Freeways: Life in the Fast Lane

A freeway interchange in Wyoming, Michigan (Photo by Michigan Department of Transportation via Wikimedia Commons)
A freeway interchange in Wyoming, Michigan (Photo by Michigan Department of Transportation via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1940, California opened its first freeway, the Arroyo Seco Parkway.

Here are some things you may not have known about freeways.

Around the world, controlled-access highways are known by many names, including freeways, motorways, expressways, autobahn and autostrada. What they have in common is traffic flow unhindered by intersections, traffic signals or driveways. They are accessed at interchanges by ramps that allow traffic to slow to street speeds. Opposing traffic is generally separated by a median or other barrier.

This allows for safer and faster travel over great distances.

The first limited-access roadway was New York’s Long Island Parkway which opened in 1908. It featured banked turns, guard rails and a reinforced concrete surface. In 1921, the first controlled-access highway in Europe opened in Berlin. It was also used as a racetrack until 1998.

In California, the Arroyo Seco Parkway runs between Los Angeles and Pasadena, a length of a little more than 8 miles. The original 3.7 miles opened on this date. The road is now part of California State Route 110, and was long called the Pasadena Freeway until reverting to its former name in 2010.

In the intervening 76 years, California has built almost 12,000 miles of freeway. That’s almost enough freeway to run from the North Pole to the South Pole.

The busiest freeway in the world is not located in California, or the United States for that matter. It’s Ontario Highway 401, which runs through Toronto. It is estimated that about a half-million cars travel the busiest section on some days.

Our question: The world’s widest freeway is located in Katy, Texas. How many lanes wide is it?

Today is Independence Day in Colombia, Friendship Day in Argentina, and Engineer’s Day in Costa Rica.

It’s unofficially International Chess Day, National Fortune Cookie Day and National Lollipop Day.

It’s the birthday of Alexander the Great, who was born in 356 BC; mountain climber Edmund Hillary, who was born in 1919; and actress Natalie Wood, who was born in 1938.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1991, the top song in the U.S. was “Unbelievable” by EMF.

The No. 1 movie was “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” while the novel “The Kitchen God’s Wife” by Amy Tan topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

What was the site of the last Confederate surrender to end the U.S. Civil War?


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