Urban Indy is a huge champion for cycling improvements within the Indianapolis area. Cycling is a low cost, low emission and healthy way to get around for short trips to the store, to see friends, get to work, school, etc. It is with these thoughts, that I am happy to pen this review of the recently unveiled Central Indiana Regional Bikeways Plan (click to open 79 page .pdf).
The Indy MPO has been gathering input over the past year from people via the Indyconnect site as well as some other public meetings. Existing bicycle plans were taken into account and a fiscally constrained long range plan for bicycling has been rolled out. Much like the region’s LRTP with covers roads, transit, etc the bike plan is constrained by the amount of funds available. Indeed, the bike plan itself was built upon the recently adopted regional long range plan. In that plan, 7% of all funds collected will be put towards bicycle & pedestrian plans with a grand total in 2010 dollars of $13.5 million available each year; $7.5 million per year would be used to fund bicycle infrastructure.
So what will this fund exactly? A look at the map and a perusal of the plan text itself shows a large amount of bike lanes for Marion County (Indianapolis), a large amount of side paths for the suburbs, and a large amount of trail projects dispersed around the entire MPO planning area. The planning horizon extends to 2035 and that period is sub-divided into 4 periods in which projects are to be built. Extensions of many existing trails are included in the plan with the extension of the Monon north, the completion of the Pennsey as well as extension of the B&O.
An in depth analysis shows that the trail projects seem to be the ones that account for the largest share of capital expenses. That is a shame since they are the safest and considered the most attractive to potential riders; the report even covers submitted comments. Respondants said one of the biggest hurdles to cycling in the region was the proliferation of roads and interaction with motorists on those roads. That hits at the heart of something we debate often here at Urban Indy in that making streets calmer for cyclists and pedestrians is a key concern to improving street-life. This report brings hard data to support that notion. Something else that strikes me is the disparity between bike lanes in the city and side paths in the suburbs. Indeed, side paths that already exist in the suburbs are cataloged with a large portion of them in Hamilton County. The plan breaks down the cost of side paths vs bike lanes, so it is easy to see why bike lanes are prescribed in most places instead of side paths. Going forward, the amount of bike lanes far surpasses side paths over the planning horizon. It should also be noted that there is no mention of facilities such as the Shelby Street bike track.
Something that makes me wonder is the lack of “special” projects that we have been overly excited about here at the blog. Projects like Georgia Street, the Cultural Trail and such seem to be absent from the plan. Indeed, these projects themselves were special expenditures not likely to be captured in a fiscally responsible and “practical” long range plan that spread money out to create more facilities. Also absent is a pedestrian plan where the other $6 million per year is to be spent. This will likely go towards general upkeep of sidewalks and such if I had to guess. Each project was assigned a score depending on how it served population & employment centers, how it integrates with present transit corridors as well as a multitude of other factors such as proximity to parks, libraries, health institutions, etc.
The plan also lays out policy implications and some dubious ones at that. They are big and could impact the quality of cycling in Indiana. They include first and foremost, the adoption of a cycling master plan. After that, they trickle down into supportive recommendations that include adopting a Complete Streets policy, establishing a bicycling advisory committee, hiring a dedicated staff for cycling programs (something that is now handled at least in Indy, by the DPW), requiring bike parking by new development, REDUCTIONS TO AUTOMOBILE PARKING, and ensuring bike-transit integration.
What the plan does NOT do, is lay out how bike lanes themselves may be constructed from a design perspective. I have personally advocated for larger buffers between automobile travel lanes and bike lanes. There is no mention of this in the report. There is mention of painted crossings which is nice however, there is nothing about painted bike boxes, something else I have spent keystrokes covering.
In that regard, it is good that this is a draft plan and it is now open to the public for comment until September 23rd, 2011. Go check out the report and submit comments so that you can voice any concerns that you may have about the plan.
Actually, it is called, The Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Assessment and Solutions, but that was far too long of a title to put for the post.
However, the first meeting of the committee was on August 23rd and consisted of 23 members of the Indiana House & Senate. The topics of discussion were far ranging with municipal officials and industry experts called on to testify. Ed Soliday lead the hearing and began with opening remarks about the unstable condition of funding at the Federal level while highlighting the need for officials at the state level to examine, and if necessary, enact new policy to combat a shrinking revenue stream of federal transportation funding.
You can read about the entire meeting in the minutes located here (when they are posted), but I thought that I would bring some critical analysis to bare because it could be a while before they are available.
The first official to speak was Michael Cline of INDOT. He spent a lot of time discussing the condition of roadways in Indiana, the state of Major Moves funding and the associated projects that have been funded with it, I-69 and also tackled bridges. Of particular note, was in the Q&A portion following Cline’s testimony where Representative Ed Delaney asked if there was a way of integrating “light rail” (as he termed it) with the freeway improvements associated with I-69 from Bloomington to Indianapolis. Cline replied that he did not have the information but would be happy to investigate. For those not keeping score, the entire section of I-69 from Bloomington to Indianapolis has yet to be funded and sources for funding it are unknown at this point in time. It was refreshing to hear a state representative pressing an INDOT official on public transit in the face of an unfunded freeway project.
The other testimony that really disturbed me was from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Cam Carter,
Vice President of Economic Development, gave testimony and highlighted what we already know to be true; that being the shrinking pot of funding for roadways. However, he let loose the Chamber’s views on how they think existing funding collected from the gasoline tax should be used. They feel that this should be used totally for roadway construction and upkeep with transit, bicycles and pedestrians receiving no funding from the pot of funds. This goes counter to the Indianapolis Chamber which has been a vocal advocate of transit spending in the Central Indiana region. Are they of the same opinion when it comes to sharing vs. dedicated? It is hard to say, but given the harsh manner in which the Indiana Chamber proclaimed their views, I cannot imagine they are cut from the same mold. I could be wrong about this though.
Conexus gave testimony about freight shipment and asked whether it was worth a truck only lane on I-70 across the state.
Dennis Faulkenberg, President, APPIAN gave testimony in favor of roadways and emphasized their stance on the need for more roadway funding and perhaps even a 3rd lane to all freeways to handle freight capacity through the state. He spent plenty of time highlighting that Indiana is a donor state in that we send more money in federal transportation taxes than we receive; so there is a big need to preserve what we have and if possible, generate more.
The afternoon session was devoted to the Indiana MPO and the Indianapolis MPO. Sandi Seanor of the state MPO, pointed out the shortfall in existing funding while noting that any cuts in funding at the federal level would further add to the stock of poor road & bridge repair. She noted that at existing levels, counties are being forced to allow county roads to return to gravel instead of being able to afford to pave them or chip and seal.
Wrapping up the session was Indianapolis MPO Executive Director Lori Miser. She spent a lot of time talking about the state of existing funding shortfalls in the Central Indiana region in regards to the long term transportation plan, while making a nice presentation to the panel regarding Indyconnect. Thomas Wyss complimented the Indianapolis region on it’s transit plan and associated outreach efforts over the past two years. Lori pointed out the need for a balanced transportation system that includes roads, transit, bicycling & pedestrian infrastructure and noted that Indianapolis is, “out of balance.” I was happy to hear Lori pushing transit in the Indianapolis region.
The session wrapped up after miser’s testimony and announced that the next session would be attended by Congressman Larry Buschon (Rep, District 8 ) as well as AASHTO. This tells me that once again, panel members will be subjected to a large amount of roadway lobbying.
In conclusion, the first session of this study was a volatile one with people from all modes asking for money and making valid cases for why existing buckets of funding are insufficient to cover the needs being demanded. It reminded me of the heavy road lobbying that occurred when Congressman Mica was here in February on his tour seeking input on the Federal surface transportation bill, an event Urban Indy was also there to cover. It will be interesting to see where this goes when the study wraps up and offers it’s final recommendations. Will transit get a share of funding or equal footing from this panel? Additionally, I am hopeful that this panel’s existence does not hinder efforts in the upcoming session to obtain a referendum for transit funding for Indyconnect as well as other regional transit efforts.
You regulars keeping track of the ongoing utility pole issue on Shelby Street will be happy to see this update. The reader who has helped to keep me informed of the utility pole issues surrounding the reconstruction of the sidewalk adjacent to the Shelby Street cycle track sent in the attached photos today. As you can see, the offending pole has been moved completely out of the sidewalk and is now in the grass and poses no risks to pedestrians, the disabled or those who may be pushing a stroller.
The story of how this finally came to pass is an interesting one and leaves me wondering how much of an affect we really had here other than to simply report that the issue was taking place. The reader, after having little to no luck with getting DPW to move the pole, contacted IPL. After a couple of days of back and forth emails as well as an on-site visit, IPL agreed to move the pole.
My communications with the DPW uncovered that the city is entitled to 50 “free relocates” per year and the movement of this pole was one of those free relocates. Regardless, you can see that the pole is now totally out of the sidewalk and the project itself seems to nearly be on it’s feet with preliminary striping guides laid out on the pavement.
In conclusion, it goes without saying that if citizens had not spoken up about this issue, we would have been stuck with a utility pole in the sidewalk and life would have went on. This case illustrates that there are more than just a few people interested in a top notch built environment and that we will all go above and beyond to try and make it happen; even if it is simply the movement of a utility pole out of a sidewalk and into the adjacent grass.
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.
A recent front page story in the New York Times highlighted a pilot program in The Netherlands whereby personal automobiles were outfitted with a meter not unlike what you would find in a taxi cab. The meter was linked via GPS and tracked how many miles and what route were travelled and tabulated a charge based on these factors. The meter contained a readout, also much like a taxi cab meter, that displayed the charge that the driver would see in an end of the month bill. The service would operate much like cell phone service where you get charged for what you used.
The idea seems a novel one in that the meters represent government intrusion into private automobiles. On its face this seems socialistic but at the heart, the premise has validity; that being an honest charge to automobile owners for the amount of time they spend behind the wheel using public roadways. At issue is the notion that the ever growing fuel efficiency of automobiles being sold is driving down revenues being generated by federal and state gasoline taxes; taxes which are used to fund the upkeep and construction of new roadways, and public transportation, projects all across the nation. This gap will continue to grow as vehicles become more fuel efficient over the years driven by buyer demand as well as federal policy. Just this last week, a major announcement came from Washington stating that by 2025, the average passenger vehicle would be required to attain 50mpg.
A VMT tax would not only create a new method of financing public transportation infrastructure, but it would also calm the debate between roadway and public transit lobbyists who complain today that public transit funds are generated solely from gasoline taxes; a notion that is untrue and proven by an annual infusion of billions from the general operating fund to pay for transportation funding shortfalls; the overarching point being that our existing gasoline taxes cannot keep up with demand for roadways and transit.
Locally, could a VMT tax be implemented to help pay for transportation infrastructure? Indianapolis while not home to chronic traffic congestion observed in places like Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York IS home to a higher than average commute distances. I wrote about this late last year after a report was released comparing the major metro areas of the US and how far people were driving on average; Indianapolis averages 21 miles one way for workers commuting via personal automobile.
Given that the CBD of Indianapolis is the state’s largest concentration of employment, and that Marion County taxpayers are the ones on the hook to pay for road repairs while suburban workers flow in and out of the city every day without paying for public roadway upkeep, a VMT could represent a leveling of the playing field in finding ways to pay for roadway upkeep and construction. Indeed, the recently released long term transportation plan by the Indianapolis MPO cited a lack of sufficient funding to maintain our existing amount of roadways over the 25 year planning horizon let alone finance new roadway construction. Even given these constraints, new roadway & widening of existing roadways is planned with the result likely to be a lower quality of driving experience. This also creates additional user costs with wear and tear on vehicles suspensions and bodies that must be maintained to keep vehicles in good state of repair and gas mileage as high as possible.
For you normal readers, you must be wondering by now why I have not mentioned anything about how this could fund public transit improvements that have been brewing locally. The Indyconnect plan as it stands calls for a non-automobile based tax of some sort in the form of either a sales tax, income tax or other creative form of non-automobile based funding to construct passenger rail and improve the current bus service. To this end, a tax implemented solely for transit could stand on its own while funding collected from a VMT would be used to cover the roadway funding needs in a responsible and representative manner of the actual amount of usage occurring in the metro area. The same report I referenced above, even in the face of insufficient funding for existing roadways, recognizes the need for some of the existing funds being collected go towards mass transit funding and sets aside 10% of the 25 year plans budget to go towards capital expenditures for IndyGo, devoid of a dedicated tax for transit occurring in the next general session.
Could a VMT be implemented in Indianapolis? In my opinion this is a stretch given the overly conservative nature of residents of the region. Furthermore, something of this nature is likely to have to make its way through the state legislature; a body which has proven to be very conservative in nature highlighted by this past session’s attack on the state Public Mass Transit Fund (PMTF). Additionally, considering the rules for who would actually be on the hook for participating could be dicey. However, I believe that the conversation has some merit and is worthy of exploring as a means of funding local roadway needs. The way that Federal policy is headed, there is likely to be a LARGE drop off in government transportation dollars in coming years with the House GOP pushing a bill that would reduce Federal funding by 30% over current and already underfunded levels. There are many other factors that would have to be considered and how they would affect current travel patterns and funding for other subsidized programs but at the core, figuring out how to fairly pay for roadway construction demand is a conversation that needs to happen.
One last parting shot and I will open the floor for debate. In the NY Times article I referenced above, a participant of the program in The Netherlands commented that having the meter in his car and seeing the charge tick away like in a cab, caused him to immediately question his choice of transportation and he admitted that public transit would receive much more consideration for him in the future. I thought that was particularly interesting in that it transcends a notion that all transit advocates struggle to get over; that notion being how do you convince people to choose to use public transit. In this case, watching your money tick away at an agreed upon, and fair, rate to pay for your actual usage on the road. How fitting that a potential method for FAIRLY funding roadway upkeep and construction could cause someone to consider using public transit.
As always, I now open the floor to debate by the readers.
This past Friday I had the pleasure of wandering downtown with fellow Urban Indy blogger Graeme Sharpe. We visited the Cultural Trail central corridor construction sites as well as the Georgia Street site. Here are the latest photographs as of 8/5/2011. Really coming along well. The “goal posts” are now up! Finally beginning to look like something.
An interesting debate has been raging over on the Skyscraper City Indianapolis Development forum for about 4 weeks now. The debate has centered upon the design of the Cultural Trail’s Central Corridor as it passes in front of the Conrad hotel. For the uninformed, the Conrad has been using the sidewalk along Washington Street and in front of it’s hotel for years now as a staging spot for valet parking. It’s common to see a high end automobile sitting on the sidewalk at any point in time.
With the arrival of the Cultural Trail came the notion that perhaps the Conrad would be moving their valet elsewhere. Indeed as trail construction moves forward, their valet has been moved around the corner and onto Illinois Ave. However, it is marked off with red traffic cones indicating to me at least, a temporary respite from the old location.
What does this mean for the future of valet parking? Will the Conrad be permitted to park on the Cultural Trail and in the process setup a potential conflict area with pedestrians and cyclists who wish to use the trail? Will the valet be moved long term onto Illinois? Will the design of the trail be modified to allow both to coexist within the limited amount of street space that exists here? Rumor has it that the Conrad wants to retain the space along Washington Street for valet parking. This notion seems baffling in the context of the trail since it is a “world class” bike & pedestrian urban trail. Why would a hotel, a purveyor of quality temporary dwelling for people, be so bent on maintaining a presence on the sidewalk for automobiles when a potential economic delivery machine is being built, quite literally, at it’s front door?
In the photograph above, you can see what the final design for this space is going to be. According to the information that I was given, the lane closest to the curb will be used for valet drop off and staging leaving the trail itself devoid of potential contact between a cyclist and an upscale automobile’s fender. I have read conflicting information elsewhere stating that there will be perpendicular parking for the Conrad.
Whatever the final decision is on this project, one fatal conclusion can be drawn. Why did the Cultural Trail (or someone else in the ultimate decision making position) pander to the whims of the Conrad, a high end and obviously financially well off business, while much smaller local businesses located along the East End of Mass Ave and Fountain Square have to endure months of seemingly no progress in construction at their front doors? I sought comment from Tom Battista who owns property both along the east end of Mass Ave as well as the Fountain Square leg of the Trail, “We midwest car dependent people are taking away lanes from cars and giving them back to pedestrians. The way Portland moved interstate 5 across the river in the 70′s and gave the riverfront back to the people. It is a pain to deal with closed streets and limited access to our tenants but the long range is what we should focus on. It will be worth it.”
One interesting footnote. Is the Conrad paying for anything here? Are they “renting” the space on the trail for parking? Another member of the blog pointed out that at current parking rates, and given approximately 7 spaces worth of parking space at $1.50 an hour, it could be assumed the parking revenue for these spaces would generate $45k a year. Is the Conrad paying this? Or is the Conrad’s valet parking being subsidized by taxpayers?
I was picking up some pizza from Bazbeux’s last night on Mass Ave and I saw all the construction that is taking place. The project going on is resurfacing of the street, sidewalk reconstruction and addition of electrical conduit for additional lighting along the avenue. At the expense of looking like a hipster with my highly bastardized photo via Instagram on my old iPhone (first version) I snapped this picture of the exposed bricks and streetcar track of yester-year. There is no amount of pavement or sidewalk construction that ever dampens my enthusiasm for wanting to see streetcars return to our streets so in that respect, I think this photo was neat enough to share with all of you and perhaps inspire a little bit of vision of what used to be, and what could be with enough political willpower. I’d be happier than a pig in slop if something like this were sprung on an unsuspecting citizen base when the city announces what it’s doing with the IFD HQ.
This month’s wallpaper comes from the NE section of the Cultural Trail in what I personally think has to be one of the more inviting intersections. With all the striping, pavers and the existing built form, who can argue that this is truly an excellent urban area? 2560 x 1600,1280 x 853, 1280 x 1024, 1366 x 768
Well, “the fix is in” as the popular saying goes. As previously reported here on Urban Indy, and in what caused a huge stink, a utility pole planted directly in the middle of a new sidewalk seemed like a huge missed opportunity to improve a stretch of Shelby Street that is currently being subjected to the construction of Indianapolis’ first on street cycle track. A reader had sent along photos of the offending utility pole which I was able to get weigh in from Indy DPW that they were going to “fix” this.
Well, as you can see they have “fixed” the issue for pedestrians who may be disabled or who may be using a wheelchair. Technically, this will allow people to move around the utility pole but I would be lying if I said that I took pride in the manner with which the contractor has fixed it. Did DPW order it to be fixed this way? Did the contractor assume that this method would be enough to satisfy the complaint? Whatever the case, this stretch of road that will have a nice cycle track will be bruised with what amounts to an embarrassing example of design, planning & construction.
As a parting shot, the reader also sent me a picture of a pile of old streetcar tracks that I assume were removed and lay in a pile now. I commented in my email to DPW that it is sad we are not actively planning, at least not that I have seen publicly, to reintroduce streetcars to Indianapolis’ streets.