Thursday, August 7, 2014

Indianapolis Cultural Trail: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

On an early Sunday morning in May, I had the opportunity to bike the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.  Heralded as "a world-class urban bike and pedestrian path that connects neighborhoods, cultural districts and entertainment amenities", it has received a lot of attention, even as far as York Region, Ontario.  A 13 km pathway through the heart of downtown is quite an achievement.  I had questions about how safe and effective it is.  Here is my assessment.

The Good

The connectivity is very impressive, not just to major attractions, shops, and businesses, but to greenways outside of the city so that cyclists can easily commute from the suburbs to downtown on these cycle super highways.  Love it.

The quality of the materials, streetscaping, public art, signage, and attention to detail enhances the experience.

A Bikeshare program is now available at many locations along the trail, which allowed me, as a visitor to the City, to ride the trail.  Part of the trail goes along the canal which is quite scenic.  And the yellow Indiana Pacers bikes are pretty sweet.

The Bad

The pavement markings at intersection crossings are marked with a specially-design preformed thermoplastic material inlaid in the asphalt.  This helped me with wayfinding, as the trail sometime changed from one side of the road to the other.  However, I'm not sure this design meet crosswalk standards for night-time reflectivity.  They may also provide a false sense of security in the location where cyclists and pedestrians are most likely to get struck, and not take the extra care needed when crossing.  

Also, cyclists are expected to use the pedestrian signals, but bikes and pedestrians have different speeds and bicycles should really have their own sets of traffic signals with protected signal phases, especially since it is a two-way facility.

While in most cases, it was clear who had the right of way at intersections and driveways, there were a few unsignalized crossings where it was ambiguous.

The Ugly

On some areas of the trail, pedestrians and cyclists are separated.  However, most of the trail is mixed use.  When I was there in the early morning hours on a Sunday, there weren't very many on the trail and businesses were still closed.  I imagine during the week in the morning and evening peak periods, the trail would get congested in popular areas.  Perhaps to the point of hazardous, or very slow.  I did encounter a few people walking their dogs, which can be a concern for cyclists.

I did notice a number of hardcore cyclists using the road right next to the trail.  Because of their speed, they are more visible and comfortable on the road.  I realize that the trail isn't intended for this user type.  

Here's an example of a people waiting at a bus stop blocking the trail.  Some bus stops were located in front of the trail which was better.

Overall, I think the Indianapolis Cultural Trail is great.  Typically, bicycle infrastructure in downtown areas are on-street.  This off-street protected trail is the type of facility that will encourage new cyclists to get started, and I would take my kids on it, even though I have some reservations about the crossings.  Indianapolis is a very bicycle-friendly City and I hope to bike there again soon.

Here are some additional photos:



Connects with this cycle track at the south end, which then leads to a greenway

 Monon Trail at the north end

Bike fix-it station

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