Friday, June 14th, 2013

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail Is the Next Generation in American Protected Bike Lanes

After my post on Wednesday I discovered yet another Streetfilm, this one focused exclusively on the incredible Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Clarence is churning them out faster than I can post ’em! This is a truly innovative, world-class project so until I finally churn out my own post on it, this will give you a great look.

One caveat. I think the title of the film (which I used for this post) is a misnomer that might throw you off. Bicyclists may look at this and see that it is really isn’t great for high speed bicycle commuting. That’s true. But this was never intended to be specifically a bike path. There were many other design goals. Keep in mind this is a downtown area with lots of traffic, the type of place that in a US city is typically populated with bike messengers or other experienced cyclists. One goal of the Trail was to create a facility that made average people feel safe enough to cycle downtown – including bringing their children. Look at the kids bicycling around downtown. It’s amazing. The unique design is also a safety reassurance mechanisms for fearful suburbanites or visitors so they will know a) they won’t end up in the ‘hood if they are on the Trail and b) they can’t get lost if they stay on the Trail. Additionally, the role of the Cultural Trail is to be not a bicycle superhighway, but rather a sort of modern day boulevard for the 21st century flâneur strolling between downtown cultural districts. Plus Indy isn’t New York City and just plain doesn’t have the volume of people to contend with.

I have much, much more to say on this. However, it will have to wait until I post a complete article on it, which I hope to do at some point.

If the video doesn’t display for you, click here.

The Citibike-Rabinowitz Affair also made the Colbert Robert. This segment frankly isn’t that funny, but since I’ve been posting videos about this, I thought I’d include this one for the sake of completeness. Again, New York manages to continue raking in the press on this. If the video doesn’t display for you, click here.

Topics: Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

11 Responses to “The Indianapolis Cultural Trail Is the Next Generation in American Protected Bike Lanes”

  1. Ziggy says:

    The thought occurs to me that downtown Indy’s over engineered, one way pairs designed to accommodate the city’s daily “rush minute” are a potentially vast untapped resource for expansion of protected lanes. No midwest city I know of has claimed the title of “Biketown USA,” but it certainly aligns with Indy’s long standing ambitions as the country’s amateur sports capital – and the accommodating terrain makes it especially appealing to a wide swath of potential future users.

    I used to hate downtown’s anti-pedestrian, over-scaled roadways. Now I see them for what they truly are… bike lane land banks.

    I beg forgiveness in advance from the city’s bike enthusiasts – they’re probably years ahead of me in this thinking.

  2. John Morris says:

    Just looking at it seems like a potential bike paradise. Cleveland’s wide underused streets have a similar feel, but Indy seems to take it to a new level.

  3. John Morris says:

    By the way, is the level of use shown in the video typical or have they filmed an event? A decent number of people seem to be using this.

  4. TJIndy says:

    The level of use is higher in this video than it usually is. Many of the scenes in the video were filmed on a day that was celebrating the “grand opening” of the Cultural Trail — so there were more people than usual using it. It depends where you are – but different parts get differing amounts of traffic on a typical day. The Alabama Street and Mass Ave sections seem to be quite busy much of the time. Areas over by White River State Park are also busy with people enjoying the park areas and also coming and going from the nearby canal area. The Washington Street segment goes right through the middle of downtown and is plenty busy during the work day – and also in the evenings as people use it to get to various downtown locations – or just to enjoy an afterwork ride around downtown. Particularly, with good weather, people are out using the corridors pretty frequently. The corridor going down to Fountain Square is fairly busy as well. It seems that area has been a biker hub for a while – and the bars, restaurants, and music clubs in that area seem to attract the biker kids. A few areas aren’t quite as busy – particularly up in the NW part of downtown. This could increase as more IUPUI students (which is located in this area) start using it to get to campus from the growing number of downtown apartments. A new bike share system will be starting next Spring on the Cultural Trail so that may further increase the “busy-ness” of the trail.

  5. @Ziggy,

    The problem is that those streets are really only present downtown. Believe it or not, the problem in Indy is not that streets are too wide, but that the ROW is too narrow. There isn’t room on the vast majority of Indy collector streets build anything like, say, a basic Chicago neighborhood street like Southport Ave. where you have generous sidewalks, parking, a bike lane, and two well-sized traffic lanes. There just isn’t the ROW outside of downtown itself. (Indy’s other problem is that virtually all of the ROW they do have is allocated to cars.

  6. John Morris says:

    It did seem like most of this was filmed during an event. The almost empty sidewalks and relative lack of cars don’t fit with the number of cyclists- at least outside The Netherlands or a few college campuses.

    This does seem like exactly the kind of thing the downtown might need- an asset that enhances daily life and convenience for residents and visitors.

    Why doesn’t Indy take these festival days further and have a Cyclovia around the downtown?

  7. John, that does look like pretty heavy utilization me vs. what I’m used to for Indy. However, there is a management agency for the Trail, so maybe some type of programming like that is in the works.

  8. John Morris says:

    The Cyclovia concept really is about shutting down major streets to car traffic and having all kinds of pedestrian activities- dance, cycling etc…

  9. Chris Barnett says:

    I was on the Mass Ave section for dinner toward the end of the celebration day. It was trail-centered, but the level of activity on was similar to any nice-weather weekend festival day. Lots of different kinds of people out and about.

    The activity level showed the importance of programming publc space. That is one of the overlooked parts of public placemaking following the PPS model: if you build it, they will come…when there is an interesting activity or event.

  10. Though I’ve never been sold on the squishy name for the Cultural Trail, by most other metrics it’s a resounding success. (Still waiting for the “Swarm Street” to work consistently–for more than a week. Ever. But that’s just an art installation and the Trail hardly depends on it.)

    Ziggy, I like your reference to Indy’s “over engineered one way pairs”–I’ve never heard a more apt description. While I hate to plug an article of mine on Aaron’s blog (and Aaron, you’re obviously more than entitled to shut me down if you don’t approve), but at least it’s a shared blog. At any rate, I wrote about those one-way pairs on Urban Indy because they routinely have created access “spurs” that expedite the flow of high-speed traffic into single-function dual streets. Many cities have them, and they typically render an entire block of urban real estate unusable. Indy has a couple doozies. Here’s the article: Piggybacking onto the engineering success of the Cultural Trail, it will be interesting to see how city leader tackle this other engineering imbroglio…if they ever do.

  11. John Morris says:


    At least to an outsider, your post seems excellent and in depth.

    I think we can judge these street designs by their fruits- or in this case the total lack of private interest in investing around them.

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