Author Archives: Van Meter Pettit

Lexington Herald-Leader story: Downtown progress toward 2-way streets

What this story below means is that we will have the option of returning our streets to 2-way in the future. It does not force us to do so. After considerably more debate I believe it will be clear that it is what we need to do. It is the consensus of scores of cities across the country, two masterplans, 4 years of study, 1000’s of hours of public input, and nearly $1 million in professional consulting by outside planning experts. The last person quoted in the story is a lifelong downtown resident who lives and operates businesses in the core of the city. He knows first hand the detrimental effect one way streets have had on our quality of life and on our downtown economy.

story below
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“Council gives go-ahead for Main, Vine redesign”
Lexington Herald-Leader www.kentucky.com
Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2009

by Beverly Fortune

Urban County Council members gave the go-ahead on Tuesday for the city’s streetscape consultant to do a detailed design of Main Street and Vine Street that would allow both to become two-way in the future, or to maintain their present one-way traffic patterns, whichever the council chose.

Designer Clete Benken, principal with the design firm of Kinzelman Kline Gossman, was authorized at a council work session to come up with a design for 44-foot-wide streets with generous sidewalks, rain gardens and curb cuts that would give the council future flexibility to choose one- or two-way traffic patterns through downtown.

Tuesday’s authorization at times seemed in jeopardy as council members asked what it would cost to convert the streets. They asked repeatedly whether they were committing themselves to a future outlay of funds without knowing the final price.

Several times Benken said all he was asking for was their authorization to do a design.
Mayor Jim Newberry intervened to solicit council approval by calling design work “a time sensitive issue.” If the council wants new sidewalks along portions of Main and Vine done in time for the 2010 Alltech WEI World Equestrian Games, Benken needs to proceed with detailed design drawings now.

Councilman Jay McChord said after the meeting, “This is being a good steward for taxpayer funds because we will have maximum flexibility without committing ourselves today.”

At the same time, “it’s putting the city in a position to make a dramatic difference,” said McChord, a council member who has championed converting one-way streets back to two-way.
McChord called the one-way streets a holdover from the city’s Urban Renewal program of about 30 years ago, “a failed policy.” Downtown business owners have lobbied hard to get two-way streets, maintaining that they are good for economic development.

Benken said he would provide detailed drawings by early June.
The city’s downtown street-scape plan calls for phasing in the conversion of four pairs of downtown streets starting with Short and Second, followed by Limestone and Upper, then High and Maxwell and Main and Vine.

“You have to bring the public along, and you do that by creating a track record of success,” Benken said. “If you desire Vine and Main to be two-way, we strongly recommend you take an incremental approach and build a track rec ord of success.”
The easiest and least costly streets to convert will be Short and Second, because new signals are not required at intersections.
These can be converted before year’s end and can be “a case study for success,” he said, an idea that brought strong positive comments from several council members.

To turn all eight streets back to two-way traffic — as they once were — depends on several benchmarks. These include:
■ Completing the Newtown Pike extension between West Main and Versailles Road.
■ Increasing New Circle Road’s capacity in places and improving certain interchanges.
■ Making changes to the downtown Transit Center.
■ Completing the Newtown Pike extension fully before Main and Vine and High and Maxwell go two-way.

Newberry said the most recent state highway road plan indicated that the extension of Newtown Pike between West Main and Versailles Road would be completed in 2010 and the entire extension finished in 2014. Councilwoman Linda Gorton said she hoped there would be ways to speed up the process.

Gay Reading, owner of Greentree Antiques & Tearoom on West Second Street, said giving directions to people unacquainted with driving downtown was made difficult by the one-way streets.
“Please, on Second and Short streets, let’s do it this year,” Reading said.

Great Herald-Leader editorial supporting our advocacy to clean up Lexington’s creeks

From March 21, 2009 Lexington Herald-Leader
www.kentucky.com

“Clean streams are worth the price- Storm water fee will buy a better city, stronger economy”

Storm Water Fee Task Force.

The very title conjures up visions of long meetings where incomprehensible acronyms are thrown around and no one but a few lifer bureaucrats can figure out what’s going on and why it might matter. Throw in a few references to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a consent decree and it’s a recipe for adult nap time.

But it’s not. For three months a dedicated band of members of the Urban County Council and the city administration have been meeting to thrash out the intricacies of how to pay for cleaning the water that runs through Fayette County.

That’s where it gets interesting — not the fee, cleaning the water. For the water to be clean and healthy, it must be surrounded by land that’s clean and healthy. That means streams not surrounded by junk yards, pavement and abandoned industrial sites but by trees, parks and paths. Sounds like a unique urban paradise, especially when it’s matched with the exquisite Bluegrass landscape that already surrounds us.

That was the vision promoted at Thursday’s meeting by a few task force members urged on by Van Meter Pettit, president of Town Branch Trail, a group advocating for creating a greenway along Lexington’s historic waterway.

They reason that while we’re spending tens of millions cleaning up our dangerously filthy water to avoid being hauled back into court by the EPA for violating the Clean Water Act, we should push a little bit farther to create beautiful, clean places for people to enjoy being outside and near Fayette County’s streams.

That means more money, of course, a larger fee. A hard sell all the time, but particularly now.
But, ponder this question, all who want to attract better businesses and well educated, high-earning workers, who want your kids with big degrees to live here or who simply like to be outside: Which is more attractive, a place where streams hidden behind abandoned buildings, washed up tires and other debris, are so toxic you shudder when your dog gets near the water much less your child; or a community where it’s pleasant to jog, cycle or just sit and relax by small clean streams that thread through the city?

Tough choice?

From March 21, 2009 Lexington Herald-Leader
www.kentucky.com

A very interesting NEWSWEEK ARTICLE about urban traffic and pedestrians (maybe applicable to Main and Vine?)

Below is a recent article from Newsweek that shows us a path toward a Downtown where pedestrians and business are clear priorities above traffic management. Could this apply to our approach on Main and Vine?

article below
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“Where the Neon Lights Are Bright—And Drivers Are No Longer Welcome”
Under Mayor Bloomberg, New York City is embracing a controversial theory: closing down streets can reduce traffic jams.

By Nick Summers | NEWSWEEK
Published Feb 27, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Mar 9, 2009

As the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg usually takes the subway to work. When he travels by car, a police escort zips him through rush-hour congestion. But for a man who himself spends little time mired in Manhattan’s inch-along, horn-chorused gridlock, Bloomberg seems oddly obsessed by traffic—and as a committed environmentalist, he aims to do something to reduce it. “The midtown traffic mess is one of those problems everyone always talks about,” he said last week. “Well, we’re not just going to sit back—we’re going to try to do something about it.” His plan: to permanently bar traffic from large swaths of Broadway.

It’s the boldest example to date of an American city embracing the emerging—and controversial—theories of traffic science. While it’s tempting to see the logjams on Los Angeles’s 405 or Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway as inevitable byproducts of our car-based culture, writer Tom Vanderbilt observes in “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do” that congestion has plagued humans even as they migrated from foot to oxcart to bicycle. But a new generation of theorists is using economics to try to speed things up. For Bloomberg, who’s seeking a third term this November, experimenting with these theories carries risks. Early reactions have been favorable, with a few notable exceptions; one columnist wrote that the Crossroads of the World is “soon to be known as the Traffic-Choked, Tourist-Loving, New Yorker–Hating, Immovable Crosswalk.”

When it comes to New York traffic, Broadway has long been identified as a key culprit. In 1811, urban planners laid out Manhattan’s grid of north-south avenues met by east-west streets, an efficient system of right angles. But those mapmakers left Broadway slicing diagonally through the city, and it’s caused havoc ever since. “Every time Broadway cuts through the grid, it delays traffic,” says Janette Sadik-Khan, New York’s transportation commissioner. It’s especially bad at Times Square, where drivers on Broadway and Seventh Avenue meet heavy crosstown traffic—along with 356,000 daily pedestrians.

In general terms, traffic is caused by too much demand (from vehicles) meeting too little supply (roads). One solution is to increase supply by building more roads. But that’s expensive, and demand from drivers tends to quickly overwhelm the new supply; today engineers acknowledge that building new roads usually makes traffic worse. Instead, economists have suggested reducing demand by raising the costs of driving in congested areas. The best-known example is the “congestion pricing” plan London implemented in 2003. Drivers now pay about $11 a day to drive in the central city. According to one study, the program has reduced traffic by 16 percent.

In 2007 Bloomberg proposed a congestion-pricing plan for New York, but last year state legislators rejected it as an elitist move. In response, Bloomberg began tinkering with the city’s roads in ways that required no legislative blessing. He banned vehicles from Park Avenue for three Saturdays in August 2008. He closed two lanes of traffic on Broadway below 42nd Street. “Bloomberg is taking the position that as long as it’s within the two curbs, it’s [city] property and he can decide how to use it,” says Sam Schwartz, the city’s former traffic commissioner.

These pilot projects fit in with a larger counterintuitive theory that’s gaining traction with urban-planning wonks: that closing roads can reduce congestion. During the 1990s, a British transit engineer named Stephen Atkins read about how San Francisco congestion decreased, rather than increased, after an earthquake knocked out a key freeway. He observed the same phenomenon in other cities that closed roads, too. “In a lot of places, the traffic was not just displaced—a lot of it disappeared,” he says. In a 1998 study he commissioned, researchers studied 60 cases of road reductions and found that when roads were closed, drivers took steps to avoid the area. In economic terms, closing roads raises the perceived costs of the trip (because drivers anticipate hassles), reducing demand.

Green growth advocates, who have gained much influence in Bloomberg’s administration, originally thought about closing all of Broadway below 59th Street. That was deemed too radical, so the plan unveiled last week closes only seven key blocks of the Great White Way. Last month Sadik-Khan unfurled an enormous map and pointed to the horrible intersection outside Macy’s, at 34th Street. Under the new plan, Broadway is closed off one block above and below the intersection, creating adjacent pedestrian malls and allowing Sixth Avenue and 34th Street to meet cleanly. A similar five-block no-drive-zone will border Times Square; together they should reduce congestion by 37 percent on Sixth Avenue, 17 percent on Seventh and some 20 percent on Ninth.

Manhattan is a one-of-a-kind city—an island with its streets in a grid, minority car ownership and a superb transit system. But if the Broadway shutdown works, the scheme could spread to other cities, too. San Francisco last week announced it would study barring cars from a portion of Market Street in order to get bicycles, buses and pedestrians moving more quickly. “I think that 21st-century cities are looking at their streets differently,” Sadik-Khan says. “They’re saying, ‘We need a fresh look at how we’re getting people around, and it’s more than just pushing as many cars into a city as possible’.”

For Bloomberg, 67, a politician who retains an entrepreneur’s love of big ideas and risk-taking, there’s no doubt it’s a plan that makes sense. Based on current polls, he seems likely to win a third term, so it’s time to think about his legacy. Ultimately he’d like to leave New York a greener, more livable city—and one with a lot less honking. That’s a wonderful vision indeed.

By Nick Summers | NEWSWEEK
Published Feb 27, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Mar 9, 2009

Great editorial in Herald-Leader today on Downtown- Call to action

A quick note to explain why Town Branch Trail cares about downtown planning so much: our project envisions the trail as a catalyst for and vehicle to a revitalized and bike/ped friendly downtown. If we fail to make downtown the urban core that it could be, then the trail is just not as compelling. In order for Town Branch Trail to fully succeed, we need a worldclass city to connect with our already worldclass landscape.

Editorial below:

“Downtown Planning Gridlock”
Lexington Herald-Leader Editorial
3.5.09
www.kentucky.com

Lexington’s fragile downtown is at risk of collapsing under the crushing combined weight of huge studies and good intentions.

The fate of plans to convert our outdated, highway-like, one-way street system to a more navigable, pedestrian, retail and restaurant-friendly two-way street system is exhibit A. Consider recent history:

■ “Converting one-way to two-way streets is an integral part of this master plan study.” 2006 – Downtown Lexington Masterplan.

■ “Perhaps the strongest attribute of a two-way street network is its ability to allow drivers to find alternative pathways through the downtown.” 2008 – Draft Downtown Streetscape Master Plan.

■ “Foreseeable future — am I going to be alive?” Urban County Council member Diane Lawless Tuesday to Harold Tate, president of the Downtown Development Authority, about when downtown’s one-way streets will be converted to two-way.

“I just can’t say,” Tate’s reply.

Enough, already, let’s do it. That was the message of several council members Tuesday who are fatigued with studies and frustrated with a future that never arrives. We agree.

Council member Jay McChord pressed the issue with a resolution asking the landscape firm that’s planning downtown’s streetscape to come back in two weeks with a schedule for conversion.
The council must keep the pressure on. As Vice Mayor Jim Gray commented, we’re in danger of killing downtown with “terminal incrementalism.”

There are issues to work out, for sure. Changing traffic patterns is disruptive but it won’t become less so by waiting. It’s been done other places, we can do it here.
Why does it matter so much?

Downtown is the economic engine of this city, this region. A lively, successful downtown is one of the key drawing cards for the young professionals we know we need to drive our economy. A successful downtown, as we’ve seen in hundreds of lovely renderings, is a place where people like to sit at sidewalk cafes, stroll from shop to shop, sit and people watch, are comfortable riding bicycles from place to place.

Those dreamy renderings will never become reality while cars zoom by on one-way streets designed only to move them through downtown as rapidly as possible. If you don’t believe this, go take a stroll on Vine Street. It is not a welcoming experience.

The city must work with the state highway department, which controls the rights of way on Main and Vine, to convert those streets. But there’s no reason not to get going on the other paired one-way streets slated for conversion as quickly as possible.

Keep talking, keep studying but don’t substitute either for doing.

Tom Eblen column in Herald-Leader on Downtown- a must-read on downtown future

“Downtown success a 2-way street- Proposed ‘Streetscape’ heralds a return to driving to, not through, Lexington”
published by the Lexington Herald-Leader www.kentucky.com
By Tom Eblen – Herald-Leader columnist

What went wrong with American downtowns during the last half of the 20th century?

A lot, actually. But one big thing was that they were redesigned to work better for cars than for people. It’s no wonder people abandoned them.

Lexington escaped the worst of it. Unlike many cities, Lexington didn’t have an expressway routed through the middle of it. Interstate highways made America’s small towns and rural areas more accessible, but they devastated many cities — cutting up neighborhoods and making downtowns less walkable, welcoming and safe.

Downtown Lexington’s legacy from 20th century traffic engineering efficiency is its one-way street pairs — primarily the east-west corridors of Short and Second, High and Maxwell, Main and Vine and the north-south corridor of Limestone and Upper.

It was all done in the early 1970s with the best of intentions: Make it easier for shoppers to get to and from downtown so the stores won\’t move to the suburbs.

It didn’t work. Worse yet, those one-way streets have hampered public and private efforts to reinvent and revitalize downtown Lexington ever since.

Here’s the problem: Cars go faster on one-way streets, especially when lanes are wide. That makes traffic more dangerous, especially for pedestrians, and more noisy. One-way streets hurt business and confuse tourists.

Fortunately, after years of struggle, efforts to revive downtown Lexington are taking hold, thanks to some good planning and more than $300 million in private investment. Mayor Jim Newberry unveiled a new “streetscape” plan Thursday that could make downtown even better.

The plan, developed by Covington-based KKG Studios, would make downtown a more people-friendly place to live, work and play. It also would add bicycle lanes and 170 additional street parking spaces during non-peak hours. Wider sidewalks would allow for easier walking and more outdoor dining.

A water feature would be built along Vine Street following the path of Town Branch Creek, which was buried beneath the street generations ago. A European-style glass pavilion would be built on Cheapside, Lexington’s historic marketplace, as a home for the Lexington Farmers Market and community events.

It’s a terrific plan that could help downtown achieve its potential for contributing to Lexington’s economy and quality of life. It also assumes the conversion of most, if not all, of the one-way streets back to two-way traffic. That follows the recommendation of Lexington’s 2006 downtown master plan.

Plans call for Short and Second streets to return to two-way traffic within 12 months, said Harold Tate, president of the Downtown Development Authority. Limestone and Upper Streets would be made two-way within two or three years. But Tate said further studies are needed before setting a timetable for returning two-way traffic to High, Maxwell, Main and Vine streets.

At Thursday’s news conference, Newberry was pessimistic about returning two-way traffic to downtown’s biggest drag strips — Main and Vine streets. “It’s very complicated,” he said, citing likely pushback from state traffic engineers and others. Newberry said he didn’t expect to see it happen “in my lifetime.”

That makes no sense.

After all, Main Street is two-way in each direction until it reaches downtown. That means traffic speeds up just when it should be slowing down.

“We’ve had a failed 40-year experiment with one-way streets downtown,” said Phil Holoubek, a downtown developer whose projects include Main & Rose and the Nunn Building Lofts.

Once other one-way streets are converted and the Newtown Pike extension is completed in 2014 to route through-traffic around downtown, there’s no reason not to return Main and Vine to two-way, he said.

Van Meter Pettit, a downtown resident who is developing the Town Branch Trail, agrees. “Otherwise, we’re saying that commuter traffic is a higher priority than urban redevelopment, when our master planning is telling us just the opposite,” he said.

Successful cities across America are converting their one-way streets back to two-way and looking for other ways to make their downtowns work better for people than cars. In perhaps the boldest move yet, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans Friday to convert Times Square into a pedestrian mall by May.

Lexington’s city officials and their consultants have invested a lot of time, effort and money in solid plans for revitalizing downtown. They shouldn\’t let nay-saying by state traffic engineers or others jeopardize those efforts.

If downtown Lexington is to achieve its potential, it must become a place people want to drive to — not drive through.

Reach Tom Eblen at (859) 231-1415 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1415, or at teblen@herald-leader.com. Read and comment on his blog, The Bluegrass & Beyond, at Kentucky.com.