Saturday, May 30th, 2009
A former Louisvillian now living in Stockholm, recently put up an interesting blog post where he, among other things, compares Louisville to Stockholm.
The redevelopment of a major interchange project at a location in Stockholm called Slussen reminded him of the debate over 8664. Here is a picture of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s plan for Spaghetti Junction in downtown Louisville
He says of this:
With driving rates continuing to decline, it only seems comical to continue building monstrous automobile infrastructure. I’m continually returning to the idea what kind of public transit a couple billion dollars could buy for Louisville, instead of the proposed 23-lane monument to yesterday’s sad love affair with the internal combustion engine.
The image you see here is not an exaggeration by the opposition, it is from the actual Ohio River Bridges Project website. It’s really quite shocking how the project absolutely dwarfs entire city blocks of houses and businesses, and is placed directly between the city and its waterfront. If you’re having any trouble imagining the size of this monster, compare it to the baseball stadium in the bottom left of the picture.
If everything goes according to plan – which construction ventures never do – the project will be finished in fifteen years. When you think about what has happened to oil prices, driving trends, and auto manufacturing, just in the last two or three years, a fifteen-year project like this is nothing short of senseless, foolish, and wasteful. It is a prefect example of doing more of the same thing and expecting different results.
Also, Kentucky has no money to build it. In fact, the state is already looking to issue GARVEE bonds (bonds to be repaid from future federal transportation grants – in effect, mortgaging the future) just to keep design on track.
An alternative plan has been put forward by a group called “8664“. They want to “86”, or tear down, a portion of the I-64 riverfront parkway. This elevated roadway cuts downtown Louisville off from the riverfront. The plan involves completing an eastern bridge, then routing through traffic over that, while converting a portion of I-64 into a surface level parkway. This is touted as reconnecting the city to the riverfront and saving a couple billion in the process. Also, a large number of buildings downtown that would otherwise be demolished for the interchange will be spared.
I think the idea is one that merits serious study and consideration. I’m not certain it is a slam dunk, frankly. Several spur type interstates have been torn down, but rarely a through route. Still, the intuitive case looks decent, and ought to be looked at. The problem is that no one in the establishment is willing to consider anything other than the current auto-centric solution that is clearly gold plated in terms of design. And with the funding crunch ongoing, why not look at lower cost solutions?
Of course, the real conflict here is simply between an auto-based mobility and economic growth world view and a world view dominated by low cost and non-auto amenities like the riverfront. These aren’t the types of debates that can be resolved rationally since they involve value choices as much as solution options.
Our blogger captures this well in his blog when he talks about the road Stockholm took versus the one Louisville did.
Stockholm, a city roughly the same size as Louisville, is literally blanketed in a web of public transit. This access grew out of investment and planning dating back to the 1940’s, when Louisville was foolishly dismantling its electric street cars. The result today in Stockholm is a beautiful city that is drastically quieter, cleaner, and more accessible to everyone than Louisville is. In my several months here I have been inside a car only a handful of times. Buses, bicycles, pedestrians – they all coexist in the same space and breathe the same air.
Just like Louisville, Stockholm was originally founded because it was a natural stopping point for shipping. The boats had to stop here and therefore a community grew around that pause in the transport of goods. Sure, Stockholm is more than half a millennium older than Louisville, but that should make its lessons of modern growth more of an example than not. Despite the age difference, the two cities share a lot of parallels and similar challenges when it comes to transit – namely, a similar population, surface area, high water table, commuter culture.
The difference is that in Stockholm they made tough choices for the greater good. They moved their air traffic away from the city instead of continuing to expand an old airport in the middle of where everyone lives. They built an extensive underground rail system which meant carving deep into the bedrock below lakes and rivers.
Both of these things happened more than sixty years ago and neither was cheap, but in the long run, they were ultimately worth it. They required sacrifices but they became gifts to future generations that people today are enjoying.
In fairness, the Stockholm metro area of almost two million people is a bit bigger than Louisville. And it is a national capital and has many other traits not shared in common with Louisville. No matter what Louisville did, it would not be Stockholm today. And, while this is not a popular view in some quarters, I do believe we need to build more and wider roads in many cases. Nevertheless, this illustrates some very important things.
- You don’t have to be a huge city to be an internationally known and respected one. So much of what Louisville does is oriented around trying to emulate larger cities, but another, and I would argue more viable strategy, is to focus on quality over quantity.
- Taking the road less traveled, so to speak, can pay long term dividends. Bucking the trends and carving out a unique path for yourself is what will really differentiate you over the long term.
- Choices matter, and this is a long term game. Having the vision to do what is right for the long term future, not just taking the easy way out for today, is what makes some cities winners and other losers. You have to be willing to place some bets. Stockholm did and it paid off.
Is the Spaghetti Junction redesign the big bet the community wants to take? Or is it 8664? That’s the key question facing Louisville. Which ever way they go, it is going to dramatically shape the future of the community. My personal view is that Louisville should strongly consider the 8664 solution, which is a good mix of road expansion and amenity creation at a lower price point.
While I quoted extensively, it’s definitely worth reading the full piece for this interesting perspective on Louisville.