This is the first in a series of articles written for Insider Louisville focusing on Louisville’s street design. Written by Bicycling for Louisville’s Executive Director Chris Glasser, the “Streets for People” series will be published with the goal of encouraging a (polite and civil) online discussion of these topics.
In Louisville, it’s easy to drive just about anywhere. I live in the inner Highlands, and a car ride downtown takes 5 minutes, to my mom’s house (near the zoo) 10 minutes, to my in-laws’ (Norton Commons) 20 minutes, and to the far reaches of the county (Jefferson Memorial Forest) 30 minutes.
This is a problem. And it’s one we as a city need to talk about.
It’s so easy to get around Louisville in a car that we’ve sacrificed our ability to travel in any other way: transit, biking, and walking are not even options for most people in most areas.
One-way streets, traffic signals timed to 35 mph, abundant surface parking lots, and arterial intersections where there’s nary a traffic jam. These design choices compromise our city’s ability to do what great cities do best: bring people together. They undermine walkability by making the public space of the street inviting only to cars. Instead, I’d like to see us design streets for people.
What we’ve gained in efficient traffic flow and easy access to parking, we’ve lost in places actually worth arriving at. In a town where we have (a) bad public health, (b) poor air quality, (c) an urban heat island problem, and (d) dilapidated urban infrastructure, we’re incentivizing driving in a way that only exacerbates each of these problems.
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.) Continue reading “On Waterfront Park and Ensuring Access for Everyone”
News broke tonight, after weeks of speculation, that the Board of the Waterfront Development Corporation (WDC) approved a plan to charge $3 for parking at Waterfront Park five days per week (Wednesday – Sunday).
Despite the 6-3 vote by the board, it seems nearly everyone in the public sphere opposes this change — Mayor Fischer, Metro Council (Bill Hollander and Barbara Sexton-Smith, in particular), and “hundreds” of Louisvillians, according to an Insider Louisville article leading up to the vote.
Fischer wrote a letter to the WDC Board Tuesday saying, “This park is our community living room, a gathering place for all Louisvillians. I do not support creating an unnecessary impediment to access.” Hollander, probably the most outspoken critic of the plan, tweeted, “[Waterfront Park] should be accessible to everyone, every day – not just Monday & Tuesday.”
In the hours since the news has come out, both Hollander and Sexton-Smith have issued statements of disapproval. Sexton-Smith wrote: “This is disgraceful. … This decision will promote segregation at a time when we must all do everything we can to bring everyone together. … We must not balance the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it. … Keep Our Waterfront Park Free!”
Social media comments echoed/furthered these sentiments. One user referred to the plan as a “money grab,” another said the park’s board should be disbanded, and another suggested legal action against the park.
Considering all this — the nearly universal, bipartisan, community-wide opposition to this plan — we’d like to weigh in with an unpopular, contrary opinion. Here goes:
First off, the site was terrific, one of a kind — certainly within Louisville, but also nationally.
Broken Sidewalkwas 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.