Fayette County

University of Kentucky wants Rose Street closed for safety reasons

View from Columbia toward Huguelet Dr. on Rose Street on the UK campus on Monday April 12.
View from Columbia toward Huguelet Dr. on Rose Street on the UK campus on Monday April 12. mcornelison@herald-leader.com

The University of Kentucky wants to close permanently a section of Rose Street to vehicular traffic to improve pedestrian safety on campus.

The section of Rose from Columbia Avenue to Huguelet Drive has been closed to vehicular traffic since July 2014 because of campus construction.

Closing that section of Rose Street would reduce the number of vehicular accidents with pedestrians and create a more cohesive campus, UK officials told the Urban County Council at a meeting Tuesday. The plan would allow local traffic on Rose Street from Columbia Avenue to Funkhouser Drive so vehicles could access parking on Funkhouser.

“Our goals for closing Rose Street is to promote safe access to and around campus,” said Mary Vosevich, vice president of facility management for UK. “Automobile traffic is actually obstructed because of the high volume of pedestrians and bicycles.”

The Urban County Council Planning and Public Safety Committee took no action on the proposal. The city’s traffic engineering, other city departments and utility companies must first evaluate the proposal. City staff will then return to the council with a recommendation.

The decision to delay was prompted by concerns from many city officials who said the proposal to close Rose should be considered in tandem with UK’s plans to close Hilltop and Woodland avenues.

UK officials said Tuesday that the move to close that section of Rose Street was first recommended in 1965 by a campus master plan. UK says that a new road — the Sports Center Drive extension — could handle traffic re-routed from Rose.

Vosevich said the closing of Hilltop and Woodland was not part of the current application before the city but said closing both roads is in UK’s master plans.

Planning Commissioner Derek Paulsen cautioned the council that closing Rose Street needs to be considered with possible future closure of Hilltop and Woodland.

“We feel like they should be considered all at the same time,” Paulsen said. “We do have concerns about increased traffic. We also have some questions on who owns Hilltop.”

The city owns Rose Street. If UK owns Hilltop, it can close it at any time, he said. Paulsen said the city can’t find any documents that shows it deeded Hilltop to the university.

“We’re not sure how much traffic is going to be pushed into the neighborhoods,” Paulsen said.

Paulsen later said that there are more accidents on South Limestone than on Rose and other streets in the campus core.

Councilwoman Jennifer Scutchfield and others on council agreed. Scutchfield said they should not make a decision on just one street — Rose — but look at the traffic patterns around campus. There are many smaller roads near UK’s campus that could see a dramatic increase in traffic if the city closes Rose.

“If we just look at closing one, we could have other issues,” said Scutchfield.

Lexington fire officials also expressed reservations about getting onto campus if Woodland and Hilltop are closed.

“Our real concern is (closing) Woodland and Hilltop,” said Capt. Greg Lengal of Lexington fire department. “It’s direct access for our Firehouse 5.”

Firehouse 5 is on Woodland Avenue. It’s also where the fire department keeps one of its ladder trucks — which is needed to fight fires for high-rise buildings on UK’s campus.

Mark Barker, who lives on Park Avenue, said the temporary closure of Rose Street has driven traffic into the neighborhoods.

“We’ve had some major problems since the closing of Rose Street,” Barker said. “They have funneled that traffic down Columbia. It’s bumper to bumper.”

Barker said he understands UK’s problems but “I don’t want the problem to move to my neighborhood,” Barker said.

Vosevich said after Tuesday’s meeting that the university is not opposed to considering the closure of Hilltop and Woodland in tandem with Rose. The university wanted Rose permanently closed in time for the opening of the university’s new science building in the fall. That’s why it asked the council to hear the proposal to close Rose at Tuesday’s meeting.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall