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For Pedestrians, Dixie Highway Fixes Can't Come Soon Enough

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David Smith was squeezed between morning rush-hour traffic on Dixie Highway and a rush of vehicles hurrying down a Watterson Expressway off ramp.

He was in a precarious place.

It was raining Tuesday, and Smith stood on a patch of trampled grass as he waited for a break in the fast-moving traffic. The perilous crossing was part of a miles-long walk from his Blanton Lane home to the Shively-Newman Library to scan job listings and check in with out-of-state family via Facebook.

Smith, 47, makes this walk frequently; he doesn't own a vehicle. He gets around by walking, riding a bike or hopping onto a bus.

The walk along Dixie is particularly difficult.

"It's kind of dangerous," Smith said.

Local leaders hope that will change in the near future. Large-scale improvements are being planned for Dixie Highway, ranging from better-synced traffic signals to improved sidewalks and crosswalks. The changes are intended to improve safety for motorists, cyclists and walkers — like Smith.
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On Tuesday, the spots where the sidewalks weren't crumbling were littered with trash, glass and busted car parts.

In other places, like near the Watterson off ramp, there is no sidewalk at all. There, pedestrians are forced to tromp through tall grass. To get across the highway, they must rely on instincts rather than a crosswalk.

Crossing Dixie Highway is the worst part of his walk, Smith said. He takes care to check all his surroundings before he crosses the street, "just like your parents told you."

"Cars come speeding," he said. "And they don't care."

Every day, Dixie Highway carries nearly 60,000 vehicles, according to information provided by Louisville Metro government. Kentucky State Police data show 60 vehicle-related deaths on Dixie Highway since 2005.

"It's not big enough for all the traffic that comes through here," Smith said.

The Louisville Metro Police Traffic Unit was unavailable Tuesday to comment on the safety issues on Dixie.

Announced this week, the planned improvements on Dixie Highway between the Gene Snyder Freeway and Broadway will be funded through a $16.9 million grant, plus $11.5 million from the state.

City leaders have lauded the plans and alluded to the road's reputation for danger. Mayor Greg Fischer noted that Dixie was "synonymous with traffic congestion, pedestrian deaths and vehicle accidents." In a news release Monday, Fischer said the planned improvements would address those dangers.

Metro Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3, said people who use Dixie know "it is time to make changes for safety and better mobility for the people in this vital area of Metro Louisville."

Smith largely agreed. Better sidewalks and crosswalks are essential, he said. He also advocates for a bicycle lane.

"All the way down Dixie that way you're in that lane and cars can by you and you're not in their way and vice versa," he said.

He's lived off Dixie Highway for a little longer than four years. He's slogged through snow in the winter and sweltering heat in the summer, walking along one of the city's busiest roads. Everything he needs — except the VA Hospital he visits every so often for an injured knee — is pretty close by.

He works at the Lowe's hardware store, shops at Kroger and passes time at the library. It didn't take long once he moved in to start believing the hype that Dixie Highway is a dangerous road.

Still, it has yet to keep him away.

"You just got to watch out for yourself," he said.

Now, with funds marked to modernize the road longtime residents still call "Dixie Die-Way," Smith said city leaders can't act soon enough to actually make the changes.

"Get the problems fixed as quick as possible," he said. "Just work for us. Get things done."

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.