Walkability and Bikeability In Lexington: Interview with Blake Hall

Blake Hall’s Iconic Bicycle

By Lily Barnette & Üİvi Gitaliyev

In recent years, walkability and bikeability have become a commonly discussed in issue in American urbanist circles. When compared to the rest of world, American cities were designed almost entirely with cars in mind, resulting in the rise of suburbia and urban sprawl, further increasing dependency of cars and making public transport more inefficient. Furthermore, highways became the most common form of travel across cities and states, with many of them cutting into neighborhoods and demolishing thousands of homes.

While Lexington was lucky enough to be spared from the fate of a highway cutting the city in half, as with neighboring cities like Louisville and Cincinnati, it still has some road issues to tackle. In order to learn more about the issue and discuss some solutions, The Berea Torch sat down with Blake Hall, a Lexington resident and owner of the blog Build a Better Lexington, which “critiques the city’s development pattern and offers solutions in the hopes of building a Lexington that is safe, accessible, and vibrant for all.”

Hall spoke about how he encountered the topic of urbanism for the first time during his time in university: “So, it really started when I had an apartment in downtown Lexington and I was walking to UK every day, and I would see like all these old buildings downtown. So and I was like, “Huh, why don’t why don’t we build stuff like that anymore?” And then I found out it’s because we made it illegal.” Hall further spoke about how restrictive and car friendly building codes forced many neighborhoods to be less friendly to biking and pedestrians.

Hall, who goes around the city in his eccentric bicycle (photograph above), shared his opinion on why more people were not biking in Lexington.

“Biking has a stigma of being recreational, it’s just a thing you do for fun. You, put the bike on the top of your car or the back of your car and you drive out to a legacy trail where you then ride on the trail. But then you come back and get on your put your bike on your car and go back home. Most people don’t even really consider biking for groceries or biking to get to work. You become the outlier, the weirdo. One of the things that Lexington likes to talk about all the miles of trails they have built. These trails are nice, but if they don’t connect me to anything, I don’t care. I think it’s. I’m not a cyclist. I’m a person who bikes. I don’t call myself a driver when I’m in a car. It’s like, that is not my how I identify. I use a bike to get around. Trails are nice, but if they don’t help me get to the grocery store, I don’t really care.”

Hall also talked about how while owning cars is costly in Lexington, the inefficiency of public transport makes it a better option for many people.

“Owning a car might as well be a $ 5,000-a-year tax because the American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates it to be anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 a year to own a car. The cost of owning the car factors in gas maintenance, car insurance, oil changes, repairs and all that. One-third of Lexingtonians don’t drive whether that’s by choice, medical reasons or they can’t afford a car. Without a car, you are substantially limited in what you can access. Don’t get me wrong, I love Lextran. They do a good job with what they’re given, but they’re not given much. People that can afford a car are not going to consider taking the bus if the difference is between a five-minute trip by car where you can find ample free parking at your destination or a potentially hour to an hour and a half long trip with two transfers. I believe a big part keeping us from being a walkable space right now is it’s just the built environment right now. The buildings are too far apart; we’re too low-density to spread out.”

“Isn’t that a bit like judging if you need to build a bridge based on how many people are swimming across the river?”

Blake Hall

Lastly, Hall spoke about what policies would help Lexington become more bikeable, and walkable and what stands in the way of such progress.

“The city is working on a ‘Complete Streets’ policy. Complete Streets is a broad term, and it means looking at a street holistically and considering everyone who uses that street, not just those in cars. The city is actively working on a policy that would hopefully codify more bicycle and sidewalk infrastructure. We have a program called the Neighborhood Traffic Management Program. If you want any sort of traffic changes on your street, you have to go through this program. It has one traffic engineer working on it and a budget of $100,000 a year and a two-year waitlist. If your street is super wide and straight, you get a lot of speeding cars and wanted speed tables, your neighborhood has to pay for it or your street has to pay for a portion of it, at least depending on the property value of your house or the packages. It can take two years and they could easily, and often, say no.

I did a Freedom of Information Act request on them and spent four hours in their conference room going over 687 pages for the last three years of everything about this program. I always felt like the program was heavily tilted to total inaction. They would commonly say, ‘that’s not a problem’ when faced with requests, but now, I’ve actually looked at all the stuff in the surveys, and I can say 90% of the time they don’t do anything. Council members would ask for stop signs at places and are told, ‘no, you don’t have enough cars driving on that to merit a stop sign.’ I once asked ‘what can we do to get some sort of a signal or anything to make my street safer?’ Because when I moved here within the first year, one of my neighbors died on that road crossing. I was told they’ve done the pedestrian counts and there weren’t enough people crossing the road to merit making it safer. So I asked her, ‘Isn’t that a bit like judging if you need to build a bridge based on how many people are swimming across the river?’ She said goodbye soon afterward.”

If you want to learn more specific information about bike-ability in Lexington, then follow Build a Better Lexington on Twitter here!

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