Indianapolis Paves the Way for Bikes and Pedestrians


Construction is underway on what may be the nation’s most advanced urban greenway system.

Indianapolis, Indiana is making what could be the boldest step of any North American city towards supporting bicyclists and pedestrians. Known as an extremely auto-oriented city, most closely associated with the Indianapolis 500, this is one of the last cities we would have expected to see systematically removing vehicle lanes and replacing them with bicycle and pedestrian space.

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail is a bold vision for about 8 miles of separated greenway that is currently being built through the downtown core of Indianapolis. Led by the Central Indiana Community Foundation in partnership with the city, the project is a visionary response to skyrocketing obesity and the opportunity to leverage and better serve downtown infrastructure investments.


Downtown Indianapolis before the Cultural Trail.


Downtown Indianapolis after the Cultural Trail.

More than just a separated bike path, the Cultural Trail is an economic development tool that will help support and connect the city’s many cultural and civic destinations. It will help revitalize streets by bringing more people downtown and increasing the circulation and length of time that people spend in the central city. As it becomes part of the city, it will also enhance the public presence of existing destinations and help create many new destinations throughout the downtown.


The Trail will help connect and define several districts within the downtown core.

A combination of private and federal funds are being used to pay for the project. Public spaces have generally not attracted this kind of private investment, particularly in car-dominated Midwestern cities, but a bold vision and strong leadership at the community foundation has raised the bar for other cities.


The design of the path will variably integrate and separate pedestrians and bicylists.

Project for Public Spaces was in Indianapolis last week doing Placemaking training for the grantees and partners of the community foundation’s Inspiring Places Initiative. We are part of the design team for the Cultural Trail project, doing the international best practices research of separated bike paths that informed the final design. Andy Wiley-Schwartz, who now works as an Assistant Commissioner at the New York City Department of Transportation, worked on the project while at PPS.


Sidewalk extensions make pedestrians and bicyclists more prominent on car-dominated streets.

One of the challenges in the design was to figure how to deal with intersections. While we found many different approaches from around the world and discussed additional options, we decided that reducing the crossing distance for bikes and pedestrians by extending the curbs and creating large integrated pedestrian areas would work best.

The Cultural Trail is creating a powerful impetus for Indianapolis neighborhood groups to begin redefining their streets as public spaces that satisfy a broad range of community needs. Indianapolis — a quintessential Midwestern car town — has decided that a street can and should be more than just a place to drive and store motor vehicles.

  • Dave H.

    Did the city just come up with this by itself or was there some grass-roots movement behind this?

  • Greg Raisman

    Indianapolis is quite the dichotomy. As many StreetsBlog readers know, the state recently leased a freeway to a foreign conglomerate and are using the multi-billion dollar deal to fully fund a ten-year freeway building program.

    At the other end of the spectrum lies projects like this one and the Colts Stadium project that is shaping up to be a rather ascertive New Urbanist type development. I recently ran into this end of the spectrum when I was invited to speak at a conference there last month.

    The Health by Design conference was sponsored by the Marion County Health Department (Indianapolis has a “Uni-Gov” — unified city-county government). It was a pretty high powered event (even though I was one of the speakers). The focus was on why and how to make Indianapolis a more inviting place to walk, bike, and take transit.

    They asked me to present because of my background in Indiana (I lived in Bloomington for 10 years and have given a few presentations there on return visits). The thing that got them very excited was this movie about Portland that Clarence Eckerson made (and I worked hard on it with him): http://www.streetfilms.org/archives/portland-celebrating-americas-most-livable-city/

    You can see the presentation I gave them here:
    ftp://ftp.trans.ci.portland.or.us/raisman/Indianapolis/Portland%20Overview%20Presentation.ppt

    About 150 people attended and it was a mix of high level staffers, health professionals, developers, and advocates.

    Here’s who the other speakers were:

    Richard Killingsworth

    Rich Killingsworth is Director of Active Living by Design, a national initiative supported by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to promote physical activity through community design, transportation and architecture strategies. He also serves as an Associate Research Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and focuses his research on the impacts of the built environment on active living. Mr. Killingsworth also provides technical assistance to federal agencies and numerous national organizations on issues related to socio-environmental determinants of physical activity and health. Prior to his current position he served in the federal government for 15 years, and was a health scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the lead interventionist on CDC’s Active Community Environments Initiative, the first national effort to increase physical activity and improve health through community design and transportation alternatives.

    Mr. Killingsworth has become widely recognized as a national expert on the relationship of the built environment and physical activity. He has been interviewed extensively on this subject by national media and serves on several national boards and committees. Mr. Killingsworth’s ultimate vision is to see walking and bicycling become widely accepted and practiced forms of transportation and physical activity.

    Parris Glendening: former Governor of Maryland , “is credited for coining the phrase ‘ Smart Growth.'” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parris_Glendening

    Ken Rose: “At CDC, Ken leads the Built Environment Working Group which identifies opportunities for collaboration throughout various CDC Centers and identifies models of successful research and surveillance of programs.”

    Ken Rose currently serves as the Associate Director of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation for CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry (CDC). At CDC, he is responsible for coordinating the Center’s environmental public health policy, including Congressional relations, issues management, goals performance and measurement, and strategic engagements. He serves as a key advisor to Dr. Howard Frumkin on issues affecting the nation’s environmental public health programs, including the public health impacts of urban planning decisions. Mr. Rose joined CDC in 1997 as a Presidential Management Fellow and has worked at all levels in the organization. Until 2003, he was a lead public health analyst for the agency’s youth HIV prevention program and served a year as a legislative analyst. Before accepting his current position, he was the CDC Acting Deputy Chief of Staff and oversaw the day-to-day operations of the CDC Director’s Office. Afterwards, he served as a senior policy analyst focused on avian flu and coordinated the day-to-day communication on the issues between CDC’s Director’s office and the HHS Secretary’s office.

    Greg Raisman:

    Greg is a shmoe from Portland who is in a little disbelief about this one. 😉

  • Trail Guy

    The heavy lifting here was only slightly above grassroots (private foundation). The current city administration (Peterson) pitched in some $$ and agreed to lose some motor vehicle lane width where it was not needed, but otherwise they have all but abandoned the earlier progress made by Ray Irvin with Indy Greenways. The concept, pushing, major fundraising and footwork came from Brian Payne and the Central Indiana Community Foundation. Kudos go to Brian and their major donor, the Glick family.

  • Thank you for this article. I can see the progress on the construction of the trail daily on my way to work, and it is quite exciting.

  • Charlie D.

    It’s great that the city is looking to make bicycling more appealing in the downtown. However, some things about the design worry me.

    It LOOKS nice, but I’m concerned about (1) intersections and (2) pedestrians. For most of the trail, it is a combined pedestrian/bicyclist path. I’m a bit worried that it’s essentially a glorified sidewalk. Sidewalk and sidepath bicycling is very dangerous with intersections and driveways due to turning movements of motorists across the path.

    From what I’ve seen so far, I think they would have been better off using cycle tracks on each side to keep bicyclists moving the same direction as motorists. Also, if any of the streets have a lot of pedestrian traffic, bicycling through those sections has the potential to be quite slow and difficult.

    Also, will bicyclists still be allowed to use the roadway on these sections of street if they don’t want to use the path?

  • Mark Fleischmann

    I’ve been to Indy many times, usually staying near the convention center where I do business. It may be car-oriented but motorists are much more civil to pedestrians than in NYC. I love walking to the restaurant district on Alabama Ave., the route taking me past the war memorial. Last time I did it, there was an anti-war demonstration at the memorial, with hundreds of pairs of empty boots arranged around the monument. It was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen.

  • Marty

    This is truly a great project. Downtown Indy is really starting to put the pieces in place to be a major player in urban living in the midwest and US. Now, if they can get mass transit off the ground they will be in very good shape.

  • Michael Stout

    Having grown up in Indy it is amazing to me how quickly projects like these are being implemented. There is It seems like each time I have a chance to visit I am in a different place, both in terms of physical planning and general attitude towards planning. While this is certainly only one side of the story, highways are probably receiving more statewide attention, there is a definite attempt to provide more opportunities for leading a respectable urban life, which is relatively hard to find in other cities in the Midwest.

  • Dianna Abdala

    I live in greater Indy and, assuming these sidewalks are even used extensively, can’t get too excited about a project which will have pedestrians and cyclists running into each other.

  • Michael Stout

    To the above comment; Isn’t that what a city is all about? You would be surprised how well the human body can adjust and predict where it needs to go in order to avoid collision. Try checking out William Whyte’s studies on NYC’s public spaces sometime.

  • Tony S.

    I was born in Indianapolis and have returned here to live after several years living in Chicago. I can say that without a doubt Indianapolis is moving in the right direction with projects such as this. I miss the ability to walk out of my door and have endless restaurants, shops, attractions like I enjoyed living in different neighborhoods around Chicago. That being said, I love Indianapolis and this project gives me hope that there is a movement here to recreate some of those advantages to living in a big urban/pedestrian city but also the understanding that it’s important to mitigate the disadvantages that also come from that type of urban environment. I truly believe that it takes bold vision by a city to move in this direction and this will help with the grassroots efforts to make Indianapolis a more sustainable urban environment. If you were to visit ten years ago and come back now, the changes are really dramatic. Indianapolis continues to move to be a big city with a vibrant downtown.

  • Ashley

    Thank goodness for visionaries such as James Gange bringing an urban and healthy new paradigm to Indianapolis.

  • Catherine

    As a Hoosier who grew up in Indy, I am thrilled to see the Cultural Trail moving forward in Indy. A sincere thank you to Brian Payne, the Central Indiana Community Foundation, the Glick family, and all the others who made this project possible. Excellent to read all the positive comments about Indy as I hope to move back “home” from Austin in the next several years. Indianapolis is a terrific city with great amenities, having some of them linked by this trail will hopefully expose more people to all the city has to offer.

  • The Cultural Trail is truly a stunning accomplishment. My dog and I walked the loop this morning, some portions of which are nearly completed. The unfinished portions of the route are marked with a green stripe, which is also genius. Absolutely energizing.

    One of the best attributes of the Cultural Trail is that it will serve to link several other trails (Monon rail-trail, Pennsy rail-trail, White River Trail, Pleasant Run Trail) which in turn link to wider regionsl trail networks, such as the National Road Heritage Trail (US 40 alignment.)

    Thank you Brian Payne.

  • Jim

    I grew up in Indy and have been gone only for educational reasons, all the way to Bloomington, Indiana. When I was a ‘wee lad’ Indy was not so car oriented as it is today, along with the rest of the USA. We had a wonderful public transit system and a vibrant downtown. The City has reversed the city center decline remarkably over the last 25 years. The Cultural Trail is one of the many positive steps. Excuse this off subject but, GO COLTS!

  • Joe G

    I live in an Indy suburb and I’m as excited as anyone about the Trail. I can’t wait until some of the bike trails in Indy and the suburbs interconnect, and this is a big step in that direction.

    I do have one question: Why don’t we make these trails with asphalt or concrete? The bricks are prettier but they limit who can use the trail. The brick surface stinks if you want to rollerblade, rollerskate, skateboard, ride a scooter, etc.

    I love to run, bike, walk, AND I love to rollerblade and (it seems like) it would be less expensive to install and easier to maintain an asphalt or concrete trail and it would suit more trail users. After all, aren’t we trying encourage more people to be physically active?

  • Indy Urban

    Live downtown and ride my bike to the Ymca daily. Go out of my way to ride on the few blocks that are completed. Can’t wait for more blocks and also excited to see the lights standards at night.

  • Maggie

    “Indy – a wonderful surprise every day,” could be our tagline. Yes, there is still much to be done here, but that just means there are great opportunities for those who get juiced about being part of a creative process like building a better city. Anyone who still says there’s nothing going on here, has either been away for a while or is staying holed up in a cellar without communication.

  • Bill

    The Cultural Trail will link six “cultural districts” that give Indy further distinction and uniqueness. One of those districts is White River State Park and the Central Canal. They taken an area that not long ago was abandoned warehouses and turned it into an urban park that includes the Indy zoo, a botanical gardens, a baseball park, the NCAA headquarters and its Hall of Champions, the state museum and a museum for American Indian and Western Art. The Canal is 1-1/2 miles long and is an ideal walking/running area.
    The trail also will link trendy Mass Ave (restaurants, shops, comedy clubs, pubs), Indiana Ave (jazz district with roots to the African American community), Fountain Square (another area being quickly revitalized), the Wholesale District (basically, downtown with pubs, restaurants, shopping and sports venues) and finally Broad Ripple, a trendy area six miles north that’s linked via the Monon Trail.
    As a life-long Indy resident, our city is on the move and the Cultural Trail will be an amazing amenity.
    But yes, at some point, we’ve got to take a serious look at mass transit.

  • Downtowner

    Just addressing some of the worries that pedestrians and bikers will run into each other. I’ve lived and biked downtown for years, and I’ve attended several Cultural Trail presentations. I think the majority of the trail won’t be shared use. It will be in some places, but not most. Also, there’s not much pedestrian traffic downtown except for a few blocks around the Circle/Mall, so I don’t expect bikers to be hindered by pedestrians except in the limited congested areas where it’s simply unavoidable, whether you ride on sidewalks, the road, or a trail.

    The benefits of this project far, far outweigh any design flaws that may be revealed (though I don’t expect many). Connecting the different areas of downtown (technically walkable already, but not enticingly so), drawing Fountain Square into the downtown identity, linking downtown with the other greenways, and taking a major step away from motorized transporation all in one project is genius. I was trying to move out of downtown recently and decided to stay largely because of the Cultural Trail. I don’t want to miss living near this amenity.

  • John Wirtz

    This appears to be an installation of what are known as cycle-tracks in Europe and in the bicycle community here. There was a recent study in Copenhagen on the effects of cycle-tracks. While they did increase cycling by approximately 20%, crashes increased by 18% at intersections:

    http://www.trafitec.dk/pub/Road%20safety%20and%20percieved%20risk%20of%20cycle%20tracks%20and%20lanes%20in%20Copenhagen.pdf

    Bike lanes are safer for cyclists than cycle-tracks.
    John Wirtz
    Transportation Engineer/Planner

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Call it the Indianapolis DEATHWAY! Cycletracks can be dangerous for cyclists because often they relegate cyclists to what is essentially a glorified sidewalk. So when cyclists enter intersections drivers just don’t expect them.

    Much of this collision hazard can be remedied with good design like was done for the 9th Avenue cycletrack design in NYC. This project is even worse than most cycletracks from what I could tell from the 5 minute review we were given up top.

    First and foremost! It puts two-way bicycle traffic on one side of the road. BIG BIG NO NO!!! If it weren’t bad enough that cycletracks tend to hide bicycles behind parked cars so they just “mysteriously appear” at intersections, now they will be popping up in intersections from the WRONG DIRECTION where drivers REALLY and justifiably don’t expect them.

    Second: As someone else noted, the pavers will limit the appeal to other users like rollerbladers, etc.

    Third: The use of pavers to delineate the centerline follows no design standards for a cycletrack / bicycle trail that I have ever seen, in the US or abroad. It is confusing and does not clearly indicate anything about this being for two-way traffic. It merely looks like a pretty geometric design.

    From what little I have seen this is a very bad design for cyclists and SHOULD NOT be supported by Streetsblog nor New York Streets Renaissance. This design will get people killed and since it so badly designed will only give fuel to the fire to people who see any bicycle transportation project as a waste of taxpayer dollars.

    Just because it is a bicycle transportation project doesn’t make it a GOOD bicycle transportation project!

    Andy B

    PS – If you think this like the Hudson River Greenway, it’s not. The Hudson River Greenway is much more separated from the Westside Highway and is really a bike trail and not a cycletrack. It is the proper design approach for that application.

  • Indy Guy

    As an Indianapolis resident, downtown worker and cyclist, overall I look at this project as a positive BUT when I am wearing my cyclist hat I look at it this way: If I am cycling as a commuter or with the intent of getting from one place to another quickly, I intend to continue to exercise my right to ride on the street and follow the same rules of the road as motorists. However if I am leisurely riding downtown, just cruising around taking in the sights, stopping for coffee here, dinner there etc I’ll give the trail a try.

    I may change my mind after I see it completed, but I have the same reservations that some of the others have voiced about the potential crossover between cyclists and pedestrians…

  • John Goodman

    I live in Indianapolis and I think the Cultural Trail MAY work as a combined bike, pedestrian trail. It will at least make the downtown streets prettier.

    What was not mentioned above is how few daily bike commuters there are in Indianapolis. VERY FEW. I ride my bike to work almost every day from 40th & Meridian, via the Monon Trail, and see almost no bike commuters. I keep a second bike downtown for when I drive from home and see almost no other worker-cyclists when I bike from building to building downtown. A businessman or woman on a bike in downtown Indianapolis is still a freakish thing. I help manage a 700+-person office building in the center of downtown and there are, at most, 1 or 2 bikes stored in our dedicated bike room each day.

    Whatever the aesthetic and technical aspects of the Cultural Trail, getting conservative Hoosiers to ride bikes to work will be a major, major job. This isn’t Portland, Oregon.

  • Mitch

    I help manage a 700+-person office building in the center of downtown and there are, at most, 1 or 2 bikes stored in our dedicated bike room each day.

    You have a dedicated room for secure bike parking?!!! In a city where people don’t commute by bike, that’s pretty impressive. What motivated the building owners to get so far ahead of their tenants?

    The next step is to get people to use the facility.

  • John Goodman

    It was the large office tenant, a state government agency, that, I think, asked for such a room to accommodate the very few employees that ride. And the building had an extra room available that was not easily rentable.

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