Plan would create 200 miles of multi-use trails in Scott County

July 15, 2014

legacyGabe Schmuck, 9, left, Nate Schmuck, 5, and their father, Paul Schmuck, rode on the Legacy Trail in Lexington in 2012. Photo by Mark Ashley.

GEORGETOWN — The popular Legacy Trail out of Lexington now stops just short of the Scott County line at the Kentucky Horse Park. But what is now the end of the trail could someday be just the beginning.

Scott County leaders have worked for three years with the regional visioning group Bluegrass Tomorrow and the National Park Service to develop an ambitious plan for Kentucky’s most extensive trails network. Plans call for 200 miles of biking, hiking, horseback riding and waterway trails throughout Scott County.

“Our vision is that this is going to eventually branch out and include the whole region,” said John Simpson, director of Georgetown/Scott County Tourism.

The Bluegrass Bike Hike Horseback Trails Alliance unveiled a draft of the proposed master plan Monday at the monthly meeting of the Georgetown/Scott County Chamber of Commerce.

Alliance leaders hope to finish the plan by the end of the year and begin negotiating property easements, designing trails, raising private money and applying for federal transportation grants.

Some trails would be shared, with bike/pedestrian and horse paths side-by-side, but most would be separate. The plan was developed with help from interested residents during a June 2013 design workshop, and the alliance is eager for more public participation.

At this point, there are no cost estimates, but such a trails network would run well into the millions of dollars. Still, many officials think it would be a great investment.

“This has the potential to have a tremendous impact, economically and socially, on the community,” said Russell Clark, the alliance’s National Park Service representative.

Clark and Rob Rumpke, president of Bluegrass Tomorrow, cited the economic impact that trail systems have had on Damascus, Va., a once-depressed logging town where hikers and mountain bikers now flock to the Appalachian and Virginia Creeper trails; Loveland, Ohio; and Indiana’s Brown County.

The trails alliance has more than a dozen partners, including the cities of Georgetown, Sadieville and Lexington; Scott County Fiscal Court; the state tourism department; the Horse Park; the Kentucky Horse Council; Georgetown College; the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture; the Bluegrass Area Development District; St. Joseph Health System/Kentucky One; and several horseback-riding and cycling groups.

Rumpke said horse trails should be especially popular, given the number of local horse enthusiasts and the tourists who come to Central Kentucky to see horse farms and events.

“We’re the horse capital of the world; why are there so few horseback-riding facilities?” he asked. “This is an opportunity to address that.”

The first step in the plan is to extend the Legacy Trail 6.6 miles from the horse park to Georgetown. Christie Robinson chairs a steering committee that commissioned an engineering feasibility study, which was recently completed. The study estimates the total cost at about $8.3 million, including trailheads, bathrooms and other amenities. It could be built in four phases as money became available.

Georgetown recently awarded the Legacy Trail committee $25,000 as a match to a $100,000 federal grant that it will apply for this fall, Robinson said. That would move the design process forward.

Claude Christensen, mayor of Sadieville, said he sees the trail system as an opportunity to revitalize his town of 303 people at the northern tip of Scott County. Sadieville is applying for “trail town” status with state tourism officials. But it needs trails.

“It’s huge for Sadieville,” Christensen said. “It makes us a destination.”

Simpson, the tourism official, said many Scott County business and government leaders support trails development because they have seen the economic benefit that road cycling enthusiasts have had in the area.

The Bluegrass Cycling Club’s annual Horsey Hundred ride each Memorial Day weekend is based at Georgetown College. This year, more than 2,000 cyclists came from all over North America to ride Central Kentucky’s scenic back roads on marked routes ranging from 25 to 104 miles.

Georgetown hosted a downtown party for the cyclists, who filled Georgetown College’s residence halls and more than half of the 1,100 local motel rooms. A big group from Ontario, Canada, came for an entire week of cycling before the event.

An extensive trail network, along with Central Kentucky’s world-class cycling roads, could make Georgetown a major recreation destination, Simpson said.

“We’re at the starting point of something that could be phenomenal,” he said. “It could bring thousands of tourists to our community and enhance our own quality of life.”


Winter’s last gasp reinforces the joy of springtime in Kentucky

April 15, 2014

Mahan-KeenelandA horse is exercised at Keeneland after Tuesday’s snow. Photo by Mark Mahan. Below, snow melts off a tulip at Mathews Garden at the University of Kentucky. Photo by Pablo Alcala.

 

We should have known this winter would not give up easily. But I just smiled when I woke up Tuesday to that little last gasp of a snow storm.

I smiled because I had already seen, felt and smelled the warm promise of spring. I had a sunburn from the weekend. And I knew that there is no better place to enjoy springtime than in Kentucky.

Two Saturdays ago, I saw the new season arrive on the tiny blooms of Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot and rare snow trillium. The rugged creeks that feed into the Kentucky River Palisades harbor a unique array of spring wildflowers, both common and endangered.

Wildflower hikes are offered by such places as the Floracliff Nature Sanctuary, the Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve and the Salato Wildlife Education Center. But opportunities are limited, and the flowers are fleeting.

More common wildflowers can be enjoyed on lawns whose owners eschew toxic chemicals. My yard is awash in purple violets. The grassy median that divides my street has patches of white spring beauties. The grounds at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, have been so covered with spring beauties that it looked as if the snow had arrived there early.

TulipThe lilac bushes beside my front porch have made it a fragrant place to relax on warm evenings and watch my neighbors dust off their bicycles and take a spin.

Last weekend was a perfect opportunity to get reacquainted with some of my cycling friends. Sunshine and perfect temperatures made it feel like late May, although our out-of-shape bodies kept reminding us that it was only early April.

We rode a 35-mile loop Saturday past manicured horse farms in Fayette, Scott and Bourbon counties, then enjoyed a late lunch at Windy Corner Market, where a steady line of customers stretched out the door for hours.

Sunday’s ride was more ambitious: 50-something hilly miles from our Lexington homes to Berea. A few steep climbs and a constant headwind showed who had and who had not kept in shape over the winter. I had not. As we crossed the Kentucky River on the Valley View Ferry, a crew member serenaded us with his guitar. Birds took over the musical duties as we pedaled along Tate’s Creek on the other side, admiring redbud trees in full bloom.

We stopped for lunch at Acres of Land winery, the road up to which required climbing acres of steep asphalt. We needed the rest before continuing on to Boone Tavern for a round of iced tea on the veranda.

Madison County showed a visiting friend from Atlanta a more rugged view of Bluegrass beauty than he had seen the day before. Sadly, though, many back roads were littered with plastic bottles and fast-food cups tossed from passing vehicles. As Forrest Gump would say, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

While we were biking, many others were enjoying one of my favorite spring venues, Keeneland Race Course. Saturday’s weather made it no surprise that nearly 40,000 people attended the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, the second-largest crowd in history.

I haven’t been to the races yet this season, but I have been to Keeneland. When I can manage to pull myself out of bed an hour before daylight, I like to go out there, walk around the backside and watch exercise riders warm up that day’s competitors on the track. It is one of the best free shows in Lexington.

As the rising sun fully illuminates forsythia and dogwood, and as Keeneland’s equine athletes are being cooled off and groomed, I walk to the Track Kitchen for the sort of delicious breakfast cardiologists disapprove of.

As I finish writing this, the last remnants of the snow have melted off my front yard. The budding leaves on my tulip poplar and the giant sycamore across the street look twice as big as they were yesterday. It will be at least six months before they turn color and fall, big as dinner plates.

So long, winter. Don’t be in any hurry to come back.

 


Update on plans for finishing Lexington trails, adding bike lanes

March 22, 2014

Spring is finally here, which means better weather for bicycling. It also means more opportunities for my fellow cyclists to ask when the Legacy and Town Branch trails will be finished, and when there will be more trails and bike lanes.

Lexington has made progress in the past five years toward building a transportation system for more than motor vehicles, but it still has a long way to go.

Keith Lovan gets those questions more often than I do. And because he is the city engineer who oversees trail and bicycle/pedestrian projects, he actually has some answers. So I called him last week for an update.

legacytrail0002

The first section of the Legacy Trail, shown here going through Coldstream Park, opened in September 2010. Photo by Tom Eblen

The main 7.5-mile section of the Legacy Trail, between Loudon Avenue and the Kentucky Horse Park, opened in September 2010. It came together quickly thanks to good public-private partnerships, federal “economic stimulus” money and the urgency of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games the next month.

Since then, officials have been working through logistics and funding to bring the trail into town and east to the corner of Midland Avenue and Third Street, where the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden will be built this summer. “It’s all coming together,” Lovan said.

He plans to ask the Urban County Council in April to approve a land swap with R.J. Corman Railroad Group that will allow Legacy Trail construction to continue along a former rail line from near Loudon Avenue to Fifth Street near Jefferson Street.

If approved, work could begin in June and finished this summer, he said. Lovan also is working with the Hope Center on right-of-way near Loudon. That also could happen this summer.

The next step will be taking the trail east along Fourth Street’s existing right-of-way. Once paperwork is finished, design work can begin on that section, based on input from a 30-member citizens advisory group.

For that section, Lovan favors a two-way bike path separated from Fourth Street traffic by short posts or a similar barrier. If all goes well, that work could all be finished by the end of this year, he said.

Meanwhile, a Scott County group is working to extend the Legacy Trail north to Georgetown. That project was started by sports agent Dick Robinson before he died suddenly in 2011. His friends and family have continued the work. “We’re making good progress,” said Robinson’s widow, Christie.

She plans to schedule a public meeting in late April to announce a preferred route. A feasibility study by CDP Engineers of Lexington will be finished in May, she said. Then it will be a matter of raising money. Keep up with the group’s progress on its Facebook page.

Bringing Town Branch Trail into downtown is a more complicated project. Two miles of the trial are finished, from Bracktown off Leestown Road to Alexandria Drive.

Funding has been secured to bring the trail to the Bluegrass Community and Technical College’s Leestown Campus at New Circle Road, but other details must be worked out before construction can begin, said Van Meter Pettit, the trail board’s president.

Pettit is lobbying the state to include the trail’s crossing of New Circle Road and connection to a nearby development’s trails as part of a project this summer to widen that section of the road and its bridges.

Pettit says his plan would be quicker, cheaper and comply with federal directives to include bicycle/pedestrian facilities in highway improvement projects. So far, the state has agreed to accommodate a future trail crossing, but says its budget won’t accommodate what Pettit wants.

The only other trail project coming this year is a half-mile one between Armstrong Mill Road and the Tates Creek schools campus, Lovan said. But several bike-lane projects will be started or finished this year.

Those include bike lanes on Southland Drive, from Nicholasville Road to Rosemont Garden; on Todd’s Road, where 1.5 miles of sidewalks and bike lanes will be added from Forest Hill Drive to Polo Club Boulevard; and Clays Mill Road, where an additional 1,500 feet of bike lanes will be added.

Three bike-lane projects are planned around the University of Kentucky campus: Rose Street between Euclid Avenue and Rose Lane; Cooper Drive between South Limestone and Sports Center Drive; and Woodland Avenue from Euclid to Hilltop Avenue.


Lexington family and friends do good during ‘volunteer vacations’

March 18, 2014

130319Heitz-India0006Mike Heitz, left, and his wife, Janette, second from left, pose at Mother Clarac Matriculation School in Kumbakonam, India, where they worked with friends last month. Others, from left, are Sister Gladys; Sister Rosaria, the school’s founder, and Dan Lee from Singapore, a member of their volunteer group, which they call Fix-it Friends. Photo provided

 

Janette and Mike Heitz of Lexington love to travel, and they keep finding new ways to combine it with two of their other passions: bicycling and volunteer service.

The Heitzes organize bike trips to Europe with friends, and they have bicycled on their own in such far-flung places as Laos and Egypt. In 2006, Mike and their son, Cory, biked 7,435 miles down the length of Africa. The next year, Janette and their daughter, Jordan, biked 4,500 miles from Paris, France, to Dakar, Senegal.

A couple of weeks ago, the Heitzes returned from a different kind of trip. They, their daughter and more than a dozen friends from across this country, England and Singapore met in Kumbakonam, India. The group spent a week building basketball and tennis courts, painting a block wall and improving a computer lab at the Mother Clarac Matriculation School, run by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Mary.

This was the 13th such trip the Heitzes have taken in as many years.

“I don’t like to call it a mission trip,” Janette said. “I call it a volunteer vacation, because it’s not religion-based. We are just a group of people who have a little extra money and a little extra time and we like to travel. So each year we pick a third-world country and we all meet there.”

Mike started the tradition by participating in a Habitat for Humanity home-building trip to Ghana in 1999. He liked it so much, Janette joined him the next year.

“He thought he would ease me in,” she said, so they did a Habitat build in New Zealand. “I loved it. So the next year we jumped in the deep end and went to Mongolia.”

After that, the couple did annual Habitat builds in South Africa, Mexico, Costa Rica, Romania, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Then they decided to find their own projects along with friends they had met through Habitat and bicycling. Their group, which calls itself Fix-It Friends, includes a variety of faiths — Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Quaker and atheists.

The first Fix-It Friends trip was to Egypt. Then they went to Laos and Argentina, where they also worked with the Sisters of Charity. That led them to their recent trip to southwest India.

“We think education is the key to a better life,” Mike said. So, in addition to basic facility improvements, the group likes to provide computers to schools and orphanages where they work that have electricity. In addition to fixing old computers at Mother Clarac School and setting up a wifi network, the friends are buying 20 rugged $100 tablet computers for the school.

The Heitzes said they enjoy interacting with local people where they work. One day in India, while making the hour-long walk back to their hotel from the school, they came upon a wedding in progress.

“They saw us as some sign of good luck,” Janette said. “Here we were in our work clothes, I had paint splattered all over me, and they invited us in and took photos with us.”

The Heitzes arrived early to see some of India’s sights, including Gandhi’s tomb and the Taj Mahal. Then, after their week of volunteer work, they biked 30-40 kilometers a day for six days in the Kerela state of southeast India.

“It is the flattest part of India, and beautiful,” Janette said, but riding was tricky because “traffic laws are regarded as only a suggestion.”

The couple met at West Virginia University, where he was the basketball team’s first 7-footer (1968-72). Heitz’s younger brother, Tom, played for Kentucky (1979-84).

Mike is an investment banker who specializes in taking companies public. When the IPO market slowed five years ago, he also started a company that buys environmentally distressed industrial properties, restores and re-sells them. Their children work in his companies. Jordan Hurd and her mother also write a popular lifestyle blog, The Two Seasons (The2seasons.com).

Next year, the Fix-It Friends plan to meet in Colombia.

“To me, the important part of this is that we’re promoting goodwill,” Janette said. “People in these places don’t always have the most positive attitude about Americans. But my hope is that in the future when they think of Americans they will think of us and they will think of love. It’s like my little answer to world peace.”

Click on each image to see larger photo and read caption:


Book combines cross-country unicycle ride, off-the-grid living

February 25, 2014

140219Schimmoeller0010AAMark Schimmoeller, author of Slowspoke: A Unicyclist’s Guide to America,  in the small cabin he and his wife, Jennifer Lindberg, built themselves on a wooded hillside in northern Franklin County. Photos by Tom Eblen 

 

PEAKS MILL — Mark Schimmoeller has spent much of his adult life trying to slow down, think things through and contemplate his place in a hectic world.

These days, he does it with his wife, Jennifer Lindberg, in the wooded hills of northern Franklin County. For more than a dozen years, they have lived “off the grid” in a cabin they built themselves, growing much of their food and making time to read, write and reflect.

But as a young man in 1992, Schimmoeller took an even more unusual route. He filled a backpack with camping gear and rode a unicycle from North Carolina to Arizona. Nothing focuses your mind, he says, like traveling very slowly for six months on one carefully balanced wheel.

He has written about both adventures and his unusual life in a touching new memoir, Slowspoke: A Unicyclist’s Guide to America (Synandra Press, $26.95 hardcover, $14.95 paperback).

140219Slowspoke001With a glowing cover blurb from environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, the book is getting good reviews around the country. Schimmoeller will discuss and sign his book at 2 p.m. March 2 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington Green.

I met Schimmoeller, 46, in November at the Kentucky Book Fair after a friend insisted that I had to meet him and buy his book. After reading it, and looking at his website (Slowspokethebook.com), I couldn’t wait for the snow and ice to melt enough to visit the author at his cabin in the middle of a 250-acre woods.

“When we first moved here, we knew it was beautiful, but there were a lot of things we didn’t know about it,” Schimmoeller said as we walked across melting snow.

He showed me their garden and apple trees, the brick oven where they bake bread and the tool shed where his unicycle rests on a hook, gathering cobwebs. And he talked about their seasons of discovery: where the prettiest wildflowers bloom, and where the wild mushrooms flourish.

Schimmoeller grew up in Central Kentucky in a family that valued independence and intellectual pursuits more than money. He graduated from Transylvania University in 1989 with an English degree, and he has published poems and essays. He is working on a novel. Lindberg is a health-related educator.

Slowspoke alternates among three stories: Schimmoeller’s unicycle trip across America and the people he encounters; his personal journey of self-discovery, marriage and homesteading; and the couple’s efforts to buy a neighboring old-growth woods from a neighbor, who plans to log and develop it. His sweet, vivid prose weave an engaging tale, told in bite-size chapters.

Schimmoeller and Lindberg began building their cabin, which they call the Snuggery, in 2000. The home is neat, cozy, efficient and quite pretty, filled with natural wood, sunlight and books. South-facing windows keep it warm on sunny winter days, with help from a small wood stove.

Solar panels on the roof provide electricity. Rainwater is channeled into a stone cistern that Schimmoeller built. Pumps bring the water up to their kitchen and to an old claw-foot bathtub. There is a composting toilet in an outbuilding. Food from their garden is stored in the cellar, along with homemade wine.

“We enjoy being here and working here and having that reciprocal relationship with the land,” he said. “You grow to love the land as you are active on it. We like to be as self-sufficient as we can be, but we’re not purists.”

Schimmoeller and Lindberg’s lifestyle recalls Harlan and Anna Hubbard, a Kentucky couple from a half-century ago. Hubbard, a painter, wrote books about their adventures living on a shanty boat as it floated down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and their decades of homesteading along the Ohio River in Trimble County.

Like his adventure on a unicycle, Schimmoeller’s lifestyle is something many people find intriguing, because they know they could never do it themselves.

Schimmoeller, a shy and private person, said one of the hardest things about publishing his book has been going out to promote it. But he has been rewarded with about 30 letters so far from readers who found it inspiring.

“Generally, people like it that, at a time when we all seem to be rushed, I’m attempting to ease away from that a little bit,” he said. “I have never liked to rush, and I don’t like being rushed.”  

140219Schimmoeller0023The cabin, which Schimmoeller and his wife call the Snuggery, is “off the grid.” Water comes from a rain-collecting cistern, power from solar panels on the roof, and heat from a wood stove and South-facing windows.

 


Lexmark engineer builds custom bicycle frames in his spare time

February 3, 2014

140130AlexMeade-TE0015

Alex Meade checks angles to precisely fit two steel tubes for a bicycle frame he is building for a customer. A lifelong rider, Meade, 55, started building frames in 1999. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

If you want a cheap bicycle, go to a discount store.

If you want a well-made bicycle, go to a local bike shop.

If you want the bicycle of your dreams, go to Alex Meade.

Meade, a mechanical engineer at Lexmark, has developed a national reputation for his side business as a craftsman of custom-fitted, handmade bicycle frames. He makes about six bicycle frames a year in the shop behind his Ashland Park home. He also makes frame-building tools for other bike-makers around the world.

“I grew up on a bicycle,” said Meade, 55, a California native who spent his youth in coastal Massachusetts where summer tourist traffic made biking a family necessity because it was all but impossible to get anywhere by car.

Meade fell in love with road cycling after he moved to Lexington in 1989 to work for IBM, the predecessor of Lexmark.

“Kentucky is just such a wonderful place to ride,” he said. “We have thousands of miles of bike trails we call country roads.”

After moving here, Meade also took up the sport of randonneuring —long-distance group rides made within a specified length of time.

In 2007, he finished fourth among U.S. riders in the sport’s most famous event, Paris-Brest-Paris in France. He completed the 762-mile ride in 55 hours, 49 minutes and became one of only 39 Americans to earn membership in the Société de Charly Miller, which honors the first American to ride Paris-Brest-Paris in 1901.

Meade started building bicycle frames about 15 years ago.

“It seemed like an obvious thing to do for a mechanical engineer interested in cycling,” said Meade, who has a master’s degree from Stanford University and a dozen patents.

140130AlexMeade-TE0023His first project was a commuter bike, which he still rides on the eight-mile, round-trip commute to Lexmark almost every workday, year-around. He made a few bikes for friends, then others started approaching him.

All of Meade’s bike frames are made of high-tech steel alloys, which are both strong and lightweight. Most tube sets are joined together by fancy steel lugs, the way all bikes used to be made. Lug construction is a slower, but more elegant construction method than tig welding.

One component that isn’t high-tech is the bicycle seat. Like many long-distance cyclists, Meade prefers Brooks saddles from England. The design has changed little since production began in 1882: a thick hunk of leather stretched across a steel frame, providing a subtle trampoline effect.

Meade said customers come to him because they can’t find what they want or need at a bike shop. Some are looking for a unique design or paint job. But most want a custom fit, either because they are very tall, short or have an unusually shaped body, or because they do randonneuring or long-distance touring.

Precise bicycle fit is the most important factor in biking comfort. Meade’s construction process begins with a three-hour fitting and measuring session in his workshop.

The key is getting the right proportions in the triangle of seat, handlebars and pedals. Based on those measurements and other customer requests — fenders? racks? tire width? — Meade designs the frame.

“The average bike takes one visit and about 400 emails to design,” he said with a laugh. “Everything’s got to be completely nailed down before we cut any tubes or buy any parts.”

Meade’s hand-building process takes anywhere from 35 to 60 hours, depending on the frame’s complexity. All bikes except those made of stainless steels need painting or powder-coating. Meade leaves that work to two local experts: painter Dean Eichorn and Armstrong Custom Powder Coating in Harrodsburg.

Meades’ prices vary depending on design and materials, but he said an average frame costs between $1,900 and $2,700, plus wheels, components and other parts. That’s in the neighborhood of many standard-sized road bikes made of carbon fibre, the most popular modern material for high-end road bike frames. More information: Alexmeade.com.

“I don’t make much money on this,” Meade said. “It’s a labor of love. It’s not a way to support a family.”

 

Click on each image to see larger photo and read caption:


Author’s talks will focus on making cities more walkable

January 13, 2014

Urban planners, who in the decades after World War II helped redesign America’s cities and towns around the automobile, have been trying to warn people ever since then that they really screwed up.

Finally, most people are beginning to agree, says Jeff Speck, a veteran city planner and author of the 2012 book Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time.

Health professionals cite car culture as a big reason an epidemic in obesity and related physical problems. Economists note that suburban sprawl has become costly to taxpayers because all of the new infrastructure rarely pays for itself. Plus, a lack of public transportation in many areas has put costly burdens of car ownership and maintenance on the working poor.

bookcoverThe environmental movement has had an anti-urban bent since the days of Thomas Jefferson and Henry David Thoreau. But that has changed dramatically.

“And all of a sudden environmentalists discovered that if you live in a city your footprint is much lighter than if you live in sprawl,” Speck said. “In fact, cities are a solution to our environmental crises, both locally and globally.”

Most of all, Speck says, average citizens, from young adults to their empty-nester parents, have embraced cities again. Across the country, home values in walkable, urban neighborhoods are rising much faster than those in the kinds of car-dependent suburbs that have dominated American development since the 1950s.

“Walkable cities actually save us money, make us money and are poised to thrive in the next couple of decades while unwalkable places aren’t,” Speck said in a telephone interview last week from his home in Washington, D.C.

Speck will be talking about these trends — and giving advice to community leaders about how to make their towns more walkable — at a lecture and workshop this week in Frankfort.

Speck will give a lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Grand Theatre on St. Clair Mall, with a book signing to follow. Tickets are $10. On Friday, he will lead a two-hour workshop, beginning at 9 a.m., at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Auditorium, 200 Mero St. Admission is $25.

His visit is part of a conference sponsored by the Kentucky Heritage Council in conjunction with the annual winter meeting of the Kentucky Main Street Program, which works to improve life in the historic centers of the state’s towns and cities. Conference registration, including both of Speck’s sessions, is $100. More information: Heritage.ky.gov.

Most people don’t need convincing about the importance of walkability, he said, but they do need help with strategies for making it happen.

speckSpeck’s book notes that many communities made walking more difficult because they were being designed for other considerations. For example, many streets and intersections are oversized to accommodate the largest-possible emergency vehicles. Fewer but bigger schools and parks have been built because they are easier for officials to maintain and show off than the alternative, which often would be easier for citizens to get to and use.

“The twin gods of smooth traffic and ample parking” took the life out of many once-thriving downtowns, Speck writes, turning them into places that are “easy to get to but not worth arriving at.”

Speck writes that there are four criteria for successful pedestrian areas: walking must be safe, comfortable, interesting and useful. By useful, he means that necessities of daily life — shopping, restaurants and workplaces — must be close and arranged so they can be easily accessed by walking.

Speck’s book outlines 10 steps for city walkability. Those include mixed-use neighborhoods, good mass transit, well-designed and affordable parking facilities, ample trees and bicycle-friendly streets.

The biggest challenge many American cities and towns will face in coming years will be retrofitting mid- and late-20th century suburbs to make them more accessible for aging Baby Boomers and the working poor.

“We’ve laid the groundwork for a major social crisis,” he said.

The best hope is often restoring traditional downtowns and making new developments better for walking, biking and mass transit. That will require changing many ingrained rules and attitudes about traffic and street design.

“Most traffic engineers are really nice people,” Speck said. “But they will wreck your city.”  

Watch Jeff Speck’s TED Talk on walkable cities:


Former Disney exec highlights value of natural beauty in cities

October 27, 2013

warner

Katy Moss Warner, center, who once led the American Horticulture Society, was in Lexington last week to promote the economic and aesthetic benefits to city landscape beautification. At a workshop with Lexington leaders Thursday, she talked with Kay Cannon, left, and Ellen Karpf. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Beautiful landscapes enrich a city — well-tended flowers, trees, gardens and lawns. But when money is tight, it is easy to see them as frills, as costs to be cut.

What is the value of beauty? What is the cost of ugly?

The answer to both questions, says Katy Moss Warner, former president of the American Horticulture Society, is a lot.

Warner spent last week touring Lexington, speaking and meeting with people as an unpaid guest of Friends of the Arboretum and the Fayette County Master Gardeners.

Warner has a degree in landscape architecture and was a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. But she said she learned the economic value of beautiful landscapes during the 24 years she spent supervising a staff of 700 as director of horticulture and environmental initiatives at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Disney spends millions each year on advertising and new attractions to lure new visitors. Warner said she struggled to prove the economic return on investing in landscape until visitor surveys revealed some interesting facts: 75 percent of Disney World’s visitors were repeat customers. Why did they keep returning?

“Atmosphere,” she said. “The beauty of the landscape. This is helpful information not just for Walt Disney World but for cities. If cities are beautiful, people will come back. Horticulture can drive revenue.”

At a lecture Wednesday, Warner said many people have “plant blindness” — they often don’t notice the plants around them or realize their value. We move so fast in our daily lives that we fail to notice “the subtle music that truly is the beauty of nature.”

Many cities think plants are nice, but not necessary. Study after study shows they are wrong, she said.

When a city’s public and private spaces are clean and well-landscaped, people tend to be happier, healthier and care more about their neighbors and community. Urban tree canopies reduce energy costs and calm traffic. Indoor plants filter pollution and make people feel better. Good landscaping increases property values.

In places that are ugly, barren or junky, where there is a lot of noise and artificial light pollution, crime goes up and private investment goes down. People understand, consciously or subconsciously, that they don’t want to be there.

“Schools are probably the most derelict landscapes we have,” Warner said. “We design them like prisons.”

But schools are a perfect place to teach children the importance of natural beauty with school vegetable and flower gardens, and planting trees as legacies.

Studies have shown that gardens make good learning environments, especially for students who struggle in structured classrooms. Warner said the most popular attraction at Disney’s Epcot is the vegetable and hydroponic gardens at the Land Pavilion.

Warner is a board member and volunteer for the non-profit organization America in Bloom, which helps cities learn beautification strategies from one another. At a Thursday workshop, she made a pitch for Lexington to participate.

The workshop at the University of Kentucky was attended by Vice Mayor Linda Gorton; three more Urban County Council members; Sally Hamilton, the city’s chief administrative officer; and more than 40 leaders in Lexington’s landscape, horticulture and sustainable agriculture movements. Earlier in the week, Warner met with Mayor Jim Gray.

This was Warner’s first visit to Lexington. She remarked on what a clean city it is for its size, in both affluent and not-so-affluent neighborhoods. She also was impressed by local food and recycling programs, and by good examples of historic preservation and adaptive reuse of old buildings.

In an interview afterward, I asked Warner what she would do to improve Lexington. Her observations were perceptive, especially considering she had spent only three days looking around.

“I think it’s a shame that so much of the historic fabric has been lost downtown, but those spaces offer an opportunity to bring back character through horticulture,” she said, adding that she thinks the Town Branch Commons plan is brilliant. “That could really be a signature for the city.”

Warner thinks Lexington also has a lot of opportunity for beautification by planting native plants, community gardens, installing rooftop greenhouses and by protecting existing assets such as the majestic, centuries-old trees that dot the landscape.

Lexington seems to have fewer walking paths and biking trails than other cities its size, Warner said, so there is an opportunity to create more of them to get people outside and closer to the landscape.

“As a community you also seem to have amazing talent, an amazing spirit, an amazing history,” she said. “I do believe that it takes the whole community to make the community beautiful.”


Suburban lessons for downtown: better parking, service areas

October 12, 2013

When he was studying architecture at the University of Kentucky in the early 1970s, Robert Wagoner became intrigued by the challenges of revitalizing urban Lexington. But that wasn’t where the development business was going then.

So Wagoner went on to a successful career helping develop some of Lexington’s best-known suburban shopping centers. After several years of retirement, though, he is once again thinking a lot about downtown. A man can play only so much golf.

Wagoner has spent many hours driving, walking and biking downtown streets, studying what works and what doesn’t. With help from friends in the design and construction fields, he has translated some of his ideas into elaborate presentations.

Suburban design has been tried in urban settings for decades, usually with poor results. But that isn’t what Wagoner has done.

He has used his experience to consider how tried-and-true suburban strategies focusing on the needs of customers and businesses that serve them can inform the more difficult task of designing dense urban spaces. Good design is all about problem-solving.

I spent a couple of mornings walking and biking around downtown with Wagoner to look at things from his point of view. By the time we stopped for a late breakfast each day, I had a lot of food for thought. I have space today to discuss only a few of his big themes, but they are a good place to start.

Creating more downtown housing is important, Wagoner said. So is attracting out-of-town visitors. But the biggest business opportunity is enticing more suburbanites downtown to eat, shop and have fun.

“The key is expanding and growing the customer base downtown as an option to suburbia,” he said. “Always start with the customer.”

That means making downtown a more beautiful, pleasant and exciting place to be. But it also means focusing on details and infrastructure, not just grand plans and great architecture. Two key issues: parking and service logistics.

“Instead of just dealing with the icing on the cake,” he said, “deal with the pan that bakes the cake — that’s infrastructure.”

Most visitors come downtown in automobiles, and they need parking that is convenient, easy to find, easy to use, makes them feel safe and costs as little as possible.

Some people need convenient street parking for quick stops. Whenever possible, he said, parallel parking should be replaced by angled parking, because it is easier to use and provides more spaces.

Make street parking free for the first two hours, he said. And encourage more reciprocal parking agreements among businesses. Both would improve customer convenience — and that would attract more customers.

Other people want to come downtown and walk around. They need parking garages that are easy to find and use. Garages are costly, but they are much more efficient than the surface lots that contribute to downtown’s gap-toothed ugliness.

Well-marked garages on side streets a block or two from popular pedestrian-friendly streets of shops and restaurants would make the downtown experience more pleasant and convenient. They also would reduce traffic congestion, much of which is caused by people circling around looking for parking, Wagoner said.

If Wagoner were redesigning downtown, he would make Main Street two-way and more pedestrian-friendly by limiting garage access from Main and giving through-traffic more alternatives. He would keep Vine Street one-way going east and reverse one-way Short street to go west.

Then he would put garages along Church Street, where there are now several surface lots. This location would be convenient for both daytime office workers and people who come to restaurants and bars in the evening.

And rather than building a lot of new parking garages near Rupp Arena, Wagoner would shuttle people to the arena from those Church Street garages, or let them walk through downtown and dine or shop on their way. That would make more efficient use of costly parking infrastructure and better incorporate the Rupp and central business districts.

Another of downtown’s biggest shortcomings, Wagoner thinks, is the lack of well-designed delivery and service space behind many businesses. That results in garbage cans on or near sidewalks, and it forces delivery vehicles to use “front” streets, causing noise, traffic congestion and a less-pleasant customer experience.

As he made this point, we were sitting at a sidewalk table outside Shakespeare & Co. on Short Street. A big food delivery truck pulled up in front of us. The rumble of its idling engine made conversation impossible, so we had to move inside.

Wagoner had a lot of insights that can spark good public conversation about improving downtown and making it more successful. Look for more of them in future columns.


Tour de Paris event Oct. 19 offers chance to bike Paris Pike

October 8, 2013

One of the best-designed and most beautiful highways in America is U.S. 27-68 between Lexington and Paris. It has only one problem: no bicycle lanes.

Tour de Paris logoThat is why cyclists should be excited about the Tour de Paris on Oct. 19. For the first time ever, one lane of Paris Pike in each direction will be closed between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. for police-escorted rides between the two cities.

Loop rides of 24.2 miles and 13.4 miles begin at 9 a.m. at the Bourbon County Courthouse in Paris. Registration is $15 in advance, $20 that day. More information: (859) 987-6237 or ParisBourbonYMCA.org.

A free family fun ride around downtown Paris begins at 10:30 a.m. to showcase historic attractions and the city’s new bike lanes. The event is sponsored by the Paris Main Street Program, the Paris-Bourbon County YMCA and Quillen Leather & Tack.

The Tour de Paris is a brilliant idea. I hope it becomes an annual event.


Officials open extension of Lexington’s first recreational rail trail

September 30, 2013

130930BrightonTrail0031

Mayor Jim Gray gets help from Maya Wijesiri, 3, and her mother, Wendy Wijesiri, in cutting the ribbon opening the second phase of the Brighton East Rail Rail.  Photo by Tom Eblen

Lexington officials Monday opened the first extension of the the Brighton East Trail, Fayette County’s first rail trail.

The 12-foot-wide recreational trail had run a mile from Bryant Road to Pleasant Ridge Drive, through the new residential neighborhoods around Hamburg. The one-mile extension takes the trail along an old railroad bed into the country as far as Walnut Grove Road.

The original trail, completed in 2007, has been so popular that area residents wanted the extension, said district Council member Kevin Stinnett. As Stinnett, Mayor Jim Gray and Council member Harry Clarke prepared to cut the ribbon on the new section, people from the area were already using it for running, cycling and taking children for stroller rides.

Eventually, city officials hope to extend the trail out to the Clark County line and in to connect with the Liberty Park Trail.

The trail extension was funded by $450,000 in federal, state and local money. But key to the project was an easement donation, 100 feet wide and one-mile long, by property owner Marion Clark. She made the donation because she realized what a good amenity the trail would be to future development of her property, said Keith Lovan, the city engineer who heads local trail projects.

The wide easement allowed the city to preserve existing trees from the old rail line, as well as plant more trees to keep the trail pleasantly shaded in hot weather.

Many other states have developed extensive trail systems using abandoned rail lines. But that has been difficult in Kentucky, because abandoned rail lines were often acquired by adjacent property owners.

Parking for the new trail is at Pleasant Ridge Park, 1350 Pleasant Ridge Drive.


Kroger on Euclid a chance for Lexington to do urban infill right

July 20, 2013

130719Kroger0001A

A recent rendering of the design for the exterior of the new Kroger store on Euclid Avenue, incorporating ideas from architect Graham Pohl.  Photo provided

 

The design of a new grocery is usually of little interest beyond its neighborhood. But the Kroger reconstruction on Euclid Avenue offers some important lessons for Lexington as the city focuses more on urban infill and redevelopment.

Kroger has had this Chevy Chase grocery for decades, a suburban-style box behind a wrap-around parking lot. As the neighborhoods surrounding it have become more dense, the store has become more crowded.

While new, small markets such as Town Branch and Shorty’s have filled an important niche, this Kroger is the only supermarket close to Lexington’s increasingly popular intown neighborhoods. Residents there want more shopping options without having to drive to the suburbs.

Kroger plans to spend $19 million building a new store on the site, plus four adjacent quarter-acre lots it acquired. The grocery’s size will increase from 38,000 square feet to 65,000, although some of that new space will be basement storage. In addition to a surface lot, there will be a ramp and parking on the roof.

A larger store requires a zoning change, which has been approved by the Planning Commission and will go before Council on Aug. 13.

Kroger’s initial design was uninspiring — a plain, suburban-style box oriented toward a parking lot rather than the street, as are most buildings in that neighborhood, most of which was developed during the first four decades of the 20th century.

Architect Graham Pohl of the firm Pohl Rosa Pohl offered to donate his services to Kroger to help improve the exterior design to make it more compatible. He also wanted the store to be more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, since that is the way many of Kroger’s customers get there.

“My passion is good design, and I wanted a building that responded to the urban setting and looked like it had been designed, not a building that looked like an afterthought,” said Pohl, who has lived and worked in the neighborhood — and shopped at that Kroger — since 1980.

Pohl said Kroger has been very receptive to his ideas for improving the store’s design. “I have seen a real effort on their part to do the right thing,” he said.

Pohl attributes much of that to city leadership. Mayor Jim Gray has made it clear to Kroger and other developers that infill projects must be well-designed and appropriate to their surroundings.

That is the first important lesson: When city officials and residents make it clear that mediocre design is no longer good enough for Lexington, developers will respond. If a city wants design excellence, it must insist on it.

Pohl, who said he was paid nothing for his work, showed me recent versions of the Kroger design that are dramatically better than the initial ones, in both function and appearance. If Kroger follows through, the store will be better-looking, more compatible with the neighborhood and a more pleasant place to shop.

FortKrogerBut some of the store’s neighbors still aren’t happy, and they are opposing the zoning change. Driving through the neighborhood last Thursday, I saw three yellow yard signs that said, “No to Fort Kroger.”

Opponents say the new store is too big for the site and will create traffic congestion. Pohl thinks some of their fears are exaggerated, but he said city officials should continue to work with Kroger to address several issues. Those include outdoor lighting, pedestrian and cyclist safety, the addition of a bus shelter and limits on when delivery trucks can idle at the loading docks.

City officials should work with Kroger on sensible compromises to make this bigger grocery succeed. Still, it is unlikely every neighbor will be satisfied.

We say it all the time in Lexington, to the point that it has become a cliché: we need to grow up, not out, if we want to preserve our unique rural landscape from more suburban sprawl.

That kind of growth means more infill and redevelopment, and that often means increasing population density. People in Lexington have never been comfortable with increasing density, but that must change.

The Euclid Avenue Kroger project is an excellent opportunity for Lexington to learn more about good urban design and increasing density, and to figure out how to do it right.

 


State bicycle summit planned, and money available for projects

March 26, 2013

I have been bicycling in the countryside for fun and exercise for nearly two decades. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2013 was to make most of my short, in-town trips by bicycle once spring arrived.

Spring arrived last Wednesday. Despite below-freezing temperatures in the morning and a cold afternoon wind, two trips downtown and one to the University of Kentucky campus went well. Since then, it has snowed. And snowed.

Oh well, one of these days the weather will catch up to the calendar. When it does, more Kentuckians will be looking to bicycles as a means of transportation, an enjoyable form of exercise and even a vehicle for economic development.

To jump-start those efforts, the Kentucky Rails to Trails Council and several other organizations are planning the first Kentucky Walk Bike Summit, April 11 and 12 at the Capital Plaza Hotel in Frankfort.

WalkBikeThe summit was modeled after the Lexington Bike Summit that Mayor Jim Newberry’s administration helped put together in 2007. It gave momentum to several Lexington efforts, including new bike lanes and the highly popular Legacy Trail.

Bill Gorton, a Lexington lawyer who is chairman of the state Bicycle and Bikeways Commission, said the goal of the summit is to share stories and strategies about successful projects around the state with people in other communities who want to do their own.

“We want to create a place where people get together and meet other people and share the stories about how they made these things happen,” Gorton said. “We’re hoping some of the smaller communities will work with the Transportation Cabinet and other sources of funding and say, ‘You know what, we can do that!'”

Among an extensive list of speakers and panelists are Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, a cyclist who as Louisville mayor began a 100-mile trail around the city; Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock; David Adkisson, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce; Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists; and representatives of state cycling groups and the Federal Highway Administration.

Gorton said the Transportation Cabinet has become more supportive of bike lanes and trails, such as the one connecting Lexington and Wilmore that was built along old U.S. 68 when the road was widened several years ago.

“It took the engineer in the district to say, ‘Hey, we can do that,'” Gorton said. “But these things need continued attention and advocacy.”

In addition to making existing roads safer for cyclists, Gorton said recreational trails can become important economic development assets. They are a part of the Beshear administration’s focus on “adventure tourism.”

One such effort involves converting abandoned rail lines into trails. Kentucky has only about 30 miles of those trails scattered around the state, and most are short. The most ambitious project now under way is the Dawkins Line, which would be a 36-mile trail in Breathitt, Johnson and Magoffin counties.

“There’s lots to see and experience in rural Kentucky, and by creating a destination like that, it can serve as the nucleus of other tourist activities,” Gorton said. “If you could link these with Kentucky State Parks, which are some of the best in the nation, there are great opportunities. You’ve got to have people see the potential.”

For more information and to register for the Kentucky Walk Bike Summit, go to Kywalkbikesummit.com.

I see the tourism potential for road cycling in Central Kentucky every Memorial Day weekend, when I run a rest stop at the annual Horsey Hundred ride. The Bluegrass Cycling Club, of which I am a member, has sponsored the two-day recreational ride for 35 years.

The Horsey Hundred is two days of supported rides of between 26 and 100 miles. The event attracts about 2,000 participants each year. I have met people at the Horsey who came from across North America, including a big group of Canadians who spend more than a week each year riding our back roads (and spending money at our hotels, restaurants and stores).

The Bluegrass Cycling Club makes money on the Horsey and gives most of it away to bicycle-related philanthropic projects in Central Kentucky. Grants are in the $2,000 to $4,000 range. For more information about applying, go to Bgcycling.org. The application deadline for this funding cycle is May 15.

Surely by then the snow will be gone.


Town Branch Commons designer focuses on green infrastructure

February 10, 2013

A rendering for Scape/Landscape Architecture’s plan for Town Branch Commons, showing how it might look west of Rupp Arena. Images provided.

 

Kate Orff, whose New York landscape architecture firm was chosen last week to design Town Branch Commons, has made a name for herself by looking below the surface and beyond the conventional.

The approach served her well with Lexington’s Downtown Development Authority, which hopes to create green space through the center of the city along the path of the long-buried Town Branch Creek.

Orff said in an interview that her team figured out quickly that the key to this project wasn’t recreating the stream as it used to be, but working with the complex limestone geology and hydrology beneath Lexington’s streets and structures.

She also realized that Town Branch Commons should do more than create beautiful public space to attract people and private development. It should play an important role in solving Lexington’s persistent storm-water and water pollution problems.

In addition to being a partner in the firm Scape/Landscape Architecture, Orff is an assistant professor of architecture and urban design at Columbia University. As founder and co-director of the university’s Urban Landscape Lab, she leads seminars on integrating earth sciences into urban design and planning.

With Town Branch Commons, Orff said she saw an opportunity to accomplish goals that are often seen as contradictory: increasing commercial development and sustainably improving the environment.

“This Lexington project is an amazing opportunity for me to try to bring those two realms together,” Orff said. “I really think that’s the future, this concept of green infrastructure.”

Orff said green infrastructure has many advantages: It is less costly to build and maintain than concrete and pipes. It is less prone to massive failure, because it is less centralized. And it provides the side benefit of public green space.

“But you have to think very systematically,” she said. “It requires more, frankly, of the urban space. It’s more of a dispersed strategy of touching the water where it lands at multiple points in multiple ways. But a more dispersed model leaves you more room for resiliency.”

Orff, 41, grew up in Maryland and earned a bachelor’s degree in political and social thought from the University of Virginia, then a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Harvard University.

She started Scape/Landscape Architecture in 2004. The firm’s projects have ranged from a 1,000-square-foot park in Brooklyn, N.Y., to a 1,000-acre landfill regeneration project in Dublin, Ireland.

Orff has made several national lists of up-and-coming designers. Last year, the organization United States Artists chose her as one of 50 American artists to receive $50,000 fellowship awards.

She was co-author, along with photographer Richard Misrach, of the 2012 book Petrochemical America, which created an ecological atlas of the petrochemical industry’s effects on the 150-mile Mississippi River corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans known as “Cancer Alley.”

Currently, Orff’s firm is doing projects in New York, New Jersey, Chicago and Greenville, S.C., where she is working on an environmental education center with Jeanne Gang, the Chicago architect and MacArthur “genius” award winner who did the site plan for the proposed CentrePointe development in Lexington.

Perhaps Orff’s most high-profile effort is a proposal to restore the Gowanus and Red Hook sections of New York harbor with a system of designed oyster beds. Before harbor dredging and industrialization, oysters flourished there. One oyster has the ability to cleanse 50 gallons of water per day. (She explains the project in a TED talk online. Watch it at the end of this post.)

Her “Oystertecture” plan, which will begin with a pilot project in March, has attracted a lot more attention since superstorm Sandy showed the vulnerability of the Northeast’s urban coast. Orff is part of a task force New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed to study those issues.

To prepare her Lexington proposal, Orff said she studied water flow data and made floodplain maps to understand downtown’s hydrology and geology. For local knowledge and engineering expertise, she engaged Lexington-based EHI Consultants and Sherwood Design Engineers, a major national firm.

Orff also met with city officials to understand Lexington’s consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency, which will require millions of dollars in fixes for long-ignored water quality problems throughout Fayette County.

“Before we ever started to design, we did a very comprehensive series of maps that included flooding, the SSO (sanitary sewer overflow) events and so on,” Orff said. “We had a very clear sense of how water was moving and the amounts of water and what would be possible and what would not be possible.”

Orff said her team also tried to work with what already existed or was proposed for downtown “rather than tearing down and starting over from scratch, because clearly a lot of money has been spent already.”

Orff plans to return to Lexington in a few weeks to meet with stakeholders and the public to gather feedback and ideas. Then, more civil engineering will be needed, as well as a plan for how to build the project in phases.

“We are aiming to refine the plan and provide some alternatives for different areas,” she said. “I think the way our scheme kind of fits within the landscape, it provides a lot of alternatives and backup plans.”

Click on each thumbnail and image to enlarge:


Lexington’s ‘big idea’ for contest leverages citizen engagement

September 22, 2012

When Mayor Jim Gray decided Lexington should enter Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge competition for innovative ideas to improve cities, he asked local citizens for their suggestions. He was impressed by the response.

More than 7,000 people participated in the process, and 420 ideas were formally submitted. Many of those ideas for improving Lexington were good, even if some didn’t fit the Bloomberg criteria.

Then it dawned on Gray and his staff: The “big idea” was the citizen-engagement process itself.

So, earlier this month, Lexington joined 393 other cities in submitting ideas to Bloomberg in the hope of winning a $5 million first prize or one of four $1 million second prizes to help make their ideas reality.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will choose 20 cities as finalists in December. The winners will be announced in early 2013.

Lexington’s proposal is called CitizenLex.org. It involves creating an online platform with city data and reports to help citizens identify problems, then aggregate and manage their ideas for solving them.

CitizenLex.org will be a “collecting tank and control tower” to organize and manage ideas as well as connect people and organizations within the community. Efforts will focus on seven key areas: crime, housing, social services, aging and the community, health, education and jobs.

The basic idea is that government often functions best not as a problem-solver but as the facilitator of problem-solving by businesses, non-profit organizations, churches, community groups, entrepreneurs and volunteers.

“It’s a powerful idea,” the city’s application says, “that serving up government transparency in a social-media platform can fuel citizen engagement and improve a city.”

So, is this more than just a high-tech suggestion box?

“You mean the black hole? Yes,” Gray said. “We recognized that the big idea is not just the ideas but the continuous engagement of citizens in the process. It’s using technology to push the fabric of democratic process. It’s about partnerships and good management, and the platform helps you manage.”

If Lexington wins money from Bloomberg, the application said it would be used to develop CitizenLex.org, pay a “director of city innovation” to manage the process and fund some initial projects that grew out of citizens’ suggestions for the competition.

Those projects are:

 Expand the Better Bites healthy-food program now at city park concession stands into local schools to reach more kids.

 Create more bicycle lanes and walking trails to improve local health.

 Expand the Fayette County Public Schools’ Delivery-to-Diploma program with a focus on expanding early childhood education.

 Partner with the University of Kentucky’s True Lean program in the College of Engineering to use Toyota-Lean management principles to improve efficiency in city government.

Gray and his staff plan to have much of this work under way before Bloomberg Philanthropies even chooses its winners.

CirrusMio, a new technology development company in Lexington, is already working on the online platform. City officials also have begun forming partnerships for the projects with UK, the Blue Grass Community Foundation, the Fayette County Public Schools and other organizations.

(An interesting side note: The Bloomberg application asks when the mayor’s term ends. Lexington responded that Gray’s first term ends Dec. 31, 2014, “but he is interested in a second or third term.” The Urban County Charter limits a mayor to three consecutive terms.)

Gray said he thinks Lexington has a good shot at being a Mayors Challenge winner.

“If they’re measuring success to date, learning to date, engagement, innovation and creativity to date, I think we’ve got a good chance of a least making the top 20,” Gray said, adding that even if Lexington doesn’t get Bloomberg money he will try to find ways to do most of this project. “It makes too much sense not to.”

That is the challenge. Gathering good ideas is one thing; making them happen is quite another.

 

Watch Lexington’s Bloomberg Mayors Challenge entry video:

Bloomberg Mayors Challenge: Lexington, KY from Bullhorn on Vimeo.


Here’s my $5 million idea for the mayor; what’s yours?

July 29, 2012

You have until Wednesday to send Mayor Jim Gray your bold idea for improving Lexington.

Gray will choose one idea to submit next month to Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, which will give $5 million to the winning city and four $1 million prizes to runners-up to help turn their ideas into reality.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s foundation wants “a bold idea that can make government work better, solve a serious problem or improve city life.” The idea should be tailored to Lexington, but also be replicable in other cities. It also needs an action plan that can achieve measurable results.

So far, citizens have submitted dozens of ideas through the city’s website, by mail and in “town hall” forums that Gray has conducted via telephone and social media.

So what’s my bold idea for the mayor? Set a goal to make Lexington the nation’s healthiest city through better nutrition and more exercise. The action plan would focus on developing our budding local food economy and making it easier for Lexingtonians to be physically active as part of their daily routines.

This project is perfect for Lexington, because the city has both huge health problems and the basic tools needed to solve them.

Think about it: Long before Men’s Health magazine named Lexington as America’s most sedentary city last year, Kentucky was a national chart-topper for unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, obesity, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, you name it.

On the other hand, Lexington has some of America’s richest soil, and it can grow food as well as horses. There is a lot of farmland, plus other good opportunities for healthy food production, from the indoor aquaponics farm now being built in a former urban bread bakery to suburban backyard gardens.

Lexington already has many smart, creative people working on these issues. They include university researchers, health educators, farmers, food entrepreneurs and non-profit community organizations such as Seedleaf and Food Chain.

As for exercise, Urban County Council members Jay McChord and Doug Martin, architect Van Meter Pettit and many others have become influential promoters of trails, bicycle lanes and better pedestrian infrastructure to make it safer and easier to exercise.

Lexington’s size, educated population, culture, soils, climate and central location make this an ideal place to pioneer new approaches to improving Americans’ health. Think how much progress could be made if a well-publicized city health crusade attracted national attention and other foundation funding?

These are just some of the issues to be explored: How can typical American urban and suburban infrastructure be retrofitted to make it safer for walking and biking? How can locally grown produce and meat be made more affordable? How can local food production be leveraged to create new jobs?

City government’s main role would be to help create infrastructure — everything from bike lanes and pedestrian paths to garden plots on vacant city land and commercial kitchens to help people turn local food into value-added products. With the right infrastructure and support, Lexington’s academics, entrepreneurs, volunteers and non-profit organizations could develop strategies other cities could emulate.

Well, that’s my idea. What’s yours? Send it to the mayor by going to the city’s website (lexingtonky.gov) and filling out an online form. Or mail your idea to: Mayors Challenge, City Hall, 200 E. Main St., Lexington, KY 40507.

Dick Robinson’s Legacy

The last couple of times I saw well-known sports agent Dick Robinson, he was telling me about his dream of extending the popular Legacy Trail from the Kentucky Horse Park to Georgetown. Robinson, 71, was an avid cyclist. He died a year ago Monday as the result of a brain injury suffered in a cycling accident.

Robinson’s widow, Christie, and friends Leslie and Keith Flanders have continued working on the idea, enlisting the support of Scott County property owners and officials.

They have set up an account with the Blue Grass Community Foundation to take donations to fund a feasibility study and are in the process of hiring CDP Engineers of Lexington to conduct it. The six-month study will recommend route options and estimate costs of the three- or four-mile extension so organizers can apply for state, federal and foundation construction grants, Leslie Flanders said.

To raise awareness for the project, there will be a 15-mile ride on the Legacy Trail in Robinson’s memory Monday at 8:30 a.m. at the trailhead on Iron Works Pike across from the horse park campground. Everyone is invited to come out to ride, or just to honor Robinson’s legacy dream.


Get ready for Bike Lexington on Saturday

May 29, 2012

The long Memorial Day weekend is over and you’re back at work today — thinking about what to do next weekend.

Well, get your bicycle out of the garage Saturday morning and head downtown for the annual Bike Lexington Family Fun Ride, a roll around the city without having to worry about cars getting in your way.

Registration begins at 8 a.m. at Courthouse Plaza, and the ride begins promptly at 10 a.m. There will be a Kids’ Bike Safety Rodeo and children’s bike race from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. There also will be food vendors and a raffle for a free bike from Bike Lexington’s main sponsor, Pedal Power Bike Shop.

The Family Fun Ride route map is below. For more information, go to BikeLexington.com.


Bike month brings lots of two-wheel news, events

May 2, 2012

May is National Bike Month, a good time to briefly note upcoming events and review recent progress toward making Central Kentucky a better place to ride bicycles for fun and transportation.

■ Bike Lexington, the city’s monthlong celebration, is sponsoring commuter classes and a commuter challenge. The family fun ride through town, which always attracts a couple thousand riders, is June 2. More information: BikeLexington.com.

■ Second Sunday’s third annual Blue Grass Airport event is June 10. Several thousand people always come out for a chance to ride, skate and walk on the auxiliary runway while it is closed to aircraft. More information: 2ndSundayKy.com.

■ The Bluegrass Cycling Club’s 35th annual Horsey Hundred tour is May 26 and 27. Saturday ride options include routes of 26, 35, 53, 75 and 100 miles. Sunday options are 35, 50 and 75 miles. All rides begin at Georgetown College.

The rides are supported with rest stops and “sag wagons” to pick up riders who need help. About 2,000 cyclists will come from across the nation to ride through our beautiful countryside. For more information, go to BGcycling.org.

■ Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop reopened Friday in a much larger space at the new Bread Box development at West Sixth and Jefferson streets. The shop started in late 2010 behind Al’s Bar on North Limestone and Sixth Street.

The non-profit shop “recycles” donated bikes for sale to low-income people. “Our goal is to provide reliable basic transportation at a price anyone can afford,” said Shane Tedder, one of the shop’s volunteer organizers.

Broke Spoke also provides a place where anyone may borrow tools to work on a bicycle in return for an hourly fee or shop membership.

The shop now has a 2,500-square-foot space, thanks to the Bread Box’s developers and an $11,000 grant from the Paula Nye Memorial Foundation, which the Kentucky Bicycle and Bikeway Commission administers from the fee that motorists pay for “Share the Road” license plates. Other financial backers included the Bluegrass Cycling Club and Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt.

Broke Spoke is open 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday and 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. The Bread Box, a former commercial bakery, also is home to West Sixth Brewing and several artist studios.

Broke Spoke’s new space opens onto the proposed extension of the Legacy Trail, from the Northside YMCA on Loudon Avenue to East Third Street and Midland Avenue. For more information, go to Thebrokespoke.org.

The Bread Box is next to Coolavin Park, whose former tennis courts have become the site of Lexington’s burgeoning bike polo leagues. Last weekend, the park hosted Ladies Army IV, an all-female bike polo tournament that attracted 40 teams with more than 200 athletes from the United States and from five European and Asian countries. Who knew?

■ An important piece of bicycle infrastructure just opened with little fanfare at the double-diamond interchange at Harrodsburg and New Circle roads.

The original design called for a sidewalk. But Urban County Councilman Doug Martin said he was able to work with Bob Nunley and others at District 7 of the state Transportation Cabinet to put a paved bike path on both sides.

That short path might not seem like much to motorists, but it solves a huge problem for cyclists. Crossing New Circle Road can be a major problem on a bicycle, and more solutions like this are needed.

Martin hopes this connection and others along the Harrodsburg Road corridor will allow the Legacy Trail to connect eventually with the new bike path along U.S. 68, providing a safe way to ride all the way from the Kentucky Horse Park to Wilmore, he said.

Meanwhile, Lexington recently installed bicycle detection devices at several intersections where lights often wouldn’t change without a car present. Also, an updated bike-route map of the city will be published in May.

■ Bluegrass Bike Partners is a new regional effort started in Midway to identify and market businesses and organizations that welcome cyclists. More information: Midwayrenaissance.org.

■ Pedal the Planet Bike Shop has become the state’s second organization, after the University of Kentucky, to be certified as a “silver” bike-friendly business by the League of American Bicyclists. The designation recognizes companies and institutions that provide certain ways and incentives for employees to bike to work.


A bit hot for tweed, but a great day for a ride

March 17, 2012

The first Tweed Run was held in London, England, in 2009. Since then, Tweed Runs, or Tweed Rides, have been held in dozens of cities around the world. Here’s the drill: Dress in Edwardian costume, find a vintage bicycle and gather for a leisurely ride through town.

Lexington’s third annual Tweed Ride was Saturday afternoon. I joined some Tweed Riders who came early to ride in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. After the parade,  more than 100 of us gathered at the Sidebar on North Limestone Street, cycled up to the Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning for a group portrait on the steps and then rode to a home off Manchester Street for a benefit party for Lexington Bike Polo. Lexington’s talented poster artists, Brian and Sara Turner of Cricket Press, designed this limited-edition poster for the event.

The ride was a lot of fun on a beautiful St. Patrick’s Day, even if it was a bit warm for proper British tweed.  For those who wore tweed anyway, a stiff upper lip came in handy.

Here’s a photo gallery I shot using the Hipstamatic app for iPhone. It added just the right amount of funky retro class. (Click on each thumbnail to enlarge the photo.)


Bicycle lanes: if you build it, they will come

March 14, 2012

After many years of being a so-called grownup, I returned to riding bicycles for fun and exercise in 1995. Since moving closer to downtown Lexington a few weeks ago, I also have been riding a bike to the office, to interviews and to run errands when I can. It’s an especially easy choice on a beautiful early-spring day like this.

Lexington isn’t a bad city for bicycling, but it could be much better. I think back to what I saw last April when I went on a bicycle trip around Holland with Lexington friends Mike and Janette Heitz.

Here is a good, short video about bicycle transportation in the Netherlands. What’s interesting is not so much how bicycle-friendly that country is now, but how bicycle-unfriendly it was less than four decades ago. Why the change? The Dutch in the 1970s decided that they were tired of automobile traffic congestion, high gasoline prices and huge numbers of traffic fatalities. Do those problems sound familiar?

Some members of Congress, flush with campaign contributions from oil companies, have been trying to take bicycle infrastructure out of highway investment in the name of deficit reduction. That’s a very bad idea, since, among many other benefits, more bicycle infrastructure can reduce the need for more-costly automobile infrastructure in many places.

This country is, geographically, very different from the Netherlands. Among other things, it’s bigger, hillier and more spread out. Bicycles cannot be as big a solution to transportation problems in this country as they are there, but they could be much bigger than they are now in many American towns and cities. As this video shows, if you build it, they will come.

From the Netherlands to America from Bikes Belong on Vimeo.