Quick Impressions of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail

For a thorough description of the trail, please see Ken Avidor’s great article here. I was visiting just for a few hours on my drive home from Washington D.C. My brief ride around, however, left a very strong impression.

The first thing I noticed was that Indianapolis has a lot of wide one-way streets. This street is Pennsylvania, which has 4 driving lanes and 2 parking lanes, though there weren’t many cars parked at all. It looks like it’s about 60′ from curb to curb, with sidewalks at about 15′. We were having dinner on the sidewalk, where the restaurant’s tables and chairs probably took up 10′ of space and left 5′ for pedestrians.

Even streets without bike lanes or the Cultural Trail had some bike parking. This design appeared to be an easy addition to already-existing parking meter poles.

It was not hard to find the cultural trail when I was initially driving around. People were using it, and it is clearly marked.

The first thing I noticed on the trail was the sponsorship – “A Legacy of Gene & Marilyn Glick.” Nearly half the money for this trail was private donations ($27.5m), while the other half came from the federal government ($35.5m). You can also see the impressive crossing paint, including symbols to show which type of street users should use this crossing. It also seems to indicate that cyclists should be on the outside with pedestrians in the middle, but people have to be paying attention to that detail to get it.

Above the separation of use was much clearer, and it wasn’t immediately obvious to me why they had different separation markings in different places.

At this small crossing I wonder why they didn’t put the pedestrian markers on the left. As it is painted, the cyclists don’t have a ramp onto or off of the intersection for the portion it appears they are supposed to use. I’m all for pedestrian safety being first, but it seems like things could have been more systematic.

Here’s a closeup of the pavement markings in the intersection. At first I thought the color was embedded rather than just painted on the surface, but it was clear that it had faded in several locations. I’d like to learn more about how it was applied. I still don’t understand why we aren’t using dyed pavement as is done in other countries.

In less pedestrian-heavy locations, there appeared to be one multi-use path with different colored pavers to mark the two lanes. I wondered if Jackson Street in Saint Paul could have been a MUP given the small amount of pedestrian traffic I see there.

I encountered this wayfinding sign when I lost the trail at North and Pennsylvania. It looks like it’s had some rust or other kind of wear after just a short period of time. At the time I couldn’t figure out the colors (I’m color-blind) well enough to see that the trail continued in the American Legion Mall. Instead I saw the crosswalk markings sort of disappear on the other side of the intersection, where there was a bike lane.

Where do I go from here? It was the right place for a wayfinding sign. I just wasn’t bright enough to figure it out with my poor color vision.

Just for the moment I was sitting there, a cyclist was using this lane. Not far away was the actual Cultural Trail, but this was still getting use on a Thursday evening. I was surprised, though, since this was another one-way street, and the cyclist appeared to be going the wrong direction.

Upon closer inspection I noticed that the bike symbol was indeed painted in the direction of traffic, but there were blue lines painted down the middle of the space. They didn’t evenly divide the bike lane, but if the buffer is included it basically divided the bikeable space in half. Also it was interesting to note the scarcity of bollards on this buffered bike lane. Maybe they are only placed closer to the intersection to keep cars from entering the bike lane during turns.

After seeing the bicycle stoplights in Saint Paul on Jackson Street, I noticed these simple signs along the Cultural Trail. Is there a serious need to have separate signals for pedestrians and bicyclists along the Saint Paul Capital City Bikeway? If not it seems like we could save some money by sticking to a simpler system.

On a portion of the Cultural Trail near the university, I was able to observe some of Indianapolis’s “Skywalk” (it doesn’t appear on this map, however: downtown-indy-skywalk-map).

I think I was most impressed, however, with “Monument Circle” in the middle of downtown. This was a wonderful pedestrian environment.

In the center is an enormous statue and fountain in honor of the Civil War and previous wars. On and around this statue/fountain is a large pedestrian-only space, but as you can see from the images, the street-level space is only separated by large concrete barriers. It seemed to me that keeping the pedestrian space and the driving space the same material helps to calm the drivers. It was clear where the cars were restricted, but it was not as clear where the pedestrians were restricted. This image makes the driving space seem quite large, but it just didn’t feel that way when I was walking there with my children. It might also have been the fact that the streets and sidewalks were filled with people on a Thursday evening.

Questions for Saint Paul

– Have we even begun to explore private funding for our Capital City Bikeway?
– Do we need to have separate pedestrian and cycling space for every leg of the loop?
– Is it helpful or necessary to have cycle-dedicated traffic lights?
– Will we have other protected bike lanes within downtown to complement the trail?
– Have we made the economic development case to downtown businesses and the entire city regarding this project?

There’s no reason our downtown needs to remain as car-dominated as it is today. The streets of Indianapolis were alive, and there were new restaurants and businesses all over the place. Downtown movie theater? Check! Our downtown, by comparison, is both much smaller and much less active.

My understanding is that the rest of Indianapolis is not a wonder to see, but a vibrant and accessible downtown makes a huge difference in the quality of the city for all its residents and visitors alike.
Eric Saathoff

About Eric Saathoff

Eric Saathoff is a public school teacher living in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul. He is a regular walker, cyclist, transit user, and driver with his wife and three young children. Eric serves on the Payne-Phalen Community Council and the St Paul Transportation Committee.

7 thoughts on “Quick Impressions of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail

  1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Not that I have anything against massive temporary architecture, but meanwhile, Saint Paul is raising $15M from corporations (supposedly…) for an ice palace that will melt in a month, useful only as a giant billboard for Saint Paul pride. If we raised money for permanent downtown amenities like the Capital City Bikeway, that would transform walkability, bicycling, and connect the different parts of downtown with the surrounding neighborhoods, it would offer a lifetime of economic, health, and social benefits.

    Instead we’re going to fund a large future puddle. Thanks to climate change, we’ll be lucky if the whole thing doesn’t melt before it’s built!

    1. Paul Nelson

      I am not sure we will get that much climate caused warming yet to melt the ice, but the cost and purpose issue you describe, sounds very reasonable to me. Ice palaces are nice, but the bicycle/walk infra for Saint Paul is not yet complete.

      1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

        I am thinking of the difficulty they have had with the “Crashed Ice” course and the Winter Carnival ice carving etc. Don’t you need X feet of ice on a lake to ship all the ice blocks to the castle in the first place? Good luck to ’em I guess.

  2. Paul Nelson

    “– Do we need to have separate pedestrian and cycling space for every leg of the loop?”

    I would say yes, and for most applications, absolutely. Bike and walk move at different speeds. We have far too much “MUP” in this region, and the term MUP is actually supported by so named engineering design standards. There are no single composed design standards for separating walk from bike. Separating walk from bike is almost completely subjective and discretionary without supportive design standards except designated standard widths for both walk and bike individually.

    – Is it helpful or necessary to have cycle-dedicated traffic lights?”

    Yes. This is how it is done in the Netherlands, Denmark and elsewhere and it works well. We would not really save much money with a simpler system in implementation and operation. Greater separation of modes with present of cars, and lights that indicate where each should be when, is more than helpful for safety and movement.

    1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff Post author

      I admit I asked these two questions not because I don’t want those elements to be present but because of my frustration that we can’t get to this built out sooner.
      I’d like to think some cost reductions could help it move forward, and the way it was laid out in Indy seemed to be working.

    1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff Post author

      I read you were moving and thought you were nuts. Now that I’ve visited I’m happy for you. I look forward to the day when we St. Paul catches up.

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