Hundreds of Thousands of Louisville Residents Exposed to Road Pollution – 89.3 WFPL News Louisville

Nearly half of all Louisvillians live within a quarter mile of a major road or highway, potentially putting them at increased risk for heart disease, asthma and other health issues. health, according to a report published by the Urban Institute tuesday.

Researchers at the nonpartisan think tank found that about 100,000 residents, or 13% of the population, who live even closer to federal highways are more likely to live below the federal poverty line or receive food assistance. federal. They are also disproportionately tenants, not owners.

Those who live closest to major roads, within 325 feet, have an increased risk of heart attack and lung cancer due to nitrogen dioxide and other inhalable fine particles that cars release into the air .

Yona Freemarkone of the report’s authors, said their research found that residents with the fewest housing options are disproportionately affected by road pollution.

“One thing that really struck me about these findings was finding out that people without cars were more likely to be exposed to car pollution,” he said. “It basically means that the people who don’t contribute to air and noise pollution are actually the ones who suffer the worst consequences. That seems unfair to me.”

Free brand and its co-author, Gabe Samelsclaim that children are more likely to experience the negative health effects of living or learning near highways and major roads.

They found that 60% of schools in Jefferson County are within 300 yards of roads with at least four lanes of traffic. About a third of elementary schools are even closer, within 500 feet.

“This overwhelming exposure of Louisville residents to freeways is, to some extent, trivial: most Americans’ reliance on car travel means they often have to be near major roads,” Freemark and Samuels wrote. “Yet it is also a damning indictment of local, state and federal transportation and land use planning.”

A recurring problem identified by Urban Institute researchers is the number of apartment buildings built around these major roads. New building permits for multi-family dwellings in Louisville are more likely to be within 500 feet of a freeway compared to new single-family homes.

Part of the problem identified by the researchers comes down to zoning, which determines where apartment building is allowed. More than half of the Louisville Metro lands approved for high-density residential use are within 500 feet of a major road. Louisville’s 800-page Land Development Code, which is written and updated by city officials, dictates how land can be used.

“These results raise concerns about whether zoning policy encourages the location of more construction of affordable and high-density housing nearby [major roads]“, says the report.

What can local governments do?

Last month, the Louisville Metro Board approved a resolution calling on the state to invest more resources in maintaining properties and activating spaces around interstate on- and off-ramps. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet owns all land around federal highways.

The resolution grew out of conversations that District 21 Metro Council member Nicole George and Council Chairman David James, both Democrats, had with residents living near freeways. James represents the Old Louisville area and part of the Preston Freeway corridor, while George represents South End communities near I-65 and the Watterson Freeway.

A summary of resident complaints George provided to WFPL News showed concerns about homelessness, gun violence and abandoned properties. A neighbor said his house shook every time trucks or other large vehicles passed on the highway.

George said in an interview on Tuesday that noise and air pollution are only part of the many negative environmental factors these neighbors face.

“Most people aren’t aware of the pollution concerns because it’s not the thing you see,” she said. “They’re like the low-level stuff that’s always buzzing in the background. And then you add these other layers, the litter, the graffiti, it doesn’t signal an investment in a place where people want to be.

George said more investment is needed in neighborhoods near the freeway to address pollution, but also to address vacant properties, safety and lack of amenities.

Urban Institute researchers say in their report that the Louisville Metro and the state should consider adding additional sound barriers to portions of the freeway that pass through residential areas. Freemark said something as basic as planting more trees can also help address air quality issues.

“Trees are a really efficient way to absorb pollutants because trees are a natural system for absorbing pollutants from the air,” he said.

The Louisville Metro could also benefit from bipartisan infrastructure law, passed by Congress last year. A pilot program calledReconnect communitieswill provide federal funds for road redesigns or mitigation of negative health effects in neighborhoods that have historically been cut off from economic opportunity by public transit infrastructure.

A potentially controversial move would be for the city to change its land use planning code to discourage building near major roads and allow more forms of housing in other areas. The Louisville Planning and Design Department is currently in the middle of a multi-year Code reform project.

Freemark said the city should consider legalizing construction of duplexes and triplexes in areas set aside for single-family residential housing. The difficulty is that city officials and planners generally want apartments to be built in places with easy access to transportation and jobs.

“There is absolutely a trade-off here between transport accessibility and adjacency of negative health impacts,” he said. “A big part of why people want to live and work near freeways is because it gives them easy access to other parts of the metro, and not just Louisville, but across the country.”

Freemark said he doesn’t think requiring homes and schools to be more than 1,000 or 500 feet away from major roads, coupled with greener landscaping, would significantly change accessibility.

The Urban Institute report assumes road pollution is evenly distributed over a certain area, but the researchers acknowledge that environmental differences such as road design and local weather and wind conditions influence exposure. The researchers also did not take into account the noise and air pollution caused by Muhammad Ali International Airport’s location near Louisville’s urban core.

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