The Metro Council will have to approve any road closures in Louisville’s public parks from now on after some residents complained about the extended closures in Cherokee and Iroquois Parks.
Mayor Greg Fischer shut down vehicle traffic last year in the city’s two most popular parks — Cherokee and Iroquois — to allow for social distancing during the pandemic. Roads in Iroquois Park have since reopened, but Metro Parks and Fischer decided large parts of Cherokee’s Scenic Loop remain closed. Under the ordinance approved Thursday night, the Metro Parks Department and the mayor will need Metro Council approval for any closure expected to last more than 60 days. The plan passed unanimously.
Council Member Anthony Piagentini (R-19), who sponsored the ordinance, argued Fischer is exceeding his emergency authority by keeping parts of the Scenic Loop closed even though the threat of outdoor exposure to COVID-19 has diminished.
“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 recent committee meeting.
An amendment to the ordinance by Council Member Cassie Chambers Armstrong (D-8) will keep the current configuration at Cherokee Park in place until Sept. 1. Only the roads needed to access Hogan’s Fountain and the rugby field have reopened.
The ordinance will require Metro Parks to hold a community meeting on the road closures in Cherokee Park by September. They will then need to submit the public feedback and a recommendation to Metro Council. If no recommendation is received or voted on by Metro Council by September, the roads in Cherokee Park would be reopened to vehicle traffic immediately.
A previous survey conducted by Metro Parks found that nearly 70% of respondents wanted Cherokee to remain car-free. A study procured by the Olmsted Park Conservancy, a non-profit that helps manage city parks, found no changes in the amount of visitors before and during the pandemic.
But some have argued that closing the Scenic Loop to vehicle traffic makes the park less accessible to older residents and people with disabilities.
While the Conservancy is supportive of getting more public feedback, Olmsted Parks CEO Layla George said she thinks the current set up is a good compromise.
“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,” George said. “You feel like you’re in the middle of the wilderness and you’re just like eight minutes from downtown.”
In addition to Metro Council approval, the ordinance approved Thursday will require Metro Parks to conduct comprehensive public engagement for any long-term closure of vehicle traffic in a public park moving forward.