On Waterfront Park and Ensuring Access for Everyone

In our first piece on the new planned parking charge at Waterfront Park, we attempted to make the argument that:

a) a parking fee is not the same as an access fee,
b) parking does come with a cost, and
c) providing free parking incentivizes driving — a practice that is costly (both for cities and individuals), bad for our air quality, and bad for our health

As a commenter to the article pointed out, “When accessibility equates to free parking … this is a clear indicator that the public discourse is dominated by a car-centric mentality.” Agreed. 100%.

To chalk the debate up to “car-centrism,” though, only gets at part of the issue. The central argument against the parking fee at Waterfront Park hinges on access — particularly the burden a fee would place on poorer families. Yes, there is an assumption that people will be arriving by car, but given Louisville’s current dependence on the automobile, that’s probably a fair assumption. So, let’s consider the issue of ensuring access for all, while also looking for ways to lower the necessity of arriving by car.

Why Access is Important
As is well-understood at this point, Louisville is a segregated city — poor, urban, and black in the West End; rich, suburban, and white to the East. (To say nothing of the rural, poorer populations at the southern edges of the county or the overlooked, incredibly diverse, largely immigrant population of South Louisville.)

While we’re having this public debate about free parking at Waterfront Park, there is another community conversation happening about park access — one that centers around the Castleman statue in Cherokee Triangle. John B. Castleman, as the Commissioner of the Parks board, famously worked to keep the city’s parks segregated in the late 1800s and early 1900s — creating, for example, Chickasaw Park for blacks and Shawnee Park for whites.

In thinking about the debate about Castleman and the statue honoring him, it’s worth recognizing that the de jure segregation and discrimination of the past has had a hand in creating the de facto segregation and economic inequality of today. Put another way: the very things that are objectionable about his legacy are connected to the issues of access we face today — whether it’s in schooling, economic opportunity, or parks.

So, yes, just to be clear: one of Waterfront Park’s great gifts is its diversity — it sticks out as the one place in the city that every “kind” of person can (and does) come to. Walking across the Big Four Bridge is to get a taste of everything Louisville is, all the different types of Louisvillians there are. That diversity is beautiful and unique and (considering our current political climate) important. And anything that compromises it should be taken seriously.

Some Solutions
We’d like to lay-out some solutions (both immediate and long-term) that we think could address both the question of access and the problem of car dependency.

Immediate
1) Extend the Cultural Pass to Include Waterfront Park
In the last two years, the city has given away a Cultural Pass to children under the age of 21. Up until this point, the pass has been a way to promote community engagement and the arts and to prevent summer learning loss, which disproportionately affects poorer children. Moving forward, pass holders could be given free parking for their families at Waterfront Park.

2) Traffic Control at Witherspoon at the Big Four Bridge
For most special events, there is police traffic control at the intersection of Witherspoon and River Road near the Big Four Bridge — an acknowledgement that this area is too dangerous for people to cross on their own. This intersection needs a permanent traffic control solution — a traffic light or a simple pedestrian crossing signal. Installing a device here would calm traffic and make it safer for people on foot and bike to cross the street — thereby promoting these healthier options and giving people who don’t want to pay the parking fee a safe way to easily access the park.

3) Add Bike Share Stations to Waterfront Park
There are currently no bike share stations in Waterfront Park, even though it’s one of the most popular destinations for users. Adding bike share stations throughout the park, particularly on both sides of the Big Four Bridge, would improve accessibility for people in downtown who don’t have a car. Currently, this may only service tourists, but as urban housing development continues (with the help of Metro’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund), bike share will become a more viable tool for Louisvillians looking to get around day-to-day.

Long-Term
1) Redesign River Road
The Move Louisville plan calls for this as one of its 16 priority projects. The plans suggests ”reconfiguring the existing portions of River Road from end to end to improve safety for motorists and better accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists.” These changes would allow “the street to be safe and provides better access to waterfront amenities including the Big 4 Bridge and Waterfront Park.” Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

2) Design Bike Infrastructure for Everyone
As a city, we need to stop designing our bike facilities for experienced cyclists and should instead be designing them for everyone, aged 8 to 80. Riding a bike should be as comfortable and safe as walking down the sidewalk. Cities all across America are investing in these kinds of facilities in their urban areas; Louisville should be too. A two-way protected bike route running east-west through downtown (Jefferson Street? Market Street?) would do wonders for non-automobile accessibility to the park.

3) Improve Other Urban Metro Parks
Finally, the goal shouldn’t simply be to provide people easy access to Waterfront Park; the goal should also be to give them easy access to high quality parks in their neighborhoods. Families love the waterpark at the base of the Big Four Bridge. The city should do more to build water features like this throughout the city — what Metro Parks calls a “modern sprayground.” This map shows the “water parks” throughout the city. The traditional spraygrounds at Boone Park, Tyler Park, and Central Park, among others, should be updated.

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