General Article

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 I – Land Use and Neighborhood Identity

How many distinct neighborhoods of Indianapolis can you name off the top of your head? My guess is the following: Broad Ripple, Meridian-Kessler, Herron-Morton, Mile Square, Fountain Square, Garfield Park, and Irvington. If you live in a neighborhood with strong neighborhood associations, like Chatham-Arch or Bates-Hendricks, you may be to name a few more. However, there are 111 distinct neighborhoods and districts in the City of Indianapolis-Marion County, most of which are largely unknown to the general populous.

For decades, Indianapolis has simply had a few general areas outside of the seven neighborhoods I mentioned earlier; they were simply known as the North, South, East, and West Sides. While this is okay for describing a broad geographic area, this does nothing to support neighborhood identity or laying out a specific location.

Why is this? Why has Indianapolis, for so long, lacked a distinct identity for so many of its neighborhoods? Aaron Renn of the Urbanophile, another native of Indianapolis, speculated on this briefly about a year ago in an article attempting to describe the overall culture of the city. He is not necessarily wrong in that Unigov (the merger of the City and County) has much to do with it. This action dramatically expanded Indianapolis’s boundaries to 404 square miles, making it one of the largest municipalities by land area in North America and, as of 2018, the 15th largest city by population. However, the story is much larger and goes back to our decision to dramatically shift our land use policies, not long after the Unigov merger (1970).

Up until 2015, with the adoption of IndyRezone, Indianapolis had not changed its land development ordinances or zoning codes for nearly 50 years. Combined with urban renewal and white flight, the sprawl-intensive land development policies and attempting to emulate suburbia in an effort to retain residents in Center Township devastated neighborhoods. The commercial centers were abandoned or demolished, their uses restricted, and redevelopment completely removed from the ability to create street life. Such dramatic devastation is visible up and down what were once commercial and residential intensive streets, such as Washington Street and Meridian Street. Both of these streets were transit-oriented corridors with a wide range of uses. In 1950, you would have found vibrant spaces with shops, apartments, offices, and the like. Today, you will still find pockets of this, but much of these corridors have been replaced by parking, large-scale offices, gas stations, and predatory used-car lots designed to target the low-income residents of the area. NOTE: It’s critical to acknowledge that the policies of the 1950s were not friendly to non-whites and immigrants; meaning that not everyone could participate in these once-vibrant communities. This is not something to be glossed over and the equity component of vibrant communities will be discussed in a future post within this series.

The Marion County Land Use Plan is our opportunity to apply IndyRezone to our actual land use plan and leverage it to create a more vibrant, accessible, and sustainable Indianapolis. It’s our opportunity to, over the next several decades, recreate communities around the human, rather than around the motor vehicle. Transit-oriented corridors, neighborhood commercial shops, and places for both multi-family and single-family residential. The recreation of such assets can give neighborhoods a sense of place and identity, a way to distinguish that the community is something to cherish and behold.

This is not something that will happen overnight. This is something that will take decades and the successful implementation of a multitude of efforts. However, the two that are most important, transportation and land use, are underway. This will be a turning point for Indianapolis and is something everyone, regardless of where they live in the county, should take ownership of.

To learn more about the Marion County Land Use Plan and the Plan 2020 effort, please visit http://plan2020.com/plans/lu/.  The first round of public comment is closed, but please observe the current proposed map and educate yourselves for the next round of public engagement.

Posted by StrongIndy in General Article, Series, 0 comments

Is Indy Losing its Bicycling Mojo?

Image courtesy of Carley Lanich

Indianapolis is Losing Its Bicycling Mojo

The United States Census Bureau released 2016 Journey to Work data this past week, and it does not paint a pretty picture for bicycling in Indianapolis. In fact, many cities that are notoriously bike-friendly, lost some ridership. This includes Portland, OR and Minneapolis, MN. However, this isn’t necessarily true across the board. The average change for bike commuting throughout the United States is a decline of 0.4%, likely attributed to low oil prices and the increase in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), resulting in a spike of road deaths.

*It’s important to note that these are commute trip counts only and not counts for all trips. Commute trips account for less than 20% of trips, on average.

Indianapolis posted a steep drop; 12%. While Indy has seen bicycle commuting increase by 222% since 1990, this drop is the first recorded in recent memory. 

Some cities, however, posted record highs. These cities include Pittsburgh, Cleveland, DC, and Detroit. So what are these cities doing that the bike-friendly cities, and Indianapolis, aren’t? They’re building protected infrastructure, and lots of it. These cities have adopted bicycling-heavy transportation policies and plans, and they’re allocating the funding to implement greenways and protected bike lanes to show that they are serious.

It can be argued that Indianapolis has become complacent in our bike lane building. We adopted one of the nation’s first Complete Streets ordinances and built the infamous Cultural Trail. After that, things have somewhat coasted. Butler University recently completed a small, yet disconnected, segment of protected bike lanes, and the protected bike lanes under construction along East Michigan and East New York abruptly end at Rural on New York and at State on Michigan. Greenways have expanded, but in small segments within the compact zone. Large extensions (e.g. the Eagle Creek Greenway) have been built for recreational purposes in the metropolitan zone. The Pennsylvania Street protected bike lane has been less than stellar as Strong Indy has written about. It’s too short, provides no opposite direction of travel, provides few connections to other bike infrastructure, and protection is minimal and removed for half of the year. The West New York cycleway stops one block short of where it should, making access for bicyclists coming off of the White River Greenway or coming over the White River bridge going east incredibly challenging.

We’ve picked all of the low-hanging fruit and it’s time to climb the tree for some harder to reach apples.

What Needs to be Done?

How can Indianapolis start getting its bicycling commute share to climb again? IndyRezone, which includes provisions for the reduction of car parking spaces if more bike racks are added, was a great start. However, bike parking is useless if there is no means to safely use bicycles. The historical choices made by city and county (and then city-county) administrations of past makes Indianapolis especially challenging when it comes to accessibility for those on foot or bike. Cheap sprawl was encouraged, wide roads with no sidewalks or bike lanes were built, and city-owned parking was privatized for desperate one-time revenues. Maintenance of existing facilities has been deferred for decades, making even some local streets barely passable, and policy within the some of the city’s departments continues to prioritize the movement of motor vehicles with minimal delay. There’s a lot of work to be done still.

In the following paragraphs, I have outlined some ideas and actionable items to be taken that can improve bicycling safety and lead us towards enhancing bicycle commuting once again.

1. Adopt a Minimum Bicycle Lane Design Standard

Most of Indianapolis’s bike lanes are simple lines of paint, much of which is in the door zone. It is recommended that the City of Indianapolis and its various departments adopt a minimum standard of design that prioritizes protection of bicyclists from vehicular traffic and keeps them out of the door zone where there is parking.

It is recommended that these design standards be derived and adopted using the National Association of Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Street Design Guide. Any adopted standard should make bicycling as transportation a safe and comfortable experience for anyone of all ages and abilities. This standard should go beyond primary arterials and collector streets to also examine opportunities for “neighborhood greenways/bike boulevards” on side streets, which provide bike-friendly features like micro-roundabouts, lane markings, and wayfinding.

2. Establish Leading Pedestrian/Bike Intervals in the Mile Square, Prohibit Right on Red

The Mile Square is where the greatest concentration of bike trips currently occur. It has been noticeable by many who bike the Pennsylvania Street bike lanes that motorists cut across the bike lanes as the light turns green, running the risk of right-hooking bike and pedestrians. Part of this is a design problem, not enough of a sightline has been established to allow drivers to see the bikes to the right of them. The stop bar should be pushed back while allowing bicyclists to be moved to the front, putting them within the line-of-sight.

Additionally, the City and DPW should establish leading intervals at intersections. These intervals give an extra 3-5 seconds of green time for bicyclists and pedestrians before the light turns green for motorists. This allows bike/ped users to clear the intersection more quickly and puts them in the line-of-sight for motorists. 

Prohibiting right-on-red within the Mile Square to reduce motorist/pedestrian collisions as part of the WalkWays plan has been proposed for some time, but this could also have benefits to bicyclists. It is unknown what the status is of the no-right-on-red proposal. Maybe it’s time to help push for this again.

3. Examine Methods of Congestion Measurement Other Than Level of Service

Level of Service is frequently used by transportation departments as a means of performance measurement. This method measures seconds of delay at intersections and along routes for motorists. However, LOS focuses almost entirely on motorists with little consideration for other methods of travel. This makes implementing protected cycling and walking facilities difficult, as it often requires the reallocation of existing travel lanes and the reconfiguration of intersections.

One such new option for performance measurement is vehicle miles traveled. VMT can be used to measure total or per capita VMT, calculate air pollution, GHGs, and energy impacts. The goal of VMT performance measurement is to reduce VMT, rather than decrease travel time through increasing vehicular speed. This shifts the practice from expanding roads and intersections to prioritizing methods of travel other than motor vehicles. Additionally, it encourages infill because it has a reduced VMT per capita. Under LOS, sprawl is encouraged because greenfield developments essentially have no congestion impacts within the immediate area. While this link is a California-based viewpoint of LOS, it provides an excellent summary of the overall goals and benefits of the VMT performance measure.

4. Prioritize Bikeway Investments

The City and its various departments that serve bicycle transportation-related purposes (e.g. IndyParks, Department of Public Works, and the Department of Metropolitan Development – Transportation Division) as well as non-profits working on bicycling access (e.g. IndyCog and Central Indiana Community Foundation) need to coordinate and prioritize investments based on need and location of disadvantaged populations. This needs to be a data-driven analysis examining the lack of protected bike facilities on major roads within the compact zone, locations of disadvantaged populations, traffic counts, and high-crash intersections. The ultimate goal should be to create a connected network of protected bikeways and greenways that provide vast accessibility to the city as a whole, but largely focused on accessibility within the compact zone (where usability of bicycles as transportation is greatest).

5. Close the Gaps and Repair Pinch Points

There are several gaps in Indy’s bicycle lane network that need to be upgraded and closed. This includes the Pleasant Run Greenway at English and Washington, Prospect Street, Southeastern Ave, and the remainders of Michigan and New York (both east and west).

7. Create a City-County Budget That Reflects Safety and Accessibility for All Users, Including Bikes

This one is self-explanatory. The City-County has developed cycling facilities where it has been relatively cheap to do so, using paint when resurfacing existing streets as part of the Complete Streets ordinance. Budgets from the City-County now need to reflect that proper bike facilities will require planning, effort, and materials, and should prioritize the funding of a well-connected system of protected bike lanes and greenways within the compact zone. This is the cheapest and most effective way to move a lot of people through the city to places that people need to go.

6. Don’t Overcomplicate It

The design of protected bikeways need not be overly complex and it should also be pleasant. Planters within the Mile Square and neighborhood village centers are an option that is relatively affordable but provides a level of protection that is desired. Simple concrete curbs drilled into the pavement, such as what has been done in Edmonton, are a low-cost and simple way to quickly implement protected bike lanes on arterial streets. There are now businesses dedicated to providing pre-fabricated protected bike lanes, making the implementation process quick and inexpensive.

 

Bicyclists in Edmonton, Alberta utilize the new network or protected bike lanes in the Downtown Area of the city, installed in under a year at one time as a complete network. Photo Credit: John Robertson/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Conclusion

I want to note that this write-up is not meant to be a criticism of DPW, DMD, or the City-County. We have come a very, very long way from our status in 2008, when we had virtually no bicycling facilities or infrastructure to speak ok. The powers that be have done a great job in working to get to where we are now.

Indianapolis can get its mojo back when it comes to bicycling, but we have to be willing to make some politically difficult choices. The DMD will soon be developing an updated bicycle plan for the City of Indianapolis, and I encourage individuals to participate in the process and call for quality facilities. However, many of the needed changes need to come from higher up, with leadership required from the City-County Council. In a city like Indianapolis, we have the ability to work directly with our councilors and other leading individuals within our city-county government. It will take communication and coordination to make these changes happen, and recent numbers tell us that it is time to take action.

To see the full report on 2016 bicycle commuting in the United States, check out the League of American Bicyclists.

Posted by Austin Gibble in General Article, 1 comment