Month: October 2018

The Two-Wheeled Revolution is Here and Street Design Has Never Been More Critical

“SCOOTERS.”

The very utterance of the phrase will not garnish a shrug. Someone will give you a hard opinion on whether or not they love them or hate them. They’re instantly accessible, have low-income user programs, are all-electric, and can be picked up or dropped off anywhere. There have been challenges, to say that least. Scooters are often ridden on sidewalks, parked on curb ramps, or left in other inconvenient places. Some who have a personal vendetta with the scooters have pushed them over into the sidewalk, thrown them into the river, or dropped them into the canal.

Some of these problems have begun to wane as the scooters become less of a novelty and gain regular users (there is still an issue when visitors from the suburbs come into the city and use them on weekend nights). Anecdotally, the parking is becoming less of a problem as people encounter inconsiderately parked ones.

Despite the angst, the scooters are likely here to stay, and the City should work to ensure that this is the case. It’s in the best interest of the City, and the public, to reduce the usage of polluting, heavy, and dangerous motor vehicles (at the time of writing this, five pedestrians in Indianapolis had been hit and killed by drivers) and encourage the use of a mode of transportation that covers trips that are too short for driving, but too far for walking, and can serve as a great first/last mile connector to other modes of transportaiton.

Unfortunately, our current designs and policies don’t reflect this need. Signage regarding scooters is non-existent, save for a few recently positioned signs along the White River Greenway behind the Zoo, which is managed by the State. Ordinances regarding the scooters aren’t posted anywhere except for a brief excerpt on the app when the user first books and ride and in small print by the feet (but even that does not display the nuances regarding the greenways and the Cultural Trail).

The current set of policies is deeply confusing for users, especially those who are new. Scooters are treated as other two-wheeled vehicles (bicycles), except when they aren’t. Our safest infrastructure for bicycles in the city center and throughout the city, our greenways and Cultural Trail, are off-limits to scooters (but there is no signage for this). Quite frankly, scooter riders simply do not feel safe on our current city streets. Our current on-street bikeways system has made enormous strides since 2008, when we have virtually no bike infrastructure at all, but still needs much work. Thankfully, the City has worked incredibly hard to put together the IndyMoves plan, which is open for its final round of public comment until November 1.

A frequent concern regarding the scooters is safety and the spike in hospital visits due to their presence. The dark reality is that this is not a new problem. Street safety has been a major issue in Indianapolis for some time. However, with the sudden proliferation of two-wheeled vehicles being available city-wide, this safety problem is thrown into the Limelight (pardon the pun). Vehicle miles traveled on two-wheeled vehicles is suddenly spiking, more people are now considered vulnerable street users than ever, and our existing right-of-way allocations are almost exclusively dedicated to the movement and storage of a single mode of transportation.

If we, as a city and a county, want to achieve the Thrive Indy goal of becoming carbon neuatral by 2050, then we need to have policies and street design standards that support and prioritize using low-cost, small-scale, and low- to no-energy transportation modes. This means aggressively refining and implementing the IndyMoves plan, the Pedal Indy plan, and completely rethinking what streets are for in Indianapolis.

Posted by StrongIndy in General Article, 0 comments

Land Use Part II – Building Places We Love and Place That Love Us Back

In the first installment of this series, we discussed neighborhood identity. However, it is paramount to clarify what this means. What is neighborhood identity and why does it come about? Neighborhood identity is more than just a name. It’s a sense of pride in a neighborhood and a sense of communal responsibility. Indianapolis once had that, but much of it was destroyed with shifts in federal housing and transportation policy, urban renewal, and race-based local land use practices.

Indianapolis – 1941

Indianapolis – 1962

Indianapolis – 1972

Prior to 1972, Indianapolis a numerous, dense communities which fostered strong neighborhood identities. Residents of the communities had immense pride in where they lived, whether they were renters or homeowners. However, which the shifts in policy and white flight, the populations of these neighborhoods were gutted and that sense of identity was lost.

No more is this more apparent than in the neighborhood of Brightwood. Station Street was the neighborhood village’s Main Street. There were shops on the ground floors, housing above, theatres, restaurants, and goods stores to meet the neighborhood’s needs. The primary street was a gathering space for the residents; a place where they could meet their other neighbors, network, support one another, and, at time, celebrate themselves. With the arrival of I-70 in the late 1960s-1970s, a large swath of the population was forcibly displaced and the northern side of the neighborhood was cut off from the southern side. The population shriveled and the neighborhood quickly spiraled into an unstoppable decline. Today, the neighborhood’s residents continue to grapple with the loss of a support network, a lack of a common gathering space, and totally lacking resources within walking distance like the neighborhood once provided. The neighborhood is bordered by overbuilt streets with minimal sidewalks, is chock full of vacant lots and homes, and land use has shifted to favor industrial developments and storage on what was the Main Street.

At Left: Martindale – Brightwood in 1940. At Right – The same location photographed in 2017. 

Another example of this loss is in West Indianapolis. The primary street here was Oliver Street, boarding the General Motors stamping plant. It would be common knowledge to think that the decline of the neighborhood began with the loss of General Motors, but GM did not vacate the space until 1996. The neighborhood’s decline began well before that, with the introduction of I-70 and shifts in aforementioned policy.

Once a separate municipality, West Indianapolis is a neighborhood that sits just across the White River. At its peak, it was home to multiple hotels, two theatres, twelve saloons, apartments, and moderately-dense single-family and duplex housing. In the mid-20th Century, the decline began. All of the former establishments are now gone and the 19th-Century buildings are beyond repair (but some are still standing).

Land use since the loss of these neighborhood centers has been focused on the suburbanization of Indianapolis. Since the 1960s, Indianapolis’s zoning laws have mandated that buildings replacing the older stock have large setbacks and minimum parking requirements; something that none of the older building stock had. Where there has been redevelopment, it has been automobile-oriented in nature; encouraging people to drive to their destinations and forcibly placing resources farther apart from one another, as well as constraining available commercial space for the sake of dedicating more land to parking.

So how can we re-establish our neighborhoods as places where walkable access to resources is paramount and foster places that residents can be proud of? IndyRezone was a good start, but now the City of Indianapolis is working through the process of “changing the land use map” through the Marion County Land Use Plan. The Marion County Land Use Plan is an element of Plan 2020, Indianapolis’s first comprehensive plan to be adopted for the city’s bicentennial. The plan takes the zoning codes implemented as part of IndyRezone to work. The change to the land use map means that the zoning districts that support transit-oriented development, parking reductions, and infill development can actually be applied.

The impacts of these changes certainly wouldn’t be felt overnight. Changing the urban form in a city such as Indianapolis will take years, perhaps decades. However, the results will be neighborhoods that can be loved and love us back. These will be neighborhoods that can be access by foot, public transit, bike, or, dare I say it, scooter. Creating a city of neighborhoods starts with policy; policy that orients the places we need and places we want to the scale of the human foot and publicly accessible transportation services.

Then, and only then, can we begin to regain what we lost. However, we must do so in a manner that is equitable; a manner that is accessible to everyone.

Posted by StrongIndy, 0 comments

Strong Indy Weekly Update – October 1, 2018

Good day, everyone!

Strong Indy is going to start something known as the weekly update. Here, you can find the latest news as it relates to urban issues in Indianapolis, Strong Indy, Strong Towns, CNU-Midwest, and others.

Updates for October 1 – October 7, 2018

  1. October’s Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission hearing docket is now available.
  2. The Congress for New Urbanism – Midwest is calling for presentations! Submit your proposal by October 15th for CNU27 in Louisville, KY. More information on submitting proposals can be found on CNU’s website.
  3.  Strong Indy is seeking to create committees in the following topics: Housing/Equity/Inclusivity, Transportation, and Land Use/Urban Design. If you’re interested in joining any of these committees, please reach out to the moderators via the Strong Indy Facebook page.
  4. IndyGo’s Red Line is moving forward! Keep track of progress on the transit agency’s website.
  5. CNU’s latest edition of Public Square is now available with lots of new reading material!
  6. IMPORTANT: IndyMoves and the Marion County Land Use Plan are now both available for public comment. Comments may be provided via the DMD Civic Comment portal.

 

 

Posted by StrongIndy, 0 comments