A Chance To Connect The City

More road construction and downtown traffic jams are not usually things to be excited about, but a $140 million redevelopment of Broadway could be worth the headache.

Overhauling Broadway is major piece of the city’s Move Louisville plan, a 20-year, $1.4 billion effort to rebuild the city’s transportation infrastructure. The redesign of Broadway will cover the entirety of its six miles from Shawnee Park to Baxter Avenue.

If done correctly, this project could be a transformative community project.

If done properly, a reimagined Broadway could tear down the Ninth Street divide more than any other single investment made so far.

But, the city has to get it right.

What’s at stake?

You don’t have to live near Broadway or use it regularly to recognize its flaws: It is a sprawling, barren streetscape. Instead of towers, shops and communal spaces, the Broadway of today is one of chain restaurants, empty buildings and payday loan and pawn shops. Certainly, there are sections with small businesses not set behind parking lots, but those are far too rare.

Broadway is persistently congested, especially at choke points (such as Second Street), making it a dangerous thoroughfare at the same time that it is indispensable for getting people in and out of the city.

Yet, this downtrodden road has remarkable potential.

Broadway connects 10 residential neighborhoods, multiple business districts, parks, schools, libraries, churches and public services. No other stretch of road has the makings for transformative impact in the community than does Broadway.

Here are points the city must address:

Safety first. Broadway is dangerous for everyone — motorists, pedestrians, bus users, bikers and so on. There are too many lanes, sporadic turns and ignored rush hour parking rules. In spots, the vastness of seven lanes hampers lighting and visibility. This chaos needs order.

The best way to improve safety is to reduce the number of passenger vehicles.

So, the first priority needs to be a mass transit system. I don’t know if this means light rail, trolleys, articulated buses assigned to dedicated lanes… or Disney’s Skyliner gondolas, but there needs to be fast, easy and safe public transit running its length. And not the buses we have now.

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The goal is to bring workers closer to their jobs, patrons to shops and restaurants and residents to their parks, libraries and businesses.

Second, this transit system should be free to students and low-income families. There are resources and public amenities that need to be accessible to the community: Nia Center for economic empowerment (29th Street), the new YMCA opening next month (17th Street), Jefferson Community and Technical College (Second Street), Shawnee Library (39th Street).

Kids should be able to hop on a rail car, for instance, and safely travel from Smoketown to Shawnee, or hop off at 30th Street and run a few blocks north to the Louisville Urban League Sports and Learning Complex.

This six-mile stretch must be as green as possible. Of course this means planting more trees, and not just those poor specimens implanted in sidewalks. They will help improve air quality and cut sewer flow and flooding.

Additionally, a greener Broadway means creating — and enforcing — a strict city code that forbids parking lots in front of businesses on Broadway. This was the issue that doomed the Walmart project. Create cityscape, not suburban sprawl.

I’m optimistic the city is going to get it right.

The city recently awarded a $450,000 bid to design firm Gresham Smith to develop the master plan for Broadway. The Courier Journal reported that the city has set aside that money in its general fund.

It would be easy to criticize the city for such extravagant spending, particularly when pension costs have forced cutbacks across the city and coming budgets could be worse.

And, Gresham Smith isn’t even from Louisville. It is out of Nashville!

Yet, for a project of this size and significance, the city needs to spend for the best results. (It’s only 0.3% of the total project budget.)

In its announcement, Gresham includes plans for “smart transit stops based on real-time information, ecological design that improves air quality and reduces the heat island effect and public art installations that create a sense of place.”

“The finished master plan’s cutting-edge design strategies will enable the City of Louisville to compete on a national stage for federal funding to implement the improvement projects,” Gresham points out… so, paying for the best plan is a major investment in Broadway’s future.

More than any bridge or tunnel, this is a road project to get excited about.

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