Editorials

Step on the gas for 2-way streets in downtown Lexington

A search through Herald-Leader archives finds near-universal support for two-way streets in Lexington's downtown going back over a decade and studies to support the change.

Two years ago the council passed a resolution supporting two-way streets.

The question has remained: So, why hasn't it happened?

Perhaps Mayor Jim Gray will finally answer that question. Maybe it hasn't happened because neither the mayor nor the council has drawn a line in the asphalt and said, "make it happen."

We'll know soon enough because the city administration has put converting Main and Vine streets — the two high-speed highways that run through our downtown — into two-way streets on the front burner.

Last week, the city advertised for consultants to submit detailed plans to restore four pair of one-way streets to two-way traffic: Short and Second, Main and Vine, High and Maxwell, and Upper and Limestone. This comprehensive look, rather than studying the conversions one set at a time, will give planners a sophisticated look at how the entire area could work with the new traffic pattern. Most importantly, the city is putting a premium among bidders on three factors: moving fast, practical experience and creative solutions.

City officials say that even with a fire under the process changes on Main and Vine aren't likely for at least two years. Both the state and the federal governments have some say over those two streets, and others downtown. Developing a plan that works for Lexington and gets a nod from the other governments is not an easy task. Not easy, but essential to Lexington's future.

Why does it matter?

It didn't (or people thought it didn't) in the 1960s when a new city model saw downtown as a daytime haven for lawyers and bankers while the rest of life went on in suburbs and shopping malls. Zip through downtown to a parking deck, take the elevator to an office and zip out at night. Walking downtown meant going a block or two to lunch or a courthouse. A stroll was something to do at the mall.

That model never worked very well and certainly not in Lexington. Here we have two universities on either side of downtown and many thriving residential neighborhoods very close to the city center. So, a confusing maze of one-way streets that can turn a ten-minute drive downtown into a half-hour trauma makes it easier to head out to a mall.

Walkers are equally discouraged. Drivers go faster on one-way streets, making downtown sidewalks noisier and more dangerous. Anyone who walks regularly on Vine Street can attest to this sense of insecurity.

Given all this, it's no surprise that retailers and restaurant owners have been among the loudest voices calling for two-way streets. One-way streets make it hard for drivers to get to their businesses even if they head downtown and discourage walkers from setting out.

So, it matters because one-way streets devalue all the recent private and public investment in downtown. Lexington can't have a downtown that's an entertainment, shopping and dining destination without two-way streets. It's as simple as that.

In January shortly after he took office, Gray put two-way streets downtown near the top of his agenda. City leaders have "jammered and jabbered about it" long enough, he said.

We agree. We're ready for action.

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