The past few weeks have been exciting regarding the completion of a short portion of the Cultural Trail along Washington Street in downtown Indianapolis. The reason for the excitement, was the expedited method with which construction was completed at the apparent request of the Conrad hotel. Many local talking heads have discussed the issue here as well as the Skyscraper City Indianapolis Development forum. Some local property managers and owners whom have been affected have even weighed in on the issue which highlights just how touchy people have become about this portion of trail. Not only that, the fashion in which portions of the SE leg into Fountain Square have been delayed have reached the local mass media at WTHR, WISH TV8 & IBJ all last week.
At it’s core, the argument seems to be a large group of people who see the trail as an urban amenity that should be given full right of way to operate how a trail of this nature should; that being pedestrians and cyclists getting full priority on the trail. On the other hand, it appears that the Conrad has brought a big stick to this fight and wants to retain valet parking rights in front of it’s hotel on Washington Street, and on the trail itself. Indeed, last week as the trail was completed directly adjacent to their front door, they began taking full advantage of the opportunity to park on it. You can see in the two pictures that I have posted in this column indicating the valet’s apparent lack of regard for the existing sidewalk itself as well as the vehicles parked in what would be a blocking manner, if the trail were fully open for business.
I have contacted the DPW on this matter, and according to Director of Communications Molly Deuberry,
”Here is the city’s statement/position on the Cultural Trail and the Conrad. The Trail is not open yet and we are working with the Conrad to finalize details on what the operation of the Trail will look like…. cars are permitted in the pavers right now and after a final plan is agreed on, that will dictate how operations proceed after the trail is open.”
It seems all the huffing and puffing going on right now between folks for full cycle and pedestrian rights and the apparent actions being taken by the Conrad are still up for debate. It should be interesting to see how this resolves itself once the Central Corridor is completed. For now, we continue to watch and wait.
The Cultural Trail is moving full speed ahead in the Fountain Sqaure area. I had a rare opportunity to witness some daytime infrastructure work in the city yesterday and snapped some pictures. If the pace of progress in this area is any indication of how quickly it will be finished, shop owners should not have anywhere near the level of headache that businesses on the East End of Mass Ave had when the trail was being constructed there over the past two years. I will dispense with the words, and leave you with some photos. One final thought, it was sad to see the old streetcar tracks being exposed by this demolition work. It is a shame that there isn’t a project actively moving forward that would restore these to Indianapolis’ streets.
Indiana House Bill 1354 was read on January 18th 2011. The bill as proposed would require INDOT to include “complete streets” guidelines into INDOT’s approved design manual. A summary of the bill, along with it’s travel through the legislature, can be read here.
When I first read about this, I pumped my fist in the air. Finally, someone has gotten to the lawmakers and a plan is in place to start moving forward in a progressive fashion. However, upon further examination, it appears that there may be a gaping loophole in the middle of the bill. There are stipulations that allow INDOT to wave complete streets policies in the event of:
- (1) pedestrian or other nonmotorized usage is prohibited by law on the highway, street, or other roadway that is the subject of the project or part of a project;
- (2) the cost of incorporating complete streets guidelines for the project or part of the project is excessively disproportionate to the benefits, as determined by the department; or
- (3) there is a demonstrated lack of present or future need for complete streets for the project or part of the project.
It is the 2nd bulletpoint which worries me the most. There is no criteria for justifying whether or not a project is excessively disproportionate to the benefits. If we leave it up to INDOT, history has shown that ALL complete streets guidelines are disproportionate to the benefit, or else they would already be included. Now, there are times when it may be hugely prohibitive to include items that may make pedestrian life simpler. If that is the case, a robust justification should be given by INDOT. However, the bill should carry with it some guideline for justifying this instead of leaving it up to the existing highway department. If that is the case, then it is the opinion of this writer, that we will be no closer to complete streets in Indiana, then we are today.
If you feel the same, I urge you to contact your state representative today and voice your concerns. It probably wouldn’t hurt to contact Nancy Dembowski (D) 17th District.
If you follow this website, you undoubtedly are familiar with the term “complete streets”. Complete streets is a term that refers to a total consideration of the transportation cross section when planning a new infrastructure related project. Put more eloquently, “Complete streets are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities must be able to safely move along and across a complete street.” For more information on this topic, visit www.completestreets.org.
It is with this concept, that we bring the next post to you. The Harmoni neighborhood group, located in Midtown Indianapolis, has been working behind the scenes to improve Indianapolis’ neighborhoods using the complete streets approach. As you can imagine, this type of work costs money. They have worked hard to secure local funding to be able to provide as a match for federal funding, to start up some of these projects.
The newest project, is centered around the intersection of Meridian Street and Westfield Blvd. Meridian is a very busy north/south commuter artery during the morning and afternoon and as such, cars normally move at excessive and dangerous, speeds. The Harmoni group has for a couple years now, been lobbying for a solution to trouble presented by the presence of rapidly moving automobiles.
Enter, the Indianapolis MPO. If you are not familiar, an MPO (metropolitan planning organization) is a federally mandated body that oversees the dispersal of federally awarded transportation funds for an urbanized area of 50,000 citizens or more. Our’s is located in the city-county building in downtown Indianapolis. Their “sphere of influence” if you will, covers over 1.2 million regional citizens in Marion County and the donut counties surrounding. They conduct a lot of studies and oversee everything transportation related in our region. If a road is modified, if a bridge is changed, if a sidewalk is to be revitalized, they manage every penny that flows through their governing region. They also provide a great service in the form of studies of all manner. Road engineering studies. Rail studies. Bike planning. Multi-modal planning. etc…. It is that last one, Multimodal planning, in which the topics of this post are concerned with.
The MPO has been conducting a series of multimodal planning studies for the benefit of the region. They are open to the public, should you wish to attend. If you cannot, then they post all of the studies online. This year’s series focused a lot on complete streets and how better to incorporate the theories into our region’s designs. The studies can be found on the MPO’s website here. It is the last document on that page that is of particular important. It list’s two projects in the Indianapolis region applying complete streets theories. One is located along the East 10th street corridor, and the other is focused on the region of Meridian street mentioned above. Later I plan on doing a post on the 10th street project which is already under construction.
Construction should start in 2011 on the Meridian Street project, and once finished should provide a much more pedestrian friendly intersection for trail users and midtown Indy residents. For more information regarding the Meridian St project, click here for a 36 page .pdf. A less “wordy” handout can be seen here as well.