The mission of the Department of Public Works in Louisville, Kentucky, (Louisville Metro) is to maintain the city’s infrastructure, support initiatives that foster a healthy environment, and improve public services to ensure a higher quality of life for the community. As densities in the city’s urban core continue to rise and more of the populace seek alternative means of transportation, Louisville Metro has recognized the need to connect and expand its current network of bicycle lanes into a cohesive, safe and accessible Urban Bike Network (UBN). The City asked GS&P to help plan and design the UBN’s routes and bike facilities.
“GS&P has been providing Louisville Metro with alternative transportation options as part of a five-year task-order contract,” says senior transportation engineer Mike Sewell. “We were the idea partner for this project because outside of our design experience, a third of our staff commute to work by bike. So we know the needs of cyclists firsthand. We are cycling advocates in the community, and our outreaches in this area precede our work as engineers.”
With a bike-share program planned for key locations around downtown in 2017, the design for the UBN has focused on connecting Louisville’s central business district to nearby neighborhoods and points of interest. A recent example of routes on the UBN, the 6th Street corridor is the first major north-south passageway built to the new local bike lane standard developed by the GS&P team. The 6th Street corridor links downtown to major east-west connections on Kentucky Street and Breckenridge Street that lead to high-density residential neighborhoods like Old Louisville, Smoketown and the Highlands.
An Expedited Work Flow
Plans for the Louisville UBN include routes covering a total of 80-plus miles around the city. The client tasked GS&P with selecting and designing routes, collecting relevant transportation data, and managing input from the general public as well as stakeholders such as Louisville Metro, Transit Authority of River City, bicycling advocates Bicycling for Louisville and Louisville Bicycling Club, and the Louisville Downtown Partnership. To expedite delivery and execution on designs, GS&P formulated a streamlined approval process to allow relevant parties to weigh in at different points based on the project’s complexity.
“We proposed a process map wherein if we don’t take away any motorist lanes, then there’s no reason for public involvement,” explains Sewell. “Rather than affect capacity, we’re merely reallocating width and targeting different creative fixes. Since this scenario is the most common, it expedites approval. Thanks to the improved work flow, we can create constructible plans for a project in about a week.”
Setting a New Standard
The 6th Street corridor, which runs nearly 1.5 miles, varies in width, number of lanes and parking arrangements, as the corridor transitions from the city’s commercial center to more residential neighborhoods toward the south. The design team used green paint to highlight zones of potential conflict between cyclists and drivers, and to mark transitions as the street width and number of lanes change. The green paint is part of the new local bike lane standard developed by GS&P with input from the National Association of City Transportation Officials and sister cities around the region.
“Prior to this project, there were no uniform standards for bike lanes around Louisville, and national guidelines are constantly in flux,” says transportation engineer intern Katie Shaw. “We evaluated which routes were most effective and how we could improve bike lanes and transitions at certain intersections. The result was a set of drawings that communicated the new standards to contractors and others involved in implementing the facilities.”
The new standards promote the clear and consistent use of green paint in bike lanes, specify the anticipated motorist reaction to the paint, and recommend consistent design and markings for transitional zones where bikes and cars will mix—especially areas that have a higher risk of adverse interactions.
“We’re right here in the city commuting along this same network,” notes transportation engineer Jeremy Kubac. “We bike these facilities and drive alongside them, and we see exactly how they’re operating in terms of what works well and what needs to be changed for the next project.”
“Design standards on 6th Street have worked so well that we’re using them to update old projects or execute complete redesigns on previous facilities that don’t fit the new vision for the UBN,” adds Shaw.
Another client goal was managing community awareness and understanding of the lanes and markings.
“We’ve had to educate the public as to what the lane markings mean, when to cross green paint and how to yield to bikes,” says Shaw. “The public meetings on this project have been a success, and our client has created extensive signage along new routes so pedestrians and cyclists know what to do. At the same time, we’ve found the designs were intuitive to motorists even before we gave explicit instructions.”
Investing in the Future
More bicyclists traveling around Louisville equals less fuel consumption and resulting pollution, and increased bike ridership encourages an active, healthier community. Beyond the environmental benefits, the UBN will also have a positive impact on the local economy.
“Studies have shown net revenue increases in retail spending can be as high as 35 percent in pedestrian- and bike-friendly business zones,” says Sewell. “GS&P sponsors a number of biking events, including an open streets program called CycLOUvia that temporarily closes the roads to vehicular traffic. The thousands of pedestrians and cyclists who attend this event spend a lot more money at local businesses than they do when they’re in a car.”
“Another financial benefit to the city is that younger generations—who choose where they want to live first, and then choose where they’ll work—are looking to move to places with alternate modes of transport,” adds Joel Morrill, senior transportation engineer. “These types of facilities will attract and retain young, competitive talent, which will be a boon to the city’s growing economy in the long term.”
For the Love of a City
The 6th Street corridor of the Louisville UBN demonstrates the future of transportation infrastructure, and GS&P has established itself as a leader in the efficient planning, effective design and swift implementation of a successful network. GS&P’s staff not only spearheaded the network’s creation, but also use it on a daily basis.
“We helped Metro write their application for Bicycle Friendly Community, and then submitted one of our own for Bicycle Friendly Business,” notes Sewell. “Louisville ranked Silver as a Bicycle Friendly Community, and the designating agency, The League of American Bicyclists, recognized us as a Gold-level Bike Friendly Business. They told us it was unheard of to reach that level on a first submission. I especially credit our advocacy for bicycle commuting among our staff and throughout the community.”
Bike lanes and facilities in the 6th Street corridor were completed in the fall of 2015. Based on a citywide survey, public response to the developing UBN has been positive and affirms that GS&P’s choices are producing safe and useful facilities that will lead to increased ridership.
Besides the 6th Street corridor, seven other routes to the UBN have also been completed, and 10 more are underway.
“We’re changing the way future generations will interact with Louisville,” says Sewell. “I love this city, and there’s no better way to take it in than by bike. You pay attention to your environment, and it gives you a greater appreciation of what the community has to offer. I'm proud that we are a part of that. It's a great feeling to be implementing the change that will allow others to take in this awesome city.”