How do pedestrians cross the road? On Dixie Highway — a notoriously dangerous stretch of road — the answer is very carefully.
“Both of us have lost friends,” said Louisville Metro Councilman David Yates (D-25), motioning to fellow councilman Rick Blackwell (D-12). “Something had to be done.”
Council members and city officials met Wednesday night with residents who live in the neighborhoods surrounding Dixie Highway to discuss a $28.9 million project to improve the 3.7-mile corridor.
Much of the discussion was about how the project will improve pedestrian safety by adding raised medians with landscaping and ADA-compliant sidewalks.
“Placing those medians provides a refuge for folks to get half way across and have a protection. And it also organizes traffic,” said Dan O’Dea, Louisville’s assistant director of public works.
The new medians will be void of vehicles and will only permit vehicles to turn left at designated places. That will make it tougher to get to some businesses, but O’Dea said it’s in the name of safety.
“We do expect people to perceive that they could be negatively impacted, but we have already shown that the corridor needs major safety improvements,” O’Dea said. “We are not going to preclude anyone from getting to that business. We’re just going to make sure the people can get there safely.”
Currently, people run across the six-lane road dodging traffic, and if they make it to the middle of the road, they get stuck standing in a two-way left turn lane.
“Hopefully, we’ll move from the reputation of Dixie die-way to Dixie boulevard,” Blackwell said.
Blackwell also noted the city only had to put up $500,000 — a fraction of the funding both the state and federal governments offered for the project.
The project also entails installing new signs, reconfiguring the Interstate 264 westbound ramp onto Dixie Highway, modifying turning lanes, adding 36 enhanced covered bus stops, and placing eight new modern buses on the road.
Transportation upgrades include fiber optic lines for traffic monitoring and a new technology that will allow the buses to communicate with traffic signals. As a bus approaches the light, it will remain green or turn green to allow the buses to move more freely, explained Gretchen Milliken, director of advanced planning for Louisville.
“The idea is that if you are on the bus, you are better off than if you are in the car,” Milliken said.
Residents in southwest Louisville have said they want more restaurants and retail in the area, and while economic development has picked up some, this project will foster even more development, Councilman Yates said.
“This is the way you do it,” he said. “You improve the curb appeal.”
Another facet of the project includes creating four or five retail and office hubs along the road, possibly at Lower Hunters Trace and Crums Lane, among others. The hubs would be places where people can get out of their cars and walk to shops or food.
Bids for work on phase one of the project, which includes Dixie Highway from Crums Lane to Rockford Lane, will go out in early 2016, O’Dea said.
The city will require contractors to negotiate with property owners to use the easement between businesses and the road to work on the sidewalk so they don’t have to close a lane to traffic. O’Dea said they also will be encouraged to work nights and weekends to reduce the impact it will have on traffic.