First off, the site was terrific, one of a kind — certainly within Louisville, but also nationally.
Broken Sidewalk was always a smart read, but in a way that was accessible. Branden’s writing was thorough, intelligent, fair, confident. It was occasionally light-hearted (as in this 2010 story about Slugger Field’s history as a potato shipping ground), always well-researched. It oozed cautious optimism, maybe a little wariness.
We were lucky to have it as part of our city and community conversation. National blogs would regularly pick up Branden’s writings. When Bicycling magazine rated Louisville a Top 50 bike-friendly city in the US in 2016, it listed Broken Sidewalk as a reason and summed up the genius of BS in three tidy sentences:
Louisville’s Broken Sidewalk blog is perhaps the nation’s best local outlet chronicling a city’s urban transformation. The site’s clean design and enlightening content regularly features posts from some of the country’s top thinkers on utilitarian cycling. Every city that wants to improve biking needs an online publication this good.
Branden’s editorial decisions were the most interesting part of the site. Things you wouldn’t see covered anywhere else, he would discuss in detail. When the city’s bike/ped department started its “Look Alive Louisville” campaign, for example, he wrote a multi-part series on pedestrian safety in the city. When LMPD started handing out warning tickets to children jaywalking and teaching them to “walk defensively”, Branden published this article that laid out a list of reasons why this was an incredibly bad idea:
While educating children in proper street safety is certainly important, the underlying message that we should raise our children to “walk defensively” on Louisville streets misses the mark. On the surface, it appears to condone Louisville’s unsafe streets and place responsibility for dealing with it on the shoulders of bikers and pedestrians. Additionally, on our city’s dangerous streets, sometimes the safest place to cross the street is actually in the middle of a block, not at a crosswalk where multiple chaotic turning motions of motorists can end up being more dangerous—which could be termed jaywalking. What’s worse, this approach could end up teaching some Louisville pedestrians that our streets are unsafe and they’re better off driving in a car to avoid the risk. And as we have already explored in depth, jaywalking to begin with was originally a campaign begun by car manufacturers to stigmatize walking and get people off the street to make them easier to drive cars on.
BS knew of Louisville’s past missteps but hoped for a better future. It knew that future was within our grasp and celebrated every modest step toward it. It loved our city’s neighborhoods and alleyways and architecture and history, most especially the downtown of a Louisville that no longer exists. It knew our city’s nooks and crannies — and of past nooks and crannies that had been obliterated by interstates and parking lots.
There were so many beautiful maps on the site — some historic, some that Branden made himself. They were all amazing, all telling their own amazing story — like this one of Miles Park at the old fairgrounds from an article on Louisville’s “lost race tracks”.
There were so many great old images from a city we didn’t know existed, a version of Louisville that had come and gone before our time. Reading Broken Sidewalk was to sometimes feel as though you were time-travelling, with Branden sending you postcards from a different world. This one of 4th Street is an urbanist’s heartbreak, with Branden’s caption both educating and chastening a city that destroyed such a beautiful streetscape:
In the weeks and years and decades ahead, we will miss Branden’s insights and wisdom. Broken Sidewalk is an incredible legacy to leave behind. It was both a lens through which to view our city and an invitation into someone else’s mind. Thanks to Branden for having the generosity and amazing skill to share these two gifts with us. What an incredible, sustained work of art.