Following a decade of planning, design, and fundraising, Lexington, Kentucky’s Town Branch Commons is now open. Featuring a protected bicycle lane and dedicated pedestrian path, the multimodal greenway spans 2.5 miles through the heart of the Bluegrass State’s second-largest city, offering residents a new mode of car-free connectivity while introducing robust, resiliency-bolstering green infrastructure elements and generous swaths of open public space to the concrete-dominated landscape of downtown Lexington.
A project of the Lexington–Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG), the design of Town Branch Commons was led by landscape architecture and urban design studio SCAPE working alongside a large multidisciplinary team that included Gresham Smith among others. SCAPE first entered the fold in 2013 after winning a design competition for the nascent stormwater management-slash-urban trail project and helmed the design vision, master plan, and design guidelines. Gresham Smith and the larger design team joined later in the process to execute the final design documentation and implementation with SCAPE serving in an advisory role.
In 2016, the transformative public-private project received a major boost in the form of $14.1 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation through a discretionary Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant. The total cost of the Town Branch Commons was $22 million, with additional funding coming from private sources and a mix of federal, state, and local grants. The project, a 2022 winner of the Environmental Excellence Award from the Federal Highway Administration, also received private philanthropic support through the Reimagining Civic Commons initiative.
Ground broke on the Town Branch Commons—named after the buried creek running through Lexington’s downtown core that’s winding route is traced by the new greenway—in 2018, with work on all segments of the greenway wrapping up this year. As the final element in a larger, citywide alternative transportation scheme, the Town Branch Commons connects on both ends to the Town Branch Trail and Legacy Trail to form a continuous 22-mile transportation network that now links downtown Lexington with rural Fayette County communities located to the north and west.
“It’s been an honor for SCAPE to work with LFUCG for over a decade to achieve their goal: a legacy open space that honors the spirit of Bluegrass country,” said Kate Orff, founding principal of SCAPE, in a press statement. “This is a testament to years of collaborative work—grant proposals, public education initiatives, iterative design, and work with local artisans to craft a space for all Lexingtonians.”
As mentioned, stormwater management is—alongside its cycling and pedestrian paths—at the heart of Town Branch Commons, infusing downtown Lexington with lush, native greenery that collects and treats runoff while curbing urban flooding during severe weather events. In addition to flood-mitigating, streetscape-beautifying green infrastructure elements that include bioswales and rain gardens, more than 300 trees were also planted to provide shade and cool the city during heatwaves—the new trees triple the size of downtown Lexington’s existing urban canopy. The same number of vehicle lanes along two of downtown Lexington’s major arteries—Midland Avenue and Vine Street—were retained during the project and are now joined by a 14-foot-wide multiuse trail along Midland and separated paths for pedestrians and cyclists on Vine.
Along a section of the 2.5-mile route, users will find interpretive signage, also designed by SCAPE, that points out different aspects of central Kentucky’s social history and its karst geology, the latter of which played a formidable role in shaping the design of the greenway, specifically in its paving details. Along the trail, a contemporary interpretation of Kentucky’s iconic dry-stack limestone fences also pay homage to the geology of the Bluegrass region.
A multitude of established parks and cultural attractions are fused together by downtown Lexington’s new greenway, including the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, Thoroughbred Park, Charles Young Park, Triangle Park, and the forthcoming Town Branch Park, a privately funded 10-acre green space that, when complete, will anchor the Town Branch Commons. Designed by Sasaki, that project is slated to break ground next spring.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear referred to the completion of Town Branch Commons as a “major milestone in the history of Lexington.”
“Built along the path of the city’s foundational waterway, Town Branch Creek, this forward-looking trail succeeds on every level,” Beshear added. “It is a beautiful and multifunctional parkway, pathway and greenway that is encouraging both healthy activity and economic development all along the route.”
Closer to SCAPE’s home turf of New York City, Orff and SCAPE Resilience Principal Pippa Brashear will be joined by Michael Marrella, director of Climate and Sustainability Planning with the NYC Department of City Planning, for an afternoon boat tour on October 23 showcasing green infrastructure and coastal resiliency initiatives undertaken by the city in the decade since Superstorm Sandy. The ticketed excursion, part of the Sandy 10+ series, is a featured tour during Open House New York Weekend.