Progress Or Self Destructive Prolificacy?

Photo: Richard Hartog/Los Angeles Times

The scene is the Harbor Freeway (SR 110) in Los Angeles, looking south, on the stretch between the Hollywood Freeway (SR 101) and the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10), in downtown Los Angeles (as viewed from the 7th Street bridge). What is remarkable is that the picture was made on or about June 1, 2008, which is well in to Daylight Savings Time, so judging by the vehicle lights it was either very close to sunrise (between 5:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M.) or close to sunset (between 7:00 P.M. and 8:00 P.M.) It is apparent that both the morning and evening commutes in the Los Angeles basin have expanded, starting earlier and ending later.

For most of the period between 1968 and 1987 I worked either immediately adjacent to this stretch of highway in an office tower at Fifth & Figueroa Streets hard on the east side of the highway, or in offices within three blocks of this corridor. Which meant that for most of that time, every morning and every evening I would be in my car, some times alone, sometimes with one or more car poolers, negotiating this traffic and the gridlock on the surrounding surface streets. In 1987 my employer relocated the facility where I worked moving from this area to a new facility in Monterey Park, approximately twelve miles east. None too soon, as in 2000, according to the Federal Highway Administration, the average annual daily traffic along this stretch of road was 292,294 vehicles.

Contemplate the immensity of that number, two hundred ninety two thousand, two hundred twenty four. If every man, woman and child in the city of Newark, New Jersey were recruited to drive those 292,294 cars in Los Angeles, Newark would come up about 10,000 drivers short. One might consider that an exaggeration, as probably many of those vehicles are counted twice, once on the inbound trip and once on the outbound trip. So thinking about this conservatively. there might only be roughly 146,000 unique vehicles, each making two trips across this span of highway, meaning we would only need to enlist the services of every man, woman and child living in Eugene, Oregon as volunteer drivers. It would seem that I got out of the way of that influx just in time, it would seem…

I first noticed somewhere between 2000 and 2004, that when gazing out the window of my office in Monterey Park, where I had a good view of the Pomona Freeway (SR 60), in the afternoons, beginning at about 2:00 P.M., the east bound lanes of the Pomona Freeway, carrying commuters from the Los Angeles basin to the outlying suburbs, and further in to the “Inland Empire”, traffic would be backed-up, almost as much as is depicted in the image above. (The Inland Empire is an amorphous geographic locale east and south east of Los Angeles County, spanning parts of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.)  As the urban sprawl has virtually overtaken the entire Los Angeles basin, the Inland Empire has received the bulk of the overflow. This traffic congestion was occurring almost twelve miles from the business core of Los Angeles and at least two hours prior to the beginning of what had once been the traditional “rush hour”.

Since 1992 I have lived in Chino, California, in the Inland Empire, about 29 miles east of my office in Monterey Park, so that late afternoon back-up of the Pomona Freeway has impacted me, traffic generally being congested along the entire route, beyond my exit in Chino. The company’s move of my office out from Los Angeles having little lasting impact on the gauntlet I have had to traverse on a daily basis. Never really getting away from “L.A. traffic.” I have been very fortunate, though, since about 2005 my employer has allowed me to work from home, and I have not made the commute to the company office at all in roughly two years. My daily commute is now somewhat less than 60 seconds, in total, to and from “work”. No more freeway nightmares for me.

It would seem that I got out of the way of the human and mechanical traffic explosion just in time, it would seem…

Photo: Big Fella

This image of Chino was captured circa 1970, exactly when I don’t remember, there has been a lot of water under the bridge since that time. I would have been cruising around in my 1968 yellow, Mustang coupé when not using the car to commute in to Los Angeles. I would cruise far and wide in my free time, gasoline ran about $0.34 a gallon at the time. and there were plenty of wide open spaces to explore.

The exact location of the scene above was at the intersection of Riverside Drive and State Route 71, at the western boundary of the city of Chino. The terrain on the far side of the road was part of the unincorporated San Bernardino County territory of Chino HIlls, the ground where I stood to make the photograph was within the city limits of Chino. Chino, which originated as much of California had, as Spanish land grant ranches, was founded in 1887 and for almost a century life and economic activity in Chino and Chino Hills focused on cattle and agriculture. Chino was dominated by farmland, growing cattle feed and consumer crops, and hosting numerous horse, and cattle ranches, and dairy farms. During the heyday of the Chino Dairy Preserve there were 300,000 cows producing milk in Chino. I could drive from one end of Chino to the opposite end and never see any living beings except cows and horses, the occasional human that I might run across who would be operating some farm equipment or driving a milk truck. At that time probably the greatest density of human population per square mile were the state prison populations at the Men’s, Women’s and California Youth Authority facilities on the south edge of Chino. The prevailing, overpowering scent in the air was of bovine life, the aroma of living breathing cows and the fumes flowing off of massive 50 foot and higher mountains of “fertilizer” dispersed throughout the area. But there was no smog, no noxious chemicals or gases in the air, no human or mechanical congestion, no imbalance of carbon dioxide in the air.

Native grasses covered the Chino Hills and provided plenty of forage for grazing cattle. There was a railroad spur through Chino and the center of town, a few square blocks, was laid out just north of the spur, at the intersection of Central Avenue and Chino Avenue, opposite the center of town, on the south side of the railroad spur was a packing house. Then, as now, route 71 was a relative short highway, its northern terminus at roughly the north edge of the Cal Poly, Pomona campus where it intersects with I-10 and I-57 today, on the eastern slope of Kellogg Hill. In those days there was still quite a bit of equestrian activity taking place at Cal Poly, today the campus may be better known for their hospitality industry school. Route 71 was two lanes from its beginning in the north, to it’s southern terminus on the bank of the Santa Ana River, in the marshlands at the base of Prado Dam, on the outskirts of Corona.

Today my home is about a mile and a half, as the crow flies, from where I made the photograph in 1970. When the family and i moved in to our home in 1992, Green Thumb Farm was directly across the street. Green Thumb Farm was where Earl Scheib raised his thoroughbred horses. (For those of you too young to remember Earl Scheib, in the 1990’s and 1970’s he made his fortune painting cars, he had commercials all over local radio and TV where you would here his catch phrase, “I’m Earl Scheib, and I’ll paint any car for $19.95.”) You would find sheep grazing in a field abutted to the busiest street in town, and you could still buy produce at local farm stands. When ever I walked out my door in 1992, there would be little ambient noise, little human or mechanical traffic, just the always prevalent whiff of cows, and the knowledge that you were removed from the teaming megalopolis.

Today every thing has changed, today the northern terminus of route 71 at the I-10 & I-57 interchanges, carry 312,802 and 262,717 vehicles respectively every day. The southern terminus of route 71 is SR 91and its high traffic corridor including toll lanes squeezing the banks of the Santa Ana River, linking Orange County to Riverside County, is carrying 275,177 vehicles in average annual daily traffic. Shopping centers, strip malls, light manufacturing, distribution warehouses and massive “planned developments” and family homes have spread throughout the city of Chino. The populations of Chino and Chino Hills grew from 19,680 and 20,414 respectively in 1970 to 75,314 and 66,787 respectively in 2000. Green Thumb Farm was replaced in the last decade by about 300 homes. There are no sheep grazing in the geographic center of town, most of the cows have moved north to Modesto, and produce is ordered on the Internet and delivered packaged in plastic.


Satellite View: Google-Imagery/Digital Globe

This last image is of the same area that I photographed in 1970. The red arrow indicates approximately where I was standing and the direction I was facing when I made that image in 1970. The tops of the hills have been lopped off and paved over, with big box national retailers and franchise operations plopped down on the flattened hilltops. The two lane highway replaced with a freeway, the former grazing land replaced by housing developments and automobiles, with probably more square footage in the commercial areas devoted to cars than to either people or the actual store footprints. The industrial area just north of the arrow is a now defunct factory bakery where Wonder Bread was formerly produced, the large white roofed structure to the east, across the street is the local electric utility, and the row of buildings and parking lot just to the north of the old bakery are more big box stores, on former farmland. Ironically, if one were standing on the back side of the big box stores, that is the side opposite their entrances and parking lots, where the public will never venture, you would still have enough elevation to get a spectacular view of the “Chino/Pomona Valleys”, backed up by the San Gabriel Mountains. But residents or visitors of the neighborhood would never know it.

The megalopolis has sent out its tentacles and they have a stranglehold on my home town, nothing is stopping the inexorable march of “progress”, but is it really progress, or just a slow, inevitable death if not for all of humankind, death of a former quality of life? My wife and I might have one more big move in us, one more chance to try and escape the urban disaster zone and move “away” from it all, but those of you who will succeed us, have you thought about how you will cope in a world that is shaped and squeezed more and more by rampant unrestrained prolificacy of population, industry and commerce masquerading as progress?

Cross posted at The Sirens Chronicles.

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5 Responses to Progress Or Self Destructive Prolificacy?

  1. Stanley says:

    That photo is definitely from the late afternoon – early evening. The freeway still does not look like that between 0500 and 0600. The comment about engaging the entire population of Newark to drive the cars going through that stretch of road and still coming up 10,000 drivers short makes me suggest you simply recruit the 1970 Chino cow population to drive those vehicles. You will only be 2,000 cows short, (and they can blow their “horns” when other car driving cows don’t move fast enough).

    This “crowding” problem will/can only be solved when we “import” East Coast weather to Southern California. When we have the humidity and the rain and the snow and the ice and the general weather related clinical depression that they have back East we will see the “crowding” problem start to come undone. On that you have my personal guaranty.

  2. Big Fella says:

    Unfortunately the 1970 Chino cow contingent have all gone on to their rewards by now, besides they never learned how to drive.

  3. Stanley says:

    Now that I think about it you are right about the cows never learning to drive. In all those Western movies I grew up on they were always being “driven” to market. Just how many cows can you fit in a Lincoln Towncar anyway?

  4. Stanley says:

    I think this blog needs more photos by the BF like the one in this posting from 1970 Chino. Any more like that lying around on the shelf? This gentle nudge brought to you by the impatient masses yearning to live in the land of nostalgia.

  5. Big Fella says:

    Once we get a bit more mobile we will try to accommodate, Stanley, just hanging out on the ol’ adjustable bed for now…

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