Kentucky Threatens 17 Louisville Street Trees, Citing Safety [Updated]

The Kentucky Department of Transportation objects to street trees on this stroad. Image: Google Maps
The Kentucky Department of Transportation says trees make this road dangerous. Image: Google Maps

Here’s a classic story of traffic engineering myopia. Officials at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet are threatening to remove 17 newly planted street trees in a Louisville suburb.

As reported by Next City and Louisville’s Courier-Journal, the trees had been selected and planted in part to ameliorate the area’s growing urban heat island problem. Louisville has lost 9 percent of its tree cover over roughly the last decade.

But Kentucky officials say the trees are a hazard to motorists along Brownsboro Road in Rolling Hills.

“We are not anti-tree at the Transportation Cabinet,” state highway engineer Matt Bullock told the Courier-Journal. “We are pro-safety.”

The state has given the city until Christmas to remove the trees. Local officials have accused the state of “selective enforcement” and even “harassment.”

Charles Marohn, the civil engineer who founded Strong Towns, said Kentucky is looking at the problem in the wrong way. “Street trees are dangerous,” he said, but only if “you have fast moving traffic.”

“They’re focused on the street trees and not the speed. Street trees are not a problem at reasonable speeds.”

Marohn calls Brownsboro a classic example of a “stroad,” a term he uses to describe roads built to highway standards that run through urban areas.

“The function of the roadway from the DOT standpoint is to move cars very quickly,” he said. “The other functions, to have capacity for economic development, to have people, to have businesses, those things are not compatible with fast-moving traffic.”

“So you have this problem where reasonable people doing reasonable things are at odds with this goal of fast moving traffic. The problem is not that people want street trees, the problem is that this really should not be a state highway, it’s a local street.”

Update: Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesperson Chuck Wolfe wrote in to say that the state’s hands are tied because “the encroachment permit application had to be handled in accordance with standards as they exist — not as they might be, were the roadway to be redesigned, which would take a lot of money and years.”

Correction: This post originally stated that the state of Kentucky had threatened to cut down the trees and bill the city. The post has been amended to reflect that the state says it will remove and replant the trees at no cost to the municipality. Additionally, the post originally identified the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet as the Kentucky DOT and has been updated with the correct agency name. 

  • twk

    Kentucky DOT says the street trees are a danger to drivers. This is BS. Bad drivers are a danger to themselves and others. If anything the trees are providing some protection to pedestrians. They are “pro-safety” as much as they are pro-trees.

  • Daniel Hodun

    Well if it requires a driver to block the sidewalk in order to have sufficient sight distance even for slow moving traffic, then it can be a hazard. If the trees are maintained, it should not be an issue for sight distance.

    Given this intersection, I would like to see a current photo of the intersection and see if they have overgrown. Even then, if there are signals there, it shouldn’t be an issue.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Has Kentucky’s ‘Zombie Highway’ Met its Demise?

|
Interstate 66, a planned multi-billion-dollar road through the heart of Appalachia, has become a quintessential "zombie highway," holding on long after economists dismissed its potential — thanks largely to Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), who has earmarked $96 million for the project even as its chances of going beyond Kentucky dimmed to virtually nil. A sign […]

MassDOT Mistake: How Not to Rebuild Main Street

|
This op-ed was written for the Berkshire Record, where it is being published in two parts, last week and this week. John Massengale is co-author of Street Design, The Art & Practice of Making Complete Streets (Wiley & Sons, 2013) and New York 1900, Metropolitan Architecture and Urbanism, 1890-1915 (Rizzoli, 1983). He is an architect and urbanist in New […]

Louisville’s New Goal: Reduce Driving

|
Louisville isn’t known as a transit-rich, bikeable city, but it is drafting a blueprint to change that. Move Louisville, the region’s new long-term transportation plan, envisions a future with less driving and more active transportation. Currently, 82 percent of the region’s residents drive to work, higher than the national average of 76 percent, and higher than […]

To Build Safer Streets, Cities Have to Challenge State DOTs

|
Have you ever heard this line from your local transportation officials? “We’d like to redesign this street for safety, but the state won’t allow it.” Often, that is indeed the truth. But James Kennedy at Transport Providence says that’s still no excuse for city officials to sit on their hands. Local DOTs should directly challenge the retrograde […]

It Just Got Easier for Cities to Design Walkable, Bikeable Streets

|
We probably haven’t seen the last of engineers who insist on designing local streets like surface highways. But at least now they can’t claim their hands are tied by federal regulations. Last week, the Federal Highway Administration struck 11 of the 13 design rules for “national highways” — a 230,000-mile network of roads that includes many urban streets. The rule change eliminates […]