Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

Market Street Ramp Project in Indianapolis, Part Two

As I wrote in part one, the Indianapolis Market Street ramp removal project started out with a good idea, tearing down an unsightly ramp for the betterment of the neighborhood, and succeeded only in moving the problem elsewhere. The solution is arguably worse than the problem. In this note I’ll say a few words about what should be done, with the understanding that the odds of this actually being adopted are near zero.

Firstly, start by redoing Market St. right, as a neighborhood serving street. This means ditching the suburban style TWLTL and replacing it with something like bike lanes on both sides of the street. I would also suggest removing the nuclear blue color on the real overpass in favor of something more subdued. An architect once advised against buying fancy trash cans, because they draw attention to what is, at the end of the day, a trash can. Given that this is a basic, no frills overpass, why draw attention to it, and away from the city, by painting it a hideously loud color? Using nuclear blue on the overpasses was the worst part of Hyperfix, which was an otherwise very successful project. No one passing through downtown Indy will even notice the skyline because they are too busy being blinded by that paint. Color matters greatly. Try to imagine the Golden Gate Bridge painted nuclear blue instead of international orange and ask yourself what that would do to the bridge and city.

Next, the Washington Street interchange. All of my suggestions revolve around making this an urban interchange, rather than the suburban, auto-oriented mega-interchange it is now.

  • Five ramp turn lanes is ridiculous. This should be substantially reduced.
  • Washington St. is already six lanes, so extra dedicated right turn lanes on Washington are not needed and should be removed. This isn’t 82nd and Allisonville after all.
  • Maintain tighter turn radii to force cars to slow down instead of being able to swing through at curve full speed – and what’s more this would narrow the street crossing width for pedestrians and bicyclists. What pedestrian is going to want to cross the southbound on-ramp from Washington when it appears to be designed to let cars move free flowing onto it without even slowing down.
  • Take the opportunity to reconstruct the side streets to narrow the interstate ROW, keeping in the mind the need to expand the freeway by one lane in each direction in the future.
  • Provide extra-wide sidewalks, say 10-12 feet, on both sides of the street under the expressway.
  • Include extensive landscaping, echoing that used near Circle Centre on Washington St., to buffer the pedestrian zone from the traffic lanes.
  • Include bike lanes on Washington or otherwise allow for a protected pathway under the freeway.
  • Include excellent street lighting, based on the Warehouse District models that I have advocated previously. Above all, don’t use the tower lighting that INDOT loves at interchanges.
  • Decorative stop lights based on the Wholesale District design, as I’ve advocated previously. Even Noblesville is getting INDOT to install decorative street lamps at the I-69/Greeenfield Ave. interchange, so if INDOT uses standard mast arms here – or, the ultimate coup de grace for this interchange, stoplights dangling off wires – it would be a great disappointment.

I’m also not sold on the need for the Washington/Southeastern realignment. There’s a triangular plot of land in the southwest quadrant that would make a great pocket park. What’s more, there’s a neglected historical marker there showing the intersection of the National and Michigan Roads that should be restored and used as the centerpiece of the park. If the state really wants to realign Southeastern, it should do it through a parking lot to the east of the current proposal.

As for the Fletcher St. ramp, I see no reason to widen it.

The key objectives of these suggestions are:

  • Help bridge the gap between downtown and the east side across the huge freeway barrier.
  • Improve pedestrian and bicycle access/safety/friendliness along both the Washington and Market St. corridors.
  • Meet the original goal of implementing a project to make the road serve the neighborhood, not just cars and suburban commuters.
  • Dramatically improve aesthetics, while reinforcing an iconography for the city.

This is a $20 million project funded by earmarks. It would be unfortunate to see that money squandered on a project that has a good chance of ultimately being a failure due to a failure to consider the urban fabric of the city, not just automobiles. INDOT and the city should keep in mind why they want to tear down the Market St. ramp in the first place, and not just rebuild an even greater monstrosity one block to the south.

Topics: Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

13 Responses to “Market Street Ramp Project in Indianapolis, Part Two”

  1. CorrND says:

    Excellent points across the board. But mistakes aside, this is still going to be a vast improvement to the Market St. access to the near eastside.

    And not to say that they’re excused for making the interchange horribly unfriendly to pedestrians, but does it ultimately matter? Does anybody walk around this area of Washington St. now? Would they, if the off-ramp was only 2 lanes wide? Certainly not today. The RR tracks, the expressway, the jail — it all adds up to a 3 block dead zone that’s probably impossible to remake into a pedestrian-friendly environment.

    I need to drive over there at some point and snap some pictures of those great brick road beds on Pine before INDOT rips ’em up.

  2. CorrND says:

    The position has crystalized in my head since my first comment:

    I can understand criticism of the huge off-ramp if it were distrupting existing pedestrian traffic. I don’t think there’s much, if any, current pedestrian activity in the area.

    I can also understand criticism of the huge off-ramp if it would be a hindrance to future pedestrian traffic. Looking at the satellite shot of the area on google maps, there’s a triangular space bounded by 2 railroad tracks and the expressway, with Washington cutting through the middle and the jail occupying most of it. I just don’t see that EVER being a lively, pedestrian-dominated area.

    Therefore, I cannot get too up in arms about the off-ramp.

    But that TWLTL has got to go!!

  3. David says:

    Considering that the whole point of the project is to remove the freeway barrier between downtown and the eastside, what they’re doing keeps it just as bad. They might as well leave it the way it is rather than spend millions of dollars to move the problem one block south.

  4. Crocodileguy says:

    I’m honestly not too concerned about the 5-lane ramp either. all the pedestrians can use the other side of the street to cross in a more friendly manner, but sometimes a ramp needs to be made for getting downtown auto traffic out of there. The proposed ramp will certainly help with Pacers traffic.

    As for the bike lanes…why? Nobody bikes downtown.

    As for the TWLTL…again, what’s the big deal? I don’t see why it’s classified as “suburban” instead of urban just because it serves the function of left turns without blocking traffic flow–downtown Los Angeles even has a few!

  5. David says:

    Yeah, I don’t get why the TWLTL is a bad thing either. Perhaps someone can enlighten us.

  6. CorrND says:

    The TWLTL is a bad idea because it’s simply an unnecessary waste of the ROW. Isn’t the idea of a TWLTL to allow vehicles to turn left while allowing traffic on the other lanes to continue moving at (high) speed? When is there (a) going to be enough traffic on Market to warrant this or (b) be traffic moving fast enough that this matters? In fact, don’t we want them moving slowly in a downtown, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood that the city is trying to develop on Market?

    And now that I think about it, why is there going to be a great need for left-turns at all?! The only left turn not at an intersection should be one onto an alley, and there should only be one of those per block in Indy.

    I believe reason no one bikes downtown is because the roads don’t accomodate biking, not because people don’t want to.

  7. Crocodileguy says:

    TWLTL =/= high rate of speed. They just allow thru traffic to proceed unimpeded. And if there’s no need for a TWLTL there, then functionally it’s a median, which improves safety by separating oncoming traffic, adding more reaction time if someone starts crossing the center line, and reducing the amount of oncoming headlight glare.

    Also, I don’t believe the TWLTL is a waste of ROW since I’m pretty sure INDOT isn’t widening Market any in the conversion. Plus, if you look at the image, Market gets fairly narrow with some wide sidewalks in spots; can’t say I have a problem with that. Also, in the area with the largest TWLTL the rendering shows spaces for on-street parking with curb bumpouts, and those will surely keep traffic from traveling at a high rate of speed.

    Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but the place with the longer stretch of TWLTL is the part of Market where the condo project is going to go, right? Looks to me like INDOT is doing the unsual step of planning ahead instead of adding turn lanes haphazardly and post-development (*cough cough* Michigan Road).

  8. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    I would say that it is certainly valid to have a different goal for the project than I do. Fundamentally, that’s what I’m questioning: the goal, not the execution. It may be that some of you feel that the widest ramp anywhere in Indianapolis for the maximally efficient movement of suburban cars is the way to go. I happen to disagree.

    It’s true that the area around the new Washington St. interchange has little pedestrian or bike traffic today. But neither does the Market St. ramp area, which is similarly bleak. The idea of tearing the ramp down is to change that. Similarly, my idea is to change the Washington St. area and build better connectivity across the freeway rather than making the barrier even bigger than it already is.

    Ask yourself this: would a truly “world class city” do what this proposal suggests? Note that other cities are trying to do much more aggressive and radical things to make dramatic improvements along their freeway corridors.

    Consider also Carmel. The US 31 corridor doesn’t have a lot of pedestrian or bicycle traffic today, nor does Keystone. Both of these are thoroughly auto oriented routes. But the city is trying to change that with roundabout interchanges with narrow ROW and adding protected pedestrian crossings and other amenities. It’s a totally different vision from the Washington St. ramp.

    By all means make a choice, but with a rich awareness of other people’s choices and what this choice really means, namely an expansion of the auto-oriented nature and commuter focus/dependency of downtown.

    As for TWLTL, why would you need this unless you have lot of curb cuts in the middle of the block? Lots of curb cuts is a hallmark of suburban style development. The TWLWL also take ROW that could better be allocated to bike lanes, landscaping, or wider sidewalks.

  9. Crocodileguy says:

    Again, with the proposed condos on the old MSA footprint that haven’t been built yet, I think it’s smart to put in the TWLTL since they don’t know quite where the curb cuts will be. Also, if you really look at the image, on Washington St. there are stetches where there is a grassy median. Overall, there really isn’t very much TWLTL on either Washington or Market, and I think much ado is being made about very, very little.

    Also, I fail to see the point of putting in bike lanes that will last all of two blocks. The installation of those should be done on a more systematic level, or at the very least with a “bike corridor.” But putting in 2 blocks of bike lanes IMO is a far greater waste of space since no one will want to bike for just two blocks. As for wider sidewalks, yea, you can always make them even wider, but why make them so wide that they are out of character with those on surrounding blocks? Just to eliminate a TWLTL? Please.

    Also, the project still meets its goal of reducing the freeway barrier by providing a path under it. The current set up of ramps is much more hostile to pedestrians as well as impractical to current traffic patterns. Sports traffic is funneled onto Washington St., not Market, so moving the ramps makes sense.

    The one issue I’m surprised hasn’t even been touched on is why all the ramps are on the south side of Washington. One of the biggest problems with that area is going North from downtown after a Pacer game since left turns onto college are restricted due to the railroad and the one-way street east of the Fieldhouse is southbound, meaning that traffic either turns around on residential streets or has to all the way east to Rural. Improving access to the northbound feeway is important IMO.

  10. Anonymous says:

    This project is the silliest thing that I have ever seen. I have no problem with taking down the Market Street ramp, but why replace it. Would it hurt people to drive a few blocks to a different entry point. Why do we want to do this to ourselves. And people do bike and walk downtown from the eastside. There just are not throngs of them. But are there throngs of people or bicyclists anywhere downtown?

  11. Anonymous says:

    The new ramps at Washington will be a greater pedestrian impediment than is present today, far and away. Other issues aside, such as general condition of neighborhood, and lack of pedestrian signals ANYWHERE along Washington Street between East Street and State Avenue, I can assure you that I am safer from vehicle traffic, when walking along Wash or Market today, than I will be when the new ramps open. The tapering (radii?) of the curbs on either side of the ramps is ridiculously wide and simply can not co-exist with a pedestrian-friendly environment. The whole reason for wide corners is allow to cars to make faster turns, which inherently decreases pedestrian safety. Period.

    We can safely and efficiently accommodate BOTH cars and pedestrians. However, since it’s something that doesn’t appear to have been tried much in Indy for the past 50 years, it doesn’t appear it’s likely to happen without a push from some influential people.

  12. Crocodileguy says:

    Interesting picture of the Market Street design from the company involved with it. Looks much better than the previous renderings.

  13. Anonymous says:


The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

About the Urbanophile


Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

Full Bio


Please email before connecting with me on LinkedIn if we don't already know each other.



Copyright © 2006-2014 Urbanophile, LLC, All Rights Reserved - Click here for copyright information and disclosures