Our latest video tells the story of how Louisville, Kentucky has committed to planning and designing streets that prioritize the most vulnerable and ensure that everyone has access to safe and accessible streets.
“I think that everyone in our city should have the ability to get around easily and access all of the great amenities that our city has to offer.”
– Councilmember Cassie Chambers Armstrong
“Louisville didn’t have safe streets and we still don’t, right?” admits Council Chair David James, who introduced and advanced the new Complete Streets law. “We’re getting better, we’re going in the right direction, but you know we’re way up there as far as pedestrian injuries related to vehicles.”
The city’s 2019 Complete Streets ordinance is providing the guide for Louisville leaders, advocates, and neighbors to build safer streets that can alleviate historic disparities, connect people to vital resources, and create a transportation network that the community can be proud of. Recent changes have sparked excitement for further changes, providing a taste of what’s possible in more areas of the city.
About these videos
With the support and partnership of CityHealth, we are profiling cities with exemplary Complete Streets policies. Last week, we released a video about Pittsburgh, PA. We’ll conclude the series on Tuesday, February 22 with a story from Tucson, Arizona.
Complete Streets are streets for everyone—designed and managed to prioritize safety, comfort, and access to destinations for all people who need to use a street. Complete Streets policies can help cities transform how they make decisions about their streets. Done right, these policies can help cities improve public health and address longstanding inequities in the transportation system. The National Complete Streets Coalition at Smart Growth America has been advancing the adoption and implementation of Complete Streets policies for two decades to ensure that everyone who needs to use our streets—no matter how they get around—can safely and comfortably do so.
CityHealth and the National Complete Streets Coalition at Smart Growth America recognize cities with exemplary Complete Streets policies—a key step in producing safer streets that can be used by everyone. Learn more at cityhealth.org and completestreets.org
“For too long we’ve thought about transportation really only from the perspective of someone in a car and that has to change. I really do at my core want to see Louisville become a place where walking and biking and getting around in a bus is pleasurable, safe, normal.”
– Jackie Cobb, resident, and advocate
The path to Louisville’s current Complete Streets policy goes back 15 years, with various planning documents and changes to street design guides passed throughout the 2000s. The current law, passed overwhelmingly in 2019 by the Metro Council, was introduced by Council Chair David James, who partnered with the American Heart Association, AARP, the Kentucky Youth advocates, and the city’s Public Works Department. Following a series of public hearings and immense community support, the policy was overwhelmingly approved by the council, putting the plan in motion to improve the city’s street network. CityHealth awarded the Louisville policy a gold medal, citing its compliance requirements and strong plan for implementation.
While the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic just eight months after passage created new staffing and project development challenges, city staff, residents and advocates are working to better design their streets to consider all road users, increase walkability and connectivity, and advance equity in the community.
Dirk Gowin, Transportation Director for the city’s Department of Public Works, emphasizes the “need to protect the community” and talks about the kind of paradigm shift that is needed. “We’ve spent years building a network to move cars. So trying to flip that to make it safe for all users; we’re making the right strides.”
Better infrastructure, better outcomes
Bardstown Road, until recently a bustling three-lane car-dominated corridor running through Councilmember Cassie Chambers Armstrong’s district, underwent several changes to improve safety and ensure people can get around regardless of the mode of transportation they choose. Following community input and support from local advocates, the road was re-striped, reduced to single lanes in both directions, and enhanced with street trees, increasing safety for everyone and encouraging more walking and biking.
Councilmember Armstrong—who also participated in our first Champions Institute training local leaders how to make Complete Streets a reality—anticipates “great changes planned for the upcoming year,” and emphasizes how the city is “thinking holistically” about safety and connectivity and has secured funding to implement bold changes that community members want to see on the ground.
Creating a place where families can feel safe and empowered to use their streets to explore Louisville’s various neighborhoods, parks, and local businesses motivates many of the local champions. “I have children, I’m raising them in this community. I want them to be proud of the city that they were raised in,” says city Transportation Planner Supervisor Amanda Deatherage, who is deeply involved in the law’s implementation.
Addressing historic disparities
The interwoven challenges of discrimination and disinvestment have resulted in disjointed neighborhoods with traffic-heavy roadways slicing through low-income and minority communities where many residents do not have access to or own a personal vehicle, and must walk, bike, or rely on public transportation to access key destinations. While Councilmember Armstrong notes that she represents a part of town that’s more walkable, “there are parts of our community, the historically Black neighborhoods in our community, that have not seen the same types of infrastructure investments.”
This tragic history has created problems that can’t be ignored.
“A lot of our high intensity traffic areas are also in the same areas that our poorest health outcomes are occurring at. Now we have the opportunity to try and correct that and address it and not pretend that it didn’t happen or it’s non-existent,” Council Chair David James says. Louisville has committed to shifting this behavior and narrative by intentionally focusing its efforts in communities that have long lacked access and investment in safety infrastructure.
Local resident and advocate Jackie Cobb says it best: “No matter what part of town you live in, you deserve a street that is safe, that is enjoyable, that is pleasant, and where you can enjoy being in the public realm and getting around.”
Advocates and city leaders have a lot of work to do in the years and decades ahead, but Louisville’s Complete Streets policy will provide the framework that is vital for establishing a road network that accomplishes exactly that.
Read the full transcript (PDF)
Stay tuned for more videos!
Our final video from Tucson, Arizona will be released on Tuesday, February 22. Watch Pittsburgh’s video. The videos premiere at 12 p.m. Eastern each day on our Youtube channel, and we’ll be sharing them immediately on Twitter. Follow us on social for more news: @smartgrowthusa / @completestreets / @city_health