As the Urban Design Studio starts focusing more attention on transit and walkability this year, I was reminded of a project that we worked on back in 2012 as we ramped up that year’s Park(ing) Day coordination. We decided, along with organizing more than 20 other park(ing) spaces with various organizations, we would take a parking space on South Third Street in front of the Urban Design Studio and create a mock transit stop (see story header image above).

Given that successful transit systems are obviously more than one node, we worked to develop a hypothetical streetcar network to show how our mock-stop fit into the grander scheme. We drew a lot of inspiration from Louisville’s original extensive streetcar network from the 1940s. The historic transit map has hung on the walls of the studio for almost as long as I’ve been running the UDS as a way to remember how the city used to function and something to aspire to for our future.

Louisville Railway Co. Transit Map from 1940

Being self-identifying mapping geeks, we then researched some modern transit wayfinding maps (like the one from Boston below) for reference in creating the system map. These graphic maps provide users with a quick snap-shot of the system that is easily understandable, a key feature for improving usability and a quality user experience.

Boston Transit Map at the Davis subway stop 2009

My friend, colleague, and UDS graduate research assistant, Luis Calvo, synthesized these ideas into this great Imagine Louisville Transit map.

Imagine the Future of Louisville Transit map

We enlisted some of our urbanist colleagues to help construct the stop for the Park(ing) Day event in September 2012. I feel very fortunate to have had the original design studio space that allowed us to construct our ideas and continued gratitude to all of our friends who volunteer their time to pull these visions together.

Construction of the transit parklet at the UDS
Pre-assembled parklet in the studio the night before installation

That installation may have only been for one-day, but the new vision for transit has stuck with me ever since. Though the return of streetcars seems farther away than it did in 2012, with transit systems around the country struggling to fund their existing networks, I still hold out hope to see them here again one day. As Jeff Speck says in his book Walkability City Rules, “streetcars are development tools more than transit.” As we think about Louisville transit, a streetcar line isn't a silver bullet, but could be one piece of the network that functions as an economic development driver.

The 2012 Park(ing) Day installation was encapsulated while listening to Mike Lydon talk about tactical urbanism at the Urban Prototyping Festival in San Francisco in 2015 as I watched a Louisville Railway Company streetcar pass us on Market Street.

Urban Prototyping discussion on the street as Louisville Railway Co. Streetcar rolls by

The energy and excitement around the idea of streetcars that was generated by the project inspired us to print a short run of t-shirts with Luis’ design. I often wonder how many of these are still floating around out there.

One of only a handful of shirts printed with Luis' design

As we start thinking about innovative ways to reimagine Louisville’s transit system, it is worth remembering that old ideas can and should inform and inspire us to not only bring back what we had, but work towards a more vibrant future. Maybe it would be worth reissuing the t-shirts to get the idea out beyond some musing Field Notes.