Last year, Mayor Greg Fischer halted vehicle traffic in Iroquois and Cherokee parks to allow for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some Louisville Metro Council members now want any future road closures to go through them. The council is considering an ordinance that would require Metro Parks and the mayor to obtain their permission to shut down vehicle traffic for more than 60 days. Any long-term closure would also require public meetings.
Council Member Anthony Piagentini, who is sponsoring the ordinance, has argued that Mayor Fischer’s administration is exceeding its authority by keeping parts of Cherokee Park’s Scenic Loop closed despite the diminished threat from COVID-19.
“I think all we’re doing here is laying out a very specific procedure in order to ensure that that scenario doesn’t happen again,” Piagentini said during a committee meeting last month.
While all roads in Iroquois Park have now been reopened, only roads accessing the rugby field and Hogan’s Fountain in Cherokee Park have been reopened.
An amendment the Metro Council Parks and Sustainability Committee approved on Thursday would keep the current Cherokee closures in place until Sept. 1. In the meantime, Metro Parks will be required to conduct public meetings and report back to council, which would make the final decision on whether to keep the closures in place.
Olmsted Parks Conservancy CEO Layla George said the organization supports a public engagement process, but she thinks the current closures strike a good balance between people who want to be able to drive through the park and those who want a car-free experience.
“We feel like with this balance right now, you have something for everybody,” George said. “You still have this great driving experience from your car, as well as maintaining some of the areas car-free, which is a magical experience. You feel like you’re in the middle of the wilderness and you’re just like eight minutes from downtown.”
While critics of the park road closures say it limits access to elderly residents and people with disabilities, a data analysis shows people 55 and older actually made up a slightly larger portion of park visitors post-road closures. The analysis conducted by the firm TruTrade found that residents older than 55 made up 37.2% of all Cherokee Park visitors pre-road closures. That increased slightly to 38.1% during the pandemic.
The Metro Parks Department also surveyed Cherokee Park visitors earlier this year and found nearly 70% of respondents wanted the park to remain car-free.
Metro Council is expected to take a final vote on the ordinance on July 29.