Summer Research Spotlight: Transit for All: Design Strategies for Improving Public Transportation in Lexington, Kentucky

The Summer Undergraduate Research Creativity Fellowships provide undergraduates with an opportunity to study a wide variety of disciplines through self-directed work under a faculty mentor. The Student Sustainability Council collaborates with the Office of Undergraduate Research in order to promote projects that will make a significant contribution to the student’s academic growth while simultaneously contributing to the sustainability-focused research initiatives at the University of Kentucky and the community beyond. This collaboration aids in making the pursuit of sustainability goals an integral part of the UK student experience, which is one of UK’s sustainability guiding principles.

Erica Smith

While the city of Lexington has proposed and outlined numerous strategies to combat the carbon-intensive problem of the city-wide reliance on personal automobile usage, the existing infrastructure and underutilization of the services available to the public has proved to be a blockage to further progress in this sector. Through intentional use of the resources already available, relatively small scale interventions that practically address the issues at hand could be effective in mediating the transition into a more sustainable urban environment. This project specifically investigates the foundational issue of public resistance to varied transportation methods and strives to provide realistic direction for the adaptation of a city landscape centered around the personal automobile. 

Having found that the typical urban project is proposed at a large, unachievable scale and relegated to a proposal that would require large amounts of funding and project planning to actually implement. While projects at a large, urban scale are certainly crucial to the adaptation of cities for a more sustainable and equitable future, proposals for smaller, and more immediately implementable scale are equally important for the advancement of local communities and services. Through this project, I intend to particularly focus on the Lexington public transit system, analyzing the historical and contemporary reasons for differences in public transit utilization between areas of the city and the opportunities for improvement within the existing infrastructure.

This project was instigated due to the current condition of bus stops that I have observed across the Lexington area, which largely vary in their ability to provide the public with a safe and enjoyable place to wait for the bus. While some stops are more than sufficient, many are nothing more than a sign in the ground between the sidewalk and the busy road. Understanding that there are many interventions that could address this on a large, urban scale is important to note, yet does nothing to remedy the current condition or public perception of the experience of utilizing public transit. Through simple and widely implementable designs that address the state of less than desirable conditions while using public transportation, a facet of the wider issue could be addressed and therefore better understood. This project aspires to provide a framework for giving consideration to the influence of basic human desires for shelter and safety within the realm of the Lexington bus system and better understand how the existing conditions perpetuate its current condition of underutilization.

Striving to foster dialogue centered around necessary and practically implementable methods of adapting cities for a more sustainable future, this project’s final deliverables will include a written proposal and drawings, diagrams, and collages that aid understanding of the impact of interventions at varying scales. While the project will attempt to address large and complex issues within the cityscape, this proposal will strive to communicate the feasibility of practical, small-scale solutions within the urban context, and the potential they may hold to shift the public perception of a better future.

Erica Smith

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