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

horizon.

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,

Mayor Greg Ballard announced that up to $20 million of RebuildIndy

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.

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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

million Indy Bike Hub in Indianapolis Cultural Trail

nearing completion, and it seems to be an ideal time to be a Marion County

commuter.

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.

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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.

"The city's

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

. Officials are discussing mailing information with utility bills in the

future.

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.

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