Indianapolis Brings Street Life Downtown With a Flurry of Quick Changes

indy_square
For 10 weeks, Indianapolis is showing residents how the Monument Circle redesign — which narrows the roadway from 40 feet to 22 feet — will look, and how that additional public space can be used. All photos from Big Car Collaborative.

Indianapolis is building public support for a major street redesign the same way DIYers and tactical urbanists do: by testing out temporary changes.

Monument Circle, where the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument stands tall at 285 feet, is a downtown traffic circle and city park with a lot of potential, but with three lanes of traffic whirling around it, the space feels cut off from the public. That’s going to change, as the city works to make the circle and its adjoining streets more inviting to people on foot.

Scraping together the $60 million needed for permanent improvements won’t happen overnight, however, and the city doesn’t want to wait years before people get to experience a better Monument Circle.

So the city — in partnership with the Downtown Indy business association and a local organization somewhat ironically named Big Car Collaborative — is using events and temporary materials to show how big cars will no longer dominate the city’s iconic plaza.

From 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day, programming for all ages will energize Monument Circle.
From 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day, Monument Circle is filled with stuff to do for all ages.

Starting this month, Monument Circle has been filled with events and activities. Every Saturday an artist-curated, themed parade marches around the circle. Every Friday live music delights audiences, and actors play out scenes from the city’s past dressed as historic characters. People can sit for a game of chess or challenge each other to a ping-pong match. The slate of programs will run through mid-October.

Complementing the activities are pedestrian-friendly design changes. It’s what Big Car Executive Director Jim Walker calls a “pre-design” before the redesign. During a 10-week pilot period called “Spark,” the brick roadway has been narrowed from 40 feet to 22 feet, opening up space to widen both the inner and outer promenades of the circle.

In what used to be car space inside the circle, there are now four custom-built, temporary decks — parklets outfitted with moveable chairs, shade umbrellas, and picnic tables. These zones have been built by Big Car artists in collaboration with city officials. People can sit at those picnic tables to eat lunch from the food trucks that are catering to visitors during the pilot.

Church knitters sit in movable bistro chairs, of which there are about 300.
Church knitters sit in movable bistro chairs, of which there are about 300.
A postcard-making booth at Spark, a 10-week demonstration of changes to come at Indianapolis' Monument Circle.
A postcard-making booth at Spark, a 10-week demonstration of changes to come at Indianapolis’ Monument Circle.

In the course of the demonstration, the Spark collaborators will gather data on visitor demographics, traffic speeds, retailer revenues, how people get to the circle, why they visit, how long they stay, and perceptions of the space.

  • war_on_hugs

    Looks awesome! Hope it works out for them to do something like this permanently.

  • G1991

    I’d like to see Streetsblog keep a closer eye on Indianapolis; they are doing some pretty great stuff. There’s a new bike plan coming out, a massive greenways plan, an update to the zoning code that promotes density and allows developers to exchange car parking spaces for bike parking, all-electric car-sharing, and an impressive regional all-electric bus rapid transit plan that will be going to voters within the next couple of years.

  • Alex Brideau III

    I may be travelling to Indy soon. When exactly does this 10-week period start and end?

  • G1991

    Spark Monument Circle started on August 1st and will continue through October 16th.

  • Indy resident here. A couple comments:

    1) Indy signed a widely panned parking meter deal a couple years back. It did up the rates (which were insanely low) and digitized it but Indy gave up massive amounts of money for the “privilege.” About the only silver lining for the deal is that parking meters were not installed on the Circle so this project is not eating any parking revenue (terms of the deal require the city to pay ~$15,000 per space vacated).

    2) The project has already evolved. When they first introduced, there were parklets along the outside with two large lanes of traffic. A week later, they put the parking back in place as a buffer for the parklets. Now there is about 1-2 lanes of traffic depending on how narrow you can define a lane. I don’t know for sure if that was the original plan or if it was an on-the-fly adjustment, but it really improved the experience.

    Overall, an amazing thing in such an auto dominated city.

  • Alex Brideau III

    LOL. Good to know! I think I’ll be arriving on the last day of the project. 🙂

  • Artleads

    This Times Square project seems relevant here:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/janet

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