Suburban Louisville is headed back to the drawing boards. Metro Louisville is trying to figure out how to retrofit the suburban fringe of Jefferson County along the Gene Snyder Beltway to “create a more vibrant center where walking, bicycling and public transportation are real options for residents.”
Louisville has been selected as one of four communities from a pool of over 100 applicants to receive technical assistance on growth and development-related issues from the Federal Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities which represents the first-ever joint effort between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), and Housing & Urban Development (HUD).
“For years EPA has provided technical assistance to communities working to become both environmentally and economically sustainable,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement. “This year, for the first time ever, HUD and DOT will join EPA to coordinate transportation and housing issues with our environmental work. Local governments and developers will have more of the support they need to build communities with affordable housing, low-cost transportation options, maximum environmental benefits and minimum environmental impacts.”
As part of the Smart Growth Implementation Assistance grant, Louisville will be studying Bardstown and Billtown roads at the Gene Snyder to develop smart growth strategies that can create centers of compact development in accordance with the Cornerstone 2020 comprehensive plan adopted in 2000. Metro Louisville is addressing a “need to shift the emphasis of suburban development in this community from an auto-dependent to a multi-modal oriented design.”
The suburban retrofit project proves timely considering Louisville was recently ranked the 7th worst city for pedestrian safety according to the Dangerous by Design report, thanks largely in part to dangerous and unwalkable auto-dominated arterial streets that fuel the outer suburban regions. The study cited lack of pedestrian infrastructure as a key cause of danger in suburban areas.
About the suburban study areas
Two study areas were chosen for their level of development on Louisville’s suburban fringe and for their adjacency to the planned City of Parks initiative around the Floyds Fork stream corridor which is expected to draw new development. According to Metro Louisville, “Fern Creek, an unincorporated area just on the edge of the Floyds Fork area, presents a suburban context where a ‘business as usual’ pattern of growth threatens the community’s quality of life and long-term livability.”
The process of retrofitting existing suburban areas isn’t going to be easy. The area is already largely developed and is split in two by a major Interstate highway. The city won’t be able to force existing development to change, but instead seeks to make recommendations on how growth and redevelopment happens in a “new suburban paradigm.”
While the study will emphasize the Bardstown Road corridor in Fern Creek, strategies will also be created to guide the largely rural Billtown Road corridor. Combined, both areas represent about 2,000 acres and “possess the greatest potential for creating compact, mixed-use centers,” according to Metro Louisville. Strategies developed for these areas can later be adopted for other suburban areas around the city.
Project in early phases; public input planned
City planners are currently working with the EPA on scoping the project and assessing the challenges of how to proceed. Last March, prior to receiving the Federal grant, a traffic analysis of the area at Bardstown Road and I-265 had been funded by Metro Council to better understand the existing transportation network. Results of that study will be linked to the new grant.
Once the initial scoping and organizational aspects wrap up, the City plans to engage residents and stakeholders to help the community understand the smart growth principles of compact development and what it means for their quality of life. Planner Ken Baker said there’s a “definite public participation process to come.” One key component of the grant is the education of the general public about smart growth principles.
Eventually, the project seeks to create a concept plan born out of several dynamic community charrettes. Once complete, a planned development district drawing on the local context will be developed and implemented under the Louisville Metro Planning Commission.
Goals address a variety of issues
Overall, the city plans to take advantage of the broad expertise of all three Federal agencies to create the best solution for Fern Creek. Issues to be addressed include protecting critical environmental assets such as farmland and the Floyds Fork watershed, retrofitting the current arterial structure for safe pedestrian infrastructure, creating a framework for future transit nodes, addressing center design at the site of a highway interchange, and encouraging community involvement.
Metro Louisville has many goals for the project. To achieve its environmental goals, the project aims to create a plan to mitigate “water quality issues related to sanitary sewer overflow” during heavy rain events. Preservation of farmland will also be aided by compact growth patterns. Reducing vehicle miles traveled by promoting walkability and transit ridership will help to improve local air quality.
The way forward
Baker says the process is “about a different way of development that improves the [neighborhood’s] quality of life.” Smart growth provides more options for residents to safely get around where today the community must rely solely on automobile transport. Planner Connie Ewing adds that it’s as easy as “actually having sidewalks so you can get to your destination.”
Principles of how suburbs were built in the past will be studied to guide development in the future. New Urbanism, a concept of applying town planning principles to new development, has been successful in creating walkable communities across the country on a compact, human scale.
In the end, this grant and the ensuing suburban retrofit study marks an important shift in attitude about new development in Louisville that will help curb the endless sprawl of disconnected and disjointed developments in an attempt to redefine “business as usual.”
Admirable goals. But to make TRUE neighbors out of all the subdivisions in the Fern Creek area may go against the grain for those residents who want to maintain any sort of "elitist" identification. And I hope that TARC, while in a deep cutting mode, will be on board with the transportation needs – as they exist today, and as they will change if actual affordable housing is implemented.