Friday, January 13, 2017

Lexington: Make Good Plans For A "New" City Hall

One of the hot topics of last summer and fall was the push that the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government was making toward a new City Hall.  

After the collapse of consideration on the CentrePointe block, focus shifted to the Central Library building and its parking garage as the primary site. Although the 5 story structure seems to not be adequately arranged, those in the know feel that, with a few modifications, it could work.

Shortly after this plan became known, the Lexington-Herald Leader announced a shift in the location of their printing daily publication from Lexington to Louisville.  That, coupled with a further reduction in staff, led to the possibility of finding a smaller office space and placing their prime location well up on the list of candidates.

Some of us believe that the H-L building may a lack of square footage, but there is quite enough room surrounding the building for additions and leaving sufficient parking.  It really would make quite a statement on civic pride with a renovated (narrowed) Midland Avenue, its Town Branch Trail and the Thoroughbred Park directly in front and a backdrop of the highly treed Bell Court neighborhood.  Even the small street connecting a new back door to the neighborhood is named in honor of a former mayor, John Skain (1908-1912).

Whichever of the two sites is chosen, the "new" City Hall will not be in a newly built civic building which has been the dream of the merged government for more than four decades.  Financial woes and the struggle to balance urban, suburban and rural priorities have always seemed to push the extravagance of a new building just a little more down the list of necessities.

As always, in discussions on City Hall, the subject of sufficient space for the essential functions of government should be at the forefront.  One of my recent discussions led to remembrances of our early "part-time" council members.  I say "part-time" since they were limited to $6,000 (in 1972) and I was earning just under that in an unskilled position.  I don't think that anybody could do the job and have a family on that salary alone.  Those first council members shared office space and did most of their own research.  A tough part time job.

Thing is, back then the Fayette County population was a whopping 174,323+ and each council member represented approximately 14,527 residents on average.  Their constituents were in somewhat compact districts except for district 12, which was (and still is) primarily our rural farmland.  If memory serves, the population of district 12 (14,272) influenced the number and size of the remaining districts.

Today's district representative still receives a part-time salary (approx. $31,8000), has an office, a full-time legislative aide, a full calendar and a constituency of over 26,200 (an 80%+ increase).  The individual districts have over time, become less compact and considerably more diverse and not just culturally.  

A number of districts have become elongated, one to the point of representing folks living in a 1930's subdivision just south of the UK stadium AND folks living in a development on the Jessamine County line.  Our "mostly rural" 12th district is now approximately evenly split between suburban housing and the farming community.

Over 40 years, our community involvement has increased along with the population.  Neighborhood associations and home-owners groups are more common.  Today's council members need to keep touch with nearly all of these groups, either personally or through their aides.  They also need to be aware of groups forming within their districts.

By contrast, Louisville, and its more recently formed Metro Government, has 26 council members serving approximately 29,000 constituents.  Jefferson County has 113 square miles more than Fayette and nearly twice the population.  They also lack the distinct ring of rich horse farm property on the outer fringe.  It would not appear that they will have the need to drastically revamp their council districts any time soon.

This year is also the time to begin discussions on the community's comprehensive plan and there are a series of upcoming "On the Table" meetings on the calendar.  A usual topic is the possibility of expanding the Urban Services Area, further cutting into the farmland ring of ours, and its effect of the 12th council district.  One solution being floated around is the division of the 12th district into 2 or more parts.  Given the aforementioned role of the rural area in influencing district size, will any resulting divisions consider having a balance of urban and rural constituency while maintaining to be primarily rural?

The U.S. Census Bureau will soon call on all communities to begin redefining their census tracts and block groups for the decennial population count in 2020.  That count will be the basis for a required redistricting in 2022.

How we make plans for building our community and its quality of life, consider the possibility of an expanded Council and prepare to move into a "new" City Hall all look to be inter-related.  Now is a good time to begin planning for those questions.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Its Time We Plan For Downtown, Yes?

The Herald-Leader published an editorial back in the middle of February of 1982 commenting initially about the loss of the Meyer's clothing store.  Their conclusion was that "The differential between downtown closings and openings continues to grow."  Things were getting worse rather than better.

Despite the positive claim by Marvin Meyers that he was there and there for good, made only a few years earlier, just a couple of short months after his death the store would be closing.  Is it ironic that Marvin's comments were made on the occasion of their first suburban mall outlet?  Was it simply the suburban commercial expansion which led to the downtown decay?  Hardly.

The editors felt they could lay blame to a number of influences:  The rise of the automobile, the proliferation of suburbs, the changing patterns of work/shopping habits -- even the use of bypass roadways around downtown.  Maybe this was the general feeling of the public but other forces were also at work.

Downtown was becoming a site for bigger and "better" office buildings, in the theory that a denser daytime population would benefit the businesses of downtown.  With each new building came the loss of retailers unable to afford space in them.  The evening and nighttime population densities were totally ignored.  Although there was a known need to add downtown residential little was done to encourage it.

What the editors settled on was the need to preserve that which was the "charm" of Lexington and to build around it.  They felt the "success of a suburban mall in the city" depended on harmonizing with the buildings already in  place.  In today's hindsight, the success of the suburban mall is to make them look more like an urban downtown, complete with a substantial residential component.

Lexington has done very little to "alter" its suburban malls.  One was demolished in favor of a large religious facility that has brought little urban activity on a daily basis.  Another was substantially demolished in favor of a university controlled health care facility, again bringing little urban activity.  Our other mall style retail still struggle to survive without resorting to adding a retail component.  That will leave the soon to be opened Summit at Fritz Farm development to test the theory.

In the 35 years since this editorial was written, only a small number of residential units have been added to downtown despite several plans brought forth.  A very small number had anything to do with renovating spaces above the existing retail or other adaptive reuse of commercial structures.  I am aware that commercial lending rules make it a bit more difficult to finance these endeavors, but the City should be able to provide some assistance.

Downtown Lexington has more than enough underutilized space to forestall the need to demolish more buildings with "charm" in order to expand its residential capacity.  I hope that it is not left to the market forces create a sustainable residential mix for downtown.  I also hope that we can build more mixed use residential with "real" downtown support retail as a ground floor element.

Maybe this round of Comprehensive Plan considerations will include what we need to do to improve our downtown, especially our underutilized parcels, and create more tax revenue generating uses for Lexington.  Let me know what you think..

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Things I Am Looking For In 2017

I have put just one post so far this year and very little has changed in the way that life progresses in Lexington.  

Downtown plods along with the announcements of coming dining or drinking establishments, the additions to existing ones and maybe a project of additional government expense to attract either the Millenials or suburbanites to come and enjoy.  Reports say that this is working but I am not so sure.  Is there anyone out there who thinks the downtown business scene is as robust as it should be?

Take the building on the corner of Short and Limestone.  The one that has been restaurant after restaurant, and so on.  I believe that it has spent more of its time preparing to be the next great place than it has being a just a simple corner coffeehouse/diner.  Is that corner really destined to be the culinary center of town?

Our two downtown grocery stores have withered and passed but the need for the staples they carried still exists.  One aimed for the high end, the other for the more moderate yet neither delivered.  Panera's and Jimmy John's appear to have both bicycles and auto criss-crossing downtown on a daily basis.  Is bike delivery so difficult for daily staples or do Lexingtonian's dislike shopping for really fresh food?

This past year has seen changes in the historical context of some of our buildings and the conversations about the removal of our other historic context, but very little about adding touches or images of our missing historic elements to put it all in perspective.  Maybe this is something that I need to get back to thinking about in the new year.

For those of you who have followed be on Facebook or Twitter, thanks.  I will not give them up entirely since I really desire the conversations which many of those posts generated.  I am told that this blog can reach much farther than either FB or T but I want more than reach, I want to be a part of a dialogue.  In a dialogue, I cannot be the only one talking so the missing part is you.  I wonder who is willing to help.

Happy Holidays... and lets talk in 2017

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Can You Afford To Be A Future Driver?

I am sure that you have all seen the recent headlines. This year of 2016 is taking off with a rush with news about driverless autos. I have been fairly skeptical in the past in my writing about them but there has been much progress lately.

One of the first headlines that I saw was this “Uber Makes Deal to Expand Its Reach Into Public Transit.” Uber wants to let the traditional transit systems remain the “middle miles” of transportation while they take over the “first and last miles”. In this way buses can concentrate on the spines of the system and Uber make the door to door runs for transit riders. This could work in the total absense of fully autonomous vehicles. Just how it plays with the expense of daily trips for the lower income riders will remain to be seen.

Then came the announcement that “GM Invests $500 Million in Lyft, Plans System for Self-Driving Cars.” Ford Motor Co. has also made rumblings of additional research toward driverless vehicles but without a dollar figure.

Then, on the heels of Obama's final State of the Union address, in which he made little mention of the recent FAST Act transportation bill signed on Dec. 4, 2015 yet spoke of actions on the horizon, came this announcement. “U.S. Proposes Spending $4 Billion (over 10 years) on Self-Driving Cars.”

It would look as though the Obama Administration is getting into the promotion of autonomous vehicles.  Anthony Foxx, the Secretary of Transportation, made the first move during the Detroit Auto Show with a statement about an “ongoing effort to see connected and automated vehicles developed, deployed, on the market, and available to US drivers.” Under the President's proposal the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will be in charge in drafting the framework for autonomous driving technology that would encourage consistent rules across all 50 states. 

Mr. Foxx declined to say whether he expected bipartisan support for the proposed $4 billion driverless-car investment in the president’s budget, but given the Republican's penchant for rejecting anything with Obama's name on it, I believe that there is doubt. Is this where the GOP rises up and begins a campaign against the devastating and job-killing “war on cars”?

Some people are already on that track if you consider this, Self-driving cars will kill the auto industry
The trouble is, the traditional auto makers, no matter how hard they try, are not likely to survive in an era of self-driving automobiles. If there is one thing the history of technological disruption teaches us, and we have seen a heck of a lot of it in the last couple of decades, it is that when there is a decisive shift from one technology to another, it is new companies that learn how to use it, not the old ones.”
How quickly will the self-driving car take off?

There has been a lot of investment, and a lot of interest, but so far there are not many cars that you can actually buy. Millennials seem to be shunning the industry as it is since the expense of owning an auto on top of their anticipated student loan payment could break their budget. Those in the lower income levels are rapidly being priced out of car ownership.

People of my generation bought cars for the thrill of driving on the open road. They have also lived with the drudgery of congested roadways and traffic jams. They have struggled with the endless search for limited downtown parking, yet kept the dream of technology that was still in the sci-fi books only a few years ago alive. 

How will they deal with it when it becomes a reality?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

If It Is Coming, We Need To Plan For It

Nearly every major car maker in America and several large technology firms are racing to develop vehicles that can operate with limited-to-no human interaction. Driver-less cars are on the horizon. Some say within 20 years.

If that is the case, then the auto industry will take a dramatic turn from selling to the individual to selling to transportation service providers. As young professionals across the Western world are discovering, it is extremely more convenient to summon a form of transportation than to concern ones self about where and how to store or maintain an expensive automobile. To Millenials, the automobile is not the freedom device it was to their parents and much more costly than their current freedom device, their smart phone/tablet.

With that in mind, I would like to know just how cities like Lexington are beginning to plan for streets full of such driverless autos. 

I can see one scenario where more and more commuters choose to use an automated form of transit (not the flying cars from the science fiction movies of the '50s) like a driverless car to carry them downtown in the morning and make a return pick up in the evening. They need not bother about a designated parking spot nor the questionable safety of the trek to the garage. How would this affect the look and feel of downtown Lexington?

Many of the comments I have received on this blog have dealt with the need for downtown residents to have their personal, and private, parking. The primary reasons stated are the need for a car to leave downtown for the weekly shopping trip or other amenities not currently found downtown. I feel that the age range for these folks will fall squarely in the Baby Boomer set, still enamored with the freedom of a set of wheels.

Too many times I have read the projections of planners who looked at past trends and fell short of the impact of a cultural or social shift, or the media pundits who forecast rosy urban developments which falter due to local/global economic situations. They are fun to read when they do both with different aspects of several connected elements of society.

I do not think that it is too soon to begin monitoring the possible shifts in parking demand in he suburbs. Reports from this past Black Friday shopping frenzy lead one to believe that the parking fields of many malls and commercial centers fell far from crowded. The use of land-use related parking minimums are being rethought by more communities than Lexington.

Those same parking shifts could tell an even better story for downtown. Without the need for one to store an automobile for up to 8 hours a day, how many of our current surface parking lots would pay for themselves in daily revenue? How many more of these lots can, and should, be put to better use?
From my memory and experience, the local community has not planned for potential uses of demolished buildings, citing the lack of jurisdiction due to it being “private property” yet requiring permission to erect anything in its place. History has shown us that the “stop gap” measure of allowing a temporary parking lot is anything but – temporary.


In the suburbs, life without an auto will present many new challenges. These same people who find commuting to work easier may also wish to use a different sized driverless vehicle to take the family to the park, pool or the movies. Weekly shopping trips may also be accomplished with similar ease. What should not be necessary, in the long run, is the large ocean of parking around even the simplest of shopping developments.

Is someone now looking at what alternative configurations may be possible for the existing commercial areas? The current B-6P zoning classification is considered a “Planned Shopping Center” zone, with its own set of minimum parking requirements. Widespread use of driverless vehicles, increased online shopping (with drone delivery) or even major enhancements to the existing mass transit system can render those requirements obsolete in just a few years. A forward looking community should have a concept of what an alternative could look like.

Staging Areas 
At the point that driverless cars become as prevalent as as anticipated above, the sheer number of such vehicles would mean a systematic and strategic set of maintenance and staging facilities. Today's family car gets a somewhat limited amount of daily use, roughly 1-3 hours out of 24. A fleet of driverless vehicles could go from one assignment to another almost 24/7, much like the fire and emergency fleet does currently. They will need the typical refueling and maintenance but at a higher frequency interval. 
Does this bode well for the once ubiquitous service stations, now convenience stores? Which zone would be best for such a facility? Following in the footsteps of VHS vs Beta, Apple vs Microsoft and Uber vs Lyft, will there be competing versions of driverless systems out there?

Auto dealers
Then there is the whole question of dealing with the usually unsavory task of shopping for a car. Will it be a new car or a used car, will you go for all of the bells and whistles as add-ons, 2-door or four,and will you take the luxury car path? All of these questions may become moot save for the hold outs of the 1% who already have drivers employed. An interesting story from the Tech Insider on the shift in car ownership may be found here.
It may not be right around the corner and it may take a while to fully get here, but the whole concept of planning is to look to the future and its possibilities. From what I read, of the 50 largest US cities only 6% of cities’ transportation plans consider the potential effect of driverless technology. Their land-use plans are probably also lagging as far behind as well.

I, and many other Baby Boomers, may not ever buy one or even use one very often but the say that they are coming. Our technology developers are planning for and I don't think that our urban planners are.

I am open for any comments.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

An Alternate Downtown Nightlife?

Saturday night, Mrs Sweeper and I took our 23rd anniversary dinner at Shakespeare & Co's downtown location. Good food, a few drinks and a comfortable atmosphere in a downtown that we love. I hope for at least 23 more years with her.

As part of our dinner conversation, a question arose as to what someone new to Lexington, say a visitor who had arrived just past 6 p.m. or so, would look to do as an after dinner activity. We decided to try and see just what was happening in downtown at about 8:30 on December 5th.

We walked East on Short Street past several storefronts and other closed doorways. Past some surface parking, two other eateries with TVs on and an office or two (closed). East of Mill, saw more closed offices, two restaurants, a pub with TVs (and bar food), a well lit up Pavilion (mostly unused) and more surface parking. Some more shuttered offices and a former court house patiently awaiting some tender loving care took us to Upper St. Shorty's taproom and a calm Upstart Crow were all that were open on the next block and we took a turn toward Main. Two bars with lots of TVs, a quiet court house plaza and a closed hot dog place and we rounded the corner and headed back to Broadway.

Main St was very quiet with Thai food and many closed storefronts, some silent cranes keeping watch, a bar waiting the evening crowd and a 21c hotel rounding into shape. From Upper to Cheapside looked dead as a doormouse on Christmas. Forward to Mill and we passed a quiet office building and a basement bar (with TVs). From here to Broadway, we saw two people dining and little else. The Square was fairly active (I actually saw a few shoppers in the Urban Outfitters), lots of diners and a busy set of valet parking drivers.

We then looped back by crossing the street after walking to the Roastery (closed) and walked through Triangle Park noting that the skaters only had about a month left to be on ice. Once winter really set in the rink will be long gone. Crossing Broadway at Vine, we strolled up to Main and saw a bar with many TVs and a quiet hotel restaurant. Again very quiet on Main to Mill, but walking up Mill gave us nearly 50% storefront activity.

After about an hour I think we had our answer; dining and drinking and after you have done the first, you can only do the other. And watch TV.

I know what I would be doing if I were in my 20s and unmarried but we all cannot stay that way. I will take suggestions on things to do over the next few months.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What Does The Future Hold For Phoenix Park?

As of the end of November, the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government now owns all of Phoenix Park.

What? Did you just ask me to explain myself?

Phoenix Park is a park which has been there since 1985, first as a temporary park of landscaping and walkways wandering through the back-filled corner property, and then made permanent. The downtown park where we chose to locate our VietNam War memorial alongside a representation of an urban stream. The park where we have placed eternal flame monuments for our fallen peace officers and firefighters. How could we do all of that if we did not own it?

Well, we did own some of it, just not all of it. Now we own all of it.

On April 5, 1985, the State of Kentucky sold the front portion of the area we now know as Phoenix Park to the City. This sale came with a restrictive covenant wherein the LFUCG could only use the property as a public park. The City had for months before been working to make this property presentable for the NCAA Final Four at Rupp Arena that year. Such work had been done on a perpetual easement granted by the State on the remaining property.

So, great, as long as we have an easement things are smooth sailing, right?

Smooth, until the State decides to consider the property surplus. KRS (Kentucky Revised Statutes) 45A.045(4) grants the Secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet the authority to determine that the property is more suitable to the public's interest if utilized in another manner. If so, then the property may be sold.

Utilized in another manner? It has been a cherished park for 30 years now, what other use would part of it be put to? A chain sandwich shop just spent a lot of money opening a storefront onto this park, now what?

Official Order 15-134 from the Secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet has declared the property surplus and directed disposition toward the LFUCG. Great, now it can stay as a park for all of the city to enjoy.

Wait a minute, what is this in the paperwork? Whereas the LFUCG proposes to “utilize the property for a public purpose only, to wit, for the purpose of creating vehicular parking...” Wait a minute, vehicular parking? In Phoenix Park? Where? How?

Remember, this is only the part that the State retained with the easement for the park purposes. But, does the downtown, walkable park really need vehicular parking to operate and maintain it? After 30 years?

Also, the State, in disposing of this property to the LFUCG, included the prior property transferred some 30 years previous “only for the purpose of releasing the restrictive covenant requiring Parcel 14 to be utilized as a public park”. A replacement restrictive covenant requiring Parcel 14 for a public purpose only, including but not limited to vehicular parking. Again with the vehicular parking. Now allowed on all of the Phoenix Park property.

This parking shall be available at all times for use by the general public. Well at least it did not say that it was free parking, just general parking.

Okay, so there is going to be public parking on the Phoenix Park property. How would you arrange it? Will they place some back-in angled spaces along the north side of Water St so that the Panera delivery folks do not have so far to walk to their vehicles? Will it be angled pull-in parking instead? How will this aid the purpose of operating or maintaining the existing park?

There must be more to come.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Lexington Looks To Improve Their Public Spaces --- Again

I cannot hide the fact that I want more walkable spaces in Lexington, even in the area considered the most walkable – downtown. Therefore, I participated in the Gehl Studios Public Space Public Life study done for the Lexington DDA this past summer. I took part in the two initial session where the questions about where the places of most interest are and what Lexingonians want in their public spaces. I not only gave my opinions but also watched as others worked to give theirs and to appropriately show locations on an aerial photo. More than a few had some trouble.

I also attended two similar versions of a presentation on the results of the study and was quite surprised by the way the data was depicted. It took me a few additional days to finally see the final study maps for a detailed perusal.

Favorite places

The initial step in the study was to gather base data and basically confirm some apparently global social desires for public spaces.

The first set of points mapped was to show where the respondents go today and for which of 4 reasons they go. This to highlight the current hot spots of urban activity as it relates to public space. The obvious and usual places jump right out at you: Jefferson Street, Triangle Park, Cheapside Pavilion, Gratz Park and the Court House Plaza. These are what I consider our current “pockets” of urban vitality.

Some others are not so logical either from their location or for the listed reason for going there. The cluster of 11 or so dots in the center of the CentrePointe “hole” indicates that some want to spend more time there – today-. An additional 8 or so indicate that they go to socialize on that block of Vine St without any public attraction apparent there. Similar groupings of markers in the Cox St parking lot for Rupp Arena or the rock strewn lot across from the Thoroughbred Park on Main St raise major question about the usefulness of this as “baseline”data. The points concerning Thoroughbred Park itself could be a whole question to be answered later.

From the responses of what Lexingtonians like to see in public spaces (here and elsewhere) and the mapped “hot-spots” of their favorites, ten key focus areas were identified. Again the obvious ones predominate. Jefferson St, Gratz Park, Short St, Cheapside Pavilion, North Lime (up to 3rd St) and Thoroughbred Park on the north side of Main St. Triangle Park, Phoenix Park, South Limestone (at campus) and the Transit Center on the south side. As an aside, only three people indicated the Transit Center structure as a “favorite” place and they may have been misplaced.

Movement between our favorite places

The next step was to measure when and how we move between these hot-spot or “pockets” on a typical day. Using volunteers to count solely the pedestrians as they took to the streets on their daily routines, maps were generated showing hourly levels of foot traffic.

The weekday locations of maximum traffic did not surprise me, nor should it anyone else. The Short/Limestone intersection and the Transit Center /Ayres Al connection (or lack thereof) dominated the morning and evening commute time frames. Main and Short Streets from Limestone to beyond Broadway held the top area during the lunchtime hours followed by the university heavy dining choices of South Limestone restaurants. The happy hour foot traffic centered on South Lime, Main/Broadway and Jefferson St in that order.

Pedestrian traffic between any identified “pockets” is minimal to non-existent. Knowing this and seeing that the data confirm it may lead to another study, but that is what I thought would be covered in this one.

The weekend locations again surprise no one. In fact their beginning time frame is the “morning market” when the primary traffic of any kind will be focused on the weekly Lexington Farmers Market event which has held dominance in downtown for many years. The numbers for Thoroughbred Park look to be at their highest at this time and despite the claims of desires to spend more time there, they. barely make the chart. Lunchtime on a Saturday afternoon should typically find most of the activity around the dining places on the west side of Limestone and the campus hangouts of South Lime and the realization that Jefferson St barely moves the needle until after 5pm is interesting.

Again the pedestrian movement between these “pockets” is lacking.

To compare Lexington to other US cities might seem a bit presumptuous but, at its peak even Short ST is on par with other business districts. That it cannot hold that pedestrian count for any sustained amount of time tells a different story. This study does freely admit that we have definite peaks and lulls but says nothing about the relative distances of the compared districts.

Pedestrian conclusions

Some of the most notable conclusion which were drawn from the collected data are:
  • 1) that very few people downtown are willing to walk to work.
  • 2) that the greatest downtown pedestrian volume is at lunchtime.
  • 3) that the pedestrian activity comes in bursts (usually accompanied with sponsored events).
  • 4) that without the events, the pedestrians go away.
  • 5)that families do not spend non-event time strolling through the downtown.
But the top conclusion was:
that people will stay downtown after work and party, get this, around the Pavilion and usually with an event. 

What is missing from any conclusion is the recognition that pedestrian traffic on Vine Street, other than at the Transit Center is minimal at best. Yet is where the City has spent a lot of money in the recent past

Anybody even remotely cognizant of downtown could come up with this conclusion without hiring a consultant.

Passive public recreation figures.

In terms of what a typical downtown visitor does when one gets to a public space, Gehl Studios measured the ratio of those who lingered to those who passed by. This was labeled as “stickiness” and looks at where they did linger but not totally identifies the why of the lingering.

On a typical weekday one out of every two pedestrians took time to linger in both Gratz and Phoenix parks followed by Thoroughbred Park with one out of three, but the pedestrian numbers for Phoenix dwarfed the other two. Of the 3 sites, I can find little reason to stay at any of them.

North Limestone at 1 out of 4, South Limestone with 1 out of 7 and Jefferson St showing 1 out of 15 all share the same characteristic, the public realm in each is the sidewalk which connects drinking/dining establishments there. I think that the Jefferson St ratio is skewed due to the number of elderly from Connie Griffith Manor out for a walk around the block.

Triangle Park holds one out of every 38 passers by on a typical weekday and one out of 19 on the weekends. Unless there is an event in the park, there is little reason to pause for any length of time. The park neither engages the street nor fully isolates the seeker of passive free time from the sounds of major city traffic. One cannot find respite from the hot summer sun nor the brisk spring and autumn breezes and while the soothing sounds of the tumbling water may bring comfort to the mind it does not mask reality. What becomes quite evident from the numbers is that despite the claims of being “favorite” places, Thoroughbred and Triangle Parks are not very popular. Symbolic and visually striking, but not gathering spots for Lexington.

Four guiding strategies

After the collection of numbers, the visualizations of the actions of our pedestrians versus the expressed desires of interested parties and the discovery of the lack of retention elements of our public saces, the Gehl Studios group put out 4 strategies to guide further work.

To begin with, we need a “people first” urban core. With that I agree. That is not to say we need to remove automobile traffic altogether, but to limit its domination of all forms of urban traffic. Pedestrians should get priority at major intersections and through town vehicular traffic should be discouraged.

Then a bridging of our north-south divide by not just strengthening our Limestone and Jefferson corridors, but Martin Luther King and Rose/Elm Tree Lane as well. Our focus need not be just on the west side of Limestone. The report says to 'prioritize sidewalk improvements' and that should not be limited to additional paving but more and better retail engagement to whatever pavement that currently exists.

We must also begin to use what we have, our existing resources. It was acknowledged that all of our “great” destination style public spaces are not well connected. That these spaces need to be easily accessible and imbued with something to invite and hold a visitors interest. Attempts at better way-finding signage are being made but we must do more. It is suggested that an increase in diverse and more dramatic programming, with extended hours could be the answer, but there is an expense to that.

Filling in the gaps, those basically dead pedestrian segments, seems to roll all of the other strategies into a culminating objective for downtown. Many of these gaps are extended lengths of monochromatic wall or surface parking lots where retail formerly stood. Main St and Vine St are of particular note in having more of this dead space, even where the former retail spaces remain but the engagement with the sidewalk/pedestrian is missing. No amount of streetscape redesign or rain gardens will solve this.

Next, I think will look at the several “pilot” projects which have been proposed. Until then, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Raising Of "Chicago Bottoms" - Or So We Hope

I have been watching the area along Corral Street for several years, basically since they tore down the old City Hall and the Clark Street jail. With all the barren surface parking and treeless streetscape, there is little reason for many people to go there. I guess that much of the property on the south side of Corral is just waiting for the Central Christian Church to expand their religious campus.

This part of downtown used to be a hive of activity with the daily hum of city officials , court attendees and the bill payers going to the offices of the local telephone and gas companies on nearby corners. Pedestrian traffic was so heavy that there was a stoplight required at the intersection of Walnut (now MLK) and Barr. Thirty years later, this volume of activity is merely a memory to some of us.

Back when the Council was discussing the food truck issue, many of the “bricks and mortar” restaurants were pushing strongly for Corral St to be a primary location in which to place these trucks. It made no sense to me, as this is such a distant walk from anywhere people downtown currently frequent. What the street needs is something to draw activity to the area other than the regular movement of street people from Phoenix Park to the Lighthouse Ministries or the Catholic Action Center.

One good thing to happen in the area was the recent Louis Armstrong mural, with its bright, vibrant colors. It does strike me that he is looking back over his shoulder toward a section of town hich was called “Chicago Bottoms”. The housing is long gone now but the streets used to be lined with small shotgun shacks and a few rough and tumble bars. Spruce and Second Sts had some particularly deadly bars, about 80 years ago.

Neglect and the addition of downtown support businesses may have cleared the area but it sure wasn't gentrification and displacement by the trendy spots as we have seen elsewhere. Lexington's young professionals tend to shy away from here, but that is about to change.

Over the last five years or so, an LLC by the name of Lexington MLK (since changed to Urban 221 LLC) has bought up a little over 1.6 acres on N Martin Luther King, between Corral and Wickliffe, and looked to be repairing the old Columbia Gas Office. A Robert McMeekin designed structure from the early '30s, it is still in fairly good shape and solidly built. Alas, it appears that they could find no new use for the beautiful corner building.

Plans I saw today show a five story apartment building, with ground floor structured parking and providing 150 residential units. The building envelope sets right on the existing property and right-of-way lines to the extent that it will crowd the street a little more than probably necessary. Though its access is from Corral, I believe that it will front primarily on Martin Luther King but could certainly command the full corner beautifully.

I hear that these unit will be targeted toward the young urban professionals that we call the Millenials. Quite different from the single room occupancy units on the other end of Corral. One good point is the ground floor space available for amenities, but I understand that it may extend only to exercise rooms and a “dog spa”. Hardly something which can bring street front activity during the day when the residents are away working or sustain it into the evening.

All in all, I find the proposal encouraging for the area. Will Sayre School follow along with something on their parking lot? Or will the Central Christian Church fill out the other corner with an urban use which is compatible? I hate to lose a dignified building that we have, but there is much to gain and this area can use it. We have a chance to begin something nice on MLK (there is another LLC acquiring land up the block) so lets start out correctly.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What Is A Serious Cyclist?

I had a friend use the term “serious cyclist” in relation the the author of an cycling based op-ed piece in the Herald Leader this morning. Telling me that he has ridden hundreds, if not thousands, of miles with her over the years, I would guess that many of these rides were for pleasure and mainly on rural back roads. Her premise is that the City has done much for expanding the number and quality of bike lanes in Lexington and the cyclists have responded well.

Primary in her thoughts seems to be this paragraph.
“There are many reasons to promote increasing bike use. We all have experienced the inconvenience of having a road widened, only to find that once opened there seems to be more traffic and longer delays than ever. One bike means one less car. Ten people commuting to work or going shopping by bike translates to 10 fewer cars in front of you at the traffic light and 10 more parking spaces. Having more bike lanes makes it easier to reach bus stops, resulting in more bus riders, further reducing congestion.”
Each of these reasons is straight from the motorist wish list of wider and more convenient roads or the hope of less demand, as long as that reduction of attributed to someone else removing themselves. Apparently, the addition of more cycling facilities will driving so much easier for the the “serious” motorist.

I, of course, did not see any mention of additional bike parking, whether it be covered or not, at the many new entertainment and dining facilities which we have opened and planned. It does not speak to the lack of enforcement of the numerous traffic violations committed by cyclists in this and many other cities. Limited by space, it could not detail cycling instruction in the proper use of sharrows and bike lanes by parents or others.

I bring this up because I was a serious cyclist in some decades past. I was not he type that bought the special shoes or the Lycra shorts and shirts to zip through the countryside. I commuted to work every day, rain or shine, at a job with this City. First from a little over a mile and a half each way and extending to over three before dropping back to right about 1. My rule of thumb was, +15 degrees F and cleared streets meant a good ride into work and back. Several thousand miles a year and little of it on back roads and countryside.

I, maybe, did not consider myself a “serious” cyclist but a non-driver. An unlicensed adult who chose not to join the ranks of the baby-boom brigade of sprawl settlers charging out into the suburbs. I was a Pre-Millenial who chose to live as close to downtown as possible and in the walkable / bikeable streetcar suburbs of old.

To friends and co-workers, I was the oddball who didn't drive and may need a ride once in a while. Cycling was, to me, not only a form of commuting but a way to get a sense of the community somewhat different from my colleagues. I did bring a fresh view to some of the neighborhood discussions.

For over 20 years, as one who's responsibility is was to maintain Lexington's maps, I not only added new streets and parcels but cycled about 95% of them in doing so. Some folk could call that being serious about it.

Now I wonder, what constitutes a “serious” motorist?