By Chris Glasser
Metro Government unveiled a plan for a redesign of Baxter Avenue and Bardstown Road at a public meeting last Thursday night at Highland Community Ministries.
The plan, which was presented by Michael King, a planner for Metro Develop Louisville, and Tom Springer, an engineering consultant with Qk4, calls for a number of changes aimed at improving traffic and pedestrian safety along the Baxter/Bardstown corridor from Broadway to I-264.
The study, which was commissioned by District 8 Metro Council Member Brandon Coan, and its initial recommendations proposed four changes to the roadway, each of which could be implemented independently of one another:
- Removing the rush hour “ping pong” traffic lights, adding turning lanes at major intersections, and making on-street parking permanent from Broadway to Douglass Loop
- Adding a two-way left-hand turn lane (TWLTL) between Douglass Loop and Taylorsville Road
- Building sidewalks between Taylorsville Road and Tyler Lane
- Adding a TWLTL between Tyler Lane and the Gardiner Lane shopping center
In their presentation, King and Springer noted that this corridor (which is just “Bardstown Road” to most locals but is “US 31E/150” to traffic engineers) is one of the most dangerous in Kentucky for both pedestrians and drivers.
For Qk4’s engineering study, Springer obtained data from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet that scores a road segment with a Critical Crash Rate Factor (CCRF).
Springer noted that any crash factor score above 1.0 is considered “a high crash segment,” and that for nearly the entire US 31E/150 corridor being studied, the CCRF score was above that metric. In fact, more than half of the corridor was scored above 2.0, and the segments near Broadway, Highland Avenue, Grinstead Drive, Eastern Parkway, and Douglass Loop all rated above 3.0.
In presenting their plan, King and Springer focused primarily on the first of the suggested changes — removing the “X and arrow” lane lights in the inner Highlands — noting a number of benefits that would come with such a redesign: dedicated turn lanes would reduce crashes at intersections; on-street parking would never be restricted, even at rush hour; and crosswalks could be enhanced for pedestrian safety.
The increased access to parking could potentially provide a number of benefits for all road users. On-street parking has a strong “traffic calming” effect, slowing driving speeds — a benefit to both traffic safety and the safety of pedestrians. And with the addition of full-time on-street parking and parking meters, businesses would be assured more regular parking turnover while patrons would see improved access to their stores of choice.
Of note, with such a plan, is that the road’s capacity to move traffic during rush hour would be diminished. Currently, the inner Highlands segment of Bardstown Road has an average daily traffic level of 15,000-20,000 vehicles. By comparison, that is about the same number of vehicles per day as Frankfort Avenue near the Reservoir and about 5,000-10,000 fewer vehicles than are on Broadway (which is 5-6 lanes).
For commuters, this change of removing a driving lane during rush hour would result in longer driving times — though Coan and Springer noted that, while modeling had not been completed, the expected average change would be in seconds, not minutes. Springer also acknowledged that with diminished capacity on the Bardstown, it is possible that parallel roads (Cherokee Road and Baxter Avenue) could see increased traffic volumes.
While rush hour capacity would be diminished, King and Springer also noted that with the added turning lanes, capacity during nonpeak hours (e.g., Saturday at 7 p.m. or Thursday at noon) would be increased.
Ultimately, because this road is a state highway, any changes to it must be approved by the state transportation cabinet. King and Coan said that while what’s currently being presented does not constitute a set of official engineering plans, KYTC has been consulted throughout the process, is aware of and concerned about the existing crash data, and has given a preliminary approval for these changes.
Still, there are a number of steps ahead before this plan, or anything like it, can be implemented. The study and its recommended treatment, needs to be finalized, at which point the engineering plans can be drawn up.
With engineering plans in place, a budget for the project can be determined. And from there, Coan and Metro Government can begin to seek funding for such changes. Because the four proposed changes are independent of one another, the funding and implementation could occur piecemeal.
A timeline for when and how that could happen is unclear. King compared the project to the redesign of inner Lexington Road — a process that lasted three to four years from initial study to implementation.
Coan said he would like to see some of these changes made in Fiscal Year 2019, which starts July 1, 2018. Notably, the changes to Bardstown/Baxter are much more ambitious in scale than the Lexington Road project, will undoubtedly cost much more, and will require approval from the state — a step that was not required with Lexington Road.
It remains to be seen how this plan will plan will be received by the public. Pushback could delay or derail any changes, while public support could provide a nice tail wind for moving the project forward.
If the crowd at the public meeting is any indication, Coan and Metro seem to have a chance for broad community buy-in with this plan. And if it ever makes it way from PowerPoint to the roadway, the redesign could be a fantastic improvement for the corridor, making it a safer, more pleasant, more intuitive roadway for all its users.
Chris Glasser is the executive director of Bicycling for Louisville.