Saturday, July 28th, 2007

Project Review: Lewis and Clark Parkway Widening in Clarksville, Indiana

Retail in Southern Indiana near Louisville was long synonymous with Highway 131 in Clarksville. This road housed the area’s main enclosed mall, Green Tree Mall, along with numerous other strip centers, car dealerships, and chain restaurants. It was a typical older suburban commercial strip of the type found in many communities across America.

As with many of those other commercial strips, Highway 131 was not aging well. The road itself was four lanes of cracked up concrete with drainage ditches and no sidewalks. Green Tree Mall expanded in the 80’s, then struggled as the enclosed mall fell out of favor as a retail format. Many of the strip centers were old and obsolete. With the coming of the I-65 reconstruction and the extension of Green Tree Boulevard north as a new, modern four lane road called Veterans’ Parkway (complete with I-65 interchnage), much of the better retail and restaurant brands decamped from Highway 131 for greener pastures.

The town of Clarksville did not stand still. Fortunately, the new retail was also in its borders, so it continued to have a strong tax base. The state of Indiana relinquished Highway 131 to the town as a street rechristened as Lewis and Clark Parkway. Now that’s an unfortunate and unwieldy name, but what Clarksville did to it was far from unfortunate.

Lewis and Clark was reconstructed and widened into a six lane road. Additionally, open ditches were replaced with curb and gutter, sidewalks were installed on both sides, the traditional Indiana stoplights dangling off wires were replaced with attractive mast arm lights, decorative street lighting was installed, and there was extensive landscaping added as well. Here is a picture of the streetscape (click the picture for a full sized view):

Now nothing is going to disguise the fact that this is a mega-highway lined with malls, but it is a big step up from the past, which unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of.

Note that despite the narrowness of the ROW with all those lanes, the sidewalk is not flush to the street. A small grass buffer was included. Also note the incorporation of landscaping elements besides just trees. The sidewalk also changes both color and texture approaching the crosswalk at an intersection at the bottom of the picture.

Here’s a closeup of the streetlight:

This isn’t a totally successful design. The light arm is too small in relation to the gigantic street. And the design is a bit quirky. But there are some great things about it too. Whatever you can about the design, the creator went for a more modern feel as opposed to some typical “olde tyme” street lamp of the type all too often installed. This is a modern commercial strip. Historic replicas of traditional Main St. gas lamps would have been out of place. The dark green color used here and throughout the project is also very tasteful.

Stop light design is something that is rarely thought about. There are two basic approaches: mast arm mounted lights and wire dangling lights. Indiana and many southern states seem to be big fans of the wire dangling variety, which are among the ugliest inventions of human kind. So to use mast arms here is a huge improvement.

This would be a typical intersection in a place like Illinois, but it is pretty rare for Indiana. Mast arms are used from time to time around the state, but this might be the first place I’ve seen them used on a six lane highway. The angling of the arm itself looks nice and adds interest, but at the price of requiring uneven light mounting in order to make the bulbs line up correctly. I’m not convinced that was a good tradeoff to make. The light installation looks sloppy. What’s more, that undersized streetlight poking off the top of the large support pylon is jarring. I would have eliminated that element. But overall, you have to rate this far above the average suburban Indiana stoplight.

Let’s look at at closeup of the lights themselves.

Note that the backs are painted black. Again, this would be standard operating procedure in a number of places, but very few stoplights in Indiana are like this. Even where decorative mounting arms are used, the lights themselves are almost always standard yellow. This is yet another plus for the project.

On the whole, this is one of the most successful suburban highway reconstructions I’ve seen. It increased capacity while addressing pedestrians and significantly improving the visual appearance of the roadway. Other cities and towns should look at this and make careful notes. Clarksville and Southern Indiana can be very proud of what they’ve accomplished here.

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Topics: Transportation
Cities: Louisville

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