Small Cities, Big Roads, Part II

A few weeks ago I did a post on the phenomenon of small American cities with huge, expensive bypass roads built around them. Last night, I was indulging one of my other hobbies and checking out Civil War battlefields in Kentucky on Google Maps, and I discovered that Kentucky apparently has a thing for these absurdities.

Even tiny Springfield, KY, population around 2,500, gets a bypass! Now, as I wrote in the last post, it’s entirely possible that small towns like these bypasses, since they take traffic off of local roads, but that doesn’t mean the investment is justified (and taking cars off of local streets also means taking them away from local businesses). I also decided on a hashtag to use for this project: #smallcitybigbypass–if you find another example, hashtag it on Twitter!

There was one other oddity to call out from the Bluegrass Region:

The traffic volumes (interactive map available here) on both of these highways barely reach the level of a two- or four-lane urban arterial (and the traffic volumes on many of the “urban” bypasses are even lower). But instead of delaying drivers by just a few seconds to stop at a light, we invest tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in a fancy interchange. It’s the ultimate unfairness in the American transportation-funding scheme: we accommodate the every desire of drivers, trying to eliminate any possible inconvenience at massive expense, while transit, pedestrians, and bicyclists have to fight for tiny scraps. Alternative transportation advocates like to frame their requests for more funding in terms of reparations for 60 years of policy that has favored roads, but I’m not sure even that rhetoric captures the true inequity of the situation. We haven’t just favored roads; we’ve built a truly decadent infrastructure system for drivers, while everyone else gets shoved out of the picture.

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3 thoughts on “Small Cities, Big Roads, Part II

  1. I was on a business trip to KY last year to Campbellsville, KY. I flew in to Nashville and drove up and I too was amazed at the level of infrastructure that KY has. The Cumberland Parkway is literally a road to nowhere, a four lane expressway with little to no traffic. I saw maybe 6 cars on it on my return trip. The trip back took me through Columbia, KY, population 4500. It also has its own bypass road, SR55. For what it’s worth, Louisville has two partial ring expressways, I-264 and I-265. The pesky Ohio river and state lines have probably prevented them from being completed. Louisville’s population is roughly 250000 and is pretty compact, compared to Cincinnati or Indianapolis to the Northeast and North, respectively.

  2. A lot of the small cities do NOT like the bypasses. Many of these cities lived off of car and truck travellers stopping at their cities to get gas, get food, stretch their legs, etc. They are the descendants of the stagecoach inns and horse-changing posts. The bypasses *destroy* the economies of these small cities.

    I watched this happen recently when Route 17 was elevated in Horseheads, NY, eliminating the stoplights and eliminating all of the traveller-focused businesses which clustered around the stoplights. (They’re now abandoned buildings.) I think that eliminated all support for bypasses and expressway-ization in THAT area.

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