Louisville residents gathered at Hogan’s Fountain in Cherokee Park Tuesday night to give feedback on the future of cars in the park.
Mayor Greg Fischer closed all vehicle traffic on Cherokee’s Scenic Loop at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. The idea was to provide space for residents to get outdoors and allow them to physically distance. Some parts of the loop were reopened to vehicles in June to allow for easier access to the rugby field, Hogan’s Fountain and other amenities.
On Tuesday, residents were seemingly split on whether the Scenic Loop closures should stay in place.
Jacob Holtgrewe said he feels safer riding his bike in the park with most of the roads closed to cars. He said Louisville needs to prioritize pedestrian infrastructure if it wants to attract more people to live here.
“When the entire loop is open to cars, they own it, they own the park,” he said. “It is creating an atmosphere that is dangerous for the primary user.”
A previous survey conducted by the Parks Department also found that nearly 70 percent of respondents wanted to keep the park car-free. A survey commissioned by the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, a nonprofit that helps maintain some of Louisville’s largest parks, found that visitors to Cherokee increased by 80 percent during the pandemic when cars were banned.
Others, however, feel access to Cherokee Park has become more limited since the road closures.
Ben Cullen, a resident of Windy Hills, attended the meeting with a protest sign reading “Re-open our park.” He said he’s made a tradition out of driving the Scenic Loop with his dogs, and he thinks there is plenty of room for every type of park visitor.
“There were never any significant problems with traffic,” Cullen said. “There may have been an issue or two occasionally, but I never saw any of it.”
Some proponents of fully reopening the Scenic Loop also said the current configuration has discouraged older residents and people with disabilities from enjoying Cherokee Park.
Layla George, president of the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, said she’s heard from a handful of residents with disabilities who’ve had concerns about being able to get to certain park amenities.
“[We’ve heard from] people who simply enjoy driving through the park, and maybe they enjoy driving through the park because that was the only way for them to experience it, not necessarily trying to get somewhere but just the experience,” George said. “We think that [the current set up] still offers a really beautiful way to experience the park in your vehicle.”
Louisville Metro Council members voted in July to reopen vehicle traffic in the rest of the city’s parks. That ordinance also requires Metro Council approval for any long-term road closures moving forward. It applies to any planned closure of more than 60 days.
An amendment to the ordinance from Council Member Cassie Chambers Armstrong (D-8) will keep the partial closure of the Scenic Loop in place until September 1. In the meantime, Metro Parks officials will make a recommendation to the Council based on the public feedback from the meeting and an online survey.
Metro Council will vote before the end of the month on whether to keep the current closures in place or fully reopen Cherokee Park to car traffic.