It’s ironic perhaps that Indy is finally welcoming itself as a city to the 21st century by creating infrastructure for transportation that has been popular since the 19th century. This past Wednesday, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard revealed the city’s plans of creating almost 200 miles of bike lanes to a crowd of over 150 cyclists, reporters, and supporters of the new bike lanes — a good crowd considering Indy is commonly seen as relatively unfriendly towards cyclists. Even Ballard quipped about the number of cyclists who showed, asking whether Wednesday was still considered a workday.
The unveiling of the plan, called Indy Bikeways, coincided with the launch of its first phase: bike lanes that will run along New York and Michigan streets downtown, which are expected to be finished in six to eight weeks. Also included in this phase are lanes that will share asphalt along Allisonville Rd. and also along parts of 71st St. and Westlane Rd., to be completed by the end of summer, 2009.
The proposed bike lanes, to be launched in a series of four phases, are supposed to crisscross Indianapolis within the next 15 years. “Indy Bikeways is a good plan born out of many years of planning and research,” said Randy Clark, a board member of the Indiana Bicycling Coalition — in fact, over 30 years worth of planning and research, since the Mayor’s Bicycle Task Force first convened in the 1970s.
The Department of Public Works and the designers at R.W. Armstrong say their primary objectives in developing the Indy Bikeways plan were connectivity and “ease of application.” The plan does well to connect not only the downtown hot spots like Fountain Square, Mass Ave. and the Circle, but also to connect downtown with the outlying areas of the city via main roads such as Lafayette and Southeastern. The plan also utilizes already active greenways like the Monon, the Towpath and Pleasant Run.
Also in the works are plans to establish facilities downtown, such as showers and bike parking for commuters, possibly at the Athenaeum YMCA on Mass Ave., as well as a number of new bike racks throughout the city.
What might delay further construction and implementation of these plans? The same thing that held up similar plans for bike lanes in 2001, and always seems to hold up public development: funding.
The proposed plans are estimated to cost $50-60 million, with only the first $700,000 fronted for it so far. The Department of Transportation generally allocates the funding for projects such as these, but with the current economic climate and more people pinching gas budgets, DOT is seeing less income.
Of course, hearing these figures leaves a lot of cyclists begging the question, “What’s so hard about painting lines?”
Keith Cruz of BF&S Civil Engineers, also a devout bike commuter, acknowledges that many people do not recognize that creating bike lanes is more involved than purchasing a can of paint from the local hardware store. Beyond paint, there is also signage to consider, and the resurfacing and widening of roadways and shoulders to accommodate the new bike lanes.
In this light, it might seem bleak to expect the next phases of the Indy Bikeways plan to go forward. Clark, though, praised the city for its history of public/private partnerships and high spirit of volunteerism, and said that these attributes, not tax dollars, would be what makes the Indy Bikeways plan successful.
Speaking to Mayor Ballard and the city of Indianapolis, Clark closed: “We [cyclists] are willing and able partners, and will not let you down.”
With reporting help from Jessica Adams.