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Inspiration from… Indianapolis?!

Posted by on June 12th, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Screenshot of Indy Cultural Trail
from latest Streetfilms video.

If you have trouble relating to examples of street designs from Copenhagen or the Netherlands, how about something closer to home? Like, say, Indianapolis. Yes Indianapolis. There’s a popular meme going around that Portland is getting its bike-friendly booty handed to us by other American cities that are doing big things; but that list has never included Indianapolis. Until now.

Streetfilms ace photog Clarence Eckerson just got back from Indianapolis where he captured their recently completed Cultural Trail in all its glory. As I reported in a story from the NACTO Conference in New York City back in October, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail is a true “8-80″ bikeway. As in, it creates the conditions where people young and old feel safe riding a bicycle in an urban environment.

As you can see in Clarence’s film below, this is nothing short of a triumph for U.S. transportation infrastructure. The Cultural Trail is an eight-mile, biking and walking path that’s physically separated from auto traffic. It weaves through several destinations in downtown Indianapolis and creates connections to other bikeways, greenways, and so on. It has revitalized public spaces and it’s proven to be popular with both users and shop owners. It didn’t come cheap; but at least the $63 million price tag didn’t come out of city or taxpayer pockets. (Note that the price included lots of plantings and bioswale/stormwater retention work.) The project won $20 million from a federal TIGER grant, $15 million from a single philanthropist, and the rest was raised through a mix of private and public donations.

The Cultural Trail should provide inspiration and it should also make us think. Do we even have something like this in the planning stages? If not, why not? (I’m not sure the Sullivan’s Gulch Trail project is a good comparison since that path is more of a rail-trail and less of a urban-level connector.) Should Portland do more private fundraising for these type of projects?

Perhaps the biggest question I have is: When will a local political champion step up to support something like this? The driving force behind Indianapolis’ “zero to hero” story (as referred to by their bicycle coordinator Jamison Hutchins) is there mayor Greg Ballard. Ballard, a Republican, seems to have single-handedly spearheaded the bicycle renaissance in Indianapolis. Among his reasons were to make his city more competitive for job talent. (Learn more about Ballard in this Streetfilms video.)

Thankfully, our local policy makers and planners are well aware of how Indianapolis pulled this off. The question is, will anyone grab the bull by the horns and do something similar to kickstart our reawakening as a leading bicycle city?

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  • Chris I June 12, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    SE Foster?

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  • jeremy June 12, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    I spent my first 17 years in Indy and I am impressed with this. The city was also the first time I saw a really great Rail-to Trail trail (it is called the monon trail in Indy). All that aside, I can’t suggest moving back there. I love the bigness of this project, but I’ll take my hundreds of miles of connectivity throughout town any day. Of course I would love both, but I would hesitate before claiming india-no-place is handing Portlandia its booty.

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    • John Lascurettes June 12, 2013 at 7:39 pm

      My first (and probably only) visit to Indy was two years ago and I think I mentioned this facility multiple times on comments here since then. I was rather impressed with how “complete” it seemed and sorry I didn’t have a bike to try it out.

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      • M J June 14, 2013 at 7:23 am

        Now you can rent a bike at the Bike Hub on the trail, and eventually there will also be public bike shares available so visitors can ride the trail too.

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  • Garlynn June 12, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Well, it’s actually very nice to see leadership on very-nicely-done bicycle infrastructure coming from someplace other than Portland. When we do something great and innovative, the rest of the country says “Well, that’s Portland; we can’t do that here, we’re not like Portland.” But when Indianapolis does it… well, then it’s just the new normal, and if you can’t at least meet that standard, you’re pretty pathetic…

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  • Paul in the 'couve June 12, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    I’m getting really tired of coming up short and ending with just some paint and occasional lane reductions, and fighting for even minor parking removal much less things like moving power poles and curbs or re-designing intersections. I know something like SE Foster is a big gain compared to 10 years ago, but other cities are moving forward. Of course I live in Vancouver where my pet project is foundering entirely, just for lack of political will to commit to doing something that tries to be better. It is discouraging to have project after project stalled by very simple surmountable issues because there is no political will.

    I really look forward to the day when a Project like this goes through in this area.

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    • longgone June 12, 2013 at 3:25 pm

      Email them this link, Paul..

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  • Nick Falbo June 12, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    The city of Portland needs to have a discussion about how much the (we?) are we willing to spend to make this happen. Our streets do not lend themselves to easy retrofit, and moving our curbs may be a requirement to cycle track construction on existing streets.

    Unfortunately, as the process on SE Foster illustrates, moving curbs is so often off the table due to high costs. But what if it’s worth it?

    If you put a bike lane on Foster, many people will us it, but plenty more will continue to use the sidewalk. (how embarrassing!) If you put a cycle track on Foster, sidewalk riding will stop completely.

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    • davemess June 12, 2013 at 4:58 pm

      And many people will continue to avoid Foster all together or continue riding in the street (like many cyclists do on Tom McCall waterfront park, at least the city was smart enough to also install bike lanes there). This isn’t a panacea, but I agree it would be very valuable. I’m all for installing a path like this AND bike lanes.

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  • longgone June 12, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    See, they embrace bike culture by calling the route..” Cultural Trail” .
    I’m moving.

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    • longgone June 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      ..and a Republican spearheading multi-modal infrastructure, to boot..
      I am gonna hav’ ta’ eat my hat!

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    • Jeffrey C June 12, 2013 at 6:40 pm

      We call it the Cultural Trail because it runs among and connects all of our downtown Cultural DIstricts, as well as connects to our major north-south bike trail, the Monon Trail.

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      • longgone June 12, 2013 at 7:56 pm

        It looks sweet JC,… I hope the goodies keep coming for the people of Indianapolis.

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  • Clarence Eckerson June 12, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    Remember folks, this can be done for a lot cheaper if you don’t use fancy brick pavers and such. In NYC so far it has been done on the cheap, but I would like to see our next mayor do something similar on our big avenue protected bike lanes and use the bioswales since we need stormwater management. Instead of pavers, use asphalt. But we need to make them more permanent and pretty and green.

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    • was carless June 13, 2013 at 9:05 am

      Using pavers makes it a much more attractive space. If you watch the video, you will see how it connects pedestrians and cyclists through the city, and seems to be used for people to run into each other, stop and have conversations and such. Kind of like the esplanade near the Hawthorne bridge with the gravel lookout areas.

      There area a lot of high quality public spaces, housing, museums, and landscaped gardens along the route. Extremely beautiful – they have done an excellent job with urban design in Indy.

      But yeah, if you want to lay down as many bike transpo routes, pavement is the way to go. And Portland already has a number of excellent public plazas and parks, although they aren’t really connected to any bike routes.

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  • ed June 12, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    It’s become a regular feature for Portland to ask itself if it’s “keeping up with other cities” and for advocates in those other cites to claim they are either at Portland’s heels in this “race” (like Indy or DC) or even tout claims of surpassing us (like NY or Chicago) The last Mercury has a generous piece voicing these claims and it’s only one of many. I’m happy to see that we are a target/baseline/gold standard for these places and I’m the first to applaud Portland making sure it stays off the pedestal or resists sinking to smug complacency.

    But unlike most Portlanders and residents of those cities I ride often in all of them with my work travels. I have an account just off the Cultural Trail in Indy on Mass Av, 4 in Manhattan ,4 in Brooklyn 3 in Chicago and more. I ride extensively in all these places and will say many have amazing “showplace” routes, or miles of painted stripes. In terms of them as viable cycling environments ON THE WHOLE (meaning getting to where you want when you want as opposed to following a lovely route that may or may not be where you are going) none comes even remotely close to Portland’s rideability. Nor does the level of motorist tolerance/awareness and interaction with other cyclists and peds begin to compare.

    Many New Yorkers love bikes lanes because it gives them a place to double park. You literally cannot go a block without at least one, but mostly multiple vehicles parked in bike lanes. All times of day and night. Motorists running quick errands, taxis, limos, multitudes of delivery trucks and plenty of cops parked. Pedestrians love them because it gives them a place to stand further out in the road waiting to cross after cars are clear (bikes do not even register on NY peds; they are simply not there) Cyclists treat each other often as motorists treat each other – competition to be ignored, cut off and given no slack. Riding the wrong way up narrow, crammed bike lanes is the norm. Anyone can and will do anything to you as you are cycling along. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. Much like a crit or technical trail riding, street riding there is edge of seat constant negotiation predicated on the near miss, much as trial riding or racing in a pack. But I come from that background and will ride anywhere. For elderly, young, new or casual riders, cycling in much of NY is way beyond their skill set. And it’s not fair to compare as the place is much denser and bigger, with legendary NY attitude. So why the comparisons? It’s come a long way in a short time and that’s fantastic. But only someone who doesn’t ride both places much could possibly try to equate. For city riding I’m an advocate if going helmet-less for all the reasons we know, best characterized by the TED talk done by Colville-Andersen.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07o-TASvIxY
    As an indicator though, in NY I really crave a helmet, much as I would racing a criterium or descending the A line at Whistler.

    Towns like Chicago or Indy do have some great starts and are waking up fast – good on ‘em! But if you ride there (again, to multiple places at different times) for any length or frequency, the notion they even approach much less compare to Portlands cycleability is actually funny. Lest you see me as a local ra-ra booster I also spend time in Europe and often remind fellow Portlanders that though we may be pretty hot by North American standards we are not remotely close to dozens of cities there, much less Amsterdam or Copenhagen. It’s all relative.

    In other words, let’s welcome the renaissance of citizen cycling across the US but it’s a bit premature to feel threatened by other cities here, regardless of Bicycling Magazine or League evaluations or advocacy people rightly proud of their accomplishments elsewhere. Go to those cites with a bike, ride around a week (everywhere) and tell me if this isn’t very apparent.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 12, 2013 at 4:30 pm

      I agree with you Ed. I think the “other cities are kicking our butts” thing is a bit overplayed and not realistic. But I think folks know it’s being done mostly to make a point and not as a real comparison. A perfect example is D.C. Yes they have made some bold strides and have some good separated stuff in their inner core… But after riding around there for a few days it was clear that simply having all the ingredients to the soup doesn’t mean the soup actually tastes good. In other words, it takes a lot more than a few separated paths to make a good biking city and Portland has a lot of fine-grain details to be proud of.

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    • q`Tzal June 12, 2013 at 4:52 pm

      Thank you for resetting by TL;DR meter.
      I did BTW.

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    • davemess June 12, 2013 at 5:00 pm

      Well said Ed!

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  • Sigma June 12, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    the $63 million price tag didn’t come out of city or taxpayer pockets…The project won $20 million from a federal TIGER grant…the rest was raised through a mix of private and public donations.

    1. TIGER grants are taxpayer money.
    2. What exactly is a “public donation” and how is it distinguished from taxpayer money?

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    • JH June 12, 2013 at 7:05 pm

      No local tax dollars.

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    • was carless June 13, 2013 at 9:06 am

      $15 million private donation from the Glick family.

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  • q`Tzal June 12, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    To Indianapolis:
    As a cyclist in Portland, Oregon (alleged bike mecca) I am officially jealous.

    #1 suggestion for your continued success: don’t become complacent; it can always be better.

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  • Adam June 12, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Listen up Portland… to quote LCD Soundsystem, you’re losing your edge, you’re losing your edge… the kids are coming up from behind!

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  • Clarence Eckerson June 12, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    But you guys have the Neighborhood Greenways/Bicycle Boulevards. Miles and miles of them. No one tops that. Every city is doing something different. I agree that Portland is still way up there, but it is also not wrong to dream big. Portland could use (at the very least) a big cycle loop of protected bike lanes in the downtown. You wouldn’t need fancy pavers or even the bioswales, but some green lanes are a good idea.

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  • q`Tzal June 12, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    Sullivan’s Gulch Trail project:
    I want.
    It would be a good connector to a muggle friendly system like we see in Indianapolis above.
    It would be nice if we could make the Sullivan’s Gulch Trail corridor as pretty and inviting as this article’s facilities but that would likely result in the demonization of homeless people camped along this whole region to make people feel safe walking and biking in on a MUP where police cannot reasonably access.
    The terrain that eliminates problems with automotive cross traffic hazards also holds in highway noise and exhaust gases. The only option to make this corridor idyllicly pleasant would be two ugly noise walls on either side of the path; this is criminally unsafe with or without homeless camped nearby.

    But these unpleasant things are what makes the idea appeal to an admitted vehicular cyclist. With low use for leisure and relaxation it would become the drag strip in and out of downtown bikes have always deserved.

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  • Yuri Nashun June 12, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    I’m often amazed how easily we get our pride hurt here in Portland. Bike friendly? Yeah in some areas. But overall we’ve got a long way to go.

    Maybe one day we really will be the #1 biking city…till then stay safe!

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  • Dabby June 12, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    I lived in Broad Ripple, and was a messenger in Downtown Indianapolis. Even in 2000 it was a great city to ride around. I especially liked the Mt biking along the river just north of downtown ( great trails IN town), and the long bike paths along the canals, and heading north.
    As the cycling population then seemed to be quite small, I am sure the facilities now have become great.

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  • Dan Liu June 12, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    I biked around Indy last summer, and it was pretty fantastic. I will say, however, that the Cultural Trail is kind of an odd beast: it winds around the downtown parks and government buildings, and is a major part of Indy’s inner-city revitalization projects. Out in the ‘burbs, there are straight bike paths (I like to call them ‘bike highways’) that cut through some of the tougher neighborhoods and allows one to go straight to the wealthier, outer rings — also, going right by the Major Taylor velodrome, which is awesome.

    This could be a real boon to the Portland Park Blocks, and really awesome if there was a way to loop it around the Couch Park area — maybe as a companion bikeway to the streetcar tracks?

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  • Jeffrey C June 12, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    Mayor Ballard certainly has been a strong advocate for biking and other forms of transportation in the city, but to suggest he is almost single-handedly rseponsible significantly marginalizes many other individuals and organizations who were in the game long before he came to office. He’s riding the crest of a wave that has been years in the making.

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  • Joe Adamski June 12, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    My line for years is that Portland isn’t so great, it’s just the rest of the Country sucks so badly. Now there’s some catch up happening. This is totally a good thing.I hope Portland gets its nose rubbed in the dirt by other cities. It will inspire us to get up, brush of the dust and SHOW THEM .

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  • bb June 12, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    I would have safe drivers than bike lines.

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    • Chris I June 13, 2013 at 6:32 am

      over 30,000 people die on the roads every year. The only way to get safe drivers is to remove the human part of the equation. We won’t start seeing big reductions in the carnage until we get automated vehicles.

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  • joe kurmaskie June 13, 2013 at 12:00 am

    If we don’t, as a country, have 200-300 cities competing to be the most bike complete and friendly, then we all lose… roll on Indy!

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  • was carless June 13, 2013 at 8:54 am

    “When will a local political champion step up to support something like this?”

    I think the point of this story is that nobody waited for a politician to stand up and advocate for it, but a philanthropist decided it was a worthy cause to create an asset for their community and get the ball rolling by pledging $15 million.

    Our wealthy leaders hate bicycling, AFAIK, so it likely won’t happen. Unless you could convince Phil Knight to build a running trail through the city (shared MUP?) and give him naming rights, but Portlanders have a strong track record of refusing private donations if it means giving up naming rights to things. There was a huge political backlash when PGE park was named.

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  • was carless June 13, 2013 at 8:59 am

    The other major part of this is, according to the video, the city went from 0 bike lanes to 75 between 2006 and today. They are also building other bike routes as well.

    So… yeah, they are catching up!

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  • Terry D June 13, 2013 at 10:01 am

    There are all sorts of opportunities for private-public investments in this city if we think creatively.

    —When OHSU builds their next research building next to the Tram they should include a Moody Avenue overpass and connect it to the building. Of course there could be a bike parking/shower area inside for OHSU commuters/visitors. The path could continue past the building and connect via ramps to the future waterfront path. We all know that elevator will be a future capacity bottleneck once the waterfront path is the Gibb’s crossing of Barbur is built.
    –Reed College could team up with PBOT and Tri-met to build the Reedway MUP/overpass of McGlaughlin. Reed also could build path connections so there could be direct access to the 37th street Springwater trailhead from northern residents via “The 30′s” Greenway and eastward to a future Reedway greenway to Mount Scott Park.
    –After the Division Streetscape is done, local bike focused/interested businesses could sponsor traffic diverters by buying and installing planters at SE 31st and 36th to eliminate cut-though auto traffic. This could be done as soon as Division re-opens and be cheap.
    —NE 87th could be turned into a Greenway from Killingsworth in Sumner past Helensview High School south through “The Grotto” and connect to Siskiyou via 87th place and past 82nd to Madison High School

    Examples where PBOT missed out with private partnerships:
    –all the low parking apartment buildings in Overlook, Why were they not looked upon as a group and forced to build the “Failing Greenway” connecting Concord with NE 7th?
    —-Walmart did a HUGE remodel of their parking lot where “The 80′s” connects just north of Holgate through that strip mall. Why were they NOT required to build a robust greenway connection instead of leaving that crappy sidewalk? Talk about PBOT asleep at the wheel. They probably should have been forced to upgrade the greenway crossing at Holgate as well.
    —Same thing at Fubonn….there is a back entrance to “the 80′s” greenway that instead of improving when they redid the parking lot, they actually made it almost impossible to use.

    These last three examples are minor compared to an 8 miles protected bikeway investment but show how reticent we are as a city to combine private and public investments together…..or force businesses to do proper active transportation improvements.

    And we are not even talking about setting up private donation funds or encouraging big donor sponsors of projects like Pedestrian overpasses or “Gateway Green.”

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  • anon1q2w3e4r5t June 13, 2013 at 10:53 am

    CULTURAL TRAIL > BIKE SHARING

    Why was my post deleted?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 13, 2013 at 11:14 am

      Because I am getting tired of your ALL CAPS comments. Please find other ways to add emphasis to your comments. And perhaps I had too quick of a trigger finger. Thanks.

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      • anon1q2w3e4r5t June 13, 2013 at 11:49 am

        Understood, but I believe this was my only all caps comment. It was done to emphasize how awesome this Cultural Trail is, and how more of our resources should go towards these types of projects.

        Since there isn’t any underlining/bold capabilities, I guess I can use exclamation points….

        Cultural Trail > Bike sharing !!!!!!!!!!

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      • lazyofay June 13, 2013 at 5:06 pm

        …wow. all in small caps….

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  • jim June 13, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Shouldn’t Indianapolis be looking for a new name? They don’t want to offend anyone.

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  • Kevin Whited June 14, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Jonathan, thanks for posting this article. Bare with me for a second because it is my job to promote bicycling in Indianapolis & our bicycle culture. We (Indy bike community/INDYCOG) often feel that Indy get’s little respect for what we’ve worked so hard to accomplish (we weren’t even ranked in the top 50 cities by Bicycling Mag. last yr and we are still a Bronze level BFC). Besides the Cultural Trail, we have ~60 miles of bike lanes, incredible multi-use paths, a velodrome (& Marion College, something like 6 time winners of collegiate track nationals), official bike polo courts located in one of parks, Mt Bike trails that you can ride to (2 in city parks, 1 in state park), 2 Wheels 1 City (a one day bicycle festival) and the list goes on. Sorry if I sound like i’m whining but i lived in Portland, Chicago, Atlanta and several other cities and i’ve come to love the rich cycling culture in Indy and often miffed why this city doesn’t get more respect. Thanks for listening to my diatribe and everyone, come visit the Circle City and go for a bike ride we would love to have you. Feel free to contact INDYCOG before you come and we’ll let you know what’s going on when you’re here.

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  • Jon Berg June 20, 2013 at 8:53 am

    What’s wrong with a little competition, right? As a proud Indianapolis resident and bike commuter I can honestly say Portland comes up (in a positive way) throughout many of our community discussions. My wife and I are visiting downtown Portland for the first time this October to see what all the hubbub is about. Hats off to Mayor Ballard’s Office, The Sustainability Office, IndyCog and other groups that are great advocates for ALL cyclists in Indy.

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