Over 100 years ago, fast cars are what put Indianapolis on the map. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has long been one of the economic drivers for Central Indiana and that image of speed even lent a marketing campaign for the state known as ReStart Your Engines. As the city grew, so did the roadways and the number of cars using said roads around the city. A large portion of Indy’s downtown was even removed to make way for fast cars including the horrid I-65/I-70 split that separated the Historic Fletcher Place Neighborhood and Fountain Square causing years of neglect and abandonment in some of the near neighborhoods. During the highway boom, nearly 60 years ago, neighborhoods were bull dozed in the name of fast cars and Indianapolis was no stranger. A 2009 story by WTHR even recognized the poor ranking by Walkability.com, a website that scores each neighborhood for their safe modes of alternative transportation. The city ranked #37 out of a total of 40 metered cities, making the capital city one of the worst in overall performance only beating Jacksonville Florida. While city officials pushed off the notion of bad street design, the image would continue to harm the city for the next several months, keeping Indy the car-centric community it had been for nearly a century.
As the depths of the recession continued to sink in for the city, Mayor Ballard who was considered an economic transitional Mayor recognized the only way to jump-start the economic growth and vitality of the city was to change the way of thinking. A city that continually designed for automobile over pedestrian or bicyclist began to realize the roadmap of progress took place on sidewalks, bike lanes AND street infrastructure combined. In 2010, the city had a mere five miles of bike lanes with a few additional miles planned, but it wasn’t enough. A report called Indianapolis Bikeways Plan was adopted by city leaders and would add an additional 200 miles of bike lanes across the city by 2020. Simply doing things the way they had been done for so long wouldn’t work anymore and a change needed to be made. Brian Payne, often noted as the creator of Indy’s famed Cultural Trail started to see the vision of an eight-mile neighborhood connector, protected bike lane come to life. Little did the city expect that this one project would be a catalyst for nearly 1 Billion in economic investment along with a reduction in overall bike related fatalities. This one project has changed an entire city’s way of thinking and planning which may be one of the biggest reasons Indianapolis pulled through the economic recession so well compared to other cities similar in size.
Indianapolis at the time wasn’t ahead of the pack, but at the same time wasn’t in the last place. While the city had a few miles of bike lanes, it ranked nearly dead last in cities with a strong biking community which continued to plague the city for talent attraction and retention. A study in Washington DC found that on a street where there is a protected bike lane, the amount of bicycle traffic increased nearly seven times faster than the citywide rate. It’s been proven that there is a direct economic link between bike travel and business retention, talent retention and growth. The city decided to be proactive and took a lesson from the success in Washington DC when designing their latest protected bike lane for Pennsylvania Avenue, as it’s the first of many protected lanes to come. Downtown Indianapolis continues to see increased bicycle ridership and many recognize the city’s efforts to become a more walk-able and bike friendly city. In 2015, Metropolitan Magazine named Indianapolis the only city in the United States as the most livable place which is quite an honor when you recognize how many other cities missed the necessary marks to compete. That was partly due to the increased efforts by city leaders to ditch design for fast cars exclusively and make the city friendly for all modes of transportation. Since the article and latest investments by the city, Indy is now ranked the 3rd most walkable city in the country. Its bike friendliness score continues to increase as well, jumping into the teens which are quite a substantial improvement from just five years ago.
All we have to do is take a short trip to Indy and see the success of their recent bike friendly investments. Imagine if Fort Wayne had the funding to make North Clinton a bike-friendly multi-modal street with protected bike lanes. It could be the first in Northeast Indiana as the street connects three large schools, two shopping centers, neighborhoods and an apartment community.
How do we change the mindset from Fast Cars to Friendly Streets?