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Inspiration from… Indianapolis?!

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

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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