A trolley line is proposed for Bardstown Road (artists representation)
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What if a real streetcar line meandered down Bardstown Road, connecting by rail Baxter Avenue and the Douglass Loop? Developer Dennis Dutton is proposing just that. His Bardstown Road Trolley Project is still in its early stages as the idea coalesces, but could transform public transportation in Louisville.

Dennis, who has developed property in the Highlands and elsewhere in Louisville, says the idea makes a lot of sense and everyone he talks to about the idea really supports it. The basic idea is to run an electric streetcar or trolley down Baxter Avenue and Bardstown Road. The streetcars are silent and don’t spew exhaust on the street and whether they carry a modern or traditional aesthetic will change public perception of transit.

The exact route for the proposal hasn’t yet been determined, but it could roughly follow the red line on the map above. The street cars would travel in traffic lanes on modern tracks with regular traffic. Dutton points out that the Douglass Loop was once the turnaround for just such a trolley system long ago but says the line could be expanded in either direction towards Downtown or farther down Bardstown Road.

A trolley line is hoped to spur additional economic growth in the area and “add to the allure of being on Bardstown Road.” Inspiration for the idea came from a real trolley installed in Little Rock, Arkansas and visits to Europe when Dutton was a pilot. He believes if it can work in Little Rock, trolleys could definitely work in Louisville.

Currently, the project is assembling a team to promote the idea and gather support. A web site is being created and will go live later this year. (It’s www.bardstownroadtrolley.com, so keep an eye out.) The site will allow supporters to register and sign an online petition. Dutton knows there will be plenty of obstacles and roadblocks along the way, but hopes the idea can garner enough excitement that it can push its way through.

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Branden Klayko


  1. My grandfather was directing traffic downtown as a police officer around 1944 when one of the trolley conductors accidentally let go of the emergency brake and the car clipped my grandfather. He wasn’t hurt but the ivory handle of his police revolver was chipped. Years later he showed me the handle and told me the story. I always thought it would have been neat to see Louisville back when the downtown area was REALLY booming (I know, we’re getting there, but it’s a long way from the 1940’s).

    In college I would have killed for any kind of efficent and reliable transportation that would have taken me from the Highlands to White Castle and then home on Saturday nights.

  2. Love that story.

    When I was in college there WAS a White Castle in the Highlands (corner of Bardstown and and Eastern Parkway).

    I really like the concept of the trolley, except my imagination keeps seeing a line of cruising cars stuck behind that trolley.

  3. I am all for this… but there will be one coming and going as a tarc bus takes 20 – 30 minutes each way from downtown to douglas loop.

    hopefully the price will be less than a dollar to ride though

  4. The trolley proposal would really make a great addition to Bardstown Road. Many of the details are a long way from being final, but the important thing is to generate interest. It’s amazing how much opportunity there is on Louisville for light rail transit with both street cars and trains with independent rights of way. Hopefully this discussion will get the community thinking about its options.

  5. Great concept! Trolley lines out Brownsboro, Frankfort, Preston, 3rd St., Dixie, Broadway and Market would be even better.

  6. Thanks for the comments…let’s get everyone talking and try to make this happen. It would be good for generations to come.
    If not us….who? If not now….when?

  7. I think Mayor Jerry actually proposed this at some point in the very distant past.

    Lord knows I’m in favor of rail transit, but I don’t think Bardstown Road is a natural anymore for Trolleys. Either the trolley needs to operate in lanes 2&3, in which case there is no way for peds to get on without walking through a lane of traffic, or it needs to operate in lanes 1&4, in which case is would not work with the current on-street parking scheme on Bardstown Road. Obviously, the parking would have to go. I think that would pretty much guarantee opposition from the business owners on the route, who think they rely on that parking for their livelyhoods. You’d need a hell of a lot of studies to persuade them that the benefit of the trolley would displace this loss.

    One nice side effect of running rails down lanes 1&4, though, – if you can get the type or rails that don’t deflect bike tires, it will make the whole corridor more bikeable. Right now active bikes fight with derelict cars in lanes 1&4.

    Sadly, I think that trolleybuses (buses powered overhead wires) would work better on Bardstown Road because they could change lanes. But in any case, that electricity is going to be generated by dirty coal power for the forseeable future, so we might as well forget the powerlines and just run regular buses. I know, I know: unsexy. Also: already done.

    I think the trolley would work better on a road that doesn’t have the flex lanes and doesn’t need the on-street parking as badly. Main/Market has the additional advantage that it would anihiliate those death-trap bike lanes, and would have parking on the other side of the street. Humana would pull for it (they have 3 buildings on that corridor). If memory serves, TARC may actually have done some preliminary studies of trolleys on this corridor.

  8. I like the idea but really, It is vaguely reminiscent of the very successful McKinney Avenue trolley in Dallas. However, I am sceptical as to the idea being viable. As Dave Morse pointed out, there are some big problems to be overcome. Anybody who has driven Bardstown Road on Friday or Saturday evening surely has experienced the massive traffic jam that develops. Possibly, if off street parking could be developed at the outer ends of the line, the trolley could then serve to help reduce the traffic. But, getting the young people who frequent the clubs and restaurants out of their cars will be quite a challenge.

  9. yeah, i’m for light rail if it’s thought about strategically, as part of a more holistic transit plan…

    …but i don’t think dropping it in b-town road is the place.

  10. I would really like to see a line around third st. starting at main running down to cardinal stadium.

  11. http://www.humantransit.org/2009/09/transit-in-the-fast-lane-the-access-challenge.html
    Here’s some streetcraft on handling the trolley running in the outer lane.

    Check out the speed table idea (option #2) – it has many things going for it.

    1) it would also help with inconsiderate motorists parking at the bus stop. Even the dimmest bulb can’t help but notice they’re parking on a PLATFORM.

    2) The speed table plan would provide a place so odious to drive that motorists would generally turn up their nose at it in all but the heaviest traffic. That would make the lane somewhat sheltered for bicyclists during rush hour. Net capacity change would be about zero, while making driving slightly more annoying. I think I’ll take the trolley instead.

    3) Lastly, if that table were high enough, perhaps it could provide roll-on-roll-off service for wheelchair users. This saves time also for the crochety, because it takes time for passengers to go up those steps.

    With this I’m more optimistic that the trolley would be politically viable.

    The only downside is losing the rush hour flex lane. Currently during rush hour travelling with the prevailing flow, lanes 3 and 4 (the two rightmost) are going with the flow. Lane 1 is for people going against the flow. And lane 2 is a center turn lane. There are lights above the lanes that light differently depending on the time of day. Also, motorists generally ignore them, assuming its a standard 4-lane road. We’d lose this if we have trolleys cruising both directions in lanes 2 and 3. That’s not a big loss – we already know that the street sort-of works without it.

  12. Thanks for posting the link, David. I was actually working on a story incorporating that link while you were posting the comment! There should be a collection of trolley/transit/streetcar related topics in an article tomorrow.

  13. Dave M. Thanks for the link. Europe has been mixing these mass transit options on normal (sometimes even smaller) city streets for decades. It works…. Bardstown Road might not be the exact best location but I think with coordinating the times the trolly runs and incorporating fixed stops is the way to go.

  14. Our family of 4 lives in the suburbs, but spends plenty of time in the Highlands and Clifton/Crescent Hill. So naturally when we travel we seek out neighborhoods like these. We were in St. Louis last 4th of July and spent a day on Delmar Blvd in the Delmar Loop. We loved it. It is a vibrant, eclectic neighborhood. The street is much wider than Frankfort Ave or Bardstown Rd so the congestion didn’t seem as bad and the sidewalks are a bit wider. There were many shops to stop in and check out and plenty of places to eat. There are a handful of chain establishments. It is nice that there is a Metro stop in the neighborhood.

  15. Louisville should really get behind this idea and expand on it. There should be a "hub and spoke" approach to the trolly / electric train system. As someone said earlier, take it out the major roads that lead into downtown. Go out Dixe, Preston, Brownsboro, Bardstown / Taylorsville. Shelve the downtown bridge and use the money to do this.

  16. You can see what the real streetcars on Baxter Avenue (and many other locations) were like in the DVD “Streetcars of River City”. The program was produced a few years ago with commentary by historians George Yater and Jim Calvert. It has many photos of Louisville’s street railways and the interurbans that reached out in seven directions from downtown. And it has actual movies of the cars on Broadway, Bardstown Road, Fourth and Third streets and other places, all shot from 1939-1941. There is even a sequence from the last interurban to cross the Big Four bridge in 1939. At the risk of spamming, it is available on the internet from
    http://www.herronrail.com . Locally, the hobby shop “L&N Trains and Things” on Frankfort Ave may have it. If not, they can get it.

  17. Not that I have heard, Porter. I believe Dennis was looking for help with the proposal a while ago, not sure if anyone stepped up. I will look into it soon, hopefully.

  18. @Ken Wilson – It couldn’t be any worse than being stuck behind a bus on Bardstown Road now and at least it wouldn’t belch out a cloud of black smoke when it starts to move.