Riding the Streets Day 5: April 25, 2010

Today, before the clouds and rain came, I was able to get in a good Sunday morning ride.  I covered a large chunk of the north-east part of the city, between Winchester Road and Bryan Avenue, including a  portion of the East End.   Today was WINDY, but it was nice to get out when the streets were pretty quiet.  Below is a pic of New Circle and the Winchester Road overpass – a pretty bleak area.  But beyond this, I really liked this ride:  seemed real.

Ride Quality   

 I took side streets to get to Winchester Road at Strader, from Henry Clay Blvd.  Then down Winchester to Eastland Shopping Center.  There is a sizeable “bike lane” on Winchester, although it’s not marked as such.   I crossed into the area at the shopping center and road through the parking lot.  Wow.  Why didn’t we design such places for humans?  The picture below sums it up the whole area.

And this gives you a good idea of the details:

I toured all the streets off Eastland Dr and Industry Road. All easy, relatively flat, and totally deserted on a Sunday before noon. 

Jumping over to Loudon, which has bike lanes, I rode over to what I call the Castlewood neighborhood. I rode all over there and most of the East End.  All easy, fairly flat (nothing like the areas around Chinoe Road),  and not much traffic.  There was a lot of construction around the streets off of Bryan Avenue.

Neighborhood Character

The area off of Industry Road, Eastland Drive, and Floyd Drive and Contract Street is basically the industrial center of inner Lexington.   Not much is made there, but there are many types of heavy businesses such as HVAC, car repair, storage lots, roofing and other building types.  Lots of warehouse looking buildings, barbed wire – very industrial feel.  And totally deserted on a Sunday morning.  Such a huge contrast from riding around the suburbs on the south side of the city. Places like this have to exist.  And I’d say this area is one of the largest employment centers in the city inside New Circle.  

Turning off Loudon onto Meadow Lane, it becomes single residential. Block after block of small homes built in a very similar style- from the mid 40s thru the mid 50s?   Most are well kept and there area has a very “blue collar” feel to me.  Lots of trucks, work vehicles, not much superfluous landscaping.  The trees are getting old and it hurts the aesthetics of the streets – many streetscapes seem harsh without large trees framing and filling the scenes.

Lots of front porch living in these neighborhoods.  The antithesis of the suburbs I’ve ridden thru the last couple of weeks, where whatever life is lived inside and in the backyard.  I saw more people in 2 hours this morning than I’ve seen in the last 3 rides combined.  People sitting out front.  Talking. Watching kids.  Walking down the streets.  It’s just a different part of the city.

I did come across something I’ve not seen in Lex before:  Side facing houses.  On Marcellus Avenue there are at least a half-dozen pairs of these houses.  Usually when this is done, the lots are extremely narrow; this allows a typical house to fit down the long length of the lot.  That didn’t seem to be the case here, though.  The builder seemed to have just decided to try something different. 

The problem with side facing houses is that it confuses the hierarchy of realms.  What is public?  Private?  Semi- private?  It does  create and interesting dynamic visually and creates an interesting space between the houses.  The problem is that that space isn’t really useable – it’s too public for a backyard –so whatever outdoor living is done is off to the side, in the real “backyard.”  This doesn’t work with typical suburban architecture.  Maybe that’s why it was only tried on this street.

Castlewood Park is a jewel in this area.  Open and accessible, with Loudon House at its center, this park is democracy at its best.

For the first time on my rides someone spoke to me:  While I was on Shelby Street in the East End stopped to look at my map, an older African American man asked me if I was lost.  That hasn’t happened anywhere else, certainly not in the southern suburbs. 

The East End is really evolving.  20 years ago no one would have ridden a bike through this part of the neighborhood:  this was Bluegrass Aspendale.  Now, on a Sunday morning, people are out, kids are running around, streets are quiet.  This is the power of reinvestment in the new school and the Hope VI project that is injecting new value into this area.   

One issue I have:  the single family units in this area are imported from the far suburbs.  They are not designed for the context – this is an urban neighborhood where front-porch living is dominant.  The new houses place the garage at the center of the front yard and whatever porches exist are not really useable. 

This is MINDLESS – just get some builders to come in to the neighborhood and build some shit that sells in the suburbs – that seems the Housing Authority’s attitude.  Granted, anything is better than what was here, but was it too much to impart some sense of the things that actually worked into the new development?   These houses will not create street life  –  let’s hope that the human spirit can conquer poor design (even though we don’t have a good history on this…)

The Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden is already functioning as it should.  A small community art project has appeared and local kids have created some art that is displayed there.

 General Thoughts

  1. Lexington will always need the land intensive places like are found off Industry Road and Eastland Drive. They aren’t pretty but they need to exist.  What I do think is that many of the functions served in these areas will move to the residential suburbs as people can no longer afford to pay rent for a separate business address.
  2. I did not see one other biker all morning – walkers, drivers, bussers, but no bikers.
  3. The city is fixing a lot of infrastructure in these neighborhoods – curbs, storm drainage, sidewalks, new decorative retaining walls.  This says a lot about the commitment to the city – that we are not going to cut and run out to the outer ring. 
  4. It’s easy to see why the style of suburbia evolved in Lex as it did.  In this area, nothing but street after street of unimaginative design, same house template – very monotonous.  It’s no wonder that developers would try what was considered the exact opposite – curvy roads,  more distinct houses, lots of landscaping.  It turned about to be as monotonous as the grid, but it does look better.  But looks dont really matter in the new world we are in: this part of the city has the advantage of being walkable, which the southern suburbs dont have. We should have tried to create a strong city plan like Savannah – to have a guiding vision instead of relying on whims.   
  5. Trite and simple as it is, there is one strong connection in this city between nearly all people – UK.  On the smallest house in this neighborhood and on some of the largest in the city:  UK signs.
  6. Hope they find Pooter the cat in the Castlewood area.
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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Riding the Streets Day 5: April 25, 2010

  1. Tim

    Steve

    Do you think we will reach a point at which the municipal governments will start determining road networks again (a la Philly and D.C.) to control the rampant waste of money/energy that goes with suburban road networks?

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