AARP and a local advocacy organization, Health by Design, recently sponsored a lecture and workshop in
Every road crossing is signalized, with the audible, chirping Accessible Pedestrian Signals (
More impressive was the City’s willingness to cut rights-of-way on
Nonetheless, this remains one of the only areas in
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
The suburbs of
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).
Completing Streets in an
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.
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
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
The older, concrete portion of the
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
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
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
In the cases of both
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
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 (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/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
No doubt my obsession with trails and sidewalks seems like hairsplitting. But the main problem is that, as it currently stands,
Regardless of its weaknesses, the
The Complete Streets lecture recognized that it would be unreasonable to expect every street in
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
The private nature of this street is reinforced by some winsome eccentricities among the landowners who live there:
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
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
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
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
4) Integrate the Complete Streets Plan to a broader capital improvements initiative.
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
Here in south
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--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.