Second Sunday event previews design for Legacy Trail completion

October 7, 2014

2ndSunday 2014 Handout-R1This rendering shows the proposed design for completing the Legacy Trail along Fourth Street between Jefferson and Shropshire streets. One-street parking would be eliminated to create a 10-foot, two-way bicycle land and 10-12 foot lanes for cars and trucks. People can test the concept 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday during the annual Second Sunday event. Photo Provided

 

This year’s Second Sunday event will offer a preview of what planners propose as the design for finishing Lexington’s popular Legacy Trail: a two-way path along Fourth Street separated from automobile traffic.

The free public event is 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, beginning at the corner of West Sixth and Jefferson Streets, at the Bread Box building and Coolivan Park. Festivities will include kids’ activities, but the main event will be bike riding, running, walking and skating on a coned-off lane of the south side of Fourth Street for 1.6 miles between there and the Isaac Murphy Art Garden under construction at East Third Street and Midland Avenue.

Eight miles of the Legacy Trail between the Northside YMCA and the Kentucky Horse Park were finished in 2010. But bringing the trail into town has been more complicated. The city secured $2.4 million in federal transportation funds to finish the trail, but it has taken time to work out all the details of bringing it into town.

Keith Lovan, a city engineer who oversees trail projects, said the cheapest and safest way to extend the trail across the Northside is what is known as a two-way cycle track on the street, separated from car and truck traffic by flexible posts.

To make room for the 10-foot-wide cycle track, on-street parking would be eliminated. Each car lane would still be 12 to 14 feet wide.

Sunday’s ride will extend to Shropshire Street, but Lovan said Elm Tree Lane and Race Streets also are being considered as ways to connect the Legacy Trail along Fourth Street to the art garden trailhead.

A citizens advisory committee of about 30 people has been mulling this design and other Legacy Trail issues. Detailed work will be done this winter and construction is to begin in the spring.

Lovan expects some controversy, because some on-street parking will be lost and because adding the trail will make street entry and exit from some driveways a little more complicated for drivers.

“I expect we’ll start hearing some of that Sunday,” Loven said of the Second Sunday event, when the trail will be marked off with orange cones. “We intend for this to reflect what the cycle track will look like.”

The hardest part of finishing the Legacy Trail, he said, “Will be getting the support to do this. We’ve had a lot of stakeholder meetings already.” Public meetings will be scheduled later this fall, and planners are going door-to-door talking with residents and businesses on affected streets, Lovan said.

The only other Lexington trail that uses this design is the short section of the Legacy Trail on the bridge over New Circle Road. In addition to cost-savings and improved safety, Lovan said, the two-way cycle track design has been shown in other cities to increase bicycle usage.

“These have been introduced across the country with great success,” said Loven, who oversaw design and construction of the rest of the Legacy Trail. “It provides the user a little more security. You don’t feel like you’re riding in traffic. But it’s more of a visual barrier than a protective barrier.”

I have ridden on cycle track in several American and European cities, and it feels safer for both cyclists and automobile drivers, because they are separated from each other.

When this is finished, there will be only one section of the original Legacy Trail left to do: a short connection between Jefferson Street and the YMCA. Lovan said the city has acquired an old rail line for part of that and is negotiating with the Hope Center to complete the connection. He expects that to be done next year.

The Legacy Trail demonstration marks the seventh year Lexington has participated in Second Sunday, a statewide effort to use existing built infrastructure to promote exercise and physical activity. In most communities, that has meant closing a street for a few hours so people can bike, walk, run or skate there.

The University of Kentucky’s Cooperative Extension Service started Second Sunday and has coordinated activities. The service plans to do several Second Sunday events next year, depending on grant funding, said spokeswoman Diana Doggett.

“We have a community that is willing and interested,” she said. “We just have to nudge that along.”


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:


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.


1 year, 416 miles of Lexington streets, many lessons

August 2, 2011

On a rare warm day in February 2010, Steve Austin began a bicycle ride from his home in Ashland Park. He is almost finished with it.

Austin didn’t set out intending to ride all 416 miles of Lexington streets inside New Circle Road. But the more he rode that afternoon, the more he thought it wouldn’t be that hard.

“Finding the time and the right weather was my biggest challenge,” said Austin, a vice president at Blue Grass Community Foundation.

Austin rode mostly on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but occasionally during heavy weekday traffic, always starting from his home. With a yellow highlighter, he marked off each street on a well-folded city map, but he didn’t keep track of his total miles ridden. He has only a few streets left to go.

“I was really doing an experiment to see if Lexington is a bikeable city,” he said. “The answer is yes. We tell ourselves it’s not because of traffic, but inside New Circle Road is really compact, although it’s more hilly than it looks from a car.”

Austin, who was trained as a landscape architect and land-use lawyer and has spent much of his career as a city planner, said that viewing Lexington from the seat of a bicycle has given him a new perspective.

For one thing, he was impressed by how courteous drivers were to him. And he was struck by how nice Lexington’s older suburban neighborhoods are — even the less-affluent ones. “But we missed a lot of opportunities as we grew from the core by not building greenways along the creeks to connect them,” he said.

“You can live in a great suburb and still have to drive to everything,” he said. “Retro-fitting the urban fabric to make it more pedestrian- and bike-friendly is going to be one of our challenges over the next few decades” as gasoline prices rise and the population ages.

But that won’t be as difficult, or expensive, as it might sound. Austin discovered that New Circle Road is no more than a 30-minute bike ride from anywhere inside it, and the city is filled with lots of streets going the same direction.

“You can ride almost anywhere without getting on a busy road — a Nicholasville Road, a Richmond Road,” he said, adding that Liberty, Mason Headley and Parkers Mill roads can be just as treacherous.

Austin said small things could make a big difference, such as signs marking good bike routes and cut-throughs at key points — a bridge over the creek behind Lafayette High School, for example, or a pathway behind Picadome Golf Course — that would allow cyclists to avoid busy roads.

“Those are incremental costs compared to the benefits we would get for the city,” he said.

Such small improvements could encourage more bicycle commuters. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey found that only about 1 percent of Lexington’s 143,000 commuters bike to work. “What would it take to get to 10 percent?” Austin wondered.

Austin now bikes to his downtown office several days a week, and he rides around his neighborhood some evenings with his son, who recently got a bicycle for his 9th birthday. Austin, who also has taken up jogging, said he has lost more than 20 pounds and is trying for more.

Austin said his journey also helped him notice things about Lexington that have nothing to do with biking — for example, how some of Lexington’s nicest neighborhoods are only a stone’s throw from some of its most dilapidated. “Yet we’ve kind of compart mentalized things,” he said. “We have mental blinders.”

Austin also noticed University of Kentucky flags on homes in almost every neighborhood. “It sounds kind of cliché, but UK athletics is the unifier, the common reference,” he said. It made him wonder: How powerful would it be if every Lexington child could attend a basketball game in Rupp Arena, if only once?

“I think it’s important for us to get to know our city better,” he said. “And you just don’t get it from the windshield of a car.”


Second Sunday back at Blue Grass Airport this weekend

June 9, 2011

Last year’s popular Second Sunday event at Blue Grass Airport will be repeated this weekend. People are invited to bring their bicycles, skateboards, rollerskates, sports equipment and walking shoes to have fun and get some exercise on the airport’s 4,000-foot runway Sunday from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.

The free event will offer a number of activities, including a batting cage from the Lexington Legends, sports equipment from the YMCA and a display of various aircraft and safety vehicles, including fire engines, police vehicles, helicopters and unusual airplanes.

Participants can register to win tickets to one of three Florida destinations, courtesy of the airport and Allegiant Air. They also can bring picnics to enjoy while watching aircraft take off and land. During the event, aircraft will be using the airport’s main 7,000-foot runway, so there will be no interruption in flights.

Second Sunday participants should plan to enter the airport grounds from Versailles Road, near the Fire Training Center across from Keeneland Race Course. Parking will be adjacent to the runway. Leashed pets are welcome.

Second Sunday offers monthly events in Lexington and annual events statewide to encourage all forms of physical activity and fitness. Last year, 115 counties participated in the annual Second Sunday program in October, in which a section of road was closed in each county for the afternoon so people could use it for exercise and recreation.

Click here to see reports from last year’s event, which was a lot of fun.


Celebrate Sunday afternoon on Town Branch Trail

August 12, 2010

Town Branch Trail organizers are inviting the public to come out to Trailapalooza on Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The celebration will be held along the 1.8 miles of completed trail that extends from Leestown Road to Alexandria Drive west of downtown.

Trailapalooza will include live music, refreshments and a scavenger hunt. People (mainly kids) will be given a “passport” with questions about history and the environment along the new biking and walking trail. They will find answers to those questions on signs and markers along the trail. Prizes include a $200 gift certificate to Pedal Power bike shop, a $100 gift certificate to Phillip Gall’s outdoor store and memberships to Urban Active gym.

Eventually, the trail will run eight miles along Town Branch Creek from Leestown Road to Manchester Street downtown. Funding has been secured and design is under way for another 1.5-mile section of the trail. That section will connect McConnell Springs, the site where Lexington was founded, with the new Distillery District arts and entertainment area along Manchester Street near Rupp Arena.

Progress has been slower on Town Branch Trail than the 9-mile Legacy Trail, which is nearing completion between downtown’s East End and the Kentucky Horse Park. Part of the reason is that property issues are much more complicated along Town Branch, much of which has been developed property for two centuries. “Some of the industrial property inside New Circle Road is a puzzle,” Town Branch Trail President Van Meter Pettit says. “It just takes a lot of time to sort out.”

Speaking of the Legacy Trail, mark your calendar for its grand opening celebration, Sunday afternoon, Sept. 12.


Miss airport Second Sunday? Watch the video

July 26, 2010

Several thousand people came out June 13 for the Second Sunday event at Blue Grass Airport. The almost-finished new runway was opened to bikers, rollerbladers, skateboarders and walkers. It was a great community event to encourage people to get outside and exercise

In case you missed it, organizers commissioned the video below. For more information about other Second Sunday events, go to the website.


First piece of Town Branch Trail opens next weekend

September 5, 2009

Lexington was born and grew up around the Town Branch of South Elkhorn Creek, but over the past century we’ve done our best to pollute it, bury it and forget about it.

Water finds its way, though, even if it sometimes needs help.

Town Branch Trail Inc. has been working for a decade to develop a greenway along the creek west of downtown. The first fruits of those labors will be on display next weekend, when the initial two-mile section of the trail is opened with a benefit concert and bicycle rally.

The Freedom Concert, with music by Cora Lee and the Townies and Fifth on the Floor, is at 8 p.m. Friday at the new Buster’s in the restored Old Tarr Distillery, which backs up to the creek on Manchester Street. Admission is $10, with all proceeds going to the trail project.

The next morning at 8:15, the public is invited to meet at Cheapside for a police-escorted 10-mile bicycle ride out and back on roads to the completed trail section off Leestown Road and Alexandria Drive. There will be a hospitality tent at Lewis Manor, a circa 1800 home beside the trail in Marehaven subdivision.

When I walked the trail last week, people were already using it.

Workers had just installed stone-cutter Richard McAlister’s beautiful sandstone benches and furlong posts made of finely crafted “Kentucky marble” limestone. And there were several new signs along the trail explaining Central Kentucky’s landscape, geology and ecology.

Van Meter Pettit, the Lexington architect who put together the trail project, sees it as more than a place to exercise; it’s a way to learn about Lexington’s history and environment. It’s also a way to rehabilitate and protect the watershed and help deal with runoff and pollution problems that have grown with the city.

“There is a compelling story to why we are the way we are that even many natives don’t understand,” he said. For example: Lexington’s downtown is long and narrow because it was built along Town Branch, which now flows beneath Vine Street.

Town Branch runs along the west side of the finished section of trail, just beyond tracks that were part of Kentucky’s first railroad line.

In one section, the trail goes around a giant, centuries-old tree, surrounded by a stand of native cane. When the first pioneers came here 250 years ago, much of the Bluegrass was covered with cane. Now, it’s hard to find.

“This is about as good a snapshot of authentic Kentucky as you can get,” Pettit said.

On the east side of the trail is Central Kentucky’s modern landscape: several new subdivisions.

Efforts to build trails in established neighborhoods often are met with “not in my backyard” opposition. But these subdivisions are new, and many homeowners are building decks and landscaping their yards to take advantage of trail access.

Indeed, subdivision developer Dennis Anderson was key to the Town Branch Trail’s success. That’s because he realized the trail would not only be an amenity for his development, but would help with drainage and be a financially attractive way to use undevelopable land.

“Without him,” Pettit said, “this trail would have been a nice idea that never would have happened.”

With this section of trail finished, Pettit is now turning his attention to another one-mile section that has funding. The remaining five miles is under feasibility study while trail organizers seek money, easements and rights of way.

So far, Town Branch Trail has received about $2 million in grants and other funding and $1 million worth of donated land, Pettit said.

Plans call for the trail to eventually be at least eight miles long, going from this first finished section to downtown. It will end along Manchester Street near Rupp Arena, where developers of the Distillery District plan to rehabilitate the stream and incorporate the trail into their multi-use project.

Eventually, Pettit would like Town Branch Trail to connect with the nine-mile Legacy Trail being built from downtown to the Kentucky Horse Park, as well as other walking and bike paths.

Even further in the future, there is talk of developing a trail beside the railroad line from Lexington to Versailles and eventually Frankfort.

So come out and see this first piece of Town Branch Trail. You’ll get some exercise, learn about Lexington and see how creative people are harnessing our rich heritage to literally pave the way to a better future.


Second Sunday backers rally Tuesday in Frankfort

March 9, 2009

Second Sunday, the effort to get Kentuckians off the couch and exercising in the street, is gearing up this week for a statewide event in October that will be bigger and better than last year.

Second Sunday organizers will rally at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort to promote the effort. House and Senate resolutions supporting Second Sunday will be introduced by en. Katie Stine, a Republican from Southgate,  Rep. Tanya Pullin, a Democrat from South Shore, and Rep. Susan Westrom, a Lexington Democrat.  Gov. Steve Beshear also plans a declaration.

A major street was closed for the afternoon last Oct. 12 in 70 of Kentucky’s 120 counties and more than 12,000 citizens got out to walk, run, bike, rollerskate and participate in other health-related activities and programs. In Lexington, Limestone Street was closed from Third Street to the Avenue of Champions and it was filled by more than 2,000 people, including Mayor Jim Newberry, several Urban County council members and their families.

This year’s statewide event is planned for Oct. 11, although promoters hope to open a major street to pedestrians in some communities more often – ideally, on the second Sunday of every month. Related activites are being organized throughout the year.

The Second Sunday movement began in Bogotá, Colombia, and has been copied by many other cities, including New York. Kentucky’s Second Sunday last year was the nation’s first coordinated statewide event. It is being coordinated by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture’s extension service, and the statewide coordinator is Diana Doggett of the Fayette County extension office.

Jay McChord, an Urban County Council member and one of the forces behind Second Sunday, sees the event as a low-cost, fun way to get notoriously unhealthy Kentuckians to be more physically active and more involved in their communities.