The irony of my reading Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck is that I’ve been stranded on the couch for 48 hours, unable to walk. I woke up with a little tightness in my low back on Wednesday morning that by Saturday post-run had flared up into something unbearable. Thus, I’ve spent most of the past two days sitting with a heat pack and this book.
Regardless of whether I am currently able to walk or not, this book has got me thinking about the “walkability” of my own city. In general, my neighborhood is very walkable. On walkscore.com, ours ranks as the third most walkable zip code in the metro area. Our favorite restaurant, the library, the park, and a grocery store are all within a quarter mile. Our church and several coffee shops are less than half a mile. My gym is less than a mile away, and the yoga studio where I practice and teach is about a mile. Numerous restaurants and shops line Bardstown Road, from which we live just one block. A car isn’t required to get to any of these places in our neighborhood. In addition, Nick walks just around the corner to get to the bus stop that takes him downtown to U of L’s health campus.
Yet, we have two cars. While we almost never drive more than one at a time, we do use them. Having a car is required for my job; I need it to be able to get both myself and the girl I nanny around. We also do use the car for groceries (because even though there is a store nearby, the prices are cheaper elsewhere) and getting places that public transportation won’t take us.
I theory, I could use my car less than I do. Instead of driving into downtown, I could bike or take the bus. However, the problem with biking is that I do not feel safe on the roads, particularly with all the construction clogging the streets, and were I to get there in one piece, there are no particularly secure places to lock up my bike. Nor does TARC (that’s Transit Authority of River City) offer a direct bus line to where I’m going, requiring me to transfer buses, which takes longer than it does to drive, park, and walk.
So, as a whole, Louisville doesn’t seem very walkable to me. Those who work downtown and do not live downtown often drive to work on the interstates. It doesn’t help that it’s a river city, and commuters going back and forth across the river only have so many options. The traffic congestion has prompted the construction of separate northbound and southbound bridges for I-65 crossing the Ohio River. After reading Speck’s book, though, I can’t help but wonder if more roadway isn’t the best solution.
But I think Louisville is taking baby steps at improving downtown areas. I look at NuLu and the development of not only restaurants and shops, but housing options, making it a pretty walkable neighborhood. I don’t pretend to have any qualifications in planning, but I think the next step would be to better connect these walkable neighborhoods surrounding downtown to make the heart of the city easier to both work and live in.
You can view the author’s TED Talk online.