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Saturday, January 24th, 2009

I Almost Got Killed

It was last week when I was walking to work. I know, I know, strange concept, but bear with me. A woman and me were waiting to cross Delaware St. on the north side of the intersection with Maryland St. in downtown Indianapolis. The light turned, the walk signal came on, and we started to cross. Traffic came rocketing down Maryland and whipped it around the corner from dual left turn lanes at high speeds. The woman jumped and a car swerved to avoid her getting flattened. The car coming at me slammed on his brakes, at which point the driver stared at me with this look that said, “What are you doing in my lane.

People talk about building a transit culture in Indianapolis. Well, you can’t start building a transit culture until you have a walking culture. I continue to be amazed how even highly progressive hip urban types use their car for every trip. Multiple times I’ve had people drive me less than two blocks to a destination – crazy. Or maybe not. Clearly, walking on the streets of Indianapolis is neither safe nor pleasant. Until safety and quality of experience for pedestrians is radically improved, transit will never take off no matter how much money is spent on it.

Let’s take a look at some of what confronts pedestrians in Indianapolis today.

First, I am an avid runner. When I moved to my Fountain Square home, my first instinct was to use College Ave. as a jogging corridor. Here is what I discovered. Heading north, you come across a rail overpass with no sidewalk on the east side of the street:

Note the second rail overpass in the background. We’ll come to that shortly.

Not very safe here. So let’s cross to the west side of the street:

Ah, here’s a sidewalk – but note the tree growing in it. Fortunately it is now winter. But in the summer, that tree’s foliage renders the sidewalk unpassable.

Ok, we made it. Now we come to the next rail overpass just up the street at Washington.

Oops. Now no crossing on the west side of the street. So let’s cross back to the east.

Wait a minute. I can cross to the sidewalk on the far side – but I can’t continue north. So I’ve got to cross from west to east to cross Washington St., then go back to the west side to keep going north on College. Of course, when I do that, I find this blocking my path:

I’m very glad the contractors found the sidewalk such a useful place to put their sign warning motorists about upcoming construction. Clearly, College is not very good if you are on foot. Keep in mind, this is a very busy arterial street with lots of high speed traffic. Darting in and out of that traffic to navigate on foot is risky, no doubt.

So let’s deep six the College idea and try East St. instead. Here’s the east side crossing at Washington:

You might want to click to enlarge this one to see better. What we have are the ADA wheelchair ramps for the crosswalk, but no pedestrian signal or striping. You might be saying, “Ok, not great, but not that big a deal either”. Actually, it is. Because you see, there is actually not any point in the stoplight cycle when pedestrians can cross. There is perpetually a green light or arrow allowing cars to drive through. The wheelchair ramps are for a fake crosswalk that doesn’t actually exist. I hope no disabled people actually try to cross there. Or non-disabled people who don’t want to become disabled for that matter. Washington St. is seven lanes wide at this point, by the way.

Us downtown joggers are a hardy crew of urban adventurers. But I digress.

Back to my walk to work down Virginia. When you get to the expressway, here’s what confronts you:

The sidewalk is cut away to enable cars rocketing down Virginia to make that turn at high speeds without slowing down.

I talked before about all the little rituals that make a place what it is. In Indianapolis, one of the rituals you have to learn as a pedestrian is looking back over your shoulder just to make sure it is safe to keep walking down the same sidewalk you are on. This is Exhibit A of why. Here’s what that look back looks like

I took this shot standing in the wheelchair ramp. Imagine a child or someone in a wheelchair standing there. There’s no way those cars are going to see that person. Even a standing adult isn’t that visible until the car is almost upon you, a dangerous combination when paired with this high design speed turn.

Interestingly, this looks like a freeway on ramp, but it is not. It’s a connector street leading to the on ramp and comes to a stop sign only about 150 feet further on. That’s right. The road was designed for a very high speed turn that leads to a stop sign less than a block away. Nice.

So you might be saying right now, “Ok, Urbanophile. We get it. But come on. This was built in the 1970’s when we didn’t know any better. We’re not building things like this anymore.” Uh, actually, we are. Here is the currently under construction on ramp at Washington St., part of the city’s new $20 million “front door” of which it is so proud.

Not content with a mere six lanes of traffic on Washington, the designers kindly included a dedicated right turn lane with a high speed turn designed to channel rapidly traveling cars onto the freeway without them having to slow down. The building on the left is the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center. I’ve noted relatively high pedestrian traffic in the area (for Indy), and speculate that facility might generate significant pedestrian O&D traffic. Not safe.

Here’s a closeup of the curb that shows the incredible way it was designed to accommodate high speed car traffic.

Incredible. Also, gotta love those poles in the middle of the sidewalk too.

Ok, you might be saying, things might not have been thought completely true, but it wasn’t like anyone pointed this out in advance. Uh, actually, I did. You can read my evaluation of the project renderings, published in advance of the letting, that pointed out this and the many other problems with this project. It made absolutely no difference. People often ask me why I don’t write letters to the city or state with feedback on projects. But after a decade plus of doing that with not one change to show for it, I got tired of the exercise in futility.

Oh, and if I try to walk to work on the other side of Virginia, I’m confronted with another problem. Here’s the crosswalk at McCarty St.

Again, you might need to enlarge to see clearly, but while there’s a wheelchair ramp on the far side of the street, there’s not one on the near side, there is no marked crosswalk, and the far side wheelchair ramp – also useful for people with strollers, luggage, etc – points directly at a non-traversable raised median. Here’s a closeup of that.

Lest you wonder, there is a wheelchair ramp on the other side, but it is pointing out into space:

Given that this leads directly into the middle of the intersection, I sure hope no one actually tries to walk where thing thing points.

“Ok, ok,” you might be saying, “But surely we’re not doing that sort of thing today.”

Uh, actually, we are. Or at least something similar. Here’s a picture from another one of Indy’s showplace developments, Fall Creek Place:

What you see here is that the ramp crossings are offset to the left from the sidewalk. This means anyone, for example, pushing a stroller has to turn left when they get to the corner, cross the street, then turn right in order to get back to the main sidewalk. There’s a mini-detour built in to every single street crossing. Not very pedestrian friendly to put it mildly. Someone must be very enamored of this setup, however, since it appears to be an emerging quasi-standard. I notice it used by Lucas Oil Stadium too. Let’s hope someone changes their mind on this.

Fall Creek Place has several other design problems as well. For example, on the blocks of Alabama St. from 25th to 22nds, the designers thoughtfully decided to exclude any street lighting. That’s certainly not much encouragement for pedestrian or bicyclist to use that street after dark, especially considering that this is still an emerging neighborhood.

Speaking of bicycles, this development is not bike friendly either. Here’s a picture of College Ave. showing cars parked along it. While there is no marked bike lane, you can see that the dashes from the travel lanes mark out a pretty generous space for bikes. My friendly advice: if you want to ride north from downtown any distance, don’t risk getting mugged on the Monon. Take College. If you are only going up to 22nd or so, take Alabama.

Now let’s see what Delaware St. looks like in Fall Creek Place, a new, modern development.

Note here the bump-outs with trees in them, with marked parking spaces. This is supposed to be a traffic calming device. And indeed it does provide protection for people on the sidewalk who would otherwise be directly next to the street. It keeps drivers from using the parking lane as a travel lane if people aren’t parked there. However, there is no space for a bicycle, so cyclists are forced into the main travel lane. Delaware is a one way commuter arterial with synchronized traffic signals that moves large volumes of cars at very high speeds. More free advice: if you value your life, don’t ride a bicycle on Delaware if you can avoid it.

It’s pretty fitting that all of these are in a city known for a famous car race. Because moving cars quickly is the only value expressed by the design of its streets and roads. Lest you think I’m cherry picking bad examples, think again. I’d guess over half the mileage of arterial streets in Indianapolis don’t have sidewalks at all. All of my examples are from downtown or the urban core, so can be expected to have higher quality of pedestrian experience. Indeed, two of them are premier city developments that leaders point to with pride as an example of progress.

I realize that the longest journey begins with a step, and it is going to take a long time to improve the quality of experience in the city’s public spaces. Unfortunately, the city is still moving backwards. The first rule when you’re digging yourself into a hole: stop digging.

Fortunately, there’s a least one example where the city is getting right big time. That is the great Indy Cultural Trail project. This urban trail actually has separate auto, bike, and pedestrian lanes for much of its length. What’s more, on the stretch that has been completed on Alabama, a one way street, the trail designers actually included a red arrow cycle for turns off Alabama when the light is green for through traffic. This gives pedestrians and bikes a clear and safe period to cross the street where even turning traffic won’t interfere. Brilliant.

The challenge, as I’ve noted before, is that Indy has produced some absolutely, totally legitimate world class public spaces. The Cultural Trail, Monument Circle, and the Wholesale District stop lights all come to mind. But none of these are leveraged apart from the isolated location where they are first installed. Indeed, they are often left unmaintained to decay over time.

Let’s hope the Cultural Trail will be different, and that it will inspire the city to think differently about quality of space in its public places. Again, the mark of a great city isn’t in how it treats its special places, but its ordinary ones. If Indy ever hopes to create a downtown worthy of what it is, a transit system that is well used, and much more, it needs to start changing the game on pedestrian friendly design and other parts of its public space. I’ll be optimistic and hope that the Cultural Trail inspires us to do that. It’s an absolutely essential part of having a “safe and liveable” city.

In the meantime, if I stop blogging without explanation, you’ll know what happened.

36 Comments
Topics: Public Policy, Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

36 Responses to “I Almost Got Killed”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I feel your pain, Urbanophile. As a regular bike commuter from Irvington to Downtown (inbound via Michigan, outbound via New York) I always feel I am at risk where New York goes under a railroad overpass just east of LaSalle Street. Four lanes of traffic are funneled into two tight lanes, separated by concrete supports for the railroad overpass. Since they have still not done the bike lane striping west of Emerson (remember it was promised by mid-December?), I’m at a loss to understand how they are going to get a bike lane through there without restricting traffic down to one lane.

    My experience is that bicycle and motor vehicle traffic coexist pretty well in settings where the motor vehicle drivers do not feel they are being unduly impeded by bicyclists. This paradigm prevails along most of this route, but this particular location is a formula for disaster. It is the one spot on my commute where I am most frequently flipped off or otherwise disrespected or put at risk by motorists.

  2. Jeffrey says:

    You’ve done such a great job documenting theses examples that they deserve a wider audience. I’d encourage you to share the link with some of the political players (government, NGO, and otherwise); your city councilperson, maybe the Star and NUVO, etc. It might help create some ripple effects among those who need to address this from a public policy perspective.

  3. Richard McCoy says:

    Keep your head up, Urbanophile. We’d miss you if you were gone.

  4. thundermutt says:

    Anon, there are two very wide sidewalks under that bridge, two of the widest on the whole east side. They are not so overrun with people that you couldn’t jump up on the sidewalk at the junkyard’s curb cut and jump back off at Gale where NY widens back out. I suspect the bike lane will probably be routed onto the sidewalk there; was just thinking about that as I drove by on the way home from work Friday.

    Urbanophile, there is no doubt that the RR tracks and the Interstate play hell with pedestrian infrastructure on the south and east sides of downtown. College at Washington is especially bad. Where Virginia, Fletcher, and Calvary all converge on the interstate, it’s bad too.

    I think the FCP example probably has something to do with the bumpouts, street crowning, and stormwater runoff. (Today I think we might argue successfully to use that bricked-in section as a rain garden.)

    I walk a fair amount in the CBD and to its north, especially around the Mall, Government Center, Library and Methodist Hospital. Other than the sidewalks being adjacent to the curbs, there are not similar issues unless there’s an interstate ramp involved.

    Well, I guess there is one: crossing any two directions at the intersection of Delaware and 16th. Ugh. Both streets are slightly misaligned, so the crossing distances and angles are oddly long. That intersection needs islands similar to the ones at 22nd and Delaware and at 16th and Illinois.

  5. John M says:

    Anonymous, keep in mind that it is legal to ride on the sidewalks as long as you are maintaining a safe speed and have the required equipment. I try to avoid it, but I always hop on the sidewalk at the junkyard curb cut that Thundermutt noted and then back into the street at the next block.

    I went to the DPW open house last spring and specifically asked the engineer about that part of New York Street. He said that while it may not look like it, the underpass is just wide enough to accomodate two travel lanes and a bike lane. I’ll believe it when I see it, and still might take the sidewalk there when the lanes are done, but that’s the party line for now.

    The lanes are now done from Arlington to Ellenberger Parkway (although the signage is sparse and there are no bicycle stencils are on the pavement), so hopefully they will be complete by the time the weather improves.

  6. Ahow says:

    I certainly hope they fix up the Cultural Trail down toward Fletcher Place and Fountain Square. I lived there for 3 months before I figured out what the green stripe on the sidewalk was for.

    I wish all the railroad overpasses would just disappear. They create such a dividing line between Downtown and everything southeast on Virginia…

  7. RatherBeBiking says:

    Really thorough look at the conditions. Did you ever send this to streetsblog.org?

  8. Jefferey says:

    I’m a suprised at those older railroad viaduct pix. That grade elevation looks to be old enough to were there should have been some accomodation for the pedestrian via sidewalks.

  9. Donna says:

    Excellent analysis, Urbanophile, and one proof of thousands showing how often pedestrians have to face serious risk to maneuver the publicly-owned rights of way. I’m a big believer that as a democratic society the public means of movement MUST be accessible to those who do not own a vehicle. No one should have to buy into usage of the streets.

    This is a topic about which I get belligerent quick. My current pet peeve is the Children’s Museum construction, which totally blocks the west sidewalk on Meridian Street. I often see people scurrying in the traffic lane past the jersey barriers that have been helpfully placed to demarcate the edge of the traffic lane. What about walkers? For chrissake, it’s MERIDIAN Street – how can we put up with this?!

  10. The Urbanophile says:

    Thank you everyone for the comments.

    Donna, you are right that the list could go on and on. A surprisingly large number of people do not own cars in Indianapolis – most of them too poor to afford one. Given the poor state of public transit in the city, this means they are forced to walk lots of places by default – walks that are often not as safe as they should be.

    I have also noticed about Indy that it is common for construction projects to close sidewalks entirely. In other places, I’ve seen where there is a focus on providing a continuous pedestrian path next to construction sites.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I think it’s also typical of Indy to point to the Cultural Trail and say “See? We have bike paths and good sidewalks.” Except they provide no way to get to such places on foot/bike. I think perhaps it’s treated as a “destination” where you drive down there, park your car, then walk/bike around. Silly.

  12. Ahow says:

    Urbanophile said, “I have also noticed about Indy that it is common for construction projects to close sidewalks entirely. In other places, I’ve seen where there is a focus on providing a continuous pedestrian path next to construction sites.”

    On a positive note, I can give you an example where they made a walkway during construction. On a negative note, I can only give you one example.

    Over on Missouri/West St., they are working on the sidewalk underpass beneath the train bridge. They did put up concrete abutments to protect pedestrians.

  13. Anonymous says:

    No longer living in the Chicago area, eh? Welcome to Indy!!
    Could be worse, they could all be roundabouts. They don’t tell drivers to stop.

  14. Anonymous says:

    A favorite of mine is walking along the north side of St. Clair between MLK and Meridian. There’s a nice sidewalk that just randomly ends (it literally just turns into grass) in front of some business and then picks back up again. How on earth can that happen?

    Also, in the Marion county ‘burbs I enjoy all the pedestrian lights they put in without any sidewalks around there.

    This city can be maddening sometimes.

  15. Graeme says:

    I am sorry you had this unfortunate encounter downtown, but I am glad you were prompted to write a good article focusing on the issues. I agree with all that you had to say. Indianapolis planners really need to change their ideas of development, they are leaving us all a legacy of unusable spaces.

    I find it interesting that everyone can point out one or two examples of where the city “got it right”, but it seems the city planners refuse to learn the basic principles guiding good urban design and are unable to extend these successes to other projects. It has been a well established fact since at least the 1960’s that car-oriented “urban redevelopment” does not work. Why hasn’t Indianapolis changed its strategy?

    I’m going to suggest a more sinister reason for the downtown Indy experience. I believe that the city planners purposefully design all infrastructure in the area in a way that suits their own personal purposes. The planners have no interest in designing a useful urban environment because they despise being in the city. They have designed the downtown area specifically to funnel traffic from the core to other areas as quickly as possible, pedestrian mobility is a distant concern.

    I would even go so far as to suggest that they subliminally enjoy hearing about tales like your near-miss, or learning about the secondary problems like lower real estate prices or higher crime. It reinforces their views that the downtown core is not worth their attention.

    It seems I come across people all the time who are so convinced their own opinions are correct that they are willing to impede the progress of alternative ideas. That driver that almost ran you down wanted to let you know that your concept of an urban/walkable downtown was a fading dream, that his concept of a car-based Indy would succeed and you should know better by now.

  16. thundermutt says:

    Graeme, I don’t think it’s the planners. I’ve met and/or worked with quite a few of them over the years. When I read their staff reports I am always impressed with the detail and concern over things like sidewalks and pedestrian access.

    I think it’s the political appointees on the MDC. They ultimately make the planning and zoning decisions in Marion County on behalf of We The People.

    Anon: re St. Clair, I think you and Urbanophile have found the only two block-segments inside the “Inner Looop” that do not have sidewalks. For heaven’s sake, there are ALLEYS with sidewalks in places in the Mile Square (see: Wabash east of City Market, Hudson, etc.)

    I am reminded of Urbanophile’s comment about those of us who live here being hypercritical. Our city is not “terrible” for pedestrians merely because of one or two very small gaps in downtown sidewalk coverage. It is more about the sweeping radii and inattentiveness of drivers.

    It is not terrible for bicyclists because of high-speed arterials. For every busy arterial in the urban core, there are a half-dozen more side streets with calmer traffic that are more safely bikeable. But maybe commuting bikers want the same thing as commuting drivers: free flow, relatively unobstructed by traffic signals? Stop-and-start sucks worse on a bike than in a car. So the plan to put bike lanes on our arterial pairs makes a lot of sense.

    All in good time.

  17. Graeme says:

    I consider the MDC, the politicians, and all of the local government as “planners”. There are obviously some people in the system who know what they are doing.

    The bottom line is when you have lived somewhere else where the infrastructure supports a walkable environment and then try out Indy, the difference is amazing. Every square inch of available surface or right of way seems to have been surrendered to the automobile.

  18. Deuteronomy says:

    If it’s any consolation, Urbanophile, the sidewalk ramp format you excoriate in Fall Creek Place is being replicated on select intersections in the bastion of smug progressivism I currently call home, Cambridge MA. Perhaps it’s even worse here: the sidewalk ramps are offset on one side of the street, but then, when one crosses, the ramp on the other side doesn’t align at all. Instead, one has to walk further to one side or another, away from the straight-line destination in order to cross with a stroller. (This displaced ramp also frequently sacrifices an on-street parking space, or the cars simply block the ramp altogether in their zeal to park there.) In particularly egregious instances, the ramp doesn’t even appear on the other side of the street at all, except on the adjacent corner, meaning a person has to walk IN the street of one’s destination to pick up a ramp. I hope I explained this clearly.

    The main reason I’ve noticed this is because I’ve wheeled a suitcase down this path many times, and it is very inconvenient–often I just pick up the suitcase to save time from weaving around the ramps. As good as Cambridge often is at building ADA compliant corners, the location for them is often far more expedient for the contracted constrution team that it would be for the handicapped users.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Thundermutt and John M.,

    The sidewalk is a bad alternative for getting under the RR overpass east of LaSalle on NY. The low spot on the sidewalk’s where all the crap collects. Maybe when I’m riding my urban assault vehicle; but on a road bike, it’s a sure bet you’ll be repairing a flat by the time you get to Sherman Drive.

  20. Anonymous says:

    It is sad to think about the conditions in and around the downtown area. I rode my bike from my parents house around 80th all the way downtown to just look around at all the new construction. I remember specifically the sidewalk along Virginia Ave and the overpass. I had to pull my bike off the sidewalk and stand on the street to let a family pass with a baby stroller. Wasn’t fun.

  21. E. says:

    This so-called problem isn't limited to Indianapolis mind you. However, in my experience if you're a decent & aware bike rider/pedestrian you'll encounter few if any troubles.

    In the entire time i've riden my bike (which has been alot) whether it be in the far northside (86th Street Corridor), Broad Ripple or downtown i have never ever been honked at or driven off of the road.

    Perhaps it's luck? Or perhaps it's not really as bad as people percieve it to be? Just my two cents.

  22. The Urbanophile says:

    anon 10:53 – I split my time about 50/50 between Indy and Chicago these days.

    Graeme – I don’t believe that our planners purposefully do this stuff. In fact, I’ll defend the engineers who are basically just doing what their manuals tell them. The real problem is, frankly, that the community doesn’t value quality of space and there’s only limited leadership in the community that’s willing to burn up capital in order to make the case that we need to create it to show a community of people who largely have no experience with anything other than the status quo what the possibilities are.

    However, it is very clear that there is a huge belief that it must be kept extremely easy, convenient, and cheap for people to drive downtown and park downtown. I think this is a legacy of the days when downtown was dead and didn’t have the attractions it had today. We just saw last week in the ICVA branding a sea change in how Indy presents itself. There’s no more apologizing for what the city is. Similarly, I think we’re getting to the point where downtown is selling a product that has enough intrinsic appeal that people won’t stay away just because it took them 2 minutes longer to get there than it used to. Downtown doesn’t have to beg for major restaurants to come. Those restaurants no downtown Indy is a hugely profitably place to plant their flag. Downtown doesn’t have to walk around with a tin cup anymore begging for people to visit. People want to come. Downtown is in demand. It’s got a product that can stand on its two feet. I think that’s a huge accomplishment and something a number of other cities can’t quite claim. But the perception hasn’t caught up yet.

    E. I must say, I generally find biking around Indy pretty easy – but that’s because of the generally light traffic in the city. Even a major street like College is excellent for biking most of the time. Of course, lock your bike up to whatever you can find when you get where you are going.

  23. Idyllic Indy says:

    Urbanophile, I’d say this is your best post to date.

    It seems that aside from the Cultural Trail (paid for mostly with private funding, I believe), the City does all of its projects as cheaply as possible. Being prudent spenders, especially from the taxpayers’ purse, is obviously important. But more so is the need to actually get a benefit from a project which is commensurate with the expense. When you build sidewalks, ramps, wide sweeping intersections, etc, as you’ve shown, you really aren’t getting your money’s worth.

    Another example, and one that I think is relevant to your FCP photos is that the City continues to build sidewalks right next to the curb, even when there’s a traffic lane right next to the curb and there’s public right-of-way available behind the sidewalk. Why? It’s cheaper than doing a survey and drawing up plans? Why else? Perhaps, because as someone else touched upon, the people designing our pedestrian environment don’t walk anywhere? I can’t say that for sure, but it would seem that if they did walk on their own sidewalks, they’d quickly realize that some changes are in order. It reminds me of the oft-stated opinion that IndyGo is viewed and operated as a social service for the poor as an option of last resort. Are sidewalks viewed the same way?

    It might be worth noting that the Department of Public Works designs and build sidewalks, not the Planning Department. I think the Planning Department is mostly involved with land use issues, and their input on those matters is mostly based upon the adopted comprehensive plans which predominantly focus on limiting development density, rather than focusing on streetscapes, pedestrian infrastructure, or other elements of urban design.

  24. The Urbanophile says:

    idyllic, thanks for the compliment. You may recall from my pecha kucha presentation that one of my suggestions was to put a parkway (grass buffer or “utility strip” in Indiana parlance) between the street and the sidewalk instead of between the sidewalk and the building. I don’t know where the ROW line is, but on arterial streets, it can’t be right on the edge of the sidewalk. What’s more, when you look at the number of variances and such required to build such developments as say Firehouse Square, the city easily could have required the developer to do this as part of the project.

    Regarding the soft turning radii and such, clearly this actually costs MORE money in extra concrete for turn lanes, extra ROW, etc. I’m confident I could have dramatically improved the Market St. ramp project and kept it within the budget.

    As for Fall Creek Place, it sure looks pretty. It’s only when you try to use it that you see the problems. I think that probably does illustrate that the designers don’t actually walk or bike much themselves.

    Of course, again, is that their fault? If you had a choice, why would you? It’s a chicken and egg thing. People don’t walk because we have a poor pedestrian experience, but we have a poor pedestrian experience because people don’t walk. (As someone pointed out previously, it is the same for transit. No one with a choice rides Indygo because the service is poor, but no one will invest in service to make it better because no one rides).

    This is why it takes leadership with clout to stand up and make the case for change – to break out of the vicious circle. The Cultural Trail is happening because Brian Payne invested enormous amounts of time and personal capital into the project, for example. And thank goodness he did.

    Ironically, right now, the suburbs are running rings around the central city in terms of upgrading their quality of pedestrian experience. Arguably if you want to live in a urban, pedestrians oriented neighborhood you might choose a place like downtown Noblesville or the Carmel Arts and Design District.

  25. Anonymous says:

    “In fact, I’ll defend the engineers who are basically just doing what their manuals tell them.”

    Sorry but if these are “professional” engineers, they know that the crappy standards in their manuals are just that, crap. They need to get with the program. My guess is that it will take a big fat lawsuit or the threat of one from people with disabilities over the conditions of the sidewalks and lack there of to force a change.

  26. Donna says:

    In first year architecture school, the first time the design project required laying out a parking lot, I clearly remember the professor excoriating our entire class for how dumbly we had “designed” our parking by saying “Have any of you ever actually parked a car? Could you make your car turn with *that* radius into a space?!” It was an embarrassing and unforgettable lesson.

    When I teach now, I have the students show me on a site plan how a person would walk from off-site onto the site, through the site, and into the building on a delineated continuous path. These are 18 year olds I’m teaching – a practicing professional should already have this very basic element of public movement ingrained in their work.

    I’m not willing to accept that professionals – planners, permit reviewers, landscape architects, architects, traffic engineers, whatever – can’t look at each project on our city’s streets and trace the path of a pedestrian to make sure it is a clear, continuous path that works with the adjacent streets and sidewalks. Those sidewalks that just abruptly end in grass – and I’ve seen them all over many cities, not only here – are the fault, the mistake, of SOMEBODY. When the work is done for a developer, then we can blame whoever did the site planning – architect/landscape architect/civil engineer – we can even blame all three – for not fulfilling a very basic requirement of their professional training.

    Like I said, I get angry quickly around this topic. There is no excuse for bad pedestrian paths.

  27. The Urbanophile says:

    Donna, anon, I agree, people can and should plan for better pedestrian paths.

    But consider this: the same company that designed the poor Washington St. interchange also designed the very nice Carmel roundabout interchanges. Something else is clearly at work.

    I’ve met many local engineers and planners over the years – good guys every one. Not one of them stupid or malicious. Definitely not out to hurt the community, but to better it. They live here too, after all.

    It’s always tempting to externalize our problems onto someone else, onto some “Other” that we can blame. The reality is usually closer to home.

    Change only occurs in a society because of public demand, great leadership, or some combination of the two. In Indy’s case, I don’t expect any large uptick in public demand because too few people in Indy have enough experience with anything better to step up and say, “I want that”. That’s why we need leadership to step up. It’s like the iPod. Nobody knew they needed an iPod until Steve Jobs gave them one. Now everybody wants one. Who knew Indianapolis needed a stunningly great airport until the city gave them one? Now lots of people do.

    The cities that find the leadership to create the things they need to position themselves for the future are going to be the ones who succeed above and beyond their peers.

    Unlike most Midwest cities, I think Indy is only a few dial tweaks away from being able to kick it up into another gear. However, quality of space, pedestrian friendliness, and transit are among the dials that need the biggest turns.

    Ironically, those are among the easiest to fix. They can be fixed with mere money, something the big structural problems elsewhere can’t be. I realize the city is broke – the latest DPW report is scary – but where we do find the money to do something, let’s make sure we do it right. Again, it’s a long journey, but we’ll never get there if we don’t take the first step.

  28. thundermutt says:

    Some of the detriment of those sweeping turn lanes at the I-65/70-Washington off-ramp could have been erased by providing a small respite island between the right-turn and straight-ahead lanes, and likewise with the straight-ahead and left-turn. A similar island could have been placed in between the lanes of Southeastern.

    In fact, that’s a generally applicable solution: provide median respites where those fast sweepers have to be constructed (IF they must). Then the pedestrian can focus on one oncoming threat at a time.

    For a good example, cross West St. on the north side of Washington from the State Government complex to the Museum complex: a long crossing broken into manageable pieces.

  29. Anonymous says:

    “But consider this: the same company that designed the poor Washington St. interchange also designed the very nice Carmel roundabout interchanges. Something else is clearly at work.”

    Political contributions, in both directions for Carmel. More one direction for Indy.

  30. Anonymous says:

    I spent last summer as an intern in Indy and did a lot of biking up and down Virginia Ave, and know what you mean by always have to look over your shoulder, jump curbs, and veer out into traffic. The importance of the issue did hit home, however, until I started having lunch with a disabled attorney at my work. I think if everyone in Indy tried just once to get from their office to lunch in in a wheelchair maybe more money and attention would be directed at this issue.

  31. Anonymous says:

    “I’ve met many local engineers and planners over the years – good guys every one. Not one of them stupid or malicious. Definitely not out to hurt the community, but to better it. They live here too, after all.”

    Come on, this is a cop-out for these people. I get your point that many of these people aren’t in a position to push major changes in policy. But there also not hamsters in a wheel running until some one forces them to stop. They’re well aware of the inadequacies of their design standards (or should be if they’re professionals). What would it take for them to say to their boss – “hey, we should look at updating the standards from circa 1960 to modern standards”. Are we supposed to believe that these people are so neutered or blindered in their positions that they can’t even suggest upgrading their own standards? Sorry, I don’t buy that.

  32. Anonymous says:

    anon, get a mortgage and a kid or two in college. After that happens to you, even appearing to rock the boat is a lot less attractive.

  33. Graeme says:

    Urbanophile, I simply don’t understand why you would try to lay the fault of poor design at the feet of the pedestrians, so to speak. Citizens don’t have the necessary language to even articulate what their needs are, and certainly don’t have the tools to fix the problem. If they did, then there doesn’t seem to be a mechanism for them to do anything about it, as you yourself have noted.

    Moreover, any engineer has a professional obligation to build safe, sustainable structures. It is absolutely their responsibility to raise red flags when their judgment is overruled. See the ASCE Code of Ethics Canon 1, esp. parts A,B, & C.

    If you know engineers who are aware of their duties and not fulfilling them, then please encourage them to take their responsibilities seriously or think about a new career.

    Engineers and planners have to design the urban environment to serve every user. Just because an able bodied young man can ride their bike downtown, doesn't mean that every person has the same access to mobility.

  34. thundermutt says:

    Winter in Indianapolis always reminds me why sidewalks next to the curb on arterial streets is a really bad idea:

    A snowplow truck throws slush/snow about six feet to the right of its blade, right over the sidewalk that a diligent propertyowner has just cleared. And just try to shovel or blow the re-frozen goo that comes off that plow blade.

  35. Anonymous says:

    recently Marc Schrenker’s Lexus has been cruising these streets, driverless, searching for viande à pneus.

  36. columbus-ite.com says:

    I came across this looking for info on ADA wheelchair ramps in Columbus for a blog entry. While numerous urban neighborhoods here have slower streets and are wheelchair accessible, our downtown streets merely serve as mini-highways to get from one of the highways encircling Downtown to another, probably the same in Indy (which I still have to visit, as people tend to compare us as sister cities of sorts).

    Getting around Downtown for a pedestrian, particularly when crossing a highway to enter Downtown (you have to since the highway serves as a modern-day moat), it is a hassle. On 35MPH streets Downtown (nearly all), especially during rush-hour, you have to keep your eyes peeled for suburbanites roaring to get on the highway ASAP for their daily commute. The city has tried to remedy the problem by installing several signs for pedestrians crossing the streets to “watch for turning traffic) instead of spending the money to traffic calm streets so that those signs aren’t really necessary.

    One huge offender for wheelchair-accessibility would be Clintonville, the so-called liberal, hippie-ish neighborhood farthest north of Downtown. High St., the main street, has several wide lanes of traffic, sporadic traffic lights, 35MPH or faster traffic. Guess where several ramps are since the city has adopted a policy to include wheelchair ramps at all intersections where there is a sidewalk? Many of these are, of course, far from any traffic light and where there are curb bump outs, they are not for wheelchair use. So basically, the city has wasted lots of money on installing these where no one would dare cross. The city should be lowering the speed limit while including bump outs on both sides of a road with wheelchair-ramp crossing to shorten the distance for pedestrians, especially any that are getting around by wheelchair.

    As for biking, as a car-less individual in Columbus who commutes from the Peach District (2 miles north) to Downtown, the bump outs are great for cyclists. However, you have to be riding properly in the middle of the lane (objectively the safest way to ride). This is where signage advising cyclists to ride in the middle of the lane or to “take the lane” would come in handy, particularly when so many (over here at least) ride as though there is a bike lane and without a helmet or lights if it’s nighttime, opening them up to getting doored, a car pulling out from an intersection obstructed by parked cars, etc. Phew, we’ve both got a long way to go .

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