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September 25, 2007

City Strobe

Damn that traffic jamA new study shows Louisville ranks third among mid-sized cities with the worst traffic jams, costing local drivers an annual $395 million in gasoline and lost time they could have spent standing around the water cooler demanding more concrete and bridges.According to the Texas Transportation Institute study, the average Louisville driver wastes 42 hours and 14.4 gallons of gas each year sitting idly in traffic — if by “idly” you mean talking on the phone, eating, applying makeup, shaving, watching SpongeBob and tickling the CrackBerry. The 42 hours Louisville drivers waste in traffic jams compares with the medium-city national average of 28, and our own 1982 average of 18.The study, funded in part by the Coalition to Pave Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot … er, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, found that drivers nationwide lose 4.2 billion hours and 2.9 billion gallons of gas per year sitting in traffic. Their surprising solution? Build more roads. While the funding source of the study might raise eyebrows, there’s no denying Louisville has serious traffic hairballs. (Besides, when has a Texan ever lied to you?)The state’s brain trust agrees with the road-builders, as current plans include building two new bridges and a 24-lane-wide concrete bonnet over a big chunk of downtown. The Bridges Project got a wee setback last week when companies bidding on the East End portion said they want at least $5 million more than the $14 million projected just to drill an exploratory tunnel that might eventually become a traffic tunnel leading to what might someday become an East End bridge. Because it’s not what they do, none of the researchers or the road-builders are talking about better bus service, light rail, bicycling or sensible suburban design; building the bridge to common sense, of course, is up to you. —Jim WelpNeighborhoods taking the LEEDThere’s nothing more frustrating than watching a golden opportunity pass while waiting for the folks in charge to move. Within the last four years or so, environmentally friendly buildings have sprung up around the country with increasing speed, but many communities are itching for change that’s bigger and faster than one business or government building at a time. Some Clifton residents want to get their own neighborhood into the game, making it a model for how other neighborhoods in Louisville can go green. The Clifton Community Council’s land use and preservation committee was scheduled to discuss how to move the neighborhood toward meeting LEED-ND standards, and possibly even further, at Tuesday’s meeting. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the standard for green building. It takes into consideration issues such as building sites, water and energy use, materials and indoor air quality, and is pretty much the only national standard, created by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council. Recognizing a need, the council has created a pilot program for neighborhood development, LEED-ND.LEED standards, quickly adopted by governments from the federal level down, are in a constant state of refinement, and still taking cues from many similar programs. Clifton is known for being a little bit artsy, a little bit lefty, and has a mix of young and old, renters and homeowners, a few residents who drive BMWs and a few who sleep on benches. The neighborhood is also a geographical lynchpin, located about the same distance from expensive homes in Crescent Hill and St. Matthews as it is from the more modest housing of Butchertown, Clifton Heights and east downtown.In short, achieving sustainability in the neighborhood would mean negotiating several issues and interests, possibly making Clifton a great place to start a trend and work out kinks. Like other parts of Louisville, it’s filling up with condominiums, small housing communities with shared interests and common rules that could easily implement sustainable standards. Clusters of existing homes on one of Clifton’s many short streets or cul-de-sacs could also come to mutual agreements and pool their resources.The smallest LEED-ND pilot sites hover around one acre, but sites of all sizes are participating, some with as many as 12,000 acres. No Kentucky cities made the list of more than 200 pilot programs in 37 states, plus Washington, DC, and some Canadian cities. Louisville is home to a handful of LEED-certified buildings, including the Tucker Booker Donhoff + Partners architectural firm on Market Street and the forthcoming downtown arena. With a little neighborly action, the city might someday be able to claim a Frankfort Avenue ecovillage as well. —Jennifer OladipoThank you sir, may I have another?Last Saturday, many local citizens gave up their cars for World Car-Free Day, which was sort of like burning a stick of Nag Champa in a Port-A-John on day 10 of the Derby Festival. A nice thought, but the stink is already entrenched. And it might seem tough to focus on the emissions coming from all our jammed traffic when the city’s got Rubbertown chemical plants spewing carcinogens into the air.But Rubbertown neighbors are fighting back. In an August settlement, residents won a class action requiring Zeon Chemicals to install a thermal oxidizer to reduce the cancer-causing chemical 1,3-butadiene, and to reduce emissions of styrene and acrylonitrile (which help put the “lay” in latex). If they agree to the $5.3 million settlement, Zeon’s closest neighbors would also receive $1,200-$1,800 each, which won’t pay to remove a tumor, but hey, times are tough. In order to receive their settlement, though, neighbors must sign an agreement to A) not say anything negative about the company; B) not file another lawsuit; C) collect no damages from the company for 10 years; and D) allow a Zeon executive to come by once a month and administer a wedgie. OK, D is a slight exaggeration.Besides hamstringing its neighbors from keeping an eye on future violations, the agreement would effectively silence Rubbertown’s most vocal advocates. District Judge John G. Heyburn II will review the fairness of the appropriately named gag rule in November. —JWWhat about art?Every five years, the Kentucky Arts Council makes rounds around the state to talk to people about what they want from the arts. The last time such a meeting took place in Louisville was 2003. Next Wednesday, the council pulls into town again to take the public’s ideas about how the arts can and do benefit communities, and what is and isn’t working. These ideas will be considered for a long-range plan the council will produce next year. The council also has invited area state legislators to attend. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. at the Fifth Third Conference Center in The Brown Theatre, 315 W. Broadway. For more information, call (502) 564-3757 or visit www.artscouncil.ky.gov. —Elizabeth KramerContact the writers at citystrobe@leoweekly.com