Part of Pasadena Freeway opened 68 years ago

It's a birthday of sorts for part of the Pasadena Freeway. The stretch from Avenue 22 to Pasadena opened for traffic on this date in 1940. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde explains one of the freeway's great mysteries: why are those on-ramps so short and so scary?

Kitty Felde: The Arroyo Seco Parkway is called America's first freeway, but it was actually a hybrid – a cross between a road for leisure travel and the freeways we know today. The speed limit was an "astounding" 45 miles per hour.

Nicole Possert, founder of the group Scenic Arroyo Seco, says the American Society of Civil Engineers declared the parkway – and its off-ramps – a landmark.

Nicole Possert: The on-ramps and off-ramps were basically at the time of construction the most innovative sort of features of this engineering marvel. Those off-ramps and on-ramps really functioned because no one knew how to do that actually. It was a new type of road.

You didn't get on and not stop. At the beginning, they had instruction signs, they had markers at the bottom, flashing yellow lights to tell you when to go and that was sort of a test for what would then become what we see today and what people think of as a freeway.

Felde: Today on-ramps and off-ramps are a lot longer – and freeways are much less curvy. The Pasadena Freeway followed the twisting path of the Arroyo Seco riverbed – the same route used by native Angelenos long before Europeans or their automobiles arrived on the scene. The Pasadena Freeway's last leg – all the way to downtown L.A. – was finished in 1953.