The University of Kentucky’s goals in proposing to permanently close another section of Rose Street to most vehicular traffic are admirable.
UK wants to create a safer, more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly campus, one where students have more welcoming outdoor places to congregate. Check, check, check, we’re on board.
The trouble is, as Urban County Council member Amanda Bledsoe said Tuesday when UK presented its plan to the Planning and Public Safety Committee, “that does push cars somewhere.” That somewhere is the surrounding neighborhoods and public streets.
The additional trouble is that UK hasn’t quite decided when it might come back to ask to close parts of Woodland and Hilltop avenues — anticipated on UK’s master plan, which would again change traffic patterns on and around campus.
UK didn’t ask the committee Tuesday to approve the closure, but it has already filed an application to do so and would like to have the matter settled for the fall semester before a science building under construction on Rose opens.
Whoa. Council member Jennifer Scutchfield got it right when, after hearing all this, she suggested “a major pause before we move forward.”
UK has wanted to close Rose for a long time, decades, and UK acknowledges the likely closures of parts of Woodland and Hilltop are not new, either. It’s unfortunate that city planners, traffic engineers and public safety agencies haven’t been seriously involved so far in sorting out what’s best for the community and the campus, but that is no reason to rush now.
UK has undertaken a massive building program the last few years; total enrollment has risen by over 3,500 since 2009 and it has over 12,000 employees. We admire and support UK’s efforts to wean students, faculty and staff from automobile dependence but the reality is that more people mean more cars.
UK Vice President of Facility Management Mary Vosevich, who made the presentation for UK, said in the next few years UK will need to build parking structures to accommodate about 2,000 more cars.
Mark Barker, who lives in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, told the committee the temporary closure of Rose for construction had diverted traffic onto Columbia, making it “bumper to bumper.” Barker recounted other times neighbors have felt negative impacts from UK’s actions, saying it has two standards, one for campus and one, “extremely, extremely lower,” for the neighborhoods.
This is an old story, one that UK gives new life to when it comes to the city with a request like this after little or no consultation, limited if any study of impact on its neighbors and with way too many questions left unanswered.
UK, as administrators have often noted, is an urban campus, surrounded closely by Lexington neighborhoods, businesses and public streets. If one sneezes, the other gets sick. Better for everyone to work together to stay healthy.