It is obvious to the untrained eye that, in recent years, municipal and county governments are paying increasing attention to the capacity for streets to accommodate entities other than vehicles, most specifically for pedestrians and bicycles. In most parts of the country, sidewalks in new subdivisions are no longer a bonus feature to lend prestige; they are an amenity that consumers in newer developments have come to expect.
AARP and a local advocacy organization, Health by Design, recently sponsored a lecture and workshop in Indianapolis on “complete streets”—the notion that a street should serve a broader role than simply a thoroughfare for motorized vehicles. For a street to be complete, it should allow pedestrians, bicyclists, in-line skaters, wheelchairs and strollers to walk safely along that same trajectory. While most high density urban centers are far better at accommodating these other users than rural and suburban areas (often by virtue of the fact that heavy traffic forces cars to travel more slowly), few streets in most downtowns reveal a conscious effort to include infrastructure that puts non-motorized travelers on an equal level with automobiles. Perhaps the best—and one of the few—examples in Indianapolis is the incipient Cultural Trail, a private initiative that, when complete, will connect many of the prominent sites and urban neighborhoods in and surrounding the downtown. It operates as a landscaped buffer that separates bicycles from cars at an elevated grade, as well as a second buffer separating pedestrians from bicycles (as seen in the photos).
Every road crossing is signalized, with the audible, chirping Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) for the visually impaired. Bicyclists and pedestrians get separate signals, as indicated in the pictures above. In addition, every crossing has a clear ramp for wheelchairs (long a necessity since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990). Resting on every ramp are Tactile Walking Surface Indicators, better known as “dot tiles” or detectable warnings to inform the visually impaired of an approaching vehicular right of way by the knobbed dots will feel on a person’s feet. Regular lighting, bicycle parking, public art installations, and historic markers intend to broaden the utility and appeal of the Cultural Trail. At this point, less than one-fifth has been constructed, though by the end of this year it should be about one-third complete, while the entire eight-mile loop should achieve completion by the end of 2011. The Alabama Street corridor is the only section currently finished, but one can see the sophistication and level of investment:More impressive was the City’s willingness to cut rights-of-way on Alabama Street from three to two. No doubt the ADT (Average Daily Traffic) measurements showed that three lanes was generally unnecessary on this street; it will be interesting to see how it fares for potential narrowing of some of the more heavily trafficked roads used in the Cultural Trail, or for those streets in which it will be impossible to reduce the lanes any further. Some have questioned the effectiveness of complete separation of bicycles from automobile traffic, and others believe the signalization could cause confusion at crosswalks and intersections. And, of course, the cost of this far surpasses what any city could hope to apply to the majority of its streets to make them complete.
Nonetheless, this remains one of the only areas in Indianapolis that demonstrates cognizance of the need for complete streets. For good examples of initiatives aimed at achieving Complete Streets infrastructure in other locations, this Flickr page provides good before/after images. (Credit to Graeme at A Place of Sense for pointing this out to me.) The insufficiencies of most other streets in Indianapolis become obvious when one examines the lower standard for paved surfaces, road markings, signage, lighting, and signals. Bike lanes are still fairly uncommon. Sidewalks become inconsistent within about three miles from the center, uncommon four miles from the center, and rare just five miles away. Many of the roads five miles from the city center were set and paved long before the city of Indianapolis stretched out to these limits; the momentous passage of Unigov in 1970 merged the city of Indianapolis’ city limits with the boundaries of MarionCounty. Thus, the section of the city that formerly rested outside the limits shows evidence of its rural, low-density origins and minimal service by a county government: narrow streets, fewer curbs and storm drains, infrequent streetlights. To a visitor arriving in downtown Indianapolis and then driving outward, the road infrastructure begins to look suburban and sometimes almost rural quite quickly, particularly on the south side of town, which was the last to develop. Complete streets are non-existent seven miles south of downtown; this would be the norm for an arterial road:This is the norm for a collector:And this is the typical appearance of a local road developed before 1970:Clearly the Marion County Public Works Department of this time had only one concern: to clear enough space so that cars can traverse efficiently. Density in formerly unincorporated MarionCounty was often almost rural at this point. While the City of Indianapolis still has a relatively low density in comparison to most other Midwestern cities (huge tracts in the southeast and southwest remain farmland), steady development over the past few years has bolstered the residential and commercial activity in the purlieus of the old city limits. However, the City of Indianapolis/Marion County suffers the concomitant concerns of a significantly heterogeneous population, many of which live in poverty, with a greater need for social services, housing subsidies, law enforcement, bilingual education. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the city budget must be spread over a variety of needs, and pedestrian/bicycle improvements along the streets are not a top priority.
The suburbs of Indianapolis, most of which rest in the eight adjacent counties (Marion county rests in the middle, almost like the center square in a tic-tac-toe puzzle) generally enjoy a robust tax base of middle- and upper-income residents, with notably low poverty levels. This understandably allows municipal governments to devote more time on amenities and quality of life considerations, with far less money devoted to rectifying perceived social ills. The suburbs have, in many regards, surpassed Indianapolis in their attention to details necessary in achieving Complete Streets.
The wealthy northern suburb of Carmel, in Hamilton County, has achieved national attention for its radical reworking of its road network to improve traffic flow through the strategic incorporation of roundabouts, which in turn create an improved pedestrian environment because all cars are forced to slow through the convergence of two roads (as opposed to a stop light, where cars with the green can simply speed through the intersection during optimal traffic conditions). Carmel has achieved bronze status as a Bicycle Friendly Community from the League of American Bicyclists for helping to transform what had long been a predominantly disconnected patchwork of subdivisions terminating in cul-de-sacs into a community in which most major collector roads have some level of pedestrian or bicycle accommodation. This extensive upgrade has culminated in a significantly refurbished downtown, the Arts and Design District , which has significantly enhanced the credentials of Carmel’s downtown as a leisure destination. This link from the city’s International Arts Festival has some of the better photographs I can find.
Completing Streets in an Indianapolis Suburb
Perhaps I’m caving in to convenience, but Carmel is quite a drive from where I live in Indianapolis, so it is difficult for me to capture it in photos as of yet, though I do plan to include some Carmel’s achievements in a later blog entry. Carmel, while still developing, has matured much more in its infrastructural improvements than Greenwood, the equivalent suburb on the south side of the city, in JohnsonCounty. Greenwood is nowhere near as affluent as Carmel, so the tax base may never allow for the widespread public investment that helped stimulate the renaissance of the former city’s downtown. Greenwood nonetheless is a bedroom community with a solid middle and upper-middle class—a population likely to demand evidence of sound government spending in infrastructural needs. The east side of Greenwood in particular has benefited from an emergent network of pedestrian paths along formerly automobile-only streets. Here, at last, is where this text-heavy blog entry introduces a bona fide photo montage.
Greenwood, like many suburbs across the Midwest, has a small, concentrated downtown in close proximity to the original railroad depot, with several blocks of strictly gridded residential streets surrounding it, followed by a broader swath of more recent, heavily auto-oriented development. The oldest part of Greenwood has always been comparatively walkable, with adequate sidewalks, narrow streets, and speed limits that promote an awareness of pedestrians. The remainder of the city boomed after the proliferation of the automobile, when Greenwood asserted itself as a suburb of Indianapolis. The goal among city officials appears to be to expand the walkability of the city beyond its old historic core. The path featured in the photo below is a recently constructed trail adjacent to the Main Street, attempting to instill some degree of completeness to the portion of Greenwood’s Main Street that extends beyond old Greenwood into the newer, more typically suburban, auto-oriented part. The Main Street trail is wider than your typical sidewalk, apparently attempting to accommodate both pedestrians and bicycles in lieu of altering the striping of the street for bike lanes; I saw both bikes and pedestrians using this portion of the trail.
As the photos indicate, the Main Street Trail has labels on occasion to identify it and to deter motorized vehicles (golf carts or ATVs perhaps?) from using it, and it appears to be paved with asphalt, rather than the conventional concrete squares of uniform size seen in most older city sidewalks, including the older parts of Greenwood. I’m no expert on paving surfaces, but I know enough to be aware that few public works departments would argue that, between concrete and asphalt, one is better than the other—they each have their disadvantages. But the shift from the old, narrower concrete sidewalk to the broader, newer asphalt is indicative of a trend I’ve seen in other cities that try to improve pedestrianism.
Now regarding the design: the Complete Streets lecture sponsored by AARP and Health by Design focused predominantly on policy, arguing that design strategies can vary greatly and become more complicated. I prefer to use my observations to comment on the general planning and layout because pedestrian planning as a policy initiative appears to be well-tilled ground. In Greenwood, one can see the gaps in the trail where the city has yet to complete its work. The discontinuity where the new Main Street Trail ends prematurely leaves a “goat trail,” where frequent pedestrian travel has worn bare the grassy turf:
The older, concrete portion of the Greenwood sidewalk connects about 150′ further down. This is probably not a problem to the average able-bodied pedestrian (or mountain bicyclist). But it renders the trail along Main Street difficult or unusable for persons with strollers or in wheelchairs. It appears a simple mistake, easy for the planners to rectify, but the same gaps appear elsewhere in the trail as well. Notice this spot close to a major juncture with heavy commercial activity:
The user is forced to cut through parking lots and service lanes to the shopping areas nearby to pick up the rest of the trail on Emerson Avenue, where the path continues southward. This portion on Emerson Avenue is more contiguous, but reveals some interesting planning decisions where an older piece of sidewalk was apparently laid as concrete squares and the newer portion in asphalt joins it.This is a minor complaint, of course, but this could create bottlenecking if a bicyclist and pedestrian were to pass one another. Such a fusion of two different widths would be unthinkable on a conventional road without warning signage and a gradual attenuation.
Interestingly, upon returning to Main Street and continuing eastward, the asphalt trail continues intermittently even as the population density thins, including one of the few sections where there appeared to be signalized pedestrian crossings, right as the trail continues under Interstate 65.
However, as the trail emerges to the east side of the interstate, it approaches a handsome wooden bridge over a large ditch and then terminates again. This eastern side of I-65 still ostensibly falls under Greenwood’s city limits but only comprises a few nascent housing developments, a number of smaller farms/cornfields, and some large trucking logistical centers. Yet many of the streets here have trails and sidewalks, sometimes parallel to both sides. While this suggests the city’s anticipation of future residential growth (further supported by the widening of one the narrow country lanes), it does appear far fetched to think that there will be a great demand for running and bicycling alongside these sprawling warehouses:
My speculation was at least supported by the fact that I saw no walkers around here, while there were quite a few on the other side of I-65, where the bulk of the population lives—and where there were noticeable gaps in the sidewalks and trails. This seemingly arbitrary placement of pedestrian amenities reminds of me of an observation I made several years ago when I was testing bike lanes in Philadelphia. The city of Philadelphia has one of the strongest networks of bike lanes in the country—of all the large cities (population over one million) I’ve visited in recent years, in may be the best, in terms of thoroughness, contiguity, and visibility. However, one place with particularly thorough bike lane presence was along the service roads leading to the international airport, and frontage roads near the interstate in this same area. I had to bike along these lanes, and I didn’t see another soul—even with the lanes I felt somewhat unsafe because cars were traveling at high speeds (over 50 mph) and clearly did not anticipate seeing any bicyclists in the area. Aside from the bike lanes, the built environment in this section of Philadelphia in no other way accommodated pedestrians, and there was no indication that there were plans to make it pedestrian friendly. There would be no reason. All the area had were a cluster of hotels and restaurants one would typically see at an interstate exit ramp, corporate offices, and trucking centers; it was fundamentally an auto-oriented zone, and it is also unlikely to appeal to bicyclists seeking scenic views.
In the cases of both Philadelphia and Greenwood, installation of lanes/sidewalks seemed motivated by convenience and expediency than by a demand among the constituents for complete streets. These sparsely settled areas require less intervention and less earth-moving or potential disruption of utility provision than dense neighborhoods and commercial zones, so it is no doubt cheaper to build bike lanes and greenways around there, and the city can still boast of its achievement in marketing campaigns that claim a certain number of miles worth of marked lanes or paved trails. I can also respect that it is wise to consider the appeal of rural bikeways as well. But these districts in Philadelphia and Greenwood are logistical hubs for motorized vehicles—planes and cars—and among the last places most bicyclists will seek for recreation or utilitarian purposes (i.e., few people will ever commute to work at an airport or trucking distribution center by bicycle). My observations of the ill-conceived application of Complete Streets principles at these locations only further disaffirms the famed Daniel Burnham maxim of “build it and they will come”: my observations suggest that it has been built in an area where there is no “they”, and nothing is coming. Decisions like this from the planning and public works departments from these two respective cities erode their credibility among taxpayers who demand accountability for their transportation improvement plans. Perhaps someday a demand for trails next to these trucking centers will manifest itself, but couldn’t that money have been used to upgrade sidewalks and trails where they are missing in older, more densely populated parts of Greenwood?
Nonetheless, Greenwood seems to be getting in right in many accounts. I have gone jogging on some of these trails, and the continuity in many cases is quite strong and only likely to improve over time. The City’s website provides a trail map which shows how comprehensive it already is.
The City’s efforts stretch across the entirety of the municipal limits and do not dwell on a single part of town. It does, however, appear that the City has no intention of improving the intersection of Main Street and Emerson Avenue, based on the absence of any overlay red or dashed yellow lines on the pedestrian plan. This intersection with high traffic volume will most likely always remain auto-oriented, but pedestrian provisions on the north side of Emerson Avenue fail to connect with Main Street, resulting in a complete absence of safe crosswalks on any of the four major street crossings. They also do not appear interested in any improvements on US 31, which is particularly lacking around the perimeter of Greenwood Park Mall, a pedestrian unfriendly area by nature but one with such concentration of activity that it behooves the city to allow some safe maneuvering for walkers or bicyclists along the verge or at major intersections. At this point only the Madison Avenue side has sidewalks (on one side of the street) and County Line Avenue has a proposed sidewalk. I would encourage the planners to evaluate improvements on the Fry Road and US 31 sides as well, if not for the entire length of these streets than at least for the portions that abut the Mall.
My final quibble with this Greenwood Pedestrian Plan is its conflation of sidewalks and trails, as manifested on the key to the City’s map. The very fact that the pathways marked with red lines on the Trail Map use a variety of paving surfaces, widths, signage, and trajectories suggests that the planners have a duality of systems in operation here, which they are not communicating the public. The Random House dictionary’s definition of sidewalk is “a walk, esp. a paved one, at the side of a street or road”. This matches the general public perception of a sidewalk: that it runs parallel to a street or at least a right of way. Conversely, trails, towpaths, or greenways are almost completely fungible, mostly because none of them adhere to a single definition. Trails could essentially comprise anything that is not a sidewalk. In the case of Greenwood’s classification system, a sidewalk would be anything paralleling a street that is most likely composed of concrete slabs of uniform size—most important, however, is the fact that it hugs a street by either directly abutting the curb or allowing a small grassy buffer (the verge) between the curb and the paved walk. Sidewalks most likely to serve a utilitarian purpose of aiding a pedestrian of getting from one point to another using the right-of-way formed by roads without the suffering the danger of walking in the road. Trails, by Greenwood’s standards, tend to be wider than sidewalks, use an interrupted strip of asphalt, and may inscribe property lines. They have signs with a “yield” warning of an upcoming intersection, as well as disruptive posts (almost the equivalent of bollards but nowhere near as durable) to prohibit vehicles—particularly golf carts—from using them. Trails are fundamentally recreational instead of utilitarian: their width and smoothness should allow them to accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, or inline skaters; sidewalks are typically engineered only to accommodate the former. However, these stipulations are a moot point: I would give the City of Greenwood the complete freedom to make distinctions as it sees fit, and to adhere to those established definitions.
No doubt my obsession with trails and sidewalks seems like hairsplitting. But the main problem is that, as it currently stands, Greenwood is apparently using its trail system as a means of shirking the responsibility of building sidewalks where they are clearly lacking and could benefit the neighborhood. Building a trail system is by most measurements a wonderful endeavor for a municipality of Greenwood’s size with real bedroom community aspirations, especially if they are wide enough for bikes to use in lieu of adding bike lanes, but it would be prudent for the City to avoid thinking of them as a compensatory gesture for the vast swaths of town that have no sidewalks. The collision of these two entities—trail and sidewalk—and the lack of distinction between the two only serves to dissipate the identity of either one, and it results in physical design shortcomings like the bottlenecking trail photograph I posted earlier.
Revisiting Indianapolis and its Overdue Efforts
Regardless of its weaknesses, the Greenwood trail/sidewalk system comes far closer to demonstrating a citywide awareness of the need Complete Streets than Indianapolis can even hope for at this point. So much of the transportation network in Indianapolis remains unchanged from pre-Unigov periods that it is high time the city start designing its roads like it really is a city. Mayor Greg Ballard’s recent establishment of the Infrastructure Advisory Committee is a much-needed step in the right direction, though its scope is vast: the committee must also address concerns of sewage treatment (combined sewer outflow), storm sewer drainage, water treatment, and a variety of other public works-related improvements that have long been postponed or ignored. The focus of this committee is spread across a variety of formidable needs, and the fact that, outside of the older urban core, many of Indianapolis’ streets are dark, narrow, and lacking in curbs, sidewalks, or bike lanes means that prioritization will be essential.
The Complete Streets lecture recognized that it would be unreasonable to expect every street in America to come fully equipped with sidewalks, bike lanes, lights, cross walks, Accessible Pedestrian Signals, or traffic calming devices. Many streets, lecturer Randy Neufeld acknowledged, are “complete” even though they lack all of the aforementioned. A rural street with a strict speed limit for cars will be generally safe for pedestrians, if the density of the built environment around it (homes, businesses) is particularly low. Indianapolis has plenty of these, and it would be unwise to prioritize the upgrading of these streets at the expense of neighborhood streets that are currently much more unsafe for pedestrians, bicyclists, or wheelchairs. A perfect example would be the street included in the photo below, just a little over four miles south of downtown. The originally developers of the street clearly subdivided and platted a long and narrow parcel long before the street was ever part of the Indianapolis city limits, resulting in a road which has an almost rural feel: no sidewalks, no curbs, intermittent streetlights, no storm sewers, and houses built some distance off the street. No one could conceive that the City of Indianapolis would someday absorb the much more urbanized character of everything else around it.
Obviously it doesn’t look like a standard urban road. It is a dead-end street without even a cul-de-sac for quick turnarounds in vehicles. The layout and rural infrastructure would most likely not receive a permit by today’s standards; it would have to seek a variance to omit sidewalks, storm sewers, or a cul-de-sac from its plan, and the permitting department would probably reject the application for such a variance. But it was acceptable in unincorporated Marion County at the time, long before the 1970 passage of Unigov. Such a street, rarely traveled by mere passers-by, assumes the quality of a private road, and the absence of strict zoning regulations at the time it was platted allows for an unlikely mix of uses, with large-lot homes next to structures such as this, a holding facility for vehicles of the local school district:
My suspicion is that a street such as this is perfectly suitable for the people who live there, posing little danger to pedestrians who must walk along the street. It is likely that the people who live here prefer the almost rural character, even if, when returning to the main artery from which this street ramifies, one can cross the street of the principal artery and see a much newer subdivision adhering to more contemporary permitting standards:Clearly streets such as this should rank quite low in any upgrade embarked upon by the Infrastructure Advisory Committee. Plenty of arterial and collector streets lack sidewalks; many of those that do have sidewalks fail to meet current standards of suitable safety for wheelchairs, vision-impaired users, or those who need more time to cross the street. Generally speaking, the city has been fairly diligent at including electronic pedestrian crossing signals at most intersections (sometimes even those that don’t have real sidewalks). Compare this to cities such as Philadelphia and New Orleans, where even the downtowns often lack electronic signals: pedestrians in these cities typically have to look at the stoplights to know when to walk, and the only warning they get that a light is about to change is the same four-second-long, amber caution light that drivers receive.
To conclude this lengthy post, I commend the leadership of AARP and Health by Design for integrating Complete Streets into the dialogue, so quickly after the formation of the Infrastructural Advisory Committee. Whatever the current leadership’s shortcomings, it has demonstrated far more of an interest in upgrading transportation to accommodate non-motorized users in Indianapolis than any mayoral administration in the past. It is high time the city improve its lamentable standing for pedestrian friendliness of its streets: not only does any further negligence hamper the city’s competitiveness with other, more walkable cities of comparable size, the City of Indianapolis is failing even to compete with many of its suburbs. Recognizing that the city has a needier population and a far less robust tax base than its almost poverty-free suburbs, the challenge will be to articulate a plan that maximizes the return on investment. My own recommendations for how Indianapolis can proceed with its vision of Complete Streets include the following:
1) Prioritize streets based on existing traffic patterns, connectivity, and density of residents/workers. Arterial and collector streets that service those portions of the city that meet the US Census Bureau’s definition of Urbanized Areas should be top priority for sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and ASPs. [Note: an Urbanized Area (UA) includes core census blocks groups of at least 1,000 people per square mile or more, and their surrounding census blocks with a minimum density of 500 people per square mile. Check the website for more.] This would involve most of Center Township, where the original city limits of Indianapolis lie and the areas that were platted long before the automobile. Obviously, much of this area already has sidewalks, though there are some that are still lacking. Many of the existing sidewalks haven’t been repaired in decades; in some cases, it’s hard to make out any sidewalk at all because nature has devoured so much of the paving surfaces. These same areas are likely home to a higher concentration of bicyclists who depend upon them for basic transportation (utilitarian biking rather than recreational biking). The higher population density already forces automobiles to stop more often and travel at slower speeds, so the environment is more amenable to a bike-friendly infrastructure already. Striping and signage will enhance its visibility to motorists. Hierarchically organizing the improvements plan based on allotted time periods that link directly to the funding stream will allow a mapped vision: i.e., a 2-year, 4-year, 8-year, and 15-year plan. The variables, as mentioned above, should be based chiefly on the following: a) population density; b) mixture of uses: residential, commercial/retail, civic or public; c) existing levels of danger posed to pedestrians/bicyclists; d) evidence of heavy pedestrian bike activity through goat trails or other improvised rights-of-way; e) connectivity of the street network, where ecumenical, gridded streets take priority over hierarchical (cul-de-sacs) for the abetment of multidirectional pedestrian movement; and f) topographic and other natural features do not pose an undue burden. Such a plan will no doubt favor increased upgrades to Center Township at the expense of the surrounding, more suburban portions of Indianapolis (the collar townships), but parts b) through d) in particular will allow suburban roads with a high mixture of uses—homes in close proximity to jobs or shopping—to still warrant high priority improvement.
2) Distinguish the different types of improvements—sidewalks, bike lanes, trails, greenways, towpaths, streetlights, crosswalks, etc—during the research and information gathering process, but consolidate the research findings during master planning. This will help avoid some of the problems posed by Greenwood’s process, in which conflation of ideals has resulted in an unclear distinction between trails and greenways, amenities for bikes and pedestrians versus those for pedestrians alone. By the same token, the Central Indiana Community Foundation, IndyParks and Recreation, and Indy Greenways have seemingly concentrated all their efforts in recent years on the Cultural Trail, which, while admirable, has caused the once nationally recognized Indianapolis Greenway system to lag. Indy Parks have forged some trails that are developed without record in the greenway system, others have been built as greenways when sidewalks are preferred given the location, and some greenways have stalled and languished when goat trails indicate a significant demand for their continuation. The research should look at sidewalks on their own terms and not how a greenway on one side of the street will preclude the need for a sidewalk on the other side; otherwise the planners are conflating recreational path use from utilitarian path use, which is again a problem I have witnessed in Greenwood. Only when fusing the results of the findings for each of these improvements as separate entities should the various agents engaged in research put their findings together to devise a comprehensive Complete Streets Plan.
3) Before refining a Complete Streets Plan, engage in extensive public outreach to reveal the results of the findings. This is a no-brainer, but it will put the preponderance of the city’s support in favor of these improvements when the city demonstrates how carefully researched the tentative plan is. Research would have likely stalled the development of sophisticated trails in the truck warehousing section of Greenwood; if it failed to stall it, a public hearing showing the trails built in an area intrinsically hostile to bikes and pedestrians could easily have killed it. A city such as Indianapolis, with far less discretionary spending available for amenities, would need to be held to a higher degree of accountability. Many citizens, particularly those living on local residential streets in high density areas that would clearly benefit from sidewalks, may still wonder if the disruption and noise caused by the construction is worth it. They in particular could need convincing of how these improvements will boost the desirability of their neighborhoods. And, like the Complete Streets lecture, persuading the citizenry by raising awareness of how vulnerable certain pedestrians are enhances the cause: senior citizens trapped by dangerous streets are among those likely to elicit the most sympathy.
4) Integrate the Complete Streets Plan to a broader capital improvements initiative. Indianapolis is hardly the only city suffering from aging or inadequate infrastructure; this is a national problem, a result of deferred maintenance and steady technological advancements rendering the older system obsolete. Remember that at one point engineers clearly thought that Combined Sewer Overflow was not a particular problem. Not only will complete streets necessitate a new budgetary component for their eventual maintenance, but they will require the ability (or at least the financial resources) to anticipate further advancements that can be integrated to the system, to make streets even more pedestrian friendly that we can currently even imagine. This does not require prescience as much as flexibility and lack of complacency among civic leaders; even if Indianapolis meets its goal of achieving X percent complete streets in X years, it is inevitable that by that point, superior engineering should supplant the materials we are using right now. The budget for the Cultural Trail is accounting for the eventual need for improvements and rehabilitation as a specialized project with a definitive end date; transportation improvements for a city of 800,000 people and over 300 square miles will never be able to articulate a definitive end date. Yet this is not so much a problem as it is a concern that planners must account for, both in terms of labor (planning brains and construction brawn) and in terms of budgetary allotments.
No doubt most of these points have already been considered by people far more informed than I am, and I scarcely want to insult anyone’s intelligence by including them. But my casual observations suggest that, at least in places like Greenwood and Indianapolis, the right hand and the left hand aren’t always operating in sync. Sidewalks end abruptly, bike striping disappears with the application of a new layer of asphalt, utility poles get installed in the middle of a sidewalk (blocking passage for wheelchairs), and street signs suggest prioritization of pedestrians or motorized vehicles at crosswalks, without the accompanying changes to the road to reinforce—or simply to enforce—them. See these final photos in Greenwood for other examples of elements overlooked in their trail/sidewalk/greenway network.
Here in south Greenwood, an otherwise perfectly acceptable sidewalk lacks a wheelchair ramp:Here, also in south Greenwood, a sidewalk fails to traverse a railroad crossing. See how it ends near the utility pole (by the sunbeam):Taken from a different angle:And then the sidewalk continues, on the other side of the tracks, but on the other side of the street:Perhaps these photos imply that I am critical of the City of Greenwood’s efforts at complete –definitely not my intent. I believe the City has already made tremendous strides and is likely to rectify many of the problems I have identified. I hope that, as a growing portion of citizens see Complete Streets as an important component to urban or suburban livability (particularly the aging Baby Boomers!), the evidence will be obvious. Seeing people walking and riding along streets will be normal, instead of a curiosity. An increase in both recreational and utilitarian use of streets by bicycles and pedestrians might also be reflected in the shrinking waistlines of the American populace…but I’ll reserve that for another posting.