"Louisville is the most elegantly designed auto-centric city I've ever visited" - Tacoma Traffic Engineer
During a meeting in January of 2013 with our fellow ULI Rose Fellows from Tacoma, Austin and Hartford, one of the delagates from Tacoma who happened to be a traffic engineer quipped that "Louisville is the most elegantly design auto-centric city I've ever visited." He had only seen downtown so far on the city tour but that comment has echoed in our minds ever since. We already knew Louisville was auto-dependent, but somehow having a traffic engineer point this out in front of a group of urbanists we were working with for a year-long collaborative project felt like being stabbed with a hot iron, branded with a big fat A.
Since then we have worked to find ways to make Louisville a more walkable and vibrant city, with such efforts to rethink our streets with open street program CycLouvia and rethink parking lots and underutlized spaces with ReSurfaced. We need to step up our efforts though. The COVID pandemic has globally opened people's eyes to the importance of pedestrian space. Healthier cities are more walkable and vibrant places. Though Louisville has made some strides to counter the Tacoma traffic engineer's comment, we have a lot of work to do.
AutoCentriCity is a project to look at and better understand what is working and what is not, by posting various dives into specific facets of our city's urban core to highlight how things could be different. In order for our urban core and particularly our downtown to not only survive but thrive, they need be their own self contained neighborhoods that not only offer all the amenities that our great neighborhoods throughout the city offer, but also offer the urban cosmopolitan characteristics that only the core can provide with dense housing and the cultural organizations that attract people to them.
Since the automobile became the preferred mode of transportation in the earlier part of the 20th Century we have given more and more space in our cities to the storage and movement of the car. These sprawling surface lots and underutilized spaces in the urban core detract from the appeal of city life. What is the opportunity cost of allowing land owners to demolish productive building sites only to be replaced with a surface lot? Are you more comfortable walking downtown at night past a block of storefronts and shop windows or an empty parking?
One of the maps we generated to look at how much surface area was dedicated to cars (not including parking garages) in and around the central business district indicated that number was about 25%. Though that is a lot of space, there are some strategic locations around the city where replacing the surface lot with development would have a greater impact on the perception and function of downtown and make it more appealing.