Is Bardstown Road Hurting?

Bardstown Road, which has been the cultural heart of Louisville for years, is hurting.

Crime, drug use, panhandling and poor traffic flow, among other ailments, are leading the decline of this vital corridor. That is not just me saying it. Neighborhood residents, small business owners and even the council member, Brandon Coan, from that district are saying it.

The Highland Commerce Guild recently held a public meeting with Mayor Greg Fischer, Metro Councilman Brandon Coan and metro police to discuss problems on Bardstown Road and in The Highlands and what can be done to solve them.

In a newsletter to constituents, Coan outlined his perception of the problem. “Bardstown Road is hurting,” his message began. He blamed the redirection of city money and energy to downtown revitalization and suburbs, increasing traffic, more litter, the disappearance of local and independent businesses and poor code enforcement, among other reasons, for this decline that began in the late 1990s.

There is no single solution for any of this, but Bardstown Road deserves new attention from the city, area residents and business.

Or, as Coan said, “The doomsday clock is ticking.”

Is it possible that things are not as bad as they seem? That we are comparing the Bardstown of today with a romanticized view of the Bardstown from the past?

Fischer and Metro police told attendees at the meeting that property and violent crime rates actually are down in the neighborhood.

However, one attendee said, “Crime can be going down and the corridor can be deteriorating at the same time,” according to a WDRB report.

Both are correct in this instance: There may be statistical improvements, but the neighborhood has been changing and not in the way many residents or businesses want. That is why it’s important for city leaders to listen closely to residents and small business owners.

The city faces a homelessness and panhandling problem beyond the boundaries of The Highlands. Several factors contribute to the problem, including a lack of affordable housing, the city clearing out encampments, the opioid drug epidemic and lack of resources treating people who have mental health problems. While these people can’t — nor should they be — ignored or pushed out of town, local businesses and residents are clearly stating that finding a way to help them needs to be a top priority because it’s really affecting their livelihoods.

The same goes for crime and drug use. Crime may be down, but if that’s not the perception, the negative impact on the community is still felt. This is possibly the most critical issue to any community: If patrons don’t feel safe walking, it changes the dynamic of the entire neighborhood. If there is a sense that the area is not as safe as it once was, suddenly, a poorly lit stretch of road becomes a barrier for anyone considering a walk to dinner or the park.

Similarly, the perception that Bardstown Road is unsafe for driving has horrible impacts on businesses that rely on street traffic and pedestrians. If there are too many cars going too fast on, what should otherwise be a more slow-paced thoroughfare, fewer drivers feel welcome to stop and parallel park and fewer pedestrians will brave crossing the street.

All of this is bad for local, independent businesses and the quality of life for residents.

City officials said traffic studies are being done to address the traffic issues and future of Bardstown Road. The entirety of our transportation infrastructure is in the early stages of a major disruption — ridesharing and self-driving cars are already changing the way we get around. Any studies need to address how to make the community more adaptive to change.

Chef and owner of The Fat Lamb Dallas McGarity told WDRB that he and other business owners aren’t waiting on the city for help. “If everyone tries to improve the area and make sure everything’s clean organized and looks beautiful, it’s going to get rid of some of the stipulation of it being a high-crime neighborhood.”

This is all they can do.

Unfortunately, the problems facing The Highlands — the real causes of residents’ and business’ concerns — are the responsibility of the city. Traffic, crime and sanitation are not for restaurant owners to solve.

As Fischer told the Commerce Guild, “If we are not doing it the right way, vote us out and get somebody else in there that can take a crack at it.”

Really, the question that most needs to be answered is: What kind of neighborhood should The Highlands be?

Will it regain its place as the cultural center of the community? Or will we have to drive down to NuLu for that?