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(Editor’s Note: As you’ve likely noticed, Broken Sidewalk has been sidelined for several months. Last Spring, I was diagnosed with Leukemia and immediately went into treatment. As editor of the site, I kept publishing as long as I could, but eventually, I had to take time off to focus on my health. Last Fall, I underwent a bone marrow transplant and have been slowly recovering from the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. The good news is it looks like the cancer is gone and I’m feeling a lot better. So with that, we hope to get Broken Sidewalk back on its feet. Thanks for so many of your kind thoughts and prayers throughout this difficult time, your continued patience, and for caring about the future of the city. This project only works if there’s someone on the other end of the line.)

While I was gone, Louisville received some major recognition in its efforts to become more bikeable. First up, Bicycling magazine named Louisville the 31st best biking city in its biennial look at American cities. Rankings were determined based on an analysis of Census data, discussions with national and local bike leaders, and key bike-friendly indicators like the number of female bike commuters. The magazine cited the opening of Louisville’s bike and pedestrian Big Four Bridge connecting Waterfront Park with Jeffersonville, Indiana, among the city’s success stories. Since it opened in 2014, the bridge has been wildly popular, promoting walking and biking throughout the community.

The magazine also spoke with Bicycling for Louisville’s Executive Director Chris Glasser about the city’s bike progress. “Louisville has gotten in the habit of reducing lane widths and painting buffered bike lanes,” Glasser told Bicycling’s Ian Dille. Reducing lane widths is among the best ways to promote street safety and reduce vehicle speeds.

A protected bike lane in the Russell neighborhood. (Courtesy Bicycling for Louisville)
A protected bike lane in the Russell neighborhood. (Courtesy Bicycling for Louisville)

Dille also checked in with Louisville’s biking setbacks, such as a recent slashing of the city’s bicycling program’s budget and lack of advanced infrastructure on Louisville’s growing network of Neighborways, low traffic streets perfect for cycling. Still, Louisville’s rank at 31 is good news as it shows we’re batting above average. The list was topped by Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, New York City, and Seattle, with local peers like Indianapolis clocking in at 11 and Pittsburgh at 20. Further down the list, Cincinnati ranked 36, Columbus was 39, and Atlanta came in at a dismal 43.

Louisville is up sharply from Bicycling’s 2014 list when the city ranked 43 in the nation. The city was listed at 21 in both the 2012 list and the 2010 ranking, but in recent years, the field has become much more competitive.

While Bicycling magazine has plenty of good things to say about Louisville, it also printed some nice words about your favorite place for urbanism online—Broken Sidewalk. Take a look:

Louisville’s Broken Sidewalk blog is perhaps the nation’s best local outlet chronicling a city’s urban transformation. The site’s clean design and enlightening content regularly features posts from some of the country’s top thinkers on utilitarian cycling. Every city that wants to improve biking needs an online publication this good.

Thanks, Bicycling!

(Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau)
(Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau)

Last Fall, the League of American Bicyclists also took a deep dive into newly released 2015 Census data on commuting to determine the changing landscape of biking across the country. Nationally, bike commuting dropped 3.8 percent—the first time since 2010. The League believes this decrease is due to a number of factors including low gas prices and a distinct increase in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), which, the League noted, corresponds with an increase in traffic fatalities.

(Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau)

Locally, Louisville was ranked 49th for its rate of bike commuting, which stands at a meager 0.4 percent of the population. According to Census data, that’s up significantly from 1990 (about 115 percent increase), about even with 2010 (a 1 percent increase) and down from 2014 (by about 20 percent).

Portland, Oregon, topped the nation with a 7 percent bike commute rate followed by Minneapolis with 5 percent and San Francisco with 4.3 percent. Lexington was listed at 28th nationally with a rate of 1 percent. Among Louisville’s peer cities, Pittsburgh’s 1.7 percent bike commuting rate landed it at 15th, Indianapolis came in at 40 with 0.6 percent, and Cincinnati took 53rd with a 0.3 percent rate of bicycle commuting.

(Courtesy Redfin)
(Courtesy Redfin)

Also last year, Old Louisville was specifically highlighted among the top ten most bikeable urban areas by real estate site Redfin. The Victorian neighborhood, which also took the honor of one of America’s best neighborhoods as determined by the American Planning Association, came in at 6th best. The top five includes Philadelphia, Tuscon, Austin, Denver, and Portland.

Bike improvements in Louisville. (Courtesy Metro Louisville)
Bike improvements in Louisville. (Courtesy Metro Louisville)

“Louisville has invested in bike lanes… [that] have given residents a healthy, safe option to travel between neighborhoods and to downtown,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in a statement last May. “But the work is hardly done. Our city is in the process of rethinking how we connect, and bicycles are a major part that strategic mobility plan.” The mayor referenced the city’s draft Move Louisville plan, a 20-year mobility framework, which calls for drastically reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) across the city. The plan expects biking and walking will play a large part in achieving those goals.

A buffered bike lane on Fourth Street near the University of Louisville. (Courtesy Bike Louisville)
A buffered bike lane on Fourth Street near the University of Louisville. (Courtesy Bike Louisville)

Old Louisville (and many of Louisville’s urban neighborhoods) is particularly suited to biking with growing infrastructure, a central location, a well-connected grid of streets, and flat terrain. That’s good news considering the neighborhood will be at the center of a new bike share program set to launch later this year.

Planned bike lane at Castlewood and Barret. (Courtesy Metro Louisville)
Planned bike lane at Castlewood and Barret. (Courtesy Metro Louisville)

What’s all this mean?

Louisville has made some serious progress in building up its bike network, but there’s a lot of work still to be done. As Bicycling magazine pointed out, the city has upgraded its infrastructure but lags behind other cities like Indianapolis in terms of high quality design for protected bike lanes. Louisville’s successful Neighborways is promising but today it’s little more than a collection of sharrows. More substantial design including signage and traffic diverters should be installed to make the system easier and safer to use. To achieve these infrastructure goals, the city’s agency covering bicycling, Bike Louisville, should see its budget increase annually, not decrease. And the city’s miniscule rate of bike commuting could easily be improved.

Bike lanes planned on West Jefferson Street in Russell. (Courtesy Metro Louisville)
Bike lanes planned on West Jefferson Street in Russell. (Courtesy Metro Louisville)

There are good things on the horizon as well. Louisville continues to build out its bike network with more innovative designs than we’ve seen in the past and a new bike share system is set to launch later this year. Bicycling for Louisville recently listed the city’s biggest bike wins of 2016, which included new protected bike lanes on 12th and 13th streets, ongoing planning for an extended Beargrass Creek Trail, and expansion of the Neighborways program. This year, the group is advocating for protected bike lanes on Castlewood and Barret avenues and road diets along West Jefferson Street in Russell and along Oak and Winter streets in the Highlands.

These infrastructure improvements are also critical for Louisville to reduce its dependency on automobiles. Research has shown that the better a city’s bike network, the more people bike. Louisville’s network is beginning to reach a critical capacity with easy to use bike lanes and Neighborways where biking becomes a very comfortable and safe option for for a larger percentage of the population. Options like well-designed protected bike lanes can help encourage people who haven’t commuted by bike to give it a try. And with only 0.4 percent of the population saddling up to go to work, there’s plenty of room to attract new audiences.

What’s on your bike wish list for Louisville? Do you commute by bike? Share your vision in the comments below.

[Top image shows city workers painting a bike lane on Goldsmith Lane. Courtesy Bike Louisville.]
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Branden Klayko

Branden Klayko

Founder and Editor at Broken Sidewalk
Branden founded Broken Sidewalk in 2008 while practicing architecture in Louisville. He continued the site for seven years while living in New York City, returning to Louisville in 2016. Branden is a graduate of the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and has covered architecture, design, and urbanism for The Architect's Newspaper, Designers & Books, Inhabitat, and the American Institute of Architects.
Branden Klayko

14 COMMENTS

  1. I’m glad you’re back and better. Nice article. Though that bike lane looks more like a sharrow than a protected lane.

  2. Branden, you and this site are both terrific community assets. I’m so glad to know you’re recovering.

  3. So glad to see your work again Branden! Also glad to see some calming come to West Jefferson. As my crew and I rehab a lovely old Vic just west of Hodge(21st) and 22nd, we frequently witness hit and runs at those intersections. Speed is always a factor.

  4. Congrats on recovering and beating that jerk called cancer. We are all thankful for your work.

    On to the article. The ranking doesn’t appear to include the 2.6 million people using The Parklands 20+ miles of biking trails that are now fully open. If we assume, conservatively, that 100,000 of these visits involved bicycling as an activity, and that the average biker rode 10 miles on their trip while in the park, that means nearly 1,000,000 more miles were biked in Louisville in 2016. Not too shabby as that means a healthier and more active community.

  5. I’d love more protected bikeways on the busiest routes. Eastern parkway to UoL from Bardstown Road for example. The suggestions are to risk the traffic in peak hour or take a long diversion through German town. How about extending the central reservation bikeway and/or turning the sidewalk in places into dual/split use.

  6. As others have noted, congratulations on returning from the illness.

    I have friends who have spent the last thirty years analyzing bicyclist-vs-motorist crashes. From their experience, the one best predictor of a cyclist’s safety is how relevant that cyclist is–in the cyclist’s own mind and bearing as well as from the perspective of other road users.

    The one thing that edge-of-pavement bike lanes and the so-called “protected” bike lanes do best is make cyclists and motorist irrelevant to one another until the moment of impact–in or near one of the intersections (driveways are intersections, by the way) that are made more complex by the presence of the walled-off bike furniture.

    In your absence, you may not have noted it, but there was a cyclist fatality in Canada that was a direct function of a “protected” bike way. A truck driver made a right turn that crossed a “protected” bike way, and the cyclist, apparently thinking he was protected, was not looking for traffic crossing the bike way. Had the cyclist been behaving as a normal part of the traffic pattern instead of as an outsider, the outcome would most likely been very different.

    As for some of the “studies” you cite: I have a hard time attaching any credence to a study that ranks Chicago well for cycling, given the number of injuries and fatalities due to “dooring” incidents (especially when the cyclist is in a bike lane!!!). It’s almost like such data points are swept aside when making such rankings.

  7. Branden. If the papers – courier journal; Voice Tribune; and LEO did some articles on the bike lanes – how they work, what motorists need to know, what bikers need to know – it might be a big step forward. Also, the TV news might help. Cheers.

  8. I love your blog. Welcome back. I am a female commuter and one of the things I wish existed were more bike lanes on major thoroughfares like Shelbyville Road, Taylorsville Road and Bardstown Road. I know the impact is on neighborways, but sometimes using the major roads provide a quicker commute. It would be wonderful to have protected bike lanes on some of those major streets instead of being tucked away in the neighborhoods and forgotten by drivers. I also blog at commute2nowhere.com mostly about commuting experiences in Louisville.

  9. The number of bicyclists that choose to salmon their route up one way streets, and then complain at cars that are in a legal turn lane, illustrates to me that there isn’t enough public knowledge of how bike lanes work. That being said some people just choose not to look at the huge arrows indicating proper riding direction that are in the bike lane.

  10. Branden, glad to see you are doing well, hope and pray that complete recovery is just around the corner for you!

    I wish Louisville would care have as much about making the city accessible for those with handicaps as it is trying to become bike friendly. If they just started enforcing the ADA requirements on businesses things would be a whole lot better. However for some reason, they don’t seem to care about that!

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