Tuesday, May 1st, 2007
As I’ve covered here elsewhere, we know that there are proposals in various cities, sometimes from city officials, sometimes from citizens, to make pretty radical changes to downtown freeway systems. Columbus and Kansas City want to deck over their downtown freeways. A group of people in Louisville actually wants to tear down I-64.
The plans in Indianapolis are much more modest in comparison. There has been a proposal put forward to demolish the elevated ramp to Market St. and replace it with an interchange at Washington. This is designed to open up the eastern edge of downtown to development now that the old Market Square Arena is gone, by removing the unsightly and noisy ramp. One big difference between this project and those others, apart from its size, is that this one is actually being built starting this year.
Below you will find a rendering of the new ramp system. Click the picture for a full sized image.
There is also a project description site with more info on the Indianapolis city web site [dead link].
This project sounds attractive on the surface, but an examination of these documents shows substantial flaws. What’s more, the flaws indicate a flawed concept, not just poor execution.
What are these problems? A few stand out:
- One of the Washington St. offramps is five lanes wide at the intersection. That’s incredible – not to mention incredibly pedestrian unfriendly. This would equal the widest interstate offramp anywhere in Indianapolis. The interstate is already a huge barrier between downtown and the east side. This project only makes it worse.
- The curves feature a very broad turning radius which both allows cars to take them at high speed, and widens the length pedestrians must cross.
- There are also significant numbers of dedicated turn lanes on Washington St., including right turn lanes, that hurt pedestrian friendliness as well. Look at the northeast corner of the interchange, where the sidewalk is narrowed considerably and the Washington St. cross section widened, to accommodate a right turn lane.
- Supposedly landscaping is included, but the renderings show the sidewalk flush to the street.
- The Fletcher St. ramps, which aren’t that heavily used at present as near as I can tell, are also being widening, to the detriment of pedestrians and bicyclists.
- The intersection of Washington/Southeastern is being realigned in an auto-optimal, but neighborhood unfriendly way. Also note that a historic marker appears to get obliterated by this project.
- The newly reconstructed Market St. includes a two-way-left-turn-lane – straight out of the suburbs.
- The overpass on Market is being painted that horrible “nuclear blue” used on various overpasses.
I just wrote up a fairly critical review of the Kansas City Urban Society’s vision plan for that city, but one thing they mostly got right was their “orange card” of simple rules to follow for both public and private development to make sure it is done right. This project violates multiple tenants, most especially “Maintain or reduce street widths at intersections – do not widen”, and “Maintain tight corner radii”.
Let’s face it, this is basically a suburban mega-interchange excepting that the ramps are compressed and don’t flare out. It’s conceptual purpose is simply increased auto throughput. It appears to have limited value in building cross-freeway connectivity, which is sorely needed. And it appears to actually degrade rather than enhance pedestrian and bicycle movement through the corridor. I don’t even think many suburbs would have accepted this type of interchange in a key location. It’s hard to imagine Carmel going for something like this near its downtown. In fact, Carmel is pushing for depressed roundabout interchanges to reduce the impact of the roadway on its city fabric.
This proposed project, which seems a virtual certainty to be constructed, is flawed in its basic conception. While the rest of the world is busy trying to repair the damage done by freeway construction to the urban fabric, building connections across freeway barriers to link neighborhoods with downtown, and putting a renewed focus on pedestrian and bicycle accommodation, Indianapolis appears to be going in the other direction.
In part two I will talk about how this project should be changed for the better.