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.
“Downtown Planning Gridlock”
Lexington Herald-Leader Editorial
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The fate of plans to convert our outdated, highway-like, one-way street system to a more navigable, pedestrian, retail and restaurant-friendly two-way street system is exhibit A. Consider recent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.