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.