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Will Louisville's Plans To Redesign Ninth Street Bridge The Divide?

The Louisville Metro Government has proposed to reconstruct Ninth Street spanning from the Ohio River to Broadway Avenue. The overall goal of this project is to make the commute between west Louisville and downtown safer and more attractive for pedestrians.
The Louisville Metro Government has proposed to reconstruct Ninth Street spanning from the Ohio River to Broadway Avenue. The overall goal of this project is to make the commute between west Louisville and downtown safer and more attractive for pedestrians.

Unlike most streets in downtown Louisville, Ninth Street has the feeling of a thoroughfare.

A wide green median spotted with trees and the occasional art piece divides six or more lanes of traffic. Some complain that drivers speed here, as they come off the ramp from I-64.

Now city officials are considering proposals for beautifying the street. They want to add parks, art and even space for food trucks. And they’ve got $180,000 in next year’s budget for engineering plans.

The proposals are forward-thinking. But will they help undo decades of strife caused by redlining and other longstanding barriers?

An overhaul of Ninth Street could improve the area for residents, said Gretchen Milliken, the director of advanced planning for Louisville Metro.

“We want to make sure that people feel welcome going either east or west across this corridor,” she said.

Standing on the median at the intersection of Ninth and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, she noted the speeding drivers who make pedestrians and bikers like her feel unsafe. She pointed out a family pushing a baby carriage across the street in the middle of a block, perhaps because the next crosswalk was too far.

The proposals detail measures that would slow down traffic and increase crossing times for pedestrians.

That could help those who head east for work or to shop. Milliken said those going the other way may soon have more places to visit as changes come to Russell and other western neighborhoods. Those areas have lacked sufficient investment for decades, but upcoming developments have grabbed headlines recently.

Supporters praise projects such as a rebuilt Beecher Terrace housing complex, a new track and field facility at Heritage West and the Passport Health headquarters at 18th and Broadway as drivers of economic development. Critics wonder how much good they will do for the neighborhoods.

“One project is not going to do it, but one project compiled with other projects that we’re working on will start to make a difference,” Milliken said of the Ninth Street plan.

For some who live and spend time along Ninth Street, upgrades to the area would be welcome.

Take Charles Pitteard, a resident at the Louisville Metropolitan Housing Authority high-rise that backs up to Ninth.

“It would be better,” he said. “I’d like to see it beautified before I pass away, and I’m 65 years old, who’s to say I’m gonna live to see tomorrow.”

Megan Hayes, a pedestrian in the area, said she is unemployed and homeless. She said she goes many places on foot, and likes to spend time reading in the Old Walnut Street Park on Ninth.

“It’s kind of dangerous crossing right here as it is right now, so to see something a little bit more pedestrian friendly -- ‘cause I walk everywhere in Louisville -- I think that would be good,” Hayes said.

Her boyfriend Tay Rankin said the intersection of Muhammad Ali and Ninth is his favorite spot. People in the area are nice and he likes the median, with its large trees and lush grass, the way it is. If the street becomes fancier, he may need to find another place to hang out.

Rankin said he’d like to see the city invest the resources it's putting into Ninth Street another way: in abandoned homes.

“There’s a whole lot of abandoned places,” he said. “And I think they should renovate them out instead of, you know, putting all their money into spots that really don’t even need it.”

Cathy Hinko, executive director of the nonprofit Metropolitan Housing Coalition, said Ninth Street is a symbol of Louisville’s racist past. Redoing it may be an improvement, but she questioned whether it will be enough to reconnect west Louisville to downtown.

“This is better than ignoring it,” she said. “It’s a festering wound, the way Ninth Street looks now.”

She would like to see the ramp off of I-64 moved so that high-speed traffic doesn’t empty onto the road that separates West Louisville from the rest of the city. That’s a change Milliken said is not feasible anytime soon.

Hinko acknowledged the city’s effort to improve Ninth Street.

“They have done a lot of outreach and they’ve done a lot of creative thought, but they’re building on something that really is untenable as a symbol of racial isolation,” Hinko said.

While that may not be the current administration’s fault, she said she isn’t sure the proposals do enough to bridge the Ninth Street divide.

The city is collecting public feedback online and in a series of public meetings through the month of July. The next event is an open house at the Urban League offices at 1535 West Broadway on July 10 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.