Wed September 26, 2012
New York Times Calls Downtown Bridge Plan "Out of Step"
Louisville's annual IdeaFestival draws top thinkers to the city. Ideally, it gets people talking about the city as well. This year's festival did just that, but the most recent chatter isn't entirely flattering.
A piece in today's New York Times examines Louisville in the wake of the IdeaFestival. There's a lot of praise in the article, especially for the waterfront and the city's post-war architecture. But the kind words vanish when the writer turns to the downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project, which would add more lanes of highway to the city's urban core.
As for the notion that expanding the interstate tangle and adding the sister bridge next to the Kennedy might bring more people and jobs into the city, I can only say that 40 years after the interstates supposedly started pumping life into Louisville’s downtown, the streets here looked pretty empty to me, especially at night.
Maybe that’s an outsider’s misperception. But removing the highways, or downscaling them, might turn downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods, including the riverfront, into more attractive places. And where highways have come down in other cities, property values have gone up. What brings life to a city are attractions, services, homes and walkable streets.
The piece also argues for improved public transportation, pointing out that for all its beauty, Waterfront Park is all but inaccessible without a car. Criticisms of Louisville's downtown highway system in national publications aren't new. Interstate 65 makes a cameo in Jane Jacobs's influential 1961 book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." While discussing the shoe market that once thrived on Market Street, Jacobs quotes Courier-Journal writer Grady Clay (also a renowned urbanist), who foretells the market's decline at the hands of the incoming interstate.
"The biggest threat, in fact, is the expressway which will cut diagonally across," says Clay. "Nobody at City Hall seems at all concerned about it. I hope to stir up some interest"
The New York Times piece closes by asking why the city should repeat the same mistakes it made with interstates decades ago.
We see traffic problems today and ask how to ease them. But it’s better to think first about what kind of city streets and neighborhoods a city wants, what kind of waterfront it should have and how mass transit could change things.