Indy is Breaking Away on Bikes!

The "Peace Walk" trail art on the Cultural Trail.

We set out from the hotel in the late afternoon, me pedaling a Surly long bike alongside my tour guide, advocate Kevin Whited. The strangely lit sky and muggy air seemed to herald spring – or was it on-coming weather?   

We were going to ride the first couple newly completed miles of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. I had been eager for this day for months.    

 A year earlier, I had helped a team of regional leaders apply for a TIGER grant that was ultimately won by Indianapolis to the tune of $20 million. The very second I saw their promotional video for the trail, I got it: bold vision, clarity, level of readiness, matching funds, quality of facility, and commitment.  I could not wait to see the results. Could they really pull off a two-way cycle track on downtown streets in a city with close to zero urban bicycling culture? Sure, they have the lovely Monon Trail, riding clubs, and a bicycle-friendly mayor, but they also just marked their first bike lane in 2008.

A downtown intersection before....

To leap from virtually no bikeways to what I had seen in the video would be a remarkably bold achievement. 

I was not to be disappointed.    

This photo gallery tells the story better than I could ever do in words. It’s simply gorgeous. The two-way cycle track forms a loop along one-way streets. The surface has brick-like smooth pavers, graced by wand-like pedestrian-scale lights, interesting artwork, and interpretative signage, including a “Peace Walk” gallery celebrating some of history’s great legends. Every intersection and driveway is well marked, signed and functional.

....and after!

My favorite spot is where they’ve turned a previously unattractive business access alley into a piece of the trail bycleaning it up, adding art, and pumping the scent of roses through a steam grate.    

The Cultural Trail connects every single arts venue in downtown and will be a huge asset for tourists, local visitors, and thousands of downtown workers. Although few folks were out during our brief twilight ride, it will clearly be packed in short order with the “interested but concerned,” group, which is our target audience for increasing bicycling as a mainstream form of transportation. They will enjoy the separation and aesthetics, the slow speed, and safe environment. The only folks who won’t like it are the ones who want to go faster. This group is simply not their target audience. 

Kudos beyond kudos to the  Cultural Trail Management Team, dynamic duo Gail and Brian Payne, and, all their partners, donors, colleagues, and friends. A round of applause to Kevin Osborne at Rundell ErnstbergerAssociates, LLC, the lead trail design firm.    

Clearly, great forces are at work in Indianapolis.  On our ride back, that interesting sky let loose with torrents of rain, lightning, and thunder. All I could do was laugh. People always ask how we can stand to ride in the rain in Portland, but in close to 20 years of daily riding, I’ve never become dripping, sloshing, drenched-to-the-bone wet in only 30 seconds flat!     

The next day, Mayor Greg Ballard stopped by the bicycle advisory task force meeting at which I was sharing stories and lessons learned from my book, Joyride. Mayor Ballard, the individuals on the multi-department task force, and numerous community groups and leaders have made a staggering amount of progress in a very short amount of time. 30+ miles of bike lanes with another 33 to be completed this year, out of a total 220-mile vision. 60 miles of off-road trails/greenways, bike rodeos for kids, bike parking at events, an education/outreach website, plans for a high-capacity bicycle parking/repair center, plans for a public bike share system, and a bronze Bicycle Friendly Community designation.     

For the bigger picture, there is tons of in-fill development going on. And the Super Bowl. Yes, let’s not forget the Super Bowl, which will be held in Indianapolis next year. This year, Jerry Jones hosted 110,000 people in Arlington TX. Every single person had to drive to a parking lot, pay $60 to park, and walk at least a couple miles to the stadium.     

Next year, visitors can take a cab or bus to downtown Indy, and WALK over to the stadium right in the heart of downtown. Hopefully, thousands will grab a bike and pedal over.     

I want a ticket.     

Way to go Indianapolis! Keep it up!

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