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February 20, 2007

The case for idealism and 8664

Stanley CollyerThe recent LEO interview with Mayor Abramson (Jan. 3) aptly illustrates how old habits are hard to break. He defends the new construction of Spaghetti Junction versus the 8664 solution based on some faulty premises.1) Indiana does not wish to expand I-265 to three lanes.It is only logical to assume that the need to expand that interstate to three lanes in the future, with or without Spaghetti Junction, will become a necessity. Two architects on the Indiana side of the river questioned on this topic were surprised by the assumption that the expansion of I-265 in Indiana to accommodate more traffic would not be tolerated. Neither one had heard of any organized resistance to the expansion of I-265 in Indiana and found the idea to be ludicrous. They point out that local governments in Southern Indiana would only welcome such a development, as it would lead to the establishment of more businesses along that artery.With the construction of the East End Bridge, through traffic — notably trucks — will invariably use I-265 rather than I-64. This is especially true of trucks transporting hazardous materials. Indianapolis requires all of that traffic to avoid I-65 downtown; Louisville should do the same.2) The Federal Highway Department will never tear down part of an expressway — only spurs and ramps. If the Federal Highway Department were to insist that I-64 be contiguous, then simply switch labels after the East End Bridge is built: Change I-265 in Indiana to I-64. Then the two “spurs” downtown become I-264.Additionally, a “White Paper” commissioned by the Downtown Development Corporation (DDC) suggests that the construction of the East End Bridge is the major solution to the traffic problem:As an opportunity, once the East Bridge is constructed, long range I-64 traffic can utilize bypasses to avoid the downtown piece of I-64. Currently, traffic between I-64 in Indiana and I-71 in Kentucky is not easily served by a bypass. The presence of alternative routes may be a benefit in the long run and during construction.*The “White Paper” does state that a boulevard system replacing I-64 would be a “flawed” solution under present conditions, but reserves judgment as to whether it would be feasible in the event that the East End Bridge is built and through traffic can be diverted:A surface street system could work if, and only if, enough traffic could be diverted on existing and proposed loop freeways (I-264 and I-265). Additional study would be required to determine the feasibility. (Such a study is being commissioned by 8664.)The “White Paper” goes on to state:If sufficient traffic would bypass downtown, placing the roadway at-grade would partially address project goals. The physical barrier of a viaduct would be removed, but pedestrians would still need to cross active surface streets. In some of the national examples, substantial focus was placed on pedestrian crossings. With a portion of the traffic diverted, the number of lanes could be reduced, freeing up land for either development or expanded open spaces. Also, with a portion of the traffic diverted, highway noise may be reduced. 3) 8664 will result in gridlock. To assume the removal of I-64 downtown would increase traffic congestion to the breaking point isn’t based on any definitive study, simply speculation. Neither the city nor traffic engineers have produced any evidence to support this allegation. The “studies” alluded to by the city contain nothing of substance. Fortunately for Louisville, Main, Market and Jefferson streets are wide enough already to comfortably accommodate any extra traffic that would normally use the Ninth Street ramp. This would mean, for instance, that Brown Forman employees traveling from the East End to work might need an additional 30 to 45 seconds to reach their destinations. The delay shouldn’t be substantial as the traffic lights on those streets are synchronized. Louisville is an easy city to get around in, and to assume we would have to additionally widen Main and Market streets downtown would be to give in to the wildest fantasies of some misguided planners. 4) This is a case of aesthetics vs. practicality.The mayor stated that he could understand the aesthetic virtues of 8664, but that “aesthetics can’t be the basis for my decision.” Apparently there is a misunderstanding of how aesthetics and the economy work hand in hand. This is not just about eliminating a major physical and psychological barrier to the waterfront; property values drop when expressways cut through a city. Nobody wants to live with the noise that high-speed traffic produces. In contrast, people do not object to living on busy city boulevards. They slow down traffic and bring life to a city. Just take a look at what is currently happening along Market and Jefferson streets.According to the “White Paper”: The existing structure acts as a barrier to the waterfront in at least three ways. First, the infrastructure itself occupies land which may have higher value if used for other than the movement of cars and trucks. From the national examples, land was used for quality of life improvements, commercial development, residential development, or a combination of the three: If the structure is left in place, converting the land is very limited. Between the Ninth Street Interchange and Spaghetti Junction, approximately ten acres of land is occupied just in the “footprint” of I-64 (including ramps). Second, the existing elevated freeway creates a visual barrier between downtown (along West Main) and the waterfront. The view in Figure 3 below at Sixth Street is similar to Third, Seventh, and Eighth Streets. At Second Street, the view extends along the Clark Memorial Bridge toward Jeffersonville, Indiana. At Fourth Street, in addition to the freeway, the pedestrian walkway between the east and west towers of the Galt House obstructs the view. At Fifth Street, the view extends onto Belvedere Plaza (over I-64) completely blocking the river view from street level. The third barrier is created by people’s perception of highway viaducts. While people can access the waterfront without crossing freeway traffic, viaducts are often perceived as unfriendly, noisy, and unsafe (especially as bridge piers, abutments and walls block sight lines). 5) Metro Government has been cooperating with 8664.“We have sat down with them for hours and hours, and listened and responded and explained and gotten them appropriate information on all of the aspects from the officials who have reviewed and analyzed ...” said Mayor Abramson.According to 8664, they have had only one half-hour face-to-face session with the mayor, and this only after it was arranged by David Jones. At that meeting, the mayor used it to expound on talking points that would support the present SJ project — without listening to the other side. So it was never an exploratory exchange. As for providing documents, most of what 8664 has acquired has only occurred with a lot of persistence and arm-twisting. In contrast to the city, Tyler Allen said that the state has been very cooperative. The reason for this? None of those documents actually investigate what would happen to downtown traffic after an East End Bridge is built. A 1999 study the city has mentioned to support its case didn’t end up as a study, as the consultants felt it was not worth undertaking because the project was too politically charged. The file only contained letters from Anne Northup, etc., asking that a study be undertaken.6) Those misguided idealists.Many citizens, either assuming that governments are better informed than they themselves are and always have their best interests at heart, or, on the other side, don’t believe their input will be taken seriously, invariably avoid participation in public dialogues dealing with urban issues. Those “idealists” who do participate are either welcomed by governments interested in dialogue or stonewalled. In this case, the 8664 advocates are generally portrayed as young idealists who are unwilling to accept the “obvious” economic and political realities of the present Bridges concept. Thus, the tone and attitude of the present city government has been one of condescension, not serious dialogue. Those “idealists” have donated a lot of time, effort, money and acquired expertise to this cause, and, after their own study is completed, will undoubtedly be more knowledgeable about this project than those who want to completely rebuild Spaghetti Junction. They are reminiscent of Jane Jacobs organizing opposition to Robert Moses, who wanted to build an expressway smack through Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. We should be thankful we have a few idealists left in this city. They are the ones who are the real progressives. *“White Paper” I-64 Strategies, prepared by DMJM Harris/AECOM, November 22, 2005.Stanley Collyer, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an editor and planning consultant living in Louisville. Besides writing about architecture, he has served on various panels and juries and lectured in the United States, Canada and South America on architecture and planning issues. Contact him at scollyer@competitions.org