Lessons learned in Louisville: a common vision for Complete Streets

A page from the Louisville Metro Streetscape Design Manual.

The following is a guest post by National Complete Streets Coalition partners Jonathan D. Henney, AICP, ASLA and Mike Sewell, P.E., of Gresham, Smith and Partners.

In 2006, just as the Complete Streets movement was gaining momentum, Gresham Smith and Partners (GS&P) put together a Complete Streets Design Manual for the City of Louisville Metro Planning and Design Services Department. The manual offered practical guidelines for using Complete Streets principles within urban, suburban, rural, residential and commercial streetscapes.

At first, the Complete Streets Manual existed mostly as theory, providing universal language for unbuilt projects. Today, it exists as a living language across the city, visible in a diverse range of Complete Streets projects, each testifying to commonly held guidelines. That jump from theory to practice was far from automatic, and other cities can learn from Louisville’s trajectory.

Complete Streets

Smart growth strategies for a public health problem in Louisville, KY

Over half of the residents of metropolitan Louisville, Kentucky, are considered seriously overweight, and obesity rates in the state have risen in recent years while reported outdoor physical activity has declined – despite public relations campaigns to promote biking and walking.

Now the city is trying a new approach to encourage its residents to get outside and get active. With help from the Robert Wood Johnson foundation, Louisville is changing its streets and its infrastructure to make walking and biking more viable, attractive transportation options. Among the initiatives, Louisville recently built “the city’s first bicycle lane and ensured that the redevelopment of a low-income housing project included small ‘pocket’ parks, improved traffic patterns and wider and safer sidewalks.”

As an article in the New York Times explains, obesity is a serious health concern for the city but also poses a threat to Louisville’s economic viability:

[T]he foundation made its first grant when Jerry Abramson, then the mayor, had begun to worry that obesity was lowering Louisville’s attractiveness.

“For businesses, a healthy work force is more productive and less costly, so it became a competitiveness issue,” Mr. Abramson said. “Every city was offering tax incentives, every city was offering real estate deals but not every city had the weight problem we do.”