The random lane openings and closings on Jefferson Street in downtown Louisville during bridge construction aged me about three years — solid years my face, adrenal system and I will never get back. There is no doubt video exists of me having a “South Park” Cartman-style expletive fit when I spied the Jefferson Street lanes at the Wayside intersection were totally closed. Which forced me onto a perpendicular street, which forced me to East Market Street, which forced me to East Main Street when East Market Street becomes one-way around The Connection, which was fine until Aloft hotel construction and/or the fire at the Whiskey Row facades, which then turned downtown into Dante’s 10th Circle of Traffic Hell (the other circles having been occupied by Gov. Matt Bevin).
“Don’t go downtown!” you say. Ah, if only it were that simple.
Alas, the center of my work is there, as are many activities I enjoy. Gratefully, though, the activities aren’t during rush hour, although court and filing deadlines are. Truly, woe is me. Thus, for the last year, if not longer, I have tried every alternate route into downtown that has: (1) the fewest slow drivers; (2) the fewest drivers from Indiana; (3) the fewest cyclists; and or (4) the least amount of construction. Nos. 1 and 2 are as unavoidable as are dads speeding in minivans as if they were sports cars in attempts to regain their masculinity. No. 3 is not prevalent enough to devote entire lanes to them. So much for my quest is to avoid construction traffic like the bubonic plague.
I ran into Jeanne Hilt, marketing communication and events manager at Louisville Downtown Partnership, at a Network of Entrepreneurial Women meeting. She giggled when I delivered my rant about traffic last year and said, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, ba’ ba’ ba’ baby.” OK, she didn’t really sing that, but that was the gist, and we promised to talk more about how the city planned to manage traffic and all the new construction downtown. Good news first or bad news first?
The good news is the city will try to have the streets as open as they can be during the morning and afternoon peaks, and once most of the projects are up and running, the closures will be consistent, unlike the bridges project, according to Rebecca Matheny, executive director of the Louisville Downtown Partnership. The bad news is, she said, “People will start seeing inconvenience at times of days they don’t anticipate delay.”
Louisville: gird your traffic loins. Preset your car radio to ArtxFM and Louisville public radio, and download LEO’s podcasts to your devices, because shit is about to get real. And Waze up, too, as apparently anytime Metro approves a closure or permit, it immediately feeds into this traffic-and-navigation app.
Matheny said there are 22 new construction projects (including bridges) under way that represent a $1.5 billion investment in Louisville. There is a combination of things wrapping up and things that are starting, Matheny said, citing the mix of hotel, residential and large civic projects going up downtown. I asked Matheny what the city is doing to mitigate our commute stress, notify us in advance of road closures and lane changes, offer us alternate routes or — wait for it — provide more-modern transportation modes.
The partnership is working with Metro Public Works to develop an underlying mapping system to include all public rights of ways and traffic signals. Others involved include the police and the Transit Authority of River City, or TARC.
Additionally, Matheny said, partnership will work with developers to determine their “fine-grained” plan details and utility needs, as part of a holistic approach to help us navigate downtown as safely and effectively as possible in the midst of this building boom.
While the city is looking at best practices to alleviate traffic congestion during construction booms, Matheny said, “In terms of changes to the grid, the only thing I think could help that we could implement in the short term is two-way street conversion. It would be enormously helpful,” she said. “A lot of our biggest challenges include bottlenecks from one way street closures. There is nowhere to go.”
But up? Yes, elevated rail: I am looking at you. In the interim, take solace in the fact that while you may be trapped by your downtown ingress and egress, so are 70,000 other commuters.
I think I’ll tint my windows to ensure you don’t catch my Cartman impressions. Goddamnit.