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'Move Louisville' Plan Outlines Major Shifts For Transit, City Streets

After long delays, Louisville Metro government's long-range transportation plan has been unveiled.

The plan could change the way city leaders consider transit and urban design well into the future.

Mayor Greg Fischer presented the plan -- called Move Louisville -- to a crowd in the lobby of the Frazier History Museum Thursday morning.

The plan has been in the works for several years and is being released nearly two years behind schedule. But in interviews on Wednesday, those who helped shape the plan -- including Metro Director of Advanced Planning Gretchen Milliken, Deputy Director of Advanced Planning Jeff O'Brien and other city officials -- said they are confident it could shape a multi-modal transportation infrastructure in Louisville for the coming decades.

Its success would also hinge on residents' reception to the ideas, they said.

The 20-year Move Louisville plan includes proposals for 16 projects and various maintenance and upgrades. It calls for a shift in how people move around the city -- in short, fewer cars and more bikes, sidewalks and buses.

Encouraging that change is ideal for economic growth, as well as health and safety of residents, Milliken said.

"It's quality of life," she said.

The Projects

The projects city planners prescribe range from painting crosswalks to completely making over major thoroughfares.

For transit, efforts would focus on heavily traveled corridors like Dixie Highway, Preston Highway and Broadway.

O'Brien said the city would begin looking beyond buses and consider more fixed transit options like Bus Rapid Transit and even streetcars.

Dixie Highway is already slated for improvements to encourage more rapid transit options thanks to a $16 million federal grant.

Preston Highway is a top candidate for similar transit service, O'Brien said. Existing neighborhoods and businesses along the Preston corridor give it the characteristics planners want for sustainable and successful transit plans, Milliken said.

Main Street is also a candidate for advanced transit service.

O'Brien said much of the public concern gathered during development of the plan centered on lackluster transit service from west to east or vice versa.

Revamping Broadway from Shawnee Park to Baxter Avenue to make more space for bikes, buses and pedestrians could address that issue, he said.

Ninth Street in downtown gets reimagined in the Move Louisville plan, too.

The street is seen as a physical and economicbarrier between the city's more affluent east side and its economically depressed west side, and is noted for its scant pedestrian access.

Planners propose narrowing the road to just two vehicle lanes in the blocks leading up to the Interstate 64 on-ramp. Such a move could provide more space for bike lanes, green space and pedestrians.

Converting one-way streets is also a priority in the plan. Milliken said these changes may be the first tangible evidence of the plan taking hold. Some streets in select areas of downtown are already being considered for conversion.

Continuing with a plan to redesign Lexington Road from Grinstead Avenue toward downtown is also a priority. O'Brien touted this area as a "key economic corridor."

He said many areas in western Louisville have desired skeletal traits for developing a strong transportation model. The infrastructure in the area, however, needs an overhaul. Carrying out such improvements could depend on the advancement of projects like the West Louisville FoodPort and the planned revitalization of Russell and the Beecher Terrace housing project.

Long-heralded plans are also included in the plan, like expanding River Road westward and completing the Louisville Loop -- a planned 100-mile loop designed for cycling but with sections safe for pedestrians.

Planners also anticipate a development boom in areas surrounding Floyd's Fork along Urton Lane and Oxmoor Farms, and the plan looks to establish infrastructure in those areas accessible to all modes of transportation, O'Brien said.

The Policies

Seeing the projects in the Move Louisville plan carried out depends on certain policy shifts. Major changes in how the city budgets for transportation will be required, O'Brien said.

City legislators and Mayor Fischer currently spend about $14 million each year on transportation needs. An annual transportation budget increase of about 80 percent is recommended by city planners in Move Louisville.

They also call for more spending to repair existing roads, bridges and sidewalks, and less on building new infrastructure, O'Brien said.

A key goal of the plan is to increase inward migration. O'Brien wants more residents to move closer to downtown or other neighborhoods near job-centers and economic corridors. When living space intertwines with retail and amenities, it reduces the need for car transportation and increases public transit usage, as well as cycling and walking.

O'Brien said the city's outward growth is projected to continue, which can hurt in-fill efforts.

The goal is to see 10 percent more people living with 20 minutes of their job or school in the next two decades, O'Brien said. The city's average commute time is about 22 minutes, he said.

By shortening commutes, city planners are hoping to cut the daily number of vehicle miles traveled in Louisville.

That can be a tough task in a city dominated by the automobile, planners said.

Every day, vehicles in Louisville account for about 19 million traveled miles, O'Brien said. A 500,000-mile daily drop could result in a noticeable difference on city streets, he said.

About 82 percent of Louisville residents commute alone in a car, according to U.S. Census data compiled by Move Louisville planners. That's higher than the national commuting rate, which also includes rural areas.

Fewer than 3 percent of Louisville residents take the bus and even fewer walk, according to the plan.

What's Next

A 60-day public input period will begin once the plan is released, Milliken said.

Planners will consider the recommendations submitted and make changes as they see fit. The plan will then be presented for adoption in the city's forthcoming Comprehensive Plan, which will guide all development efforts for the coming decades.

Milliken said some projects outlined in the plan are already in the works, like the improvements for Dixie Highway and the conversion of some one-way streets to two-way.

Other, more substantial projects will take time and funding commitments. Milliken said she hesitates to prioritize one project over the other. She said ongoing developments could influence which are first to get the go-ahead.

Milliken said city leaders recognizes the challenges, but she stressed that the concepts and projects in the plan are necessary for the future vitality of Louisville.

"We want to push the needle," she said. "We want to be one of those cities that people want to live in."

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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