When context is troublesome, can we just ignore it?
“In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward–mobile and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: Not necessarily to win, but mainly to keep from losing completely. We owe that to ourselves and our crippled self–image as something better than a nation of panicked sheep.”
—Hunter S. Thompson,
“The Great Shark Hunt”
The man is wearing work boots and jeans, with two feet planted before a car-sized color-coded map of downtown Louisville, staring intently while being swallowed by the high ceilings of the conference room at the Kentucky Convention Center. Streams of bright yellow and red cut through the depressed greens of trees, grays of streets and mud-brown of the Ohio River, offering a sense of weird urgency to a complicated, mildly confusing picture.
Like most before and after him, he asks simple, self-absorbed questions of the man from the state department of transportation: If I’m coming from here, how do I get there? Can I use this exit? How long is this going to last?
The answers can be confusing and vague. At last month’s open house for the Restore 64 project, it was clear to everyone that closing the riverfront stretch of I-64 to make major repairs for a few rogue weekends, and then an entire, uninterrupted month, is going to cause some disruption. Perhaps major confusion and hours-long, big-city traffic jams. The plan to account for this remains somewhat open to interpretation: Give drivers a minimalist structure and let them figure it out on their own, “over the watercooler,” as project planners are apt to say. Every Tuesday, planners will meet with the construction team to evaluate how things went and plan changes. None so far.
By all accounts, the first weekend of closures — last weekend — went smoother than most anticipated. There were no major snarls, traffic still moved (albeit slower), business owners didn’t take the hit they thought they might, and the Irish Fest, a city event on the Belvedere, seemed to feel nothing of the closed expressway in front of it.
Good for everyone? Not quite.
Some players who swing big bats around here have been drooling at the chance to make the disingenuous, factually inappropriate comparison between Restore 64 and 8664, the alternative plan to the Ohio River Bridges Project that calls for the removal of a riverfront stretch of I-64. Because a study proving 8664 would not work does not exist (despite ornery claims to the contrary, requests for such a study have never been fulfilled), the anti-8664 crowd figures closing the riverfront stretch for repairs will give Louisville a chance to see the concept in action.
This is a deliberate attempt to mislead and misinform the community. Fan or foe of 8664, it is a wildly irresponsible misuse of fact and abuse of context. Sadly, the editorial board of The Courier-Journal — the city’s lone paper of record — is perpetrating it with gusto.
How can a major city event be at once unobtrusive and totally disruptive? This is neither proverb nor riddle.
Rather, it is the bullshit logic of The C-J’s Sunday editorial, which ignored completely the story on the front page of the same day’s edition. That story painted the Restore 64 turd in bright reds and yellows. Reporters quoted commuters who’d had no trouble, or who simply altered their routes, and shockingly the river didn’t swallow them whole. The headline said “hassle-free.” Mind you, this was one of those rogue weekends, not workdays for most of us.
Meanwhile, rabid anti-8664 dogma was getting the best of the paper’s vaunted editorial board. “Anybody who can get away should,” they wrote. “Put those flowers back in your hair and groove on out to San Francisco. The rest of us are going to have to figure out how to omm our way through what promises to be a seriously stressed-out traffic bummer of a summer.”
They wrapped the fear-mongering in 8664 and buried it in a crippled metaphor about the Summer of Love. Here are some conveniently ignored facts:
• At its peak, Restore 64 will close a stretch of I-64 between Third and 22nd streets; 8664 would remove the highway from Spaghetti Junction to around 19th Street
• Restore 64 offers two exit points, one at each of its street barriers. Importantly, it does not replace the closed I-64. Conversely, 8664 would create a four-lane boulevard along the riverfront to replace the highway. According to 8664, between 120,000 and 160,000 cars would use this boulevard every day. During Restore 64, the downtown street grid absorbs all those cars
• Perhaps most diabolical of this comparison is the lack of mention of the East End bridge, an essential 8664 component that would divert through-traffic to a bypass in Southern Indiana, currently I-265. Obviously, Restore 64 lacks the benefit of an East End bridge.
Painfully, The C-J prefers its own strikingly brash version of pseudo reality, appearing to be so overtaken by its hard-on for 8664 that it cannot muster contradictory facts.
Shawn Dikes, the Restore 64 project manager, said in an interview Monday that the comparison doesn’t work. “From a lay person standpoint, I could see where they would say hey, this is a test, and to some degree I can see where they’re coming from,” he began. “But as someone who’s knowledgeable about it,
are still apples to oranges.”
A group of Restore 64 planners who presented LEO editors with the project plans several months ago said the same: apples to oranges.
J.C. Stites, one of the 8664 storekeepers, has grown accustomed to The C-J’s bizarre attacks, which have come regularly over the past year.
“We hope Restore 64 gives this community an opportunity to evaluate the necessity of a roadway that was clearly an urban planning mistake,” he wrote via e-mail. “The East End bridge can be completed in six or so years, so let’s start thinking about all the cool things we can do on our Waterfront.”
David Hawpe, The C-J’s editorial director, said in an interview Tuesday that he didn’t think the editorial made a “precise analogy” between Restore 64 and 8664, saying that the two plans “are not exactly analogous.”
However, it could easily be inferred that the editorial intended to make just such a comparison. As such, shouldn’t there be some attempt to point out the differences between the two?
“No, I don’t think, given the kind of editorial that we wrote, clearly it wasn’t an editorial that was attempting to draw a precise analogy,” he said. “Therefore, I don’t think it was necessary to point out ways in which the two plans differ.”
Here is the last paragraph of the editorial: “It could be worse. Remember, at least you’re not one of the salesman for ‘8664,’ who are stuck with explaining why their plan to tear down this same stretch of I-64 for good and live this way forever is the path to blissful urban enlightenment. Sing along with ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’ Smile.”
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