Richard Vonnegut, vice chair at the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council, a statewide greenways advocacy group, said he thinks attitudes are changing toward walking and cycling in Indianapolis. Photo by Angela Herrmann

Richard Vonnegut, vice chair at the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council, a statewide greenways advocacy group, said he thinks attitudes are changing toward walking and cycling in Indianapolis. Photo by Angela Herrmann

City rolls out its 15-year bikeway plan 

Build it and they will come." No truer words could have been spoken, especially when Andy Lutz, Indianapolis' Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator through the Department of Public Works, talks about the nearly 23 miles of bikeways that have been created on Indianapolis' city streets over the past couple of years.

Mo-Joe Coffeehouse owner, Rich Lobdell, agreed. While he was not familiar with the city's plans, all he has to do is look out his storefront window: Bicycle traffic past his shop increased, as has his business, since the Michigan Street bike lane was installed two years ago.

"The number of bicyclists has increased five or six times," Lobdell said. "I see them going by all day long. I see them at my bike rack five or six bikes at any time during the day. Before, there were none. I've got to think there is a positive impact."

As Lobdell looked out the window, Eric Gray, a graphic design student at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and a cyclist, passed Mo-Joes on his daily bicycle commute. He said he likes the idea of more bike lanes in Indianapolis.

"I think it's awesome," Gray said. "I was in San Diego over the summer and there's bike lanes on nearly every road. It would be awesome to see that here."

While bike lanes won't cover every road, over the next 15 years, Gray and other cyclists will get the benefit of the city's plans to add some 200 miles of dedicated bike lanes around the city — a move that would double the number of bike lanes in Portland, Ore.

If Lobdell's Mo-Joe experience is any indication, businesses along the bikeways stand to benefit from the increased bicycle traffic.

Toward that end, Mayor Greg Ballard's Bicycle Advisory Council, which Lutz chairs, includes a who's-who of policy-makers, community organizations, and advocacy groups including: Bicycle Garage Indy, Bicycle Indiana, the Department of Public Works, Central Indiana Bicycling Assocation, IndyCog, Indy Parks, the Marion County Health Department, and SustainIndy.

Together, they've made a lot of progress in a short amount of time.

"About four years ago, we didn't have a bicycle coordinator," said Lutz.

A public health issue

Building bike lanes in Indianapolis isn't a new idea: This newest plan actually incorporates an existing plan that was created by Indy Greenways in the early 2000s.

Indeed, some have spent decades advocating for bike lanes in Indianapolis, including Richard Vonnegut, vice chair at the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council, a statewide greenways advocacy group, who has been working for safer streets for cycling for 30 years. He credits policies like the 1991 federal transportation bill, which, he said, have led to an increase in awareness of the need for safer streets and has enabled the construction of many new trails.

People's attitudes are changing toward walking and cycling, Vonnegut said. While he does not bike to work every day, a peek into his downtown Stutz Building office reveals an entrenched bicycle culture — Vonnegut and his staff keep bicycles there for running errands downtown to avoid driving.

For alternative modes of transportation to be viable in a city, streets and sidewalks need to be redesigned to accommodate cyclists and walkers, Vonnegut said. One strategy would require planners to convert three- to four-inch curbs into ramps at street intersections, which is gradually being done around Indianapolis.

Those kinds of initiatives are critical to changing people's habits and reducing chronic diseases, according to Sandy Cummings, the Marion County Health Department's (MCHD) coordinator of chronic disease programs. Despite two decades spent promoting the benefits of exercise, Cummings said physical activity nationally has not increased, while incidences of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity-related diseases have. A 2007 Forbes report rated Indianapolis as the nation's 12th most obese city, where more than one in four people are obese.

When Cummings and her staff realized their education efforts weren't achieving their desired impact, they concluded that perhaps changing the city's built environment could do a better job. She and a coalition of community designers, transportation experts and health advocates came together to form Health By Design, whose express goal was to make that connection between the built environment and public health.

"We determined that we need to work to change our (built) environment so people can walk and bike as a part of their day-to-day life," Cummings said, "so that walking and biking can be a choice."

To that end, Cummings and the members of Health By Design are endorsing efforts to implement a National Complete Street Coalition policy in Indianapolis. This policy would require that transportation dollars go to support all users of the road — including walkers, transit users and cyclists.

Still, there are other ways forward, short of such a "complete streets" policy. Cummings suggested "doing things such as changing the rules in the department of public works, so that when you tear up the land for any purpose, you consider whether that's a good time to put down a sidewalk or a bike lane."

Lutz, who has worked with the city for five years, agreed. He looks for opportunities to either retrofit roads that are already wide enough to accommodate cyclists, or to install bike lanes on bigger reconstruction projects if the lanes are wide enough.

"We'd love to say that every street in Indianapolis is a complete street but it takes some work to get to that point," said Lutz. "We're working with AARP and Health By Design to work through strategies to figure out what needs to be done to get more Complete Streets in the city of Indianapolis."

A work in progress

Lutz, who considers himself a novice cyclist, said the biggest challenge he faces is finding funding to complete the full plan. So far, he has been able to tap into Federal Transportation Enhancement Grants, EPA Department of Energy grants and some private money. He has also coordinated with existing DPW projects, like street resurfacings, to bring down costs.

Lutz said that when a bike lane is incorporated into a resurfacing project, the additional cost is minimal.

"All you're talking about is an additional stripe to add the bike lane, then you put in pavement markings and signage," says Lutz about some of the easier bike lane conversions.

"The more expensive bike lanes take place when you have to reconstruct or build shoulders or if you have open ditches and have to pipe them to create shoulders," he added. "That's where the costs come in. We haven't run into those yet. We're still attacking it from a low-hanging fruit mentality."

So far, bicycle lanes have been added to parts of New York and Michigan Streets, Arlington Avenue, 52nd Street, Michigan Road, Ritter Avenue, Allisonville Road, Illinois Street, Lafayette Road, and Cold Springs Road, to name a few. More are on the way sometime between now and next spring.

While most of the plan through year two has been funded, longer term work is not yet funded and still considered preliminary."Right now, we don't have all of the funds we need," Lutz said. "We are striving to identify the funding to complete the overall plan."

The city is actively pursuing Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) grants through the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to Kären Haley, director of the Indianapolis Office of Sustainability. She said municipalities apply for these grants three to four years out, thus laying the groundwork for continued funding into the future.

Despite funding challenges, the city's efforts are paying off. Complaints about the bike lanes have dropped off as initial uneasiness among some fades. Groups like IndyCog, the Central Indiana Bicycling Association (CIBA) — and events such as the Mayor's Bike Ride, a two-year-old event organized by the Marion County Health Department — have served to educate the general public and have made the transition easier, Lutz said.

Commuter cycling has increased by 62 percent between 2008 and 2009 in Indianapolis, according to the League of American Bicyclists statistics. On New York and Michigan Streets alone, Haley reported ridership increases of 700 percent after the stripes were installed.

In 2009, the League recognized the city as a Bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community, citing the City's outreach efforts to encourage all kinds of cyclists and the collaborative efforts of stakeholders to improve cycling amenities.

Despite all the new cyclists on the road, Don Bickel, director of the Marion County Traffic Safety Partnership, said that from Jan. 1 to Oct. 20, 160 collisions between cars and bicycles in Marion County were reported. That's only eight more than during the same time period in 2009.

Bickel expects that, over time, incidents between cars and bicycles will decrease as motorists become more accustomed to cyclists in the roadways.

"I think that's an education learning experience for motorists to be involved with bicyclists on the roadway more frequently," Bickel said.

Friends in high places

All of these efforts have the full support of Mayor Greg Ballard, who is an avid proponent of bike lanes.

"In the past two years, my administration has added more than 22 miles of bike lanes on city streets for a total of 23 miles, and we plan to add 37 more miles in the next two years," Ballard boasted in a recent statement.

Ballard was active on the bike lane issue as soon as he assumed office, said Haley, from the Office of Sustainability. Bike lane plans that "had been sitting on shelves were pulled out and dusted off," she said. "Now we have bike lanes on city streets and there's no looking back."

From an urban planning perspective, the new plans are progressive, incorporating a holistic and comprehensive view of the city, connecting its diverse collection of neighborhoods.

For example, while Allisonville Road might seem like an unlikely place to put bicycle lanes, Haley noted that Allisonville connects to the Fall Creek Greenway, which then connects to the Monon Trail, which ends downtown. Other cross-town bike lanes would connect even more parts of the city.

Anthony Bridgeman, director of Community Initiatives at Children's Museum of Indianapolis and a cyclist, has promoted cycling around the Crown Hill neighborhood. He sees cycling as a great way to reduce the amount of time people spend driving.

"Wouldn't it be great if cycling became a mainstream mode of transportation for most people like in other countries?" asked Bridgeman. "It gives families another option for getting to the museum."

Laws apply to cyclists, too

In an effort to make cycling safer, the city now has ordinances that protect cyclists. The first of those ordinances, passed last year, requires motorists to give cyclists three-foot minimum passing distance if no dedicated bicycle lane is present.

"We are being comprehensive in how we look at promoting bicycling in our city, making sure we keep safety of both bicyclists and motorists at the forefront," Haley said.

For Nancy Tibbett, executive director of Bicycle Indiana, an advocacy group, bad news involving bicycle accidents has become all too common.

"It's been very difficult to get through the past two months without hearing something regarding a bicyclist and a motor vehicle, whether it be an incident or a fatality," she said.

Recent examples include cyclists Amanda Tames, a 20-year-old woman, and William Phillips, a Greenfield police officer, both of whom died from hit-and-run accidents in September.

To that end, Tibbett and her organization have been actively promoting state legislation to better protect cyclists and walkers.

City officials, as well as members of the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Council, are in a concerted effort to make safety a priority. Haley said two different PSAs are running on Channel 16, the government channel. Health by Design and SustainIndy have produced flyers that are available in print and online. And Bicycle Indiana has printed materials that individuals and organizations can request. Based on what staff has learned about the stripes laid on Michigan and New York Streets, DPW plans to use the longer-lasting, reflective Thermoplastic road marking material that melts into the pavement.

Safety is an ongoing concern for Benjamin Hunt, co-founder of IndyCog, a relatively new cyclist advocacy group. Hunt, who rides 70 to 150 miles weekly, inevitably has encounters with cars. However, he's noticed fewer this past year.

"I've found the more respectful I am to motorists and road laws, the more respect I'm given," he said. "It takes a certain level of resilience to ride the streets of Indianapolis being such a car focused city, but I honestly feel like motorists are beginning to recognize cyclists as being part of traffic."

Alan Rainey said he's noticed a night-and-day change in the flow of traffic. Rainey, who serves the Central Indiana Bicycling Association board of directors as well as the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Council, said he thought the habits of drivers changed as soon bike lanes were introduced.

"It's amazing what a strip of paint on the pavement will do," said Rainey. "Traffic moves faster because (the motorists) feel more comfortable in their lane. Everything is predictable."

But motorists weren't singled out: Cyclists were also targeted for violations like running red lights, drafting behind cars, or failing to use lights at night. Bickel said he plans to continue the program again next summer, issuing warnings and tickets.

A growing trend

As city officials and stakeholders work together to fine tune their efforts, more and more commuters are opting to leave the car home – a trend that looks only to expand right along with Indy's bike lanes.

For motorist Dorothy Lafara, a computer programmer, sharing the road with cyclists seemed very dangerous before, especially on Allisonville Road, a road she frequently travels, where bike lane markings were recently added.

Recently, that perception seems to have changed.

"The roads seem so much safer now, the bike lanes are so clearly marked," she said.

Others, like Chelsey Wininger, seem to agree. The chilly, sprinkly weather on a recent Monday morning did not deter Wininger, whose mile-long commute to work takes her to the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.

She said she thinks the city's plan to add more bike lanes is great, especially since she sometimes rides on sidewalks to avoid the street and traffic.

"I think the presence of more bike lanes will make drivers more aware of bikers, that we're around," said Wininger. "Maybe they'll drive a little more safely."

The author is a new member of IndyCog, and former member of the Central Indiana Bicycling Association, both local education and advocacy groups.

Safety Tips For Bicyclists

* Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists.

* Wearing a bicycle helmet is strongly recommended.

* Ride a bicycle on the right side of the road in the same direction as other traffic.

* Use hand signals to communicate your actions to motor vehicles.

* Yield to pedestrians in crosswalk.

* At night, a bicycle must have a white light visible from the front and a red reflector or light visible from the rear; wear retro-reflective clothing when possible.

For Motorists Concerning Bicyclists

* Share the road with bicyclists.

* Remember: Bicyclists have the same rights, rules and responsibilities as all other road users.

* Pass a bicyclist only when it is safe, giving ample room (a three foot minimum) and when there is no danger from oncoming traffic.

* Look for bicyclists. You must develop your eye-scanning patterns to include cyclists.

* Before opening the door of your parked car, check behind for cyclists.

* Do not drive or double-park in bike lanes.

To request printed safety materials, see Bicycle Indiana's website: To share your suggestions on placement of new bike lanes or to report problems, like poor lane conditions or fading stripes, write to: or visit

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