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Why Bike Infrastructure Matters For Louisville

A dozen cyclists huddled around a cache of bagels and coffee just after 8 a.m. Friday.

The crew looked like they were fueling up for a morning ride through the city. Instead, they'd just wrapped up their morning commute for the annual Bike to Work Day.

Under one neon helmet was Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. He rolled on to Fourth Street with a group that gathered near Seneca Park. He doesn't usually commute by bike, but Fischer said ensuring that others are able to is key to the city's future growth.

"Younger professionals tell us this is one of the most important things for them," he said.

Fischer said if Louisville wants to become a beacon for young, talented workers to fill the thousands of open jobs in the city, expanding bicycle infrastructure needs to be a priority.

He said bike lanes need to be considered for roads slated for resurfacing. And he touted the growth of bike routes that avoid major thoroughfares and instead take riders through neighborhoods. These routes can be safer, quieter and more inviting for less-experienced bike riders, he said.

"That's really the funnest way to ride," said Fischer.

The surge of apartments being constructed near the city's central business district helps fuel the residential density needed to get some people closer to jobs and make it more suitable to take a bike or bus or walk in lieu of commuting by vehicle, he said.

Louisville boasts one of the nation's highest rates (82 percent) of residents who commute alone in a vehicle, according to the U.S. Census. The national rate of solo vehicle commuters is about 76 percent.

A priority in the city's recently released Move Louisville Plan is to reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled across the city. One way to do that, the plan outlines, is to invest in bicycle infrastructure.

Fischer has allotted funding for such infrastructure in previous budgets. Next week, he'll propose his budget for the next fiscal year.

Councilman Bill Hollander, a Democrat representing District 9 and chair of the council's majority caucus, said demand is growing in Louisville for better sidewalks, better bike lanes and better bus service.

And while council members are calling for more money to repair roads, Hollander said the demands from constituents, specifically younger residents, can't be ignored.

"How do we keep young people in the community?" he asked. "We need to start listening to young people. And one of the things they're telling us is they want to have multi-modal transportation, including good bicycle networks."

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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