Residents were divided over adding a bike lane to Louisville Road Hill at the city’s public meeting on the proposal Monday afternoon.
The division was often generational. Of the roughly 35 who attended, mostly the younger ones spoke in favor of the plan. Several were members of Walk/Bike Frankfort, the group that envisioned and submitted the proposal to the City Commission.
Those who voiced opposition were mostly older. Many didn’t think it wise or safe to eliminate, as the plan would require, one of the uphill lanes on Louisville Road to accommodate bicyclists when so few people, they said, actually bike the hill.
“They may end up being like the phantom riders on the trolley,” said Charlotte Nelson, 68. “The numbers just don’t add up and don’t make sense.”
But Connie Lemley, 36, said calling the proposal unnecessary because so few people bike the hill “is kind of like the chicken and egg problem.”
“Even if not many people are biking or walking now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who want to do that, or people who would do that, if it were easier and safer,” Lemley said.
Another speaker agreed, saying he doesn’t bike Louisville Hill now because he’d “be asking to die.”
Brent Sweger, president of Walk/Bike Frankfort, said bicyclists do traverse the hill currently, though he said there were “not a lot.”
The commission is planning to discuss the bike lane proposal next week and, based on public input, possibly send a letter of recommendation for the plan to the state, which will make the ultimate decision.
The proposal would eliminate one of the two current uphill vehicle lanes, increase the distance between the uphill and downhill lanes to 3 feet, create a 6-foot bike lane next to the 11-foot uphill vehicle lane and widen the downhill lane to 14 feet with a 2-foot shoulder. The wide downhill lane would have markings on the right side to indicate where bicyclists can travel, but not a separate bike lane.
The proposal would cost little because it is simply a restriping of the roadway simultaneous with a sewer project, said Public Works Director Jeff Hackbart. That project is already requiring repaving of the section of Louisville Road from the end of Taylor Avenue and West Second Street to the scenic outlook spot over the Capitol.
Hackbart said he learned Monday that the sewer project wouldn’t affect the road all the way up to Lafayette Drive, which is where the proposal says the road restriping would end. Hackbart said the proposal would cost a little more than expected because of this, but he said he could not give an estimate how much.
“I don’t think that would be a costly item,” he said.
Sweger started the meeting by saying that this is at least Walk/Bike Frankfort’s third attempt to connect South Frankfort to West Frankfort.
“It’s very difficult because of our terrain to get people to safely walk and bike up and down from one side to the other,” he said.
Sweger said the group tried a connection on the abandoned Browns Ferry Road, but was opposed by a landowner. He said the group tried Lafayette Hill, but failed to have parking removed from the road after residents disagreed.
Now, he described the Louisville Hill restriping – which is also getting pushback from residents – as “the most logical route.” He said the proposal would make the road safer for bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists and compared it to the addition of bike lanes on Second Street, saying that project concerned citizens as well but ultimately made conditions better for all.
A second citizen, who said he was a pedestrian more than a bicyclist, said he liked that the Second Street bike lanes had moved traffic farther from the sidewalks and thus supported this proposal.
“Every time that I get passed going up Louisville Hill I cringe because it is a disaster for whatever comes about,” he said.
“And usually the person that’s trying to pass somebody on Louisville Hill is speeding, so I’ll leave it at that,” he added. Some residents were concerned that they’d be stuck behind slow vehicles if the right-hand lane were eliminated. Sweger estimated being behind a slow car would cost 30 seconds at most on the hill.
After another supporter gave his opinion, an older man stood to say he strongly opposed the proposal. He said he had driven the road many times and saw many stalled vehicles in the uphill right lane, along with maintenance vehicles that clean up the rocks and other debris that often fall on the roadway.
“Traffic is still able to move up the hill with that going on,” he said, adding that he thinks removing that right-hand lane would be unwise.
Sweger had said the proposed bike lanes would move vehicles farther from the edge, allowing drivers a greater sight distance to see such fallen debris and stalled vehicles.
The opponent also said it would be dangerous for inexperienced bike riders to share the downhill lane with vehicles, and doubted they could match vehicles’ speed.
Another opponent, who said he had lived in Frankfort most recently for about eight years, said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone attempt Louisville Hill downhill or uphill on a bicycle.”
He said he has been up and down Lafayette in a car and bicycle and has seen many people biking on Lafayette. He suggested Lafayette would be a better route. He said he didn’t feel in danger there even though there was no bike lane.
“It is a steeper grade going up Lafayette, but Louisville Hill is no bunny slope,” he said. “An experienced biker is going to be challenged with Louisville Hill.”
Mary Anna Rogers, 57, who said she has owned and lived at Rogers Funeral Home near the foot of Louisville Hill for 34 years, said she had concerns about eliminating an uphill lane. She said she goes up the road sometimes several times a day.
“I often do pass slower vehicles, and I can do it without speeding and I can do it safely,” Rogers said. She said she doesn’t think it is a safe route, even with a bike lane.
Rogers, who said she had been in an ambulance recently, said her greatest concern was that emergency vehicles would not be able to get up the road quickly enough without two lanes. She said Lafayette Drive was a better route.
Sellus Wilder, one of three city commissioners present at the meeting to hear citizens’ concerns, said Police Chief and Interim City Manger Walter Wilhoite had not expressed any concerns about police vehicles being hindered by the proposal. Wilder said the fire chief had not yet been asked about his thoughts.
Sweger had said cars would be able to pull into the 6-foot bike lane to allow emergency vehicles to pass.
Irv Gershman, 86, who lives on Tanglewood Drive, turned to the other residents to give his firm opinion.
“I don’t think it will work; it will mess everything up,” he said. “Leave well enough alone; it’s fine right now.”
He said there’s already plenty of room for bikers in Frankfort, and that he would be happy if they also took the bike lanes out of Second Street and downtown Frankfort.
“The first accident or fatality that happens on there, who are we going to point to?” he said of Louisville Hill. “The people who were for this.”
Stewart Harrod, 48, a member of Walk/Bike Frankfort, said he supports the proposal. He said he frequently travels both Lafayette and Louisville hills by bike and car and said bicyclists on Lafayette have to worry about cars pulling out of driveways. He said he thinks more people don’t bike Louisville Hill because no bike lane exists, and that one would make many people safer.
“Studies have shown nationwide that with bike lanes it slows down traffic, it’s a buffer, and that’s not a bad thing with Second Street School right at the bottom of the hill,” Harrod said.
One older woman who said she lives on Ewing Street right under Louisville Hill said, “I think the most dangerous thing that could happen on Louisville Hill is to have a bike trail up there.”
Another woman pointed out that bike riders are already allowed to ride on the roadway, and this proposal just makes them safer. A man who spoke after her said the proposal is based on the responsible bicyclist, which he suggested is not the average bicyclist.
Commissioner Bill May, who said he bikes Lafayette, said he doesn’t think the proposal is safe from his experience as a bicyclist. Though he said he generally supports cycling and walking, he said his number one concern is safety.
Commissioner Katie Hedden said, “Per everything I’ve heard, nobody wants it.” She said every opinion she has gotten in calls and emails has been opposed and that it is her job to represent her constituents.
Mayor Gippy Graham, who has one vote on the commission, did not say whether he supports the proposal, but said he had heard several opposing opinions and no support other than from the Walk/Bike group.
“I’d have to be sold on it,” he said.
Wilder said he had heard marginally more support than opposition for the proposal, and he’d just have to wait to see the final tally. Hackbart said comments sent to his office have been mixed.
Comments may also be submitted through the city’s website at www.frankfort.ky.gov. Go to the “About” section at the bottom of the main page, click on online contact form, and put Public Works as the category. There is also an online poll on the main page, and regular mail to City Hall is also accepted.