How green is our valley?

Mar 09 , 2009

From: The Courier Journal

How green is our valley?

I agree with Ed Glasscock and Cary Stemler that the future of Louisville relies on solving transportation issues, but I don't think completing the Ohio River Bridges Project as it was approved six years ago is the solution. A lot has happened in six years: Gas prices went to $4 with an ensuing decrease in driving and increase in interest in smaller and electric cars; and the economy collapsed and has drastically affected companies like UPS, Ford and Toyota that are specifically mentioned on the Build the Bridges Web site as "crucial to our economy."

Green-lighting and financing an old plan today does not make sense without reviewing it in light of these factors. We should update the plan and then go back to the same Kentucky and Indiana state transportation agencies and the Federal Highway Administration who approved the initial plan. Taking the time to do so is in our interest, and in the interest of our children and grandchildren, before we expand highways and bridges and overpasses in our booming and increasingly vibrant downtown area.

Downtowns should be for people, not overpasses and highways. I don't want to look out my window and see a four-story highway overpass in downtown obscuring and towering over the church steeples. We already breathe in too much exhaust from flow-through traffic that finds Louisville a convenient place to drive through on the way to somewhere else. Let's first build the East End Bridge and see how much of this through-traffic can be re-routed. This will be a sacrifice on the part of many land-owners in that area, including my family, but it will benefit us all long-term.

If we are trying to solve transportation issues and get off our addiction to oil, how is increasing the drive-ability of commuters by adding more bridges and lanes going to decrease traffic and pollution? Where is the incentive not to drive?

Without getting into details of the bridges project per se and without discussing financials for the time being (though TARC's 2003 budget for the FTA-recommended project of 25 light-rail stations and 17 miles of track came in at $748 million, much less than the four billion being discussed for the Ohio Rivers Project), here are some blue-sky, out-of-the-box ideas for discussion. Let's picture the perfect city that we all know Louisville can be and then see how and if we can get there. It may take years, but I don't plan on going anywhere.

It is possible that the future of Louisville is dependent not on being the "pinch point" for transportation (as it is described on but on having the coolest downtown in the United States, with increased density, downtown living and walk-ability. More businesses, more retail, more restaurants, and more downtown life would attract more entrepreneurs to start more companies, creating more jobs and increasing the tax base. If more folks lived downtown and there were more companies downtown, there would be fewer commuters.

Before spending $4 billion dollars, maybe we should do a study on the effects of closing (yes, you read that correctly) the downtown bridge to vehicles and converting it to a light-rail shuttle. How about another maybe crazy idea: a ban on all passenger car traffic downtown between 1st and 8th streets and Main and Broadway and turning it into a "Green Zone" with a tax incentive program for entrepreneurs and new businesses? I am just trying to think outside the box and stimulate discussion; obviously, lots of work would need to be done to validate any of these far-fetched ideas.

We could then add a light-rail loop around this Green Zone, or use the existing trolley busses that always look empty. This loop could be connected to all the major suburbs by other light-rail lines with parking hubs at the end stations. Think of the benefits if we freed up all the present parking towers and parking lots in downtown to be converted into office buildings with store-front retail and residences. With a loop of public transportation, no one would be more than five blocks from the office. Right now, even with the $4 gallon gas fading from our memories, we are all "Toads"; we love our cars just as much as that great character in The Wind in the Willows. So a drastic change in behavior would be needed to pull this off, but maybe it is worth thinking about it.

Louisville already seems fragmented into neighborhoods divided by highways and overpasses. If we came together and redefined our common downtown, we could also discover a renewed sense of community.


Louisville 40204

Gill Holland is a filmmaker who lives in Louisville. He and his wife, Augusta Brown Holland, are developers of Louisville's first all-green building on East Market Street. -- Editor.


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