Riding The Streets

My goal is to ride my bike on every street in Lexington inside New Circle Road – 416 miles according to the GIS folks at the city.


1.  Health – I want to get better

2.  Knowledge – I want to get to know the city that I am living in

3.  Intuition and Empathy – I want to be able to understand what my city is going thru

4.  Fun- hell, it’s great riding a bike.

5.  Why inside New Circle?  Because connections and interest die beyond it.

Has anyone done this?

Since I don’t know how to actually edit this page any differently, what you’ll see below is a stream of consciousness beginning today, February 21, 2010.

I figure it will take me all year to find the time to ride the hundreds of miles of streets inside New Circle.

(Chronologically read from the bottom up)

Riding the Streets Day 14, Feb 27, 2011

Well, I fell a little short in my goal to ride all the streets inside New Circle Road within one year. I started my quest on February 23, 2010. But as of this ride, I am at least 95% of the way complete. I just have a little more in the Southend area, some downtown streets, and a few around the north UK campus. Places I’ve saved for the last because I knew they’d be easy. On this ride I did the Nicholasville Road corridor along campus and then down to the Southland area. Ride time was 1:43 and the weather was perfect – overcast, mid 50s – great for riding. And it was not windy!

Ride Quality

This overall route is fairly flat, maybe even the flattest I’ve encountered. Except for Nicholasville Road, there was very little traffic. Nicholasville Road itself sucks, like all the major arteries in the city. People absolutely fly and there is very little room between the curb and the traffic lane. Plus, the winter has really beat the road up bad and trying to ride over or around all the broken pavement isn’t pleasant, especially when you’re also trying not to get run over. The rest of the streets in this area are very easy. The neighborhoods around campus were very quiet given that it was a Sunday morning. The streets in the Southland area were also pretty quiet. All in all, a nice and easy ride.

Neighborhood Character

I’ll just say this right off: the neighborhoods to the west of campus – Transcript, Conn Terrace, Elizabeth Street, Forrest Park – all in this area appear to be absolutely destroyed. Don’t believe me? Take a ride on a Sunday morning and all you will see are beer bottles, keg cups, trash, cars parked in yards, muddy yards, broken streets, crumbling housing. This is where many of the “bright young minds” who are going to help UK achieve “Top 20” status live. It’s an absolute ghetto. Higher education may be important to these kids, but it isn’t the first priority judging by the waste.

Hey, I partied – a lot – when I was in school. But I never saw anything on the scale of what appears to happen in this neighborhood. It was just street after street of beer receptacles and trash. This is the failure of UK – plain and simple. Between abdicating its role in providing student housing and its out-of-sight, out-of-mind alcohol policy, our city now has a 100 acre zone of desolation adjacent to the campus.

I don’t have any idea of how the horse may be got back into the barn, however.

I shit you not. A house that is as wide as a driveway. And two windows in the front, none on the sides, and probably a door out the back.  I’d say that there a real high quality of life inside this thing.

Riding on south, the debauchery gives way to gentility of Barberry Lane, and the Parks – Arcadia and Cherokee. Cherokee Park offers one of the finest examples of planning in the city. Sadly, it wasn’t emulated.

The broad swath of the central median and urban forest combine with solid architectural details to create a very pleasing cityscape. And while this street’s land use is single family housing, it could just as easily been multi-family or even office and commercial. Good planning shouldn’t have become the sole possession of those who could afford it.

Further south, we get the quintessential Lexington suburbia. All the great neighborhood streets feeding into Southland Drive represented the best hope for suburban planning: an affordable area, with a strong sense of place, linked to a community based shopping and service center. We didn’t end up moving that model forward, either. It’s kinda sad to see all the things that were done right in city planning here but, for whatever reason, not replicated.

I did see LOTS of vacant office and commercial spaces along Lowery Lane, Burt Road and Regency Road. Could be as high as 20%. And this is in the middle of many viable neighborhoods.

General thoughts

1. Lexington has a lot of small houses – less than 1,500 square feet. I think this has helped keep the city affordable. And charming in its diversity.

2. There is a lot of density on the west side of UK’s campus. But it isn’t in the configuration to make a walkable area. This is a real missed opportunity, as we could have increased the cohesion of the campus by keeping students closely connected to it. Instead, once they are across Nicholasville Road, they are out in the world and their cars are vital to them. And once in those cars, there’s no reason to stay close to campus. UK loses a lot from this dispersion of people at the end of the day and on weekends. The truly great college towns are all magnets. Here, we repel. We could have had a great urban university, instead we got suburban slums.

3. This may seem esoteric, but the picture below illustrates a failure of planning. Differing land uses should never face each other across a street. There is always unnecessary tension when that is allowed to happen. Different land uses should always abut at the REAR property lines. So in this case on Longview Drive, the fronts of houses look onto the backs of shops along Southland. Either they should have backed up to each other or houses should have faced houses.

Riding the streets Day 13, February 13, 2011

My first city ride in the new year!  And boy was it…..WINDY!  Again!  Two weeks ago I rode the Legacy Trail and it was very windy.  And most of the 12 rides I did last year were done in wind.   I think of all the energy that we could harness….I  am convinced that we are windy enough here to gather at least some of our energy from it.

My route this time took me northside along Broadway and Russell Cave as well as Irishtown and Spiegel Heights on the westside.  I figure I’m down to the last 10% of my goal to ride all the streets within New Circle Road.

Ride time was 1:51.  Temp was 37 when I started and 49 when I finished.  Nice enough when I was out of the wind, but really, the wind took a lot of the fun out of it.

Our friends at Broke Spoke are building a better city, one bike and rider at a time.

Ride Quality

Boy, the winter sure has caused a lot of our streets to crap out.  Holes are everywhere.

The area of town along North Broadway is flatter than a lot of other parts of town.  I basically just wandered back and forth on the streets between Broadway and Limestone.  Rode from 3rd Street over to Jefferson and then out Manchester and then over the Versailles viaduct – a fine spot for people…. (sarcasm)

How must it feel to live in the shadow of such a huge piece of infrastructure?

Versailles Road sucks – too much speed, street broken up, unsightly.   But all in all, it was a really easy ride.  Not much traffic – it was a Sunday morning, and riding the side streets is really simple and safe.

Neighborhood Character

Saw the gamut on this ride: from ragged shotgun houses with garbage bags in windows to keep out the wind to the houses on Gratz Park.  In two blocks, I went from Harry Street, which has some of the most substandard housing in the city, to Elsmere Park, which has some of the finest.  Irishtown seems a world apart as does Spiegel Heights, which possesses some of the finest views of downtown in the city.  I kept thinking of Mt Adams in Cincinnati as I rode the streets in that area.

Cat Dog….new species?  TV show? (Watch Cat Dog!)

Saw many people buying food from the Speedway at the corner of 7th and North Broadway.  It struck me that if it wasn’t for that store, there wouldn’t be anything much food wise in the whole area for people who are forced to walk.

We missed a LOT of city building possibilities on the new Oliver Lewis Way.  No trees, no art, just wide expanse of hardscape – an awful entry into our city, especially from the airport.  This is what you get when a city has an unimaginative mayor who simply lets engineers do their thing.   Now, we’ll spend two decades or longer possibly trying to “fix” what never should have been done in the first place.

I mean THIS is now the entrance into downtown!

General Thoughts

1.       The many substandard housing units on the northside make me wonder how close we are to a tipping point:  if because of the great economic troubles it will get harder to fix these houses, what happens?  Do living standards fall even further, as people with no choice are forced to remain?  Do people just move out, leaving areas depopulated? What is the city government’s responsibility?  Does code enforcement really inspect these places?

2.      We are fortunate to not have large burned out areas of our city. Land is used fairly efficiently inside New Circle.  This is a physical fabric for social unity, if we chose to respect that.

Yet I also sense that we have created mental barriers between our neighborhoods, especially between wealthier and poorer. It appears that we can just tune out conditions that exist very close to us. That will be a challenge to us as we move forward.  We ALL share this city.

3.      UK sports does bring us together – from north to south, UK rules.  We may unique in that for a city as large as ours, we are remarkably unified in our loyalty to the program.

4.      Lexington used to be a much different city than the one we know today. The population of the city doubled in the 30 years from 1950 to 1980.  Reading the architecture of the neighborhoods, it went from a tight knit, small scale set of neighborhoods that were self contained as well as focused on downtown, to a lopsided, auto-centric city focused primarily on the southside.

5.      We are a bikeable city! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  As I close in on finishing my goal, I can honesty state that most roads in the city are very bike friendly.  Yeah, the biggies, plus a few like Mason Headly, Stone Road, and Loudon to name a couple, suck.  Doable, but sucky.  But the great thing is that you can get basically anywhere in the city on side streets, which are safe and pleasant.  It wasn’t planned that way, but we have in effect a parallel system of bike routes on these side streets that we need to capitalize on to increase bike commuting. Stay tuned, I’m working on it.

Riding the streets Day 12, November 28, 2010

Man, what a great post-Thanksgiving Sunday!  Got out and knocked some more off my goal of riding every street inside New Circle Road.

Rode the area west of Broadway and south of Red Mile, the Picadome area,  some of the neighborhoods along Mason Headley, as well as the areas on either side of Waller.  What a diverse ride.

This ride put me at least  85% toward complete on every street inside New Circle.  Last big chunks are Southland neighborhood area (used to live there, so I’ve saved it for last – rather explore new places…) and North Broadway and then some odds and ends, and then I’ll be done.

Ride:  1:24.  A little chilly when I started (37) but it was 42 when I got finished.  Really a nice temp.

Ride Quality.

Mason Headley Sucks.  Right up there with the worst riding street in Lexington.  Far too narrow, no shoulders, and a couple of morons whose testicles are too small. Everywhere else was a pretty quiet residential street.  Loved the connection through Addison Park between the neighborhoods off of South Broadway and the Pine Meadow neighborhood.

I’m fond of that neighborhood off South Broadway – does that area have a formal name? Mr Sweeper? Golfview, Addison, Devonshire, Pyke, Duncan…all nice little streets. (SEE COMMENTS FOR UPDATES – THANKS MR SWEEPER) Unique homes with lots of character.  We used to have a lot of small builders here, as evidenced by the varieties of homes.  Variety makes a greet street and a picturesque neighborhood. As we’ve seen however, little guys get eaten, and we get stuck with half-a-dozen “builders” who all build the same thing.

Then,  going through Addison Park, you enter the Pine Meadows neighborhood.  A little slice of California burbland right here in lil ole Lex.

I had relatives here – I used to think the driveway of this house was soooo steep when I was a little kid.

I played in this creek – Wolf Run – when I was a kid – getting crawdads and golf balls that had washed down from Big Elm Country Club.

The neighborhoods on the north side of Waller Ave are unique as well.  This neighborhood offers a glimpse of what Lexington would have been like in the early part of the 20th century, before the suburban ideal took hold.  While the neighborhood is rough around the edges, there is a certain charm here.  It’s very individualistic, yet with a community feel shown by the several tiny churches worked into the fabric.

Think architecture doesnt matter?  Take a look at this beaut on Legion Drive.  This is the kind of shit that gives density a bad name.  I’m not convinced that we will see much new building over the next few years – peak oil damaged economy and all – but we need design standards anyway.

I applaud the effort to bring new housing into our older neighborhoods.  And I’m sure this project serves and important need.  But the picture below shows nothing more than the fetish we have for single family housing (probably ’cause density around here is so ugly – see above).  But there could have been a much better way to accommodate the 8 new units on American Ave.  You can see the design confusion clearly.  In an effort to get cars out of the front yard – the public realm – which is great – we get houses that are one size too small.  To compensate, we add the little overhang giving the upstairs at least a little more room.  The obvious solution here would have been to have these be attached townhouse type units.  And instead of multiple  driveways, there could have been two access points at either end.  Less room for cars, more room for people.  Pretty simply isnt it? Plus by not having to complete an entire exterior on every unit, money could have been saved and put into front yard amenities.  History is clear:  places that have no soul don’t last. It doesnt matter what the intent was when we created them.

General Thoughts:

1.       More people should bike here.  There are so many great “back doors” that can be used to get to the key places.  Yeah, it’s a little hilly, and there are some sucky stretches, but all in all, Lexington could be a GREAT local biking town.

I think fear is one obstacle. Yet, I’ve found that the vast majority of drivers are considerate.  I’ve only had two serious run-ins, and then there’s the run of the mill jerk off who loves speeding up as they pass you, but all in all our fellow citizens are very courteous. I also think there’s a status hang up here – as in, “if people see me riding a bike they’ll wonder what’s wrong with me…”  Finally, I think it could be an issue of not realizing just how simple it really is to bike most places in this city.  For example, is there a map showing all the preferred bike routes – even if they aren’t “official”?  Are there enough bike racks at places?  We need to do a better job as a city to make people aware just how easy it really is to bike here.

2.      More people should bike here.  I’ll keep saying it.

3.      The Norfolk Southern Railroad track that runs roughly parallel to Nicholasville Road has really torn the urban fabric.  Neighborhoods and districts that are only a few feet apart are separated by miles of streets.  Rail will become much more important in the post peak world we are living in.  And I hope that we could get passenger rail back – one that stopped at several points in the city.  But we also ought to think about finding a way to get those tracks out of town and letting the rail bed serve as a bike superhighway.  We could reconnect neighborhoods, really encourage biking and walking, and overall repair a significant portion of our urban fabric.

Riding the streets Day 11, November 21, 2010

WINDY AGAIN!!!!  It cant be a fluke that every time I’m out on my bike, it’s really windy. And it can’t be just me that has noticed the wind this year.  Come on, has anyone else?

Rode the area between Harrodsburg Road and Clays Mill down to New Circle, then covered the area south of Pasadena between Clays Mill and Nicholasville.

This ride put me at least toward 80% complete on every street inside New Circle.  Got a couple more chunks to do, then some odds and ends, and then I’ll be done.

Very long ride:  2:03.  Nice temp, when out of the wind.

Ride Quality.  Nicholasville Road Sucks.  Harrodsburg Road sucks. Stone Road sucks. There, got that out of the way.  The rest of the area is primarily residential.  Did see some crass speeders – minivans with lots of kids in them –  on residential streets; trying to get to mass at Mary Queen, I assumed. They wouldn’t tolerate that in their own neighborhoods, yet think nothing of it in others’.

Lots of kids out.  Small kids.  Playing in leaves.  Pushed in strollers.  Nice to see.

This whole area is really a suburban ideal.  Tidy, affordable houses, fairly big lots, trees, stuff close by.  That last is really the key to this area:  integrated landuses.  Schools, churches, parks, shops, offices, all are within close proximity of residential areas.  I wouldn’t call this a walker’s paradise, but walking is possible.  Biking is certainly easy.  And even driving is very convenient.  This area even has its own main street:  Southland Drive.  Perhaps this area is as close as we have to the “Garden City” model.

Here’s some examples of integration:

A factory in a neighborhood? Who would have thought….

Schools used to fit it neighborhoods….now they usually have all the charm of Wal Marts.

There are perhaps a dozen churches integrated into the neighborhood.  This is Southern Hills Methodist.

It’s not always pretty, but Southland Drive is the area’s main street.  Here some offices abut a residential street – to the detriment of neither.

Remember when kids could walk down the street and watch a baseball game right in their own neighborhood?  Neither do I.  But kids and their parents can do that in this neighborhood.  Southland Park is really a gem.

We used to know how to make streetscapes.  This is Woodbine.

Then for some reason, we lost our concern for the aesthetic of shared space, and thus most of our new streets look like this.

I used to live on Sheridan Drive.  I loved it.  But our house was only 780 square feet.  And we had a baby on the way.

General Thoughts:

1.       Damn our streets are bumpy. And full of glass.

2.      Notice the increasing amount of cars that are in really bad shape?  Basically jalopies.  This is one of my metrics for how bad the economy really is:  people cant afford to fix their cars, even if they get an insurance check for damage someone else did.  Look around:  you’ll see jalopies everywhere. It’s a sad commentary on life in our country right now.

3.      I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:  Lexington is one big set of suburbs in search of a city.  They are nice, but there is very little sense of place in any of them.

4.      I saw very few houses for sale.  Good sign? People are staying put, or they are selling houses quickly?

Riding the Streets Day 10: November 7, 2010

(Boy you sure can get some weird pics on an iphone – if I knew how I was doing this I would open a gallery)

Can you believe that it’s been five months since I last did one of my city rides?  (My goal is to ride every street in Lexington inside New Circle Road in one year – click riding the streets header above for more info)

Well, I have been busy, and all my spare rides have been on the Legacy Trail so far this fall.  What can I say:  I had trail fever!

But when I saw Sunday was going to be beautiful, I mandated that I ride. My friend Phil H. tagged along – had to show the rook what a real biker can do.  (ha) We went “near southside” – Arboretum, Zandale, Landsdowne and Surfside areas.  Bright blue skies.  50 or so.  Perfect riding weather. Rode about 1:30.

I figure I’m about 75% done with every street inside New Circle.   I’ve got one big slice of pizza to do between the west side of Nicholasville to Harrodsburg – the Clays Mill corridor is in the middle – and a stretch of north Broadway area, and need to fill in on the north side where I didn’t get to finish this summer cause of the cut tire.  Then I’m done.  Hope to do it before Dec 31 – but I’ve got until February 21st, 2011 to make it a year.

Ride Quality

This area is mostly residential and not nearly as hilly as other areas of the city. And with the exception of Nicholasville Road, obviously, and, Landsdowne,  Albany and Malibu, traffic isn’t a real issue. The side streets are quiet, wide, and fairly well maintained. A little windy here and there, but that’s becoming the new normal for Lexington.  You may not notice it unless you spend a lot of time outside, but I have this year, what with the Legacy Trail, going to soccer games, and doing these rides. Wind is here.

Neighborhood Character

These areas present the fine face of suburbia found in other neighborhoods in this general area.   Substantial houses, even if small in some cases, treed yards, quiet streets, not too far from anything – the suburban ideal.   As on many of my rides, I didn’t see too many kids in these areas.  Could it be that the people who live there raised their families and then never left?  Probably.  So there will be a turn over in the next 20 years perhaps.

The neighborhoods do seem like they could adjust to the post peak world fairly well.  The streets form a connected grid for the most part, and no place is father than a mile or so from a major thoroughfare (for transit).  The houses seem well made of solid materials.  The yards are large enough to grow lots of food. In the older areas near the Arboretum, the houses are large enough to add carrying capacity.  There are a couple of embedded institutions like schools and churches that could provide cohesion.

Street trees are really needed on most streets.  The power lines are either in the rear or are buried, leaving a great planting strip on the street.  Yet most are unplanted.  Phil asked why I thought it so.  I responded that I think most people accept a neighborhood they way they find it.  If they move there without street trees, it will probably never have trees unless there’s some push.

The areas at the southend of this stretch – along Surfside and Wilhite Drive are examples of segregating density to undesirable areas.  The old rule of thumb in planning:  give single family the best areas, the most protected, quietest, etc, and then go outward with density until the highest density is found next to roads, railroads, commercial areas, industrials zones, etc.   I don’t know how these places will fare in the post peak world.

The fate of the utter shit hole that is Nicholasville Road is much less in doubt.  The drive-to culture of cheapness is waning.  Peak oil will change everything about that street but it’s fundamental nature as a corridor of commerce.  Over time, the street will evolve into a much more finely grained, walkable, and populated area.  Markets for locally grown produce as well as for swapping our accumulated crap will spring up in parking lots, strip mall buildings will become dorms for displaced people or factories to make local necessities, and the road itself will become a transit corridor with major biking lanes.  Over time, the flat spaces of the commercial areas – parking lots and rooftops- may become solar farms.

All this is if we’re lucky.

General thoughts:

1.       I can’t repeat enough just how bikeable our city really is.  We covered the whole stretch within a 2 mile by 2 mile rectangle.

2.      The suburbs have held up well here.  In many cities, first ring suburbs and those close to them are real hit or miss.  Here, suburbia has an unbroken success, at least until the crowding occurs on Wilhite Drive.  That’s a testament to the stability of our city – a good sign in the post peak world.

3.      Beautiful day, few people. Where is everybody?  And no kids.

4.      The Arboretum is really special, and it gets better every year.  Of not many things in our culture can that be said.

5.      We’ve simply got get bikes better announced – more signs, more lanes, – some drivers act like they’ve never seen a bike.

Riding the Streets Day 9: June 13, 2010

Went northside today. Heat index 87.  Windy again. Is it just me, or has it gotten a LOT windier here?   We need to be thinking windmills.

Started up Limestone, Lexington’s new main street.   Main Street divides us north and south.  Limestone links us north and south.  Local business thrives and is growing on Limestone.  Limestone celebrates us as Lexingtonians.   Can our current Main Street say that? Really lots of neat stuff to see.

Rode for about an hour, had maybe another 45 mins to go before I finished the segment I wanted.   Then, on an alley aptly named GLASS –  lots of glass!  Shit.  Cut a tire.

Had to call the ground crew to come get me at 6th and Limestone.   Since I’m about halfway through my trek to ride every street in Lexington inside New Circle Road, I figure I’ve covered at least 200 urban miles and this is the first tire incident.  Bummer was that I had to go to Second Sunday at the Airport without a bike.  (Second Sunday was a huge hit!)

Ride Quality

Sunday morning is a great time to ride in Lexington.  Limestone leads gently up out of the broad valley of the Town Branch.   I can imagine why the first Europeans here would have picked the spot they did for a town.  Plenty of water, a tall hill on the southside of the stream and a long slope to the north.  Very easy to cultivate.

All the way to New Circle on Limestone only a couple of small hills.  And in the neighborhoods off the east of Limestone nothing too steep.  MUCH different that in the southeast part of Lex.

Quiet streets, easy to navigate.  Hot but peaceful.

Neighborhood Character

I’ve ridden enough of the city by now to confidently say that I got a good start today on the most diverse area in Lexington.  Diverse in race, income, land use, architecture, businesses, and outlook, perhaps.  I am enough of a newcomer to this area to admit I don’t know how the actual relationships work on these streets.   At 11am on a Sunday morning it appeared to be working well enough.

Many of the houses in this neighborhood are stoutly built, with brick or stone cladding.   Many are tiny shotguns well cared for.  Small lots, not much landscaping, a few trees in yards, almost no street trees.  It’s SO different from the uniformity of the southern suburbs.  To sound superficial, it comes across as real.   But you can tell that the people that live here have lives beyond the care and maintenance of landscaping.

That said, I passed some of the most distressed housing units in all my riding so far.  On each street there were at least a few houses that were empty and many that needed repair.  Someone tell me, is there an organized plan for rehabilitation?  I’m embarrassed that I don’t know more.

Below is a picture that does sum up environmental justice:  what other neighborhood would have been burdened with this?

Did see many, many people on front porches.  Far more than I’ve seen on all the other rides so far.

And alleys!  I have been on most of these streets, but have never been on any of these alleys.  Didn’t know most of them were there.  These are very urban, yet have a rural feeling.  Lots of vegetation, glimpses into backyards, a more personal view of the neighborhoods.   And broken glass.

General Thoughts

  1. Community leaders along the Limestone corridor should begin the process to create a corridor master plan for the evolution along the street.   This should cover everything from land use, to design standards, to landscape and signage issues.    I believe that there is enough good will in the area to have the entire community willing to participate.
  2. We need a “Sister Cities” kind of exchange program between neighborhoods in this city.  This is a small town, we all ought to make sure we know each other.   I think it would be cool to have Duncan Park host a “Lansdowne welcome supper” or something like that.  And then it could be reciprocated.  This would be a great way to ensure that when the shit comes down, that we don’t turn on each other and instead are willing to work together to help each other.
  3. Lots of friendly people outside – so different from the southern suburbs – not saying in any way that people aren’t friendly there, just that you just don’t see them.

Riding the Streets Day 8: June 6, 2010

It’s been a while, but I found time to knock out a ride today.  Rode out Main Street – did the “Old Main Street” neighborhood, Townley and Meadowthorpe.  Ride took 1:17.  Went out right after the rain under cloudy skies; by the time I was done it was sunny and 76.  WINDY!  Been at least the fourth ride that it’s been very windy.

Today was my dad’s birthday.  He was born on D-Day in 1944.  He would have been 66 today.

Ride Quality:

Main Street SUCKS!  Inside Newtown are very narrow lanes, cars parked on the street, speeding traffic.  It gets worse past Newtown.  2 lanes, tight curb, no place to bail.  And our lovely fellow citizens speeding like crazy.

It does get better when you get over the rail road viaduct.  A bike lane appears and it’s not too bad from there to the Circle.

For some reason today getting up the viaduct was very hard – combo of wind and the hill.  I also never really realized that Meadowthorpe is so hilly.  Other than those two, the reat of the ride wasn’t too bad.

Neighborhood Character:

The neighborhood off of Old Main Street sits hard next to the viaduct:  there was no such thing as environmental justice when it was built, I guess.  That part of the neighborhood really has a forlorn feeling, very urban, like something from a much larger city.  The rest of the neighborhood is modest houses and lots of porch sitters.  Urban and rural at the same time

Reminds me of Eastern Kentucky. Some kids, not many.  Every time I do these rides I’m amazed at the paucity of children.  Are they all inside playing video games?  Do all the families with kids live outside New Circle?

I rode through the Distillery District, down Forbes Road, past the stockyard, and around Lisle Industrial Avenue.  All areas empty on a Sunday.  It’s amazing to see all the buildings that were devoted to tobacco. This whole area is probably an environmental mess, but it is prime for redevelopment over time.

I rode into the Leestown Road shopping center – the one with the Kroger.  The crazy traffic pattern doesn’t make sense today, but it was designed that way to save a huge old tree on the property when the center was developed.  The tree didn’t make it.

I’ll take some credit for the Townley Center.  I’ve been preaching New Urbanism since the mid-1990s.  In several discussion with me, the developer of this area took some of that to heart.  Buildings are close the street, parking is around back, a mix of uses are close to one another,  and there are front porch houses with alleys behind.

But while this area is better than most new developments in Lexington, it doesn’t quite make the cut as a really good design.  There are no vertical mixed uses.  The “main street” is too wide and doesn’t create a sense of place.  There are no bike racks in this area.  The hotel that’s in the development could have been more integrated into the fabric, and the large multi-family area reeks of suburbanity.

Across the street, in the Meadowthorpe neighborhood, is a good example of the best of the old fashioned suburban development.  Large lot single family homes are integrated with apartment houses, a school, a park, and a church.  This is a neighborhood that has a lot of diversity in housing stock and is fairly dense for being a predominately   single family neighborhood.   In many ways it reminds me of Ashland Park in regard to this mix.  Overall it seems to have held up well.

It is however very frustrating to me as a planner to see this:

There obviously was a section of the area that hadn’t been developed until the 1990s.  The developer, the neighbors, and the city planners all missed an opportunity to make this appendage have the same feel as the rest of the neighborhood.  Instead we get overly wide streets, garage doors and no street trees.  This view is literally just around the corner.  We’re too stupid obviously to build on a tradition that was working.

I love the shops on the north side of Leestown.  While there is absolutely no architectural character or sense of place in this area, this is a great and eclectic collection of local businesses.   Can anyone tell me why the Meadowthorpe Café is closed?  I rode by and there is no explanation.

General Thoughts:

  1. If we are ever going to add people in new housing, then, even beyond the Distillery District, the land on Forbes Road and Lisle Industrial Avenue is prime for redevelopment.   It’s close enough to all the major attractors in the city to truly be a great inner city neighborhood.  Since this opportunity can be seen clearly now, careful planning must also be done for the existing neighborhood that would border any new development.   See, this is called “planning.”

But we don’t do planning in Lexington.  We do reacting.  Latest example:  CVS on Main Street.  I mean really, was it THAT hard to figure out that something new was going to go there?

2.   The two lane stretch of Main Street between the cemeteries reminds me of the entrances to many small towns. And it will always be this way  – this is one road that can’t be widened!  A good urban designer could really play this quality of place up and make it one of the special areas of the city.

3.  The “Meadowthorpe Main Street” really needs some attention. This could be very similar in work that I was involved with to spruce up Southland Drive (8 years ago!).  We did a charette with architects and landscape architects and the merchant group and the city has been working that plan ever since.   If anyone out there reads this:  I’m willing to help.  We can discuss place making plans like landscaping, pedestrian improvements, signage, and potentially even events.

4.  I still have a LONG way to go to complete my quest to ride every street inside New Circle Road.

5.  Saw 2 bikers all trip.

Riding the Streets Day 7: May 23, 2010

Finally got some time for a ride on a Sunday morning.  Quite a different way to spend my Sunday morning from days in my past….

Beautiful day – sunny, a few clouds, pleasant, although by the time I finished, it had gotten much hotter.   Today was the Gardenside north area – primarily, the “war” streets, you know, Antietam, Normandy, etc…

Ride Quality

South Broadway/Harrodsburg sucks.  Narrow lanes, narrow gutter, high curb.  And angry people speeding by in cars that have been modified to make as much noise as possible.  Absolutely flying down the road.  In a few more years, I’m sure I’ll be angrily shaking my fist at the whippersnappers.

I expected more of the same when I turned onto  Lane Allen, but no! Thank you city bike people for having a great bike lane there.   Mason Headley also sucks – way too narrow and no bailout options.  The rest of the ride was on suburban streets – safe but somewhat hilly – I was in the valley of the Wolf Run for most of the ride.

Ride took 1:36.

Saw this at BCTC – dont know what, if anything it’s for, but it is nice.

Neighborhood Character

All suburbs, all the time.  I know that’s what you think you’re getting here.  But hey – that’s our city.  From Harrodsburg to Versailles, from Mason Headley to Lane Allen, basically nothing but suburbs in between.

The exception being the commercial areas at the corner of Harrodsburg and Lane Allen, the strip down Lane Allen to Garden Springs, and the Gardenside shopping area along Alexandria.   All are about the same vintage in terms of style – mid-60s.  The Gardenside commercial really must have been a model at the time – a shopping center in the middle of a neighborhood.  It’s pretty bleak now – huge, mostly empty parking lots fronting low rise, single use buildings.

There is a large church and school in the middle of the neighborhood and this nice park

The suburbs range from the high end houses along the Lane to some very modest houses on other streets in the area – I saw one that couldn’t have been more than 600 sq feet.  I know because when I lived in the Southland area my house was 780 square feet and that would have looked huge in comparison to the other ones.

Here’s the most tagging and graffiti I’ve seen so far  -well done, and restricted to the abandoned building – not one mark on the occupied buildings surrounding.

Does this sign strike you as polite? – which is nice or…  Desperate?  Demanding?

But all in all, very tidy neighborhoods.  This ride simply reinforced my growing awareness of what this city really is:  a collection of suburban subdivisions.  That leads me to…..

General Thoughts

  1. I repeat that Lexington has some of the best suburban development anywhere.  It’s compact, green (the color), cohesive, intact.   Our planners did it fairly right over the last 60 years (but only in this regard).
  2. I’m convinced that between our preserved farmland and all our suburban yards, that we could feed ourselves.   I don’t have any proof besides some great conversations with some very smart people (thanks Becca).  But I feel good about our possibilities.
  3. Regarding that – I thought a little about what happens if the oil gets turned off very quickly – what would we eat? It’s very possible given the geo-politics of the world today.

Just a hypothetical:  Israel attacks Iran this summer. China defends Iran’s rights (it has over $300 billion invested in Iran).   Iran blocks the Straights of Hormuz  preventing Iraqi oil from leaving and perhaps even takes a shot or two at Saudi Arabia. Venezuela jumps in, as Chavez hates us. These are our major oil suppliers. Thus the vast majority of oil that would ordinarily be coming to us would stop.  Suddenly.  Then, picture a Cat 5 hurricane in the Gulf at exactly the same time.   The rigs in the gulf would have to stop production.

Now, that is the perfect storm no doubt.  But it could happen.  And actually there is a combination of things in there that are much more likely.

If this did come to pass, do we have a plan?  Nope.  The food in the stores in the city would disappear within 3 days as the gas for the trucks stopped flowing. How do we feed ourselves?

Gas prices – if we could get any – would go through the roof.  This would have enormous financial consequences for the city government that sends vehicles out across the city each day.  The school system racks up 18,000 miles a day! So the choice would be between keeping things rolling as they have, or….what….?  That’s the problem – we don’t have a plan.

Oil enables us to dig coal (or “run coal” as the, um….friends of coal put it…).  Thus the price of coal would shoot up nearly instantly.  That has implications that we have never contemplated, not just for our personal lives, but, for example, how we use our commercial and institutional buildings, or how we get our water to us from 37 miles away.

The next mayor is going to have to address this very serious vulnerability.   And that’s just the short term vulnerability.  Peak oil is still lurking – the only reason it hasn’t bitten us worse is the economy is so weak that we simply cannot increase our demand.  If we ever do, prices will shoot over the longer term.  If we don’t, we’ll be mired in a perma-recession.   The old world is screwed either way.

Yes, all kind of heavy for a pretty Sunday morning.  But hey, somebody has to think of these things.

4.   Which leads me to:  is there anything more sad than a carnival on a Sunday morning?  Everything is closed. Nothing is moving, flashing, making noise.  No kids pulling their parents around.   No teenage couples making out everywhere.  No carnies trolling for every last dollar (that makes it sound like they have cousins on Wall Street.)

We’ll apparently there is a carnival that is going on in Gardenside.  Which I thought was strange.  This isn’t a holiday weekend, nor is Gardenside really known as a carnival destination.   The only thing that came to my mind is that there has been a surge in carnival production companies lately, and that any weekend and any parking lot is fair game, old rules about holidays, annual festivities, or good locations be damned.   I  guess we’ve gotten to the point where we have more carnies than festivals.  So they’ll just make it happen.

5.   Another day in the suburbs and I saw ONE kid.  Hell, I didn’t even see much evidence of kids.   Could it be that what is happened is that the parents who raised their kids in these neighborhoods simply stayed on.  In effect, most of the suburbs I’ve ridden through have had one generation of kids so far.  There seems to be very little turn over.  It’s no wonder then that the new and better schools follow parents further out – there’s simply no room for new families in the existing suburbs.  Which leads me to,

6.  The suburbs inside New Circle Road are the ideal.  Wide houses on wide and deep lots.  Very low density.  But that is a reflection of a much different time.  A time of rising wages, stable economy, abundant energy.  We are now entering the time of scarcity.  How will we design our city to reflect that reality?

Riding the Streets Day 6: May 8, 2010

Another cool, windy day – damn, this has been a windy spring….too bad we don’t have wind turbines and powerful batteries….hopefully some day we will. Didn’t have too much time today, so I knocked out an relatively close area: the Lansdowne and Glendover neighborhoods. Ride took 1:22 and the temp was upper 50s – good for a ride.

Ride Quality

Tate’s Creek sucks. Way too much speed. Morons yaking into phones, smoking, dogs in their laps. Too many PT Cruisers. And tiny women in HUGE SUVs in a desperate damn hurry to shuttle their precious little Jacobs and Isabella Graces to whatever event the Party has dictated for the Youth today. (Although maybe it will be cool in 20 years to have a town full of Jakes and Izzies…..?)

Thankfully, despite a couple of misguided council member’s votes, someday there will be along this road a sidewalk wide enough for bikes and people.

Once off Tate’s Creek and into the neighborhood streets, ah….pleasant suburbia.

Hilly, but not as bad as in the neighborhoods on the other side of Tate’s Creek. Really, a half-mile makes that much topographical difference. Not much traffic, few cars parked on the street, streets in pretty good repair – not great, but good enough.

And mile after mile of EXACTLY the same scenes, which leads me to:

Neighborhood Character

More examples of Lexington as the great suburban dreamscape. Nearly every house in this entire area is a single family ranch, some wider than others, but basically all the same. And from a suburban attractiveness standpoint, it works. The houses and lawns are well cared for, cars are discreet, streets are quiet, lots of cul-de-sacs; this is the dream isn’t it?

So not really much more to say on the whole neighborhood character. Maybe to mangle a paraphrase of Tolstoy, “Suburban neighborhoods are all alike; every urban neighborhood is different in its own way.”

General Thoughts

  • Another day of riding in the southern part of Lexington and seeing very few kids on streets. Where are they? Are their lives so programmed that playing in yards and streets doesn’t fit anymore? Do most of them live further out?
  • I did see lots of friendly elderly folks working in their yards – tells me that this place is going to turn over soon….will the succeeding generation have the interest, or the ability, to move into these houses?
  • Once again, I’m impressed by our ability to create great suburban landscape out of thin air. The neighborhoods we take for granted now were once just farms. The vision of a quality suburbia was so very strong and it came early, in the mid-1950s…. I have traveled quite a bit, and I would wager that our suburban fabric is as strong as any city in this country. We really did do it right: we created a true Garden City (at least on the south end….the other parts of town, well…they didn’t quite get the attention for, ahem…whatever reasons…) This Garden City is truly the ideal – lots of green, large houses, separation from the world – it has it all – and is a very desirable place.
  • That said, even as I ride these streets and admire the scenes, I think, “there is no way that this lasts.” These houses, their grounds, and the distance to anything – even though they are “in town” – may make these now beautiful places very undesirable in the coming years. I look around and what I really see is cheap energy. Cheap energy to heat and illuminate such large houses for so few people. Cheap energy to maintain grounds that produce nothing but greenery. Cheap energy to transport people to the necessities of life.
  • I’m not sure that anywhere makes the transition successfully, so I’m not picking on these suburbs. The walkable neighborhood I live in will probably face the exact same issues because we are such a dependent city. These neighborhoods could have been better planned with respect to shopping and jobs. But because they are such low-density areas it makes true centers unworkable. We chose separation for our housing above all else after WW2, but retailers and employers need density of eyes – which became provided by people passing by in cars. So these neighborhoods became isolated. Which was all right as long as we had cars. And cheap gas. Because we could divorce ourselves from the public realm – our commercial streets – we didn’t care that they became shit. So we have this huge disconnect here: beautiful suburbs and shitty commercial areas and a downtown well…let’s say for the last 40 years has been suburbanized to death.

    Here’s a vision: The houses in these areas are so big, and families so small today, that in the future they become multi-family units. The yards are so large, that they become garden plots. And the streets in these areas become market places for selling produce, home-made products, as well as other assorted stuff. The Garden City ideal of self-sufficiency, of independence, becomes realized!

  • Another day, 2 bike riders. I know bike people are out there, I just don’t see them.

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 sizable “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.

Riding the Streets Day 4: April 18, 2010

Hey, for the first time in forever, I’ve been able to ride two consecutive days.  For this ride I picked out a piece of the puzzle that has been worrying me because it was the second farthest ride I’ll have to make.  Today I covered From Versailles Road at Parkers Mill to Harrodsburg Road at Alexandria.   The Gardenside area, basically. (and this is despite the fact that I got swiped by a hit and run driver on Thursday….scroll down this page to see the details)

Ride Quality

There are a couple of hilly spots but generally much less than in the southeast portions.  Versailles Road sucks until the bike lanes begin at the top of the hill at Cardinal Hill Hospital.  Parkers Mill, despite the “share the road” signs, is a death trap.  No shoulders, deep ditches  – no escape routes.  The rural part of Lane Allen is just as bad.  Other than that, typical suburban streets.

I made it from my house to Parker’s Mill in 25 minutes, via Red Mile Road and Versailles.  Inbound, I made it from Turfland Mall in a little more than 20 minutes.   Rosemont Garden isn’t bad, I used the sidewalks on Nicholasville, then cut across Alumni – which has bike lanes in this section – and through the stadium and LCC campus to Cooper and down Kastle.   Really not a bad trip.

Below is a pic of the Holy Grail in all this – New Circle Road – you can barely see it through the bushes at the end of Georgian Way.   As much as I hate that road, I still love to see it from my bike – it’s such a milestone to see it from so many viewpoints inside.

Neighborhood Character

The neighborhood off Parker’s Mill is a typical suburban area, but with a more rural feel than the areas in the southeast part of the city.   Wide lots, completely different architecture than the southeast, no sidewalks.  Different but the same.

Moving south along Georgian Way, the neighborhood begins to change in character.  Smaller houses, duplex units mixed in, less vegetation.   But still, the suburban ideal is strong.   As I got closer to the commercial areas along Garden Springs and Harrodsburg, the overall character changed for the worse.  Once again, here is more proof that density is simply crowding without urban amenities.  This is nothing but a failure of zoning that says “this area is orange, that’s where the apartments go.”   So we have a very high density area with no walkability, no greenspace, and no urbanity.  It’s no wonder the area has a very rough feel.

General Thoughts

  1. Cliché though it is, Lexington is nothing but a manufactured suburban place.  There was nothing here before, no small villages that growth could cluster around, no crossroads that could impart character.  We are the embodiment of the suburban experiment:  we live in a place made from scratch according to the highest ideals of mid-20th century planning.  And for the most part we did it pretty well.  I rode on streets I’ve never been on in 28 years here – and was impressed with the high degree of unity of the suburban ideal.
  2. I got a sense of “multiple Lexingtons”  today.  Despite the similarity, this area is very unlike the southeast part of the city. And we know that both of these differ from the core and northside.  There are many parts to this place.  What are our commonalities? What can bind us together? (The UK signs everywhere may be a start…)
  3. I wondered what makes suburbia different from the vision of suburban urbanity displayed in Ashland Park.  As with everything, it’s all in the design.  Ashland Park was thought of as an extension of the city, with city things occurring within and near it – mixed densities throughout, close by commercial areas and parks, transit.  The houses are very vertical, with sharp, steep rooflines.  Front porches area real.  Real trees, not Red Maple and Bradford Pear, dominate the landscape.   Urban stuff.

This works.  We can see the living proof today.  But what the suburban planners and builders tried to do, for the right reasons, never really works as well.

Instead of vertical houses, we get wide, low houses.   Instead of front porches, we get backyard  decks and garage doors facing the street.

Instead of walk-to-places, we get “centers”, places that one must drive to.

Instead of an artfully constructed set of street scenes, we get curvy streets and cul-de-sacs.

Instead of a four-plex nestled within single family homes, we get streets with nothing but duplexes and whole areas of apartments.   We could have the same density in other ways.

And on and on.  One of the great planning failures in this city was failing to learn the lesson of the Olmstead Brother’s vision for Ashland Park.  Why did this happen?  It was right in front of the planners of this city.  I think it was the effort to make suburbia manageable – that is, to reduce it to codes and diagrams.

Yes, we live in a city written by lawyers, diagrammed by engineers, and administered by “planners.” .

4.  As yesterday, I got a sense of foreboding that despite the weather, despite the “good news” about all being well, that it’s not.  I keep thinking about the shock that these folks are in for.   What will that mean for our city?  What will that mean for our country?

Riding the Streets Day 4: April 17, 2010

I was able to cut two hours out and decided to finish the Southeast portion of the area inside New Circle.  Basically, this day’s ride was between Alumni and Richmond Roads from Chinoe outward.

Ride Quality

Overall, this was a fairly easy ride, much less hilly than the area a little farther west that I rode last week.  The neighborhood streets were all good and not much traffic.   That said, Alumni is awful.  Why, in a city so dominated by over designed streets, did we end up with this one that is too narrow for both cars and bikes?  Because at the time, our leaders thought that no one would ever ride a bike – just total ignorance. The street itself encourages high speed and there is literally only the gutter to ride in.  And this is constrained by an 8 inch curb which allows no room for escape.  And the fucking drain inlets are nothing but a trap like in a video game – you better hope that a car isn’t coming when you have to dodge one of those babies.  All in all, just terrible.

There is a sidewalk on one side but many people were using it and I didn’t feel it was right to ride on it.  But I will if I’m ever out there again.  There is also what appears to be a large empty right of way on the north side of the road.  Why isn’t there a bike lane here?

Neighborhood Character

More of the suburban ideal here.  Large houses, wide lots, lots of vegetation.   And of course there’s the Island. How did private development get allowed to ring what is one of the most important features in Lexington:  our water supply?  Just asking.  A fortunate few are able to come home every day to water views unlike any in this part of the entire country!    Really, find another city within 300 miles of here that has such a lake in it’s midst.

At least the intense multi-family development off of Laketower offers some of that scenery for the average folk.

That area itself though, as well as the multi-family area off of Richmond Road at Fontaine and Lakeshore reminds once again the utter failure of segregating density into pods.  Large “complexes” of apartments without any amenities are simply nasty.  The people who are forced to live there are living in crowded conditions without any of the offset that crowding in a real city offers.

General Thoughts

  1. As I rode past miles of streets with very nice houses, I couldn’t help but thinking that Lexington has been very good for a lot of people.  Years of high wages, stable employment at good jobs, equity increases normal to a growing city allowed so many people to live the “dream.”
  2. The people I saw tending their yards and driving around all looked older than me – and I’m 45.  I kept thinking, when these people “move on” who will buy these houses?  Among potential buyers, declining wages, no equity, and less access credit could conspire against these houses ever selling for the value they’ve had in the past.
  3. I rode for two hours and saw 5 kids.   Not much sign of kids at all otherwise either. 
  4. Here’s the dark side:  Such a beautiful day, the brightest blue sky, gorgeous spring flowers, and such a sense of foreboding I had.   We are in the beginnings of a storm.  The full fury has not come.  I know it.  But riding down suburban streets, I wondered what will become of them?

Riding the Streets Day 3: April 11, 2010

FINALLY – I was able to get a good ride this morning – such a beautiful day, a nice reward after such cold, dreary winter.

I covered another slice of the 416 miles that comprise the streets inside New Circle Road:  this trip was Tate’s Creek to New Circle and over to Chinoe and back again, including all the streets within.

I decided to call this ride “Suburban Ideal”:   the areas along Turkeyfoot and off Peperhill reflect exactly what suburban life was supposed to be: a green, quiet refuge from the modern world.  Too bad that only a few hundred families have been able to experience that…

Ride Quality

This area was BY FAR the hilliest I’ve encountered so far.   Everything was up or down – very few level areas.

Riding out Tates Creek wasn’t too bad – traffic was light and  there is a little stretch of pavement and curb that functions as a bike lane.

Chinoe, despite the speed of most cars, is not a bad ride.  The street is very wide but hilly until you get past Alumni coming in, where it really flattens out.

The side streets off of these two majors are very easy and safe.

Neighborhood  Character

The Turkeyfoot area around Ecton Park might represent the best of suburbia that Lexington has to offer.  Wide lots, handsome, well built houses, a huge variety of trees along the streets and surrounding  the houses, underground utilities, minimized garages, uniform mailboxes – this area has it all.  Within walking distance to the nice Ecton Park and the Romany Road shops , it has the best location of suburban style development in Lexington.

As I got further south on the ride, I noticed how all the elements so successfully put together in the Turkeyfoot area were attempted but with much less success.  Wide lots, but with less well constructed houses and far fewer trees and more utility lines –  not many – but noticeable.   All in all – doesnt work – already looks like slumurbia.

There are enclaves however.  Off of Pepperhill is a development of less than 40 houses that seems dropped here from Atlanta or Nashville.  Here, hilly, heavily wooded lots host a mish-mash of architectural styles – all huge buildings  – and the overall effect is one of complete disconnection with the rest of the city.  This area reminds me of the idea of cottages in a state park.   All this less than 5 miles from the East End.

I will assume for the moment in this area at least, that their inhabitants will be able to afford the huge electricity bills these monsters will generate.  I passed some houses along this route where I truly doubt that ability.

Some dense areas are sprinkled in this area.  All the generous planning features of the Turkeyfoot area seem to have been forgotten though.  And they stand out as isolated.  Merrick Place is the exception – a village feel among the hills.

I rode though Chinoe Village shopping center.  The area is still strongly occupied – perhaps a reflection of the careful commercial land allocation from the city planning department.  The only problem here is one of design.  The center sits well back from the street, leaving a nasty parking lot as it’s face to the neighborhood.  The ultimate effect is to induce people to drive to this place – despite it being in the middle of a neighborhood.   This is one sad legacy of suburban planning – even in a place where people could walk, we used “drive-to design” standards.   Compare this center with Romany Road and you’ll see what I mean.

All in all, this area represents all that Lexington tried to do with suburban city planning – wide streets, a predominance of single family, with light density and commercial mixed in.  And it’s very attractive from that standpoint.   This is exactly what we were planning for – proves that we can set our sights on a vision and achieve it.

How, though, will this area manage during the transition?  Well, there is certainly plenty of room in these houses to become much more full of sleepers and perhaps even businesses.   And lots of room to grow food.   So maybe this area can be sustainable.  Energy use is a question.

General Thoughts

  1. How were we able to completely divorce our planning from North side to South side?  Was it structural  classism and racism? Does anyone doubt the change between neighborhoods on these two sides of town?  Does anyone doubt the importance of focusing on the neighborhoods north of Main Street to bring them along? We are all in this together.
  2. Trees are vital – I’ve said it before.  A  multitude of trees really changes the entire feel of a street.   On Turkeyfoot, it’s magnificent.  But half-a-mile south, trees are very hard to come by.   Is tree-planting a by-product of higher education and income levels?  Do people gernaly just not care about trees now?
  3. Buried utilities must become a priority of our city – better visually, allows for trees, and keeps neighborhoods connected to the grid.
  4. Lexington is such a compact city – it bodes well for us in the transition – we have places to grow food, can attract a market in a concentrated area, and share a common sense of place.  Water is an issue – but with smarter harvesting we can provide.

Riding the Streets Day 2: March 7, 2010

Spring is coming!

Finally, after two weeks, a good day to ride! A pleasant 47 degrees when I started, low 50s when I finished.

Today my goal was to knock out a portion of the city inside New Circle that lies north of Versailles Road and west of Forbes Road.   This area includes the farthest straight-line distance from my house to New Circle Road (as the bird flies 4.4 miles).  This doesn’t count all the streets and routes –  at leat 15 miles – probably more – I dont have an odmometer.

It took two hours of hard riding from my house in Ashland Park to cover that area. Wow, I’ve really got myself into something here. Not going to be nearly as easy as I thought. All this riding to cover just a splot on the map.

Ride Quality:

The ride really picked up when I hit Virginia Avenue, as I had made my way through UK’s campus.

Cars too fast, and aggressive drivers the whole way. People now hate stopping when turning right, either at stop signs or red lights. It appears that they simply cannot stand the thought of letting people get in front of them.

I appreciated the bike lanes on Red Mile Road. Thank you, city planners.

The ride down Versailles Road was pretty scary. Speed, poor road condition, numerous curb cuts. Jerk offs with really loud cars…

Once off Versailles, all in all not too bad. Some streets too wide, encouraging speed. Some too narrow, with parked cars, for comfort.

Sidewalk infrastructure is crumbling in this area. Many streets and curbs in bad repair.

Coming in after the UK game – same route in/out (and yes, I rode during the game) traffic was crazy. Impatient people behind the wheel everywhere. (which is a nice way of putting it – this is a family blog)

All day I saw three other people on bikes. We are a car crazy city.

Neighborhood Character:

All over the board.

From the Colony on one side of Versailles Road, to the Saddle Club on the other (Colony Lite) to the high density of Cardinal Valley (Village Drive perhaps the city’s highest density area?) to street after street with cookie cutter single family homes from the 1960s, to the interesting mix of older homes around the Woodford and Delmont Drive areas. In this area I saw a barn off of Brittany Lane. Wow, what a different feel from just a few hundred yards away.

I’ve lived in two places in this area. One I shared with my mother (I was two years old!) at the corner of Cambridge and Oxford.(below)

The other a duplex I lived in right after I graduated college (the first time) on Hill View Terrace. (below)

(I’ve lived in a total of nine places here…you’ll see them all, I promise)

I was very intrigued with the Cardinal Valley area. Obviously, I’ve witnessed its transition over the years to a predominately Hispanic area. But today I really see that it is like a mini-city all of it’s own. I loved the walkability, although I deplored the streetscape. I loved the local businesses, although I deplored the visual quality. I loved the Valley Park, which is neighborhood’s Central Park. One of the best in the city, in just the right spot with just the right features.

I hope whoever lost Billie the dog finds her…

I loved the view of the downtown skyline from Kelsey Drive.  Really quite amazing – our own Mullholland Drive – at least in the winter.   I did notice the new UK hospital rising above everything it around it from well over three miles away! WAY too out of scale for this city…to me that says something about its future….. it’s the dark gray thing on the skyline – my iphone doesnt do it justice

Versailles Road itself? What can I say? It’s just a dump. One of the main gateways to our city, and it’s just a dump. To me that says a lot about how we view ourselves, that we would allow this to be so. People live here. Lot’s of people. We must do better for them, and for us.

General Thoughts:
  1. Lexington has way too much street infrastructure for the traffic we have. I was on Versailles Road today at 1:30 and I could have played in the middle of it for minutes on end. (now it was a ballgame day…) But this road, like all the others, is planned for peak use. This is WASTE!
  2. There are 168 hours in each week. Assuming a four hour “peak time” – two in the morning, two in the evening, for five days a week, Versailles Road is utilized at its peak just twenty hours a week. That is 12% of the time! We have spent untold dollars so that 12% of the time we won’t be TOO inconvenienced! I’m sure it’s the same way with our other roads.

    It was like we were rich or something in the past. Well, we won’t be in the future. Those streets are going to have to do more to carry their weight. They’ll have to host transit lanes, bike lanes, and/or be reclaimed for rain gardens and greenspace. Think I’m kidding? Or do you just love paying higher taxes for things you only use 12% of the time?

  3. Our planners lost their way in the 1960s. From the turn of 1900 till then, we had fine grained new neighborhoods – think Southland, Kenwick, Chevy Chase, Meadowthorpe. (Of course we also had all the great neighborhoods surrounding downtown too – but those are older.) Churches, corner stores, neighborhood centers, all were woven into the fabric of those neighborhoods. In the 1960s, planners got obsessed with colors – as in zoning category colors on a map. They started painting large swathes of our city yellow (low density) and orange (medium density) and brown (high density) and red (commercial) and blue (civic) etc…..They started painting the town, literally. A swatch of orange here, blue there, red there. The result was that we lost the fine-grained texture of mixed-use neighborhoods, the qualities of which cannot be reduced to colors on a map.
  4. The result was that the Cardinal Valley neighborhood got thousands of apartments and a place like the Colony got less than 100 single family homes in basically the same amount of area. Think about that.

  5. There is anger in this city. You can feel it as you ride your bike. Its always been bad, but I feel that it’s getting worse. When we become “drivers” it really shows.
  6. Our houses need a LOT of weatherproofing…conservation is the future but by the look of LOTS of windows I saw today, we’re not there.  Then think about insulation and interior appliances….we built this area when energy was cheap.  It’s not anymore.
  7. Boy does Lexington ever have a problem with uniformity of housing types – I saw houses today that were the exact same as I saw on my first ride – in a completely different part of town.   It gives me the impression of a military base.
  8. Think Suburbia is great? Try riding your bike in any meaningful way    around it.
  9. Lexington is still a great city – our Urban Service Boundary means that we have all been forced to live close to one another despite our racial, social, or economic divides. This can serve us well in the transition time we are undergoing. We know each other – we are truly each other’s neighbors.

February 21, 2010:

After basically 8 weeks of shit cold and gloom: sunshine and 60 degrees!

I have ridden around town for a while now, but in the last few days I decided I should have a point to my travels. I needed an Everest.

My Everest is this: I will ride on every street in Lexington inside New Circle Road.

So today I started, and naturally, I took the easiest bite. I covered the piece of pie between Winchester and Richmond Roads. This includes Liberty and Henry Clay Boulevard areas.

Ride quality:

I found this area mostly flat and easy to pedal (see exception below). The major streets in this area suck, but in different degrees. For example, I thought riding Winchester Road was fairly easy in one respect – wide shoulders – but the many curb cuts and 5 lanes of high speed traffic require absolute attention.

Liberty Road is a NO GO. Narrow, fast traffic, harsh rutted drop offs, and angry drivers – I was glad to get off. The cut-throughs between Henry Clay Boulevard and Winchester Road were not pleasant. New Circle Road between Liberty and Young Drive was not bad, as there was plenty of shoulder space – it’s just the vehicle speed that makes it tough. Henry Clay Boulevard itself was the easiest on a quiet Sunday.

The side streets in this area are generally easy to peddle BUT in the “Saints” streets area between Richmond Road and New Circle have some serious hills. (that is the area in the St. Margaret Street area…I’m sure there’s a name for that neighborhood but I can’t find it on LFUCG….)

Neighborhood character:

I started in the Kenwick Neighborhood. Right now, it starts off as my “most friendly” – people everywhere, houses close to the street, front porches, walking destinations like corner stores and churches. I wondered if anyone actually used either, but they were there just the same. If you live around there, let me know.

The Kingsway and Queensway areas are beautiful, in many respects the suburban ideal, but today they were dead. I wondered if most of the people who lived there were in Florida.

And, I’m not making a value judgement, but this area doesn’t seem very diverse economically or socially.

Then just over the railroad overpass on Henry Clay Boulevard, everything changes. Less than 1000 feet from some million-dollar houses, there are warehouses and junkyards. And mixed in is a neighborhood on Dallas and Detroit and surrounding streets. This area feels rougher. I see pride of place throughout, but also lots of trash – on the streets and more than a few front porches. Is being offended by trash my problem or is it a general problem? There are few shade trees, but many houses have a landscape of some kind – to me that signals pride. Some houses are in need of repair.

Riding amongst the neighborhoods to the south of Winchester Road – Brown Ave, Strader Drive, Ashton Ave – etc….very different feel. Houses are smaller, of a completely different architecture than the classic suburban areas elsewhere. They remind me of homesteads built one at a time. Lots of individuality. Maybe Appalachian? Contrast that with those houses built even a few streets over – those where built as tracts and each street has basically a similar feel. Not bad – just different.

Then it was on to Liberty Road. Wow. I’ve lived here for 28 years. But I saw things on my bike that I had never seen in my car. Narrow, dead-end streets like Gatehouse Place and Lakeview Drive. Gatehouse Place doesn’t have a gatehouse. And Lakeview doesn’t have a lake, or a view. Both streets have interesting houses.

Finally, I rode around New Circle from Liberty to Young Drive and into the “Saints” neighborhood. (Im sure there is a real neighborhood name for this but I cant find it on lfucg.com). This area was obviously built as a unit in just a few short years. Not to hard to predict that it was all done in the 1960s. This area has all the hallmarks of “advanced planning”: mixed unit types, meaning single and multi family, an elementary school and a community park. And the supposedly added benefit of being located in the wedge between two commercial streets – New Circle and Richmond Road. All in all, this area seems to have held up well. The weak link would be the multi-family units but I didn’t see TOO much trouble…but then again I don’t live there. And don’t take that as a slam on multi-family units. I live in Ashland Park, and out my back door I can see 19 units, most of them multi- family. But in my neighborhood density is mixed in better than in most places… Over there, density is segregated…

General thoughts on my first ride:

  1. Too many areas of this city don’t have sidewalks. That’s bullshit. Every street must have a sidewalk. I saw too many people walking in the street. And it was in the side of town where we’ve been uh “neglectful.” People will need to walk more, and soon. We’ve got to get a sidewalk program going now on those streets.
  2. The Importance of trees. Those neighborhoods, wealthy or not, that had a program of planting trees have led to the creation of an urban forest. An urban forest makes all the difference when you live in the city. Those areas without initial planting, wealthy or not, look like a desert. We’ve got to step up our reforestation efforts. For both nature and humans.
  3. Overall, what I saw was resilience. I’ve been to many cities over the last few years and have seen desolation in many of them. I rode through lots of demographic areas and saw lots of good things today. People in Lexington are hanging in. So far.
  4. Lexington is a very small town. Our urban growth boundary has forced us to live together. And it shows. It took me 10 minutes on bike to go from huge houses on Richmond Road to density on St. Margaret and then into the individuality around the Ashton Street area. But I guarantee that the people in each of those areas have constructed a mental map that doesn’t include the others. We’ve got to break those walls down. We are all in this together.
  5. I saw lots of empty store-fronts on Winchester and Liberty Roads. And of course the giant hole of Lex Mall. Have we reached peak commercial activity?

So that’s it. Day one of my ride around the city. I only need good weather and another few hours to tackle some other part of the city. Please tell me what you do and what you think as you go about this for yourself.

12 responses to “Riding The Streets

  1. David

    Steve- great idea! Very cool and I am sure travelling our hometown at the “speed of bike” will be educational. One bit of information… You “pedal” a bike, not “peddle”… Unless I’m missing something and you are panhandling (i.e. a peddler) on these outings. Looking forward to following your progress!!

    • steveaustinlex

      Thanks for taking the time to review my work
      I blame it on the 15 miles I rode today and the gallon of wine i drank while RIGHTING this….

      Hope yoy can make man cramp

  2. I can echo the comments of David, in that you can see much more by bike than car. I have already traveled most of these streets by bike when I was younger and could do it again. It seems to me that the descriptions you gave would cover more than 15 miles of streets-or are you not traversing all the length of each street?

    The “saints” are in an area called Idle Hour, just like the shopping area, and built starting in the mid ’50s by a good Catholic man (all the streets are named after his children who were named for the saints) Will Fant Blackerby.

    Would you like some company on further expeditions along with some running historical commentary?

    • steveaustinlex

      Thanks for your comments

      I would welcome a knowledgeable companion – you’ve seen how much I have to learn

      There is a timing issue – I dont know when I’ll be able to give it 2 hours, when the weather is nice, etc…

      I’ll be glad to give a heads up or to try to schedule something in advance and see if that works….Hell I think we ought to make this into a deal and invite lots of folks – it can be a bike and learn type thing..

      I dont have an odometer on my bike – I guessed 15 miles by the way my butt felt – I did ride on every street, although i didnt ride to the end of every one…maybe I should reframe my goals….

  3. Don’t even get me started on Lexington’s lack of sidewalks. I live on Tates Creek – across from Cheddar’s. There are no sidewalks south of Lansdowne. I see people walking in the gutter on the side of the road – one of the people I see most is an elderly woman on a walker; I fear for her life. Sometimes the walker on Tates Creek is me, and I fear for my own life, even if I’m walking in the rutted, uneven, muddy grass between here and Kroger or Old Farm. It’s the pits. The absolute pits. I was told last Summer that one of our darling council members – or someone at some level – said that “those people” on Tates Creek don’t need sidewalks. I cry foul.

    • steveaustinlex

      Thanks Mari – Very good points, and I agree completely – walkers in this city should never again feel second class.

      thanks for reading

  4. ktk

    I came across your blog by chance- I’ve been cruising around looking for resources for car-free families. I live in Idle Hour and am scared to death to ride down Richmond Road between St Margaret and Rose Lane with my 11-year old. So we continue to drive this route daily, and I hate it!

    • steveaustinlex

      thanks for finding me

      Any alternatives to your route? Down Fontaine?

      Lexington drivers are so scary so I realize that there arent many options for you in that location

      but I would love to hear your stories


  5. Carey Cavanaugh

    Appreciated your comments on the Turkey Foot area as the best of suburbia that Lexington has to offer. I agree, particularly as regards the trees.

    You probably have not heard, but there is now a move afoot to build yet another Little League field in Ecton Park and to cut into Ecton Park a row of diagonal parking spaces that would run the entire length of the park on Turkey Foot, leading to the loss of a number of those trees that make this are so wonderful.

    • steveaustinlex

      I hadnt heard that – that would be be a shame – is there a careful design compromise solution?

  6. Maggie

    Thanks, Steve, for writing your thoughts down! We’re talking about moving to Lexington area and your notes are super informative. I know this is outside your biking area, but how do you feel about the new subdivisions by Jacobson Park west of 75? I like the idea of being close to the reservoir and it is still close to the downtown area.

    • Hi Maggie – thanks for reading – that area by Jacobson park is a really hard ride into downtown and neighborhoods – the reservoir is nice, but if biking is important to you, there are better places


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