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Indianapolis Brings Street Life Downtown With a Flurry of Quick Changes

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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.
From 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day, programming for all ages will energize Monument Circle.

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.
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.
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.

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