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.