This month and next, Metro Government will be completing work on the Lexington Road Safety Project — a repaving and redesign of the corridor between Grinstead Drive and Payne Street.
As stated in the city’s press release, the “new configuration is intended to improve traffic flow and reduce accidents as previously demonstrated by similar projects across Louisville.” Bike lanes will be added, and the project will improve drainage along the roadway, which neighbors Beargrass Creek and sits partially in a floodplain.
The colloquial term for a project like this is a “road diet.” It will look like this:
While a project like this is progress to a certain degree, it’s also a huge missed opportunity — one that falls short of the original goals of the plan and fails to keep pace with what’s being implemented throughout the country. With “progress” like this, we can simultaneously be moving forward and falling behind.
In 2015, Metro Government released a plan on the redesign of Lexington Road from Grinstead Drive to Baxter Avenue — roughly 1.8 miles. The vision for the corridor was “to develop a multi-modal, complete street, which is efficient, neighborhood friendly, and safe.”
Whether you support the project or not, it’s hard to argue that what is going on the road actually meets these goals. Is the new project “multi-modal” — meaning, does it make walking, biking, transit use, and driving easily accessible?
The answer, plainly, is no.
First off, there’s no accommodation for people on foot. None. Joggers, parents with strollers, people out for a shady, creekside walk — there’s no sidewalk and, thus, no way for them to use much of Lexington Road.
Second, there’s no TARC service along the route currently and no discussion of plans to change that.
Third, the new bike lanes won’t attract new riders. While nationally there’s an “8 to 80” movement to build bike facilities that all types of people can use (children, the middle-aged and elderly, casual weekend riders) what’s going in on Lexington Road will appeal only to experienced cyclists (the commuters and the Lycra clad speedsters). Considering that they’re curbside bike lanes, they will almost definitely be filled with debris (branches, broken glass, gravel), and because they’re so narrow, bikers will be riding in or close to the roadway to avoid these obstacles. I expect the bike lanes will only invite more bikelash, while doing little to improve bikeability.
Do the changes make the road more “neighborhood friendly”? Not in any way that I can tell. Do they improve safety? For cars, yes, but not for any other type of user. Do the changes make the corridor “more efficient”? The answer: yes. And here’s where we see that these improvements are auto-centric ones, with little benefit for anyone wanting to use this public space in any other way.
It’s telling that the text now posted on Metro Government’s Lexington Road page omits the “multi-modal, complete street” language of the original plan and replaces it with this list of “safety improvements”:
If there were any question about the purpose of this project, it can be found in the design of the middle, left-hand turning lane (bullet #2 above). The lane, which starts just east of the Girl Scouts entrance and goes all the way to Grinstead Drive, is nearly 2,000 feet long. To put that in perspective, that’s a turning lane roughly the same length as:
- Six football fields
- The length of the Big Four Bridge
- The distance from the Yum Center to the Louisville Slugger Museum
What’s maybe most astounding about this turning lane is that there’s no left-hand turn for drivers to make, until the traffic light at Grinstead. There can be only one reason for design like this: to move rush hour traffic as quickly as possible through this area.
So, to put it as simply as possible, what started as a “multi-modal, complete street” project ended as an exercise in traffic engineering efficiency.
And so it goes in Louisville. Safety improvements consider drivers only; project budgets the same. Until this changes, our auto-dependence will continue, promoting sprawl and making cheaper, greener transportation alternatives only harder to implement.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
These projects aren’t expensive to implement in the context of a $600 million city budget. It’s merely a matter of political will and prioritization that keeps them from becoming a reality. We have plan after plan — some specific, some general — calling for designing our roadways to be “multi-modal, complete streets,” and yet these ideas never seem to come to fruition. In the rare occasion that they do, as in Lexington Road, they are severely compromised, achieving almost none of the “completeness” they originally promised.
I invite you to contact your Metro Council member (using the map below) and Mayor Fischer’s Office to advocate for funding for these kinds of projects. Tell them you support allocating money in the annual Metro budget for these plans and seeing that their original ambitions make it to the roadway. Our city leaders need to know that we support real, progressive, ambitious change.