State, City’s vision for 4th Street: More friendly to bikes, pedestrians

Looking east on Fourth Street, a one-way street that carries traffic heading west and cuts through the heart of downtown.

Study underway to see if road can be reconfigured for dedicated bike lane

COVINGTON, Ky. – Fourth Street could be reconfigured from three lanes to two lanes to make way for a dedicated bike lane and wider, more pedestrian-friendly sidewalks under a plan being evaluated by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the City of Covington.

At the City’s request, the state has hired an engineering consultant – Qk4 Inc. – to conduct a study to ensure traffic data and user safety support the reconfiguration. That study should be finished this summer.

The first stage of the project could begin as soon as the next two to three years, provided it’s included in KYTC’s yearly resurfacing budget.

The street carries KY 8, a state route, east to west from the Licking River to the Brent Spence Bridge. The reconfigured route would likely end at the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, or Main Street.

Officials said four massive state and city transportation and development projects underway along Fourth Street make this a perfect time to reimagine the street. All four are more or less in the design phase:

  • The replacement of the Fourth Street bridge across the Licking River into Newport.
  • The new companion bridge and interstate approaches that make up the $3.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project.
  • A new gateway to Covington at the entrance to the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge into Cincinnati.
  • And the 23-acre Covington Central Riverfront development fronting Fourth Street where the Internal Revenue Service once operated a processing center.

“Fourth Street is a state route that cuts through the heart of downtown, but it’s perceived as a physical and mental barrier for pedestrians, bicyclists, and others, essentially walling off part of Covington from itself,” City Manager Ken Smith said. “As we reintegrate the 23-acre former IRS site back into the neighborhoods and business districts that surround it, it’s critical that we redesign the look, feel, and function of Fourth Street in order to make that happen.”

Smith praised KYTC officials for their enthusiastic collaboration.

State officials said the project fits neatly into KYTC’s mission: Creating a transportation network that meets the needs of local communities, both now and into the future.

“If it’s possible at all, we will make it happen,” KYTC Secretary Jim Gray said. “Whether it’s the bridges being built on either end of Fourth Street or the street itself, we want to be a good neighbor, sensitive to all that is going on in Covington. We also want to pursue inclusive transportation that meets the needs of multiple users.”

Smith said a reimagined Fourth Street with a bike lane and better pedestrian access could serve as a critical connection to the hiking and biking trail along the Ohio River called Riverfront Commons. The trail can be accessed at the foot of Madison Avenue, among other places, with another access point to be built into the levee park that is part of the conceptual design for the 23-acre Central Riverfront project.

What’s next

Officials from Covington and KYTC will continue to discuss the reconfigured Fourth Street while Qk4 Inc. completes its work. The Cabinet will determine next steps with Covington’s guidance once that data is gathered and analyzed.

According to KYTC, changes to Fourth Street – if found to be feasible and implemented – would likely happen in two stages:

  • One, the reconfiguration from three lanes to two lanes (and the creation of at least a temporary bike lane) could happen during the next resurfacing project that may occur as early as the next two to three years.
  • Two, the more permanent bike infrastructure, wider sidewalks, and amenities like benches would happen later, using funds from a different source.

Meanwhile, the design team working on the final look of the Brent Spence Bridge project is looking at making the area around the bridge more bike-friendly.

“The project areas for the Brent Spence Corridor and for the replacement of the Fourth Street Bridge across the Licking River are self-contained areas, but it’s all intertwined,” Brent Spence Bridge Project Advisor Gary Valentine said. “We want the flow to be seamless.”

Smith said the Fourth Street reconfiguration is just one example of discussions that have been happening behind the scenes over the last few years as City officials look for feasible ways to improve how people move around Covington.

“It’s a balancing act, to be sure, and so not every discussion has come to fruition,” Smith said. “But we’re trying to work within the physical confines of a 200-plus-year-old city with definite physical limitations.”


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