After decades of little or no attention paid
to cyclists, Indianapolis has made huge strides over the past three years to
encourage two-wheeled transportation, with even brighter days seemingly on the
Crews are attempting to finish a number of
bike lane projects that will bring the number of miles of bike lanes in the
city to 64, about double the number earlier this year. Earlier this month,
funds would be earmarked to build an additional 75 miles of trails and bike
lanes throughout the city by 2015.
Connectivity is the key to the planned
routes, said City Planner Jamison Hutchins. Two segments of the Fall Creek
Trail on the east side finally will be connected, and the recently completed
71st Street Connector Trail will be extended in some form, eventually
connecting with Lafayette Road bike lanes and the Monon
Trail. South side residents also will see their first huge increase in trail
mileage; Hutchins said the city's focus in the following years will be to bring
the south side mileage up to par with the north.
Once completed, Indianapolis will have more
than 200 miles of trails, greenways and bike lanes, allowing commuter and
recreational cyclists to travel nearly anywhere in city almost entirely on the
bike network. Add in the recent opening of the $1
nearing completion, and it seems to be an ideal time to be a Marion County
But some critics say the bulk of the city's
efforts are actually making bikers less safe. And while the infrastructure
continues to grow, education and enforcement efforts continue to lag.
Local attorney and blogger Paul Ogden argues
the design of the bike lanes along New York Street leave cyclists open to
getting hit by motorists backing up or opening their car doors. He also
criticized the lack of upkeep of other lanes by the city.
"These bike lanes are giving riders a
false sense of security," said Ogden, a frequent bicycle commuter.
"They think they're safe, but it's only a strip of paint separating them from
vehicle traffic. I wouldn't want my son or daughter riding them."
But Hutchins said Ogden is missing the point;
most cyclists realize that just because they're in a bike lane, they're not
magically protected from traffic.
Pike Township resident Matt Stone typically
rides up to 100 miles a week, both for fun and to get to the Ivy Tech campus.
He expressed similar concerns to Ogden, but acknowledged his preference for
additional greenways or segregated bike lanes might not be financially
practical. Workers are completing a half-mile separated cycle track in
Fountain Square, connecting the Pleasant Run Trail with the Cultural Trail, but
the cost is much more expensive than a traditional bike lane, a luxury the
cash-strapped city can't often afford.
To keep costs down, most bike lanes are
created during road resurfacing projects, Hutchins said. No roads have been
widened to create new bike lanes; whenever possible the city tries to use
one-way streets with three to four lanes, taking a little bit from each lane to
create the new bike lane.
"In the end, there's a little less room
in each lane, but that also can be a benefit," Hutchins said.
"Narrower lanes mean people are going to be more aware and hopefully drive
slower. We've had a lot of people living in these neighborhoods who love the
bike lanes just because drivers aren't speeding through anymore."
Hutchins acknowledges some of the earliest
bike lanes aren't perfect, but claims city engineers are learning from previous
mistakes. The city is also doing a better job of cleaning the bike lanes and
encouraged riders who notice debris to call the Mayor's Action Center for help.
City planners have tried to avoid
controversies, declining to move forward with a Shelby Street bike lane project
that would take away on-street parking for surrounding businesses. Instead, the
city went with sharrows, painted bicycle symbols that
alert drivers the road is frequently used by cyclists.
But some drivers - especially those who
haven't come across similar road markings in the past - have expressed
confusion about what they mean. That's also evident on New York Street, where a
green bicycle lane indicating a shift in traffic pattern caused a bit of
uncertainty when it was created in 2007.
"There's still a bit of confusion every
now and then," Hutchins acknowledged. "But typically traffic
continues to roll smoothly. There's just one or two lane shifts; it really
doesn't change the way people drive."
Although Ogden claims they're dangerous, city
officials aren't aware of any motorist-cyclist accidents involving the bike
lanes. By contrast, elsewhere in the city, there were 160 vehicle-biker
collisions between Jan. 1 and Oct. 1 of last year.
League of American Bicyclists spokeswoman
Meghan Cahill says the best thing cyclists can do to promote safer riding
conditions is multiply.
"The more cyclists you have on the road,
the more awareness you're going to have," Cahill said.
Neither Ogden nor Stone say the bike-lane
investments have yielded more riders, but the League of American Bicyclists
reported a 62 percent increase in commuter cyclists from 2008 to 2009. The city
doesn't yet have a solid grasp of exactly how many people are using the lanes,
but hopes to conduct a rider count sometime next year.
Seven students at Herron School of Design,
working under the Median Design banner, hope to increase communication between
cyclists and motorists. The group held an open brainstorming session Monday
evening at IUPUI, and plan to hold others before the end of the year.
moved forward with initiatives to help grow the (cycling) infrastructure, but
without the proper education, that won't matter," said Bella Olszewski, one of the students involved in the
project. " There's always going to be accidents, but if both
drivers and cyclists are more aware and know the other is out there and what
their responsibilities are, both are going to be safer."
Both Olszewski and
Hutchins mentioned including more bike-related information in driver's
education training, but what about adults? Hutchinson has been attending
community meetings in areas where bike lanes are being installed, answering
neighbors' questions. The city also is working on a new public service
announcement for the city's website and the Department of Public Work's YouTube channel
channel. Officials are discussing mailing information with utility bills in the
Hutchins hopes a renewed focus on enforcing
traffic laws will help as well.
"Drivers were driving partially in the
bike lane or not giving 3 feet to the riders; cyclists were riding on the wrong
side of the road or running stop signals or signs," Hutchins said.
"Cyclists have the right to be on the road, but they also share the same
responsibilities as a car. No one's immune to the law."
Over three weeks this summer, Indianapolis
police held a special enforcement campaign; issuing warnings to both drivers
and cyclists they noticed breaking the law. As the bike network continues to
expand, city officials hope to do more of the campaigns.