In December, District 8 Metro Council Member Brandon Coan and Develop Louisville released the Bardstown Road Safety Study, a 50-page document outlining a $7.4 million plan to remake the 4-mile stretch of Bardstown Road from Broadway to I-264.
Most notably, for the two-mile segment northwest of Douglass Loop, the plan calls for a sweeping redesign of the roadway: removal of the overhead “lane lights,” removal of parking restrictions at rush hour, the addition of turning lanes at eight major intersections, and more than a dozen pedestrian safety improvements like curb extensions and new crosswalks.
An ambitious design, these changes are intended to calm traffic at rush hour, reduce the number of crashes by having more predictable traffic movement, and improve the flow of traffic during non-peak hours (for example, lunch hour on a weekday or dinnertime on a weekend night).
From Douglass Loop to I-264, the plan’s proposed changes are more modest and can be broken into three sections: the addition of a middle turning lane between the Loop and Taylorsville Road; in the segment from Taylorsville Road to Tyler Lane, converting a sidewalk into a multi-use path; and adding another middle turning lane in the “school district” near Assumption, Atherton, Hawthorne and St. Raphael schools.
The plan itself breaks its suggestions into these four sections:
The plan also calls attention to the need for better street lighting in the northern segment, noting that for the corridor as a whole 35 percent of crashes occur when it is dark, as compared to 21 percent for comparable roadways.
In an interview, Coan said he envisions the changes as nothing short of transformative, while also pointing out that the cost is modest compared to similar projects — for instance, the Dixie Highway “Do-Over” (budgeted at $50 million).
“This transportation project (could) become the most important economic development project for the whole city,” he said.
On behalf of Insider Louisville, I sat down with Coan to discuss the plan, the shortcomings of the current Bardstown Road design, and his strategy for moving forward with funding and implementation. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Insider Louisville: One of the big takeaways from the report is just how unsafe Bardstown Road is currently. What stood out to you in the crash and safety statistics that you gathered?
Brandon Coan: In talking to the engineers who did this study, they were just saying: “This is not typical. There are way more crashes here than almost anywhere else in the entire Louisville Metropolitan Area.” There’s a crash every 15 hours on average. I also learned about how problematic the lighting is — that so many crashes happen just because it’s dark and the lighting is poor.
IL: How is the current design for the roadway contributing to its poor safety levels?
BC: During rush hours, it’s not technically one-way but it’s functionally designed to be one-way. We’re transforming it into a highway that’s meant to just move traffic through the area as fast as possible. And from a strictly pedestrian point of view, it’s just really dangerous to cross. I think of the crosswalk near Kroger. If you’re crossing there, no one’s stopping for you. The crosswalks are not just neutral, they’re counterproductive.
IL: A year or so ago, you had a campaign to raise awareness about on-street parking during rush hour on Bardstown Road, which is prohibited but in practice very common. What were the results of that campaign, and how did it inform the Bardstown Road Safety Study?
BC: We wanted to see if we could solve this problem through public education and through enforcement. We basically found out that with a lot of resources dedicated toward constantly talking about it in the media, that has its limitations. Like, you can’t talk about this story every day for 10 years — it’s not news anymore.
Also, we just don’t have the towing resources. We only have x number of tow trucks for the whole city, and the very act of towing cars on the road is disruptive to traffic in the first place. Not to mention all this stuff was compounded by the challenge of the impound lot being at capacity.
We found that basically over a short amount of time, we were able to make some impact when we were really spending resources on it, but that wasn’t a sustainable way of dealing with it and that we had to think about some other way to solve the problem. So, understanding just that aspect of parking during rush hour helped inform this study. The recommendation was “Let’s stop trying to prevent those cars from parking. Let’s see if we can let them be there all the time.”
IL: There’s maybe some concern that allowing on-street parking all the time will really slow down traffic. The plan calls for dedicated turn lanes. I would think that will really help.
BC: You have people who say this plan is going to back up traffic too much. But by breaking out the left turn lanes, you’re going to have a smoother flow than you have today. Today, if one person wants to turn left, it backs up 10-20 cars. You might say that people can flow unimpeded at rush hour in the right lane. Well, theoretically you can, but there are cars parked a lot of the time, and then, drivers are darting into the right lane to avoid those people turning left.
If we change it to this plan, parked cars on one side and left turns on the other side, there’s no surprises. That will offset the flow issues.
IL: You’ve emphasized pedestrian safety in this study, and the inner section on Bardstown Road is one of the most pedestrian dense corridors in the city. What changes does this plan suggest to address your concerns about making the street safer for pedestrians?
BC: No. 1: crosswalks. There are just too few places to cross the road safely and legally. For example, at Yang Kee Noodle, extending that sidewalk out and creating a refuge space, a new little island, so you can cross to the Falafel House. And in doing that, we add much clearer crosswalks with much shorter crossings. That Highland Avenue section is one of my top priorities as an individual project for an area that we can fix.
IL: Do you think the plan will make it any safer for cyclists on Bardstown Road?
BC: The changes that we’re talking about making are general environmental things — slowing it down, eliminating obstacles, creating an overall safer environment for everybody. The reality is, I didn’t think there was a design option that created a real bike facility. There wasn’t an opportunity to, you know, carve out a separated cycle track here.
And let’s just be honest, it just would’ve been unacceptable to people. I think this is a great plan and a part of it is controversial — people are sort of 50/50 on changing the lane lights. But if we said we were going to put in bike lanes? That would’ve been a non-starter.
IL: I agree and appreciate you being forthright about that. I wanted to ask about lighting. Is that included in the $7.4 million price tag for the project?
BC: It’s not. The thing about lighting is it’s expensive. I don’t have the cost. We need LG&E to come in and help us do another investigation to understand that cost.
IL: So, the plan calls for improved lighting on the northern part — let’s say that’s Broadway to Eastern Parkway. Do you have any sense of how much that would be?
BC: I don’t. I’m hesitant to even guess. It will be a seven-figure number.
IL: What is your plan for pursuing funding for this project?
BC: There’s four different sections and a lot of interesting individual projects. We don’t have to do them all at once or all together. There’s lots of different ways to eat the elephant. First off, we’re not going to change the lane lights without another further serious study. This plan was a study to determine that that’s the option we should look at. So now we need a study to determine if you take down the lane lights, where do all those cars go? There is another level of much more serious study that goes into that.
IL: Before the Section 1 plan ever occurs, there needs to be a separate study just for that?
BC: Yes. No matter what. There’s two studies that still need to be done: the traffic synchronization study that I just mentioned and the lighting study with LG&E.
IL: So where is the funding coming from?
BC: First off, this is an affordable deal. And we’re going to need state and federal funding. So, I need to make this plan a priority for the mayor, our Public Works department, our Develop Louisville team. If this becomes important for the city, there’s all sorts of funding that’s out there at the state and federal level.
This is a state road, after all. So, I will work with the administration to get in line to apply for some of those. But also, there are some things that we just can’t wait for the state to do. I think it’s entirely reasonable for the city to put some of this in the mayor’s fiscal year 2020 budget for next year.
IL: Mayor Greg Fischer lives in your district if I’m not mistaken. Do you have a sense if he supports this project?
BC: I have not had a chance to sit down and talk to the mayor about this yet. Look, the mayor certainly understands the cultural, economical, logistical importance of Bardstown Road. He’s a smart guy, and I think he’ll see that there’s real value in this. If the budget had been $45 million, I probably wouldn’t even ask. But this is achievable.
And look, I think reclaiming Bardstown Road for the Highlands is critical for the economic health of the city. If we can change Bardstown Road from being a highway corridor that serves cars to a neighborhood corridor that serves residents and visitors with a mix of businesses that are the things people love about the Highlands, then this transportation project is going to become the most important economic development project for the whole city.
IL: I think it’s interesting that this plan wasn’t in the Move Louisville plan, which was supposedly a plan of the 16 most important transportation projects in the city. And I appreciate you coming out and saying, “I think this is not just one of the top 16 but it’s the top one.” So, final question, where do you see this plan in one year? In five years? In 10 years?
BC: One year from now, I’d like to have the synchro study and the lighting study complete or on their way to complete. I’d love to have the Highland Avenue intersection in the fiscal year 2020 budget to make a visible improvement in the north half of Bardstown Road, so people can say: “This is so much better. And I can see the potential of how the rest of this can be better.” And I’d like to see something implemented in the south end of the project, whether it’s Section 3 or Section 4. That’s my optimistic view.
In five years, I’d like to see everything done.
And in 10 years, I’d like for it to be undisputed that Bardstown Road is the greatest commercial corridor in the city of Louisville. I don’t want The New York Times coming here anymore and not writing about Bardstown Road.
Chris Glasser is the executive director of Bicycling for Louisville. This article is part of an occasional series.