Archive for September, 2008

Reviewing the State’s Bike Grant to Louisville

Posted in Crime, Environment, Louisville News, Politics, Transportation on September 30, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

As you may well know, last Friday Governor Steve Beshear and Mayor Jerry Abramson announced that the State of Kentucky will be providing $4.9 million dollars in grant money to Louisville for bicycling and pedestrian improvements (from the Courier-Journal). As we’ve been critical in the past of the city’s bike policy (specifically the Mayor’s propensity to pat himself on the back for what is at best a mediocre city plan), we were naturally curious as to what projects would be enabled because of the grant.

LEO‘s blog General Sense of Outrage published a more-complete list of the improvements than the C-J, so let’s take a look:

Bike Lanes and Safety Signs and Markings $250,000

Kentucky and Louisville will invest $250,000 to restripe roads to add bike lanes and to post Share the Road signs. The investment will help fill in the gaps in the existing bike corridors and create more cross-community pathways to improve safety for cyclists.

Louisville will add about 20 miles of bike paths in the coming year – five miles of striped bike lanes and 15 miles of signed bike routes. Louisville currently has 30 miles of bike lanes, 100 miles of signed bike routes and 30 miles of multi-use off-road paths. Some of the roadways that are priorities for bike lanes are Taylorsville Road, Poplar Level Road and Stonestreet Road.

The city will post Share the Road signs along roads and streets throughout the community that are too narrow for bike lines but are often used by cyclists. Some of the roadways that are priorities for signage are River Road, Frankfort Avenue, Stony Brook Drive, Old 3rd Street Road and Johnsontown Road.

Education and Safety Campaign $125,000
With more cyclists and pedestrians using our roads, education is critical to making our roadways safe. KYTC and Louisville will spend $125,000 on educational efforts, including public-service advertisements, brochures and training classes that underscore the rules for motorists, cyclist and pedestrians and promote the Share the Road theme.

Louisville Metro will begin running a new round of public service announcements in early October through a partnership with Insight Communications. A more comprehensive communications campaign will be launched next year.

LaGrange Road Bicycle & Pedestrian Improvements $1,035,000
This project includes widening a 1.5-mile section of LaGrange Road from Lakeland Road to Bowen Elementary to provide bicycle lanes and add a sidewalk on the north side of roadway.

It will provide connections to several other planned transportation improvements including turn lanes and pedestrian crossings at LaGrange Road and Whipps Mill Road near Bowen Elementary, bike lanes at University of Louisville’s Shelby Campus and the Louisville Loop, a 100-mile multi-use trail encircling the city.

Olmsted Parkways Multi-Use Path System $1,200,000
The grant will be used to design and construct a 0.6-mile multi-use path along Algonquin Parkway from Winkler Avenue to Sharp Street. The project will improve access for pedestrian and cyclists to this residential neighborhood and adjacent businesses.

River Road Corridor Bicycle Improvements $1,217,375
This grant will be used to design and implement bicycle paths along the River Road corridor between Zorn Avenue and US 42 in Prospect. Improvements will accommodate all modes of travel, with a focus on the growing number of bicyclists who are attracted to this scenic corridor along the Ohio River and numerous public parks.

A corridor management plan for the route east of Zorn Avenue will be completed next year and construction of bike paths is planned for 2010 and 2011. The project is a segment of the 100-mile Louisville Loop project.

Bluegrass Industrial Park Bicycle and Pedestrian Trail $656,766
This grant will help fund development of a bicycle and pedestrian trail system along Bluegrass Parkway, Tucker Station Road and Plantside Drive. The total includes matching funds from the City of Jeffersontown of $131,353.

Walkable Communities Improvements $375,000
This grant will fund sidewalk improvements identified during the Mayor’s Healthy Hometown Movement Pedestrian Summit and included in the Community Walkability Plan. The focus is on heavily used TARC routes and corridors for pedestrian commuting and local-destination trips.

Newburg Middle School Safe Routes to Schools $126,550
This grant will fund a number of safety improvements around the 1,000-student school including enhanced lighting, additional stop signs, a crosswalk, on-street bike lanes along Exeter Avenue and a renovated walking path to Petersburg Park and a nearby Boys and Girls Club.

Overall we’re pretty pleased with this list, though we wish there were more specifics as to where the 20 additional miles of bike paths will be going. One thing we’d really like would there to be more bike lanes heading south from downtown, which we feel is definitely underserved (and important for our commute!). Additionally, some of downtown’s existing bike lanes are in bad shape: yesterday we rode along East Market, and a good three blocks or so of the bike lane has been torn up due to sewer work (we’d guess), forcing bicyclists to move into the right auto lane. Given that car drivers in Louisville tend to treat one-way streets as speedways, this is pretty dangerous.

Anyway, though we live in Schnitzelburg, part of the old city of Louisville, it is a good thing that many of these improvements will be made outside the Watterson. And a new bike path along River Road will be pretty awesome, most likely.

In other biking news, apparently there’s a Critical Mass in Louisville? Who knew? Well, according to this blog milkyboots, there was one last Friday in Louisville, and as a result some SUV driver’s car got spray-painted. It goes without saying that this illustrates exactly why we have no interest in ever participating in Critical Mass.

UPDATE 9:30 PM: The Courier-Journal is reporting that a bicyclist was struck this afternoon on Bardstown Road and Grinstead Avenue:

A woman on a bicycle was hit by a van at Bardstown Road and Grinstead Avenue this afternoon.

She was transported to University Hospital with what appear to be life-threatening injuries, said Officer Phil Russell, a Metro Police spokesman.

The accident happened about 3:40 p.m.

Russell said the woman and the van were traveling southbound on Bardstown Road in the right-hand lane, and it appears the van hit the cyclist.

He said police are awaiting toxicology reports and other findings to then consult with the commonwealth’s attorney in regards to any potential charges.

We’ll have more on the story tomorrow, hopefully.


Remembering Henry West

Posted in Environment, Happenings, Kentucky News, Kentucky Small Towns, Obituary on September 29, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

(Above photo of Henry West from the Advocate-Messenger in Danville.)

On Saturday we went to the funeral of Henry West, in Lancaster. Henry, a distant cousin of ours, died suddenly on Wednesday evening while working on his farm just outside of Paint Lick. Here’s the full story from the Advocate-Messenger:

PAINT LICK – Henry West, a prominent Garrard County farmer who played a large role in the federal tobacco buyout, died Wednesday. He was 64 and just a couple of weeks ago had been the parade grand marshal for Garrard County’s Rural Heritage Festival.

“Henry was one of those unique people who just possessed all the traditional values you look for in rural America – family, church and land – and he dedicated his life to all three,” said Mike Carter, former Garrard County agricultural agent.

West had served as president for both the Burley Tobacco Council and the Burley Tobacco Co-op. He was instrumental in sparking the charge for the landmark $9.6 billion federal tobacco buyout and forged many relationships with important figures to see it through.

“Henry made himself a personal friend to politicians. He worked hard with senators and congressmen,” said Carter.

Carter, who served as ag agent for 31 years before retiring in June, was both a professional and personal friend to West. Carter said West’s work and dedication to Garrard County will be felt for many years to come.

‘Henry was just an outstanding leader’

West was a selfless man, who always considered the benefit of Garrard countians above his own personal gain.

“Henry was just an outstanding leader. He really had a passion for doing whatever he felt was best for the average tobacco farmer,” said Carter.

Carter’s role as an extension agent allotted him a close, personal working relationship with West, a cattle and tobacco farmer who owned and operated Henry West Farms in Paint Lick.

West and his wife, Peggy, had three children, and Carter said it was a privilege to see them grow up and participate in the 4-H program.

Faith was also integral to West, being a lifelong and active member of Paint Lick United Methodist Church.

Outside of family, church and the land, West had another passion, according to Carter: the Kentucky Wildcats.

West’s son had been a standout quarterback for Garrard County and played at the University of Kentucky. West himself also was a stellar player for the old Paint Lick High School back in his day, said Carter.

“You ask anyone of the top five players from (the 1960s) in the area, and Henry West’s name will always come up,” he said.

West’s unexpected death leaves a void in the community where he was well-liked and well-respected.

“It’s odd, because in a time just like this, we would all go to Henry for strength, advice and support. Right now, this loss is unspeakable for Garrard County,” said Carter.

The Lexington Herald-Leader also ran a short piece on Henry.

(Gonna drop the third-person for a little bit…)

Though I only got to meet Henry a handful of times, I can’t think of a person I’ve known over my lifetime who has struck me with their generosity and kindness as much as Henry West. As a kid, every once in a while when we’d be on a family trip to Berea or Cumberland Falls State Park or other places in and around that part of the state, we’d drop in on Henry’s farm, and no matter what he and Peggy and the kids were in the middle of, they’d drop it immediately. The West family’s warmth and generosity never flagged or faltered, and some of my favorite memories are of visiting the farm, and of Henry’s great smile (as you can see above) and his laugh.

One of the other major things that struck me about Henry, evident to me even when I was a little boy, was his love of the land. We may have been city slickers visiting from big, dirty Louisville, but Henry would take the time to show us the farm, and explain what he was working on, from harvesting tobacco to raising cattle. His enthusiasm for what he was doing was inspiring and infectious.

I last saw Henry at a family reunion we held at Cumberland Falls during Thanksgiving in 2005, while I was still living in New York. He was as friendly and warm as ever, and I regret that in this past year that I’ve been back in Kentucky, I didn’t take the opportunity to visit Paint Lick and the Wests.

On Saturday Henry was buried in the Manse Cemetery in Paint Lick (a fascinating and beautiful place which includes the graves of Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers). On Kentucky State Road 52 to the cemetery from Lancaster, the funeral procession stretched at least two miles long, as Henry’s many friends and family came to pay their respects. As the burial began, the clouds which had covered the sky all day began to dissipate, and a beautiful sun came through, while geese on the other side of the hill from the cemetery honked and scattered. It was beautiful and touching, and I will miss Henry West.

Some Good Music, Tonight and Tomorrow

Posted in Drink, Elections, Happenings, Music, Music This Weekend on September 25, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

We’re not big on hyping anything, especially if it’s something we’re actually doing, but tonight once again we are djing with the lovely and talented Miss Kim Sorise, one of Louisville’s best djs, at the Monkeywrench from 10 PM to 2 AM tonight, September the 25th. Come on out! There will be drink specials and it’s also three days before our birthday (that is, our actual birthday, not the blog’s birthday).

The Monkeywrench didn’t have power for most of last week, so please come on out and support an awesome local business that needs your help! And of course, the Monkeywrench is located at the corner of Winter and Barrett, in that fun little area between the Highlands and Germantown (that really doesn’t have a name).

Tomorrow night, at Lisa’s Oak Street Lounge on the corner of Oak & Swan in Germantown, Detroit rockers Tyvek play with Suspected Terrorists and Metal Bubbles. We saw Tyvek back when we lived in New York, and they’re great. They’ve got a new single out called “Sidewalk,” and wouldn’t you know, we’ve got some mp3s of it here for you to download. Suspected Terrorists are a great Louisville combo, and Metal Bubbles are a new band consisting of Tim Ruth (ex-Evergreeen), Dom (Dead Child, Phantom Family Halo, Sapat) and Kris A. and Alan from Sapat. Should be awesome. 10 PM, $3. Sorry, no flier.

Also Friday night, Second Story Man (subject of a nice little write-up in this week’s Velocity) is playing the Pour Haus with Yardsale and Sandpaper Dolls. We’re really excited about the latter, as it’s an all-female a capella trio including Suki Anderson of A.M. Sunday and Amber Estes of Liberation Prophecy. 9 PM, $5. If there’s a debate, we’re gonna watch part of it, DVR the rest, then head over to the show!

Louisville Home Sales Drop 36 Percent

Posted in Development, Economics, Environment, Louisville News on September 23, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

The Courier-Journal is reporting that, according to the Greater Louisville Association of Realtors, home sales in the Louisville area dropped by a whopping 36 percent in August compared with last year:

The number of homes sold by members of the Greater Louisville Association of Realtors dropped 36 percent in August from a year earlier, but the median sales price was down only slightly.

Realtors working mostly in Jefferson, Bullitt and Oldham counties sold 965 homes last month, the fewest transactions for August in at least five years.

The median price fell 1.3 percent to $140,000. For the first eight months of the year, the median sales price in Louisville is $137,000, down 2.1 percent from a year earlier.

The price decline is unusual for Louisville, but it’s far smaller than recent price drops in states such as Florida, California and Michigan that have been hit harder by the housing slowdown.

Steve Priest, broker and owner of S.G. Priest Realtors, said the current sales pace is the slowest he’s seen since he became a licensed agent more than 30 years ago.

“A lot of people are nervous about their jobs and the economy,” Priest said this morning in an interview. “It’s going to be a gradual recovery.”

S.G. Priest has offices in St. Matthews and the Iroquois Park area. The company’s sales volume is down less than 10 percent from a year ago, and Priest said homes in the $100,000 to $175,000 price range are selling quicker than more expensive properties.

Anecdotally, houses for sale in the Germantown-Schnitzelburg area where we live still seem to be selling briskly, but we’ve no doubt that the case might be different in other parts of Louisville. Also, it would be interesting to know the breakdown between existing-home sales and new construction sales, which isn’t mentioned in the story nor is available on the GLAR site.

Last but not least, we came across the excellent Broken Sidewalk blog today — thanks for linking to us! If you’re at all interested in development issues in and around Louisville, check it out!

UPDATE, 1:45 PM: The silver lining in the cloud that is the home sales news above is that Louisville still remains a low-risk market for foreclosures, according to this report (in PDF form) from First American Core Logic via the Louisville Homes blog. Louisville ranked 6th out of 10 cities for the lowest risk of foreclosure among the 100 largest market.

Beargrass Creek in Trouble, Special Report in C-J

Posted in Development, Drink, Environment, Louisville News, Media, Ohio River, Politics on September 22, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

(David Wicks and the Beargrass Creek Volkswagon, from the C-J.)

Despite not losing our power at home, we pretty much took last week off from blogging, mostly because we figured most of our audience wouldn’t be able to read anyway (plus sometimes it’s okay to just, y’know, take some time off). But we’re back this morning, and what a morning it is! Today, in the Courier-Journal, there’s a special report on how Beargrass Creek, which runs through Jefferson County, is heavily polluted and needs help.

“Beargrass Creek is in dire straits,” said Major Waltman, a project director with the Louisville Olmsted Conservancy, which is spending several million dollars to improve water quality of the creek’s section through Cherokee Park. “To me, it’s absolutely amazing that we have this stream, and it’s basically an open sewer.”

A court-imposed $800 million sewer improvement effort throughout Jefferson County that the Metropolitan Sewer District unveils this week should help address the problem. More than half of the money is expected to be spent in the Beargrass Creek watershed, which drains more than 60 square miles through the county, generally east of downtown to Middletown.

But that plan will focus only on the city’s antiquated sewer system, which allows about 1billion gallons of sewage into the creek each year.

A four-month Courier-Journal examination has found other factors bear even more of the blame for problems along the paths of the creek’s three forks — the Muddy, the Middle and the South. They include:

Physical changes. Over the decades, the creek has been dug up, moved and straightened — with some stretches even put in concrete, making it more like a drainage ditch than a natural waterway.

Urban runoff. In some neighborhoods, more than 80 percent of the ground around the creek has been paved or built upon. Oxmoor Center, for example, is built over it.

That means that even a moderate rain deposits pollutants from parking lots, roads and lawns — and can trigger a torrent into the creek, causing severe bank erosion.

While the special report includes some pretty dire descriptions of Beargrass’s current problems, there’s also some great history stuff in there too. Definitely essential reading if you’re at all interested in Louisville’s past and future.

Yarmuth Campaign HQ Burglarized

Posted in Crime, Elections, Louisville News, Politics on September 11, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

(above photo of Yarmuth Campaign HQ from

The Courier-Journal reports this morning that the campaign office of U.S. Representative John Yarmuth, Democrat representing Kentucky’s 3rd District (which includes most of Louisville), was broken into Tuesday night:

A computer server was among several items missing from the campaign headquarters of U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-3rd District, after an overnight break-in, a spokesman said.

Also missing are a jump drive, wireless computer network cards, office supplies and food items, according to campaign spokesman Christopher Hartman, who said a door to the office at 900 E. Market St. was found open yesterday morning.

“We started noticing things progressively and we may notice more,” he said of the missing items.

Hartman said the server was worth up to $2,000 and the other items were worth more than $100.

“There were many valuable things out in the open that weren’t touched,” Hartman said.

Yarmuth is defending his congressional seat against former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup, whom he defeated two years ago.

WHAS 11 reports a more colorful aspect of the story about the break-in:

Hartman says what makes the burglary more unusual is that some pens and packets of sugar are also missing.

There’s no indication whatsoever at the moment whether G. Gordon Liddy or any other Republican “plumbers” were involved.

Choice Cuts: Saveur on Duncan Hines, The Smokey Pig, and Boone Tavern

Posted in Choice Cuts, Food, Kentucky Small Towns, Media, Transportation on September 10, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

(above photo of Duncan Hines’ books by James Oseland, from

For part two in our irregular series called Choice Cuts (excerpts from longer pieces either by or about Kentuckians), we’d like to call your attention to the July, 2008 issue of SAVEUR magazine. Specifically, to the cover article, “Adventures in Good Eating,” by Todd Coleman and James Oseland.

This outstanding roadtrip-food article was inspired by someone we actually didn’t know was a Kentuckian until we read the piece today: the one and only Duncan Hines. We’ll let the article speak to its own origins:

By late June, we—that is, Todd Coleman, SAVEUR‘s food editor, and James Oseland, the editor-in-chief—had been planning our trip for months and were finally ready to hit the road. The plan? To drive from Chicago to New York in a wide-ranging arc, stopping at restaurants, diners, taverns, and inns that had been featured in a famous series of culinary guidebooks from the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s and had managed to stay in operation ever since. The books — remarkable compendiums of American eats published annually from 1936 until 1962 — belonged to the once famous but now largely forgotten Adventures in Good Eating series published by the pioneering travel guide writer and cake mix mogul Duncan Hines. We knew that Hines (see The Man and the Mix) and the editors of the guidebook series he founded had helped revolutionize the way Americans ate on the road before the age of the interstate, and we were seized with the urge to follow in Hines’s tire treads. What better way to connect with a fast-fading America, with that part of our culinary landscape that has resisted mass-scale homogenization? And what a great excuse to eat a lot of honest, good food. The idea (all due credit to Todd, who came up with it) appealed both to our sense of nostalgia and to our wanderlust; it also proved difficult to execute: even after narrowing the field by selecting just a single volume from each of the four decades the series was published, we had a list of hundreds of tantalizing possibilities, from the Beaumont Inn, an elegant-sounding country-ham-and-biscuits restaurant in Harrodsburg, Kentucky (from the 1938 edition), to a Lebanon, Ohio, stalwart called the Golden Lamb, which, the 1957 edition noted, once fed such illustrious guests as John Quincy Adams and Charles Dickens. But, as we set about researching these establishments, we were disappointed to find that nearly all had long since closed. And the majority of those that were still in business seemed to have retained little of their original character aside from the business’s name. Felicitously, that left us with a pretty manageable selection of restaurants: about a half dozen of them, lying along a route that zigzagged across Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, and New York. Here is the true and unvarnished account of our journey.

What follows is a fascinating, if disappointingly brief, travelogue that includes two major stops in Kentucky. (We complain about the brevity if only because we feel a good book could be written on Kentucky’s fantastic food by itself.) Bypassing Louisville entirely, Coleman and Oseland head straight to Bowling Green, Duncan Hines’ birthplace and final resting place:

Wednesday (Day 4) Todd is wearing thin white cotton gloves and carrying a tray of old, empty Duncan Hines cake mix boxes. We’re at the library and museum of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. Duncan Hines was born and raised in this town, and we felt compelled to pay a visit. The university is in the midst of installing a permanent exhibit dedicated to Hines’s life and times called “Recommended by Duncan Hines”, which will feature a life-size mannequin of the man and his actual home test kitchen. We’re sifting through the boxes of ephemera — matchbooks, postcards, ice cream containers, advertisements — that are to be displayed. With us is Cora Jane Spiller, Duncan Hines’s great-niece, who is now 80 years old.

Spiller takes us out to dinner along with a few other Duncan Hines experts and enthusiasts. She tells us she is wearing a dress that once belonged to Clara Hines, Duncan’s wife. “If they can’t be here to drink and toast with us,” Spiller says, referring to Duncan and Clara, “they can be here in clothing.” As Bowling Green no longer harbors a restaurant that was officially recommended by “Uncle Duncan”, we dine instead at the Smokey Pig Bar-B-Q, where we sample sweet and smoky thin-cut pork shoulder and wash it down with Nehi orange soda. Later, Spiller takes us to Duncan Hines’s former home, now a funeral parlor.

Call us foodie philistines (filistines? is that more alliterative?), but we had no idea that Bowling Green has such an interesting food history. And while the Smokey Pig gets good marks from SAVEUR (though no shared recipes), we came across this blogtastic tidbit: Hrm. Maybe the missing “e” ruined it. Dunno.

From there, the authors headed east to a Kentucky landmark we’re more acquainted with — Boone Tavern, in Berea:

Thursday (Day 5) We’re rolling across central Kentucky now. We drive down U.S. Highway 127 to State Highway 78 and then over to State Highway 52, on our way to the town of Berea, home to Boone Tavern. Situated on the campus of Berea College (a tuition-free Christian school), the 99-year-old tavern and hotel earned some degree of national fame under the management of Richard T. Hougen, who managed the establishment from 1940 to 1976. During his tenure, he perfected such dishes as Pork Chops the Tricky Way, Chicken Flakes in a Bird’s Nest, Kentucky Chess Pie, and Yeasty Dinner Rolls. The cavernous kitchen is bright and airy and straight out of the 1940s. As with every place we’ve visited so far, many of the employees have been here for a long time. Two of them, Bruce Alcorn and Rawleigh Johnson, have worked in the kitchen for more than 30 years. “I’m just part of the fixtures,” says Alcorn. Alcorn and Johnson remember that back when U.S. 25 was the main thoroughfare — before the nearby interstate was put through — they served 200 to 300 people a day. “Now it’s tweaked down,” says Alcorn. “I’ve seen a lot of changes, competition coming in.” One thing that hasn’t changed is the spoonbread, a creamy corn bread soufflé served before every meal. It appears to be the most popular item served. “People say that the spoonbread isn’t the same as it was way back when,” says Alcorn. “But me and Rawleigh made it back then; nothing’s changed.” We got here just in time; the tavern and hotel are scheduled to undergo an extensive renovation in a couple of months.

Indeed, as the Boone Tavern is set to renovate by next year, its 100th anniversary. While the rest of the article goes on to detail other fine establishments they visited in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, the Kentuckian in us can’t help but think that the two more interesting days they spent on the road were spent in our not-so-little Commonwealth.

As an added bonus, SAVEUR also published the recipe’s for Boone Tavern’s Yeasty Rolls, Spoonbread, and their Kentucky Chess Pie! Yum!

Our previous Choice Cuts installment featuring Wendell Berry’s “Faustian Economics” is available here