway to Chavez Ravine. Take Chavez Ravine to the triple-street juncture, and move toward the Police Academy. In essence, you are going around Dodger Stadium. Go straight, and it will lead you into Elysian Park. This street dead-ends into Stadium Way; take a left onto Stadium Way. This will lead you to the 5 Freeway, if one needs to go there. The quicker solution into Pasadena is to go further on Stadium Way, continuing past the 5-south onramp. Veer left at the juncture afterwards, and, two lights later, it will give a sign to turn right for the 2 north.  From there, you are on the 2 to the 134 to the 210, right back into Pasadena. This route has saved my skin more times than I can count, and getting home before 7 p.m., when leaving downtown after 6:40, is a satisfying feeling.

* * *


I lived this mess from 1965 to 1977. Can you believe it was unbearable then!! I had a home in the hills of Beachwood canyon and lived on the freeways. I knew the Pasadena well. I had to get out, so moved to Palm Springs till it got too much and now live in another state in a town with no stop lights. Paradise!!!


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