By Chris Glasser
This coming year, Metro Government has allocated about $4 million, while leveraging more than $12 million in grants, to a collection of projects that will (or have the potential to) reshape city streets into more walkable, bikeable and neighborhood-friendly corridors.
The majority of these funds are for implementing multimodal projects such as the reconstructing East Market Street in NuLu, extending the Louisville Loop, and building more bike lanes. A smaller piece of that sum is for planning for projects that could take shape in the years ahead.
When considering an allocation like this, the first question is often: Is that a lot of money? The answer, of course, is that it depends on your perspective.
The city budget: An overview
On Tuesday, Metro Council approved the amended city budget for fiscal year 2019 (July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019). The operating budget for FY19 is set at $752 million, with a capital projects budget of $121 million, for a total of $874 million overall.
While operating expenses account for nearly 90 percent of the city’s annual budget, it is the allocations in the capital projects budget that are often the most contentious and cause for negotiations among Metro Council members as they consider and amend the budget. This year’s budget process proved no different.
Last Thursday, Bill Hollander, chairman of the budget committee, released this statement highlighting some of the notable amendments his committee had made to the budget Mayor Greg Fischer proposed in April. Most of the changes were to the capital projects budget.
In layman’s terms, capital projects are ones that acquire, create or improve city assets — libraries, roads, parks, sidewalks, government offices, jails, police vehicles, fire trucks, etc. For instance, Mayor Fischer’s original budget called for $2 million in funding for relocating the city’s vehicle impoundment lot. The Budget Committee’s amended budget reduced that amount to $1 million.
Of Louisville’s capital projects budget for FY19, the allotment to Public Works, the city’s engineering department, is the largest, comprising roughly 33 percent ($41 million) of the overall capital projects budget.
The allocation for Develop Louisville, the planning department of Metro Government, is the second largest, comprising 28 percent ($34 million).
The single biggest allocation to Public Works is for street repaving ($18 million), while the largest allocation to Develop Louisville is in affordable housing ($12 million).
Multimodal: Five important projects ahead
It is from this funding to the planning and engineering departments that projects for complete streets take shape. Roughly speaking, Develop Louisville plans the projects that Public Works designs and implements.
By my analysis, there are 15 projects in the FY19 capital projects budget that look to make the city transportation network more multimodal — accounting for a total of $16 million in funding.
Based off the list above, here are the five most important projects in the FY19 budget that look to move Louisville beyond simply moving cars:
Once thought dead by all the parties involved, the city budget allocates $1 million in bonding to match $6.5 million in federal funds for this project. The redesign of East Market will run from First Street to Baxter Ave, “transforming the area into an attractive urban space serving a variety of land uses [with] special consideration … given to sustainability, accessibility, and features that encourage multimodality.”
While the city pushes forward converting a number of its downtown streets from one-way to two-way, officials are leveraging a federal grant of $290,000 with $70,000 in local funds to study converting urban neighborhood streets to two-way as well. The benefits of converting the network of streets primarily to two-way almost cannot be overstated: two-way streets calm traffic, improve walkability, cut down on driving, and serve as an economic stimulus for the area.
In the budget, the project is somewhat counterintuitively titled the “Central Business District Traffic Model,” even though the study area includes “Butchertown, Phoenix Hill, Smoketown, Limerick, Old Louisville, Russell, Shawnee, Portland and the University of Louisville Belknap Campus.” While the main focus is on two-way conversions, the study will also consider opportunities to make intersection and interchange safety improvements.
The budget includes two projects for expanding the Louisville Loop, the (still hypothetical) 100-mile multiuse path around the city. One project extension for the Loop is for the Ohio River Levee Trail in southwestern Jefferson County, and the other is for Beckley Station Road near The Parklands. The budget also includes funds for building out the Urban Bike Network (UBN), the city’s on-street facilities. The first project planned for FY19 is a two-way protected bike lane on Barret and Castlewood in the Highlands, which is currently under construction and planned for completion by the end of the summer. In total, these projects allocate about $1 million in local funds to match $3.6 million in federal grants.
These two projects, which are currently in the planning phase, will attempt to recreate two downtown corridors as more walkable, transit-friendly spaces. As was covered more fully by Insider here, the city is holding three public meetings on the Ninth Street plan in July, with the goal of increasing connectivity both along and across the roadway. This project along with the planned two-way conversions of both Seventh and Eighth Street are important starting points for bridging the “Ninth Street Divide” — which, as I argued last September, is more accurately described as a multiblock gulf of surface parking lots stretching from Fifth to Ninth streets.
The Broadway master plan, which the city is budgeting a total of $440,000 for, is a comprehensive plan for the 5.6-mile stretch of roadway from Shawnee Park to Baxter Avenue. The project is taking a holistic look at the roadway to create a plan that will “include a preferred street configuration featuring Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure,” as well as explore land use to make recommendations for transit-oriented development.
The Question Remains
Is $4 million in local funds a lot of money for multimodal projects? As mentioned above, it depends on your perspective.
While the sheer number of multimodal projects takes up a large percentage of the capital projects budget, the allocation of funding tells a somewhat different story.
The Fischer administration has something of a reputation locally for being bike-friendly (Fischer himself personally invited Janette Sadik-Khan, one of the country’s foremost multimodal transportation planners, to the city), but local funding levels complicate that reputation.
The amount of local funding going to repaving city streets is about four times the amount of all these multimodal projects combined. The cost of expanding I-265 (a state-level project for which Metro has allocated $0) will be at least 10 times this amount. And overall, the $16 million in total funding for multimodal projects is still less than 2 percent of the overall budget. In sum, local multimodal funding overall is still pretty modest.
Be that as it may, every small step toward a more vibrant, healthy, inclusive, sustainable transportation network is a good one. And each of the above projects is one worth celebrating upon its completion — and cheering along until it gets there.
Chris Glasser is the executive director of Bicycling for Louisville.