Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Indianapolis Cultural Trail

The first segment of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail is only a month away from opening. This project, a 7.5 mile, $50 million urban trail circling downtown and linking major cultural districts, is sui generis. There is nothing like it anywhere I’m aware of. I don’t expect it to stay that way for long as I look for many cities to imitate it. This trail involves creating a special biking trail, usually with separate pedestrian paths, special signage, lighting and public art. In several places lanes of the streets will actually be taken away to make room for it.

This is an absolutely amazing, first class project. It is perhaps the most exciting thing going on in Indy and is an example of something local that is truly world class. Any city would want to have this thing there. I don’t think it is any accident that this was conceived by the grass roots and wasn’t a top down initiative driven by the city’s elite and developers. Brian Payne of the Central Indiana Community Foundation is surely no outsider, but he’s not one of the usual suspects you see driving major downtown projects. Perhaps most impressively, this project uses basically no local tax dollars. It is being funded almost entirely by private donations and federal transportation enhancement funds.

The first segment under construction is the east leg along Alabama St. Here are some pictures and comments.

This is the northern most section along Alabama. This is one section that features a shared bike/pedestrian segment. A few things to note. One is the use of hexagonal pavers. This is the one element of the trail I don’t like. They remind me of a bad 70’s design and I think they’ll date quickly. However, I like the detailing in the design they used. Note the contrasting colors on the edges and horizontal bands, plus the paved centerline. You’ll also note the plentiful street lighting using a signature light standard. The value of the close spacing on these standards cannot be overstated.

Speaking of lights, here is a closeup of one of the standards. I like it. It is simple, clean, modern, and masculine. It is also human scaled. Now I’ll admit it doesn’t scream “holy cow, that’s a super-cool design”. But I think it is very solid. Keep in mind, the trail designers could have used antique gas lamp replicas. Kudos to them for resisting the urge. The jury is out on how these will age, but I’m provisionally positive on that point. (See Jason’s take for a different point of view – and to take a poll on them).

Now I’ve been arguing that Indianapolis needs to develop a unique visual identity. By including yet another light standard design, this project doesn’t advance the ball on that front. However, the Wholesale District lights I like so much are definitely too overwhelming for the trail. It is probably good for the city to have both a signature “mainline” street light and a signature smaller scale street light. This trail light could conceivably be that smaller standard. Or it could just remain a marker for the trail itself. That’s a debate worth having.

A circular landing, trailhead or whatever you want to call it where the trail intersects Mass Ave. I like the use of the circle motif, the interior crossing arcs, and the use of square pavers. The larger stone outer circle provides definition. Very attractive.

Here we see a segment where the trail includes both a traditional pedestrian sidewalk section as well as a biking path. The pedestrian-only sections use larger light blue square and rectangular pavers that I think are one of the nicest attributes of the trail. As you can see, this fronts the building directly, so it really is just a sidewalk, making the trail proper a bike only path.

Here’s one last shot, showing everything together. Note how the arcs in the landing provide visual cues to the biking section of the trail. As Borat might say, very nice.

I can’t wait to see the rest of this thing built out. Even though technically under construction, I already see people biking on it. I am predicting this is a grand slam home run for the city. It is already paying positive dividends in press attention, which I expect to increase after it is operational. Everyone associated with this project is to be congratulated. Now the only things to do is finish it, and make sure that the development along it helps the trail realize its potential as an urban development tool and linkage between the downtown subdistricts. Stay tuned.

Topics: Architecture and Design, Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

7 Responses to “Indianapolis Cultural Trail”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I hope this project spurs more development DT.

  2. CorrND says:

    Nice write-up. I’m not crazy about the lights but they seem pretty benign. If they planned ahead, maybe the top could be easily refit with a different fixture if they don’t age well. As Jason said, though, I’d really like to see them lit up to make a final decision.

    Your problem with the hexagonal pavers is curious to me. I don’t have the slightest problem with them. To each his own.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I am so excited about the cultural trail that it borders on pathetic. I rode back and forth on the completed section last weekend a few times just to try it out! I live in Fletcher Place, so I am eagerly anticipating the stretch leading to Fountain Square.

  4. indyjrob says:

    On the lighting… we have a tradition of retro design (see our two major sports venues – Lucal Oil Stadium and Conseco Fieldhouse). One side of my brain is bothered that we don’t carry that tradition through the trail. The other side is celebrating the use of clean, modern design in the lighting. In terms of spuring downtown development… open your eyes! Development is running wild with a new stadium, expanded convention center and our largest downtown hotel all in the works. The Cultural Trail is the icing on the cake and I can’t wait for all of these pieces to come together. These additions will made downtown head and shoulders above competing midwest cities (with Chicago as the exception). We need to praise our civic leaders for getting thing done.

  5. John says:

    How is the trail controlled at intrsections? Do bikes go on the green light across the enlarged crosswalk just like a pedestrian would or do they get their own signal phase? If the former, I would have some concerns about placing bikes in the path of right turning cars. The difference between treating bikes and peds this way is the speed of bikes. It makes it hard for a driver to see a cyclist approaching on the path from the rear.

  6. The Urbanophile says:

    The signals use red arrows on normal green cycles to hold up turning cars to allow bikes and pedestrians to pass. IIRC bikes use the pedestrian crossing signal. There is literally no auto ROW through the intersection at this time.

  7. John says:

    That sounds good. I would expect a trail around the city to add a lot of value to properties near the trail.

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