Indy goes for the platinum

Published: .
Updated: .

Indianapolis wants to become one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country by 2020. It hopes to earn the Platinum Level Bicycle Friendly Community designation.

It wants to increase its total number of bikeway miles from 150 to 200, require new projects to provide bike parking and to get tougher on traffic enforcement.

Brandon Streets, who works at Gray Goat Sports on the city's south side, applauds the move.

Streets moved to Indiana seven years ago from San Francisco "where you didn't need a car. When I first came here, I thought, 'No one rides a bike in Indiana.'"

He says that's changed a lot, but there's still plenty of room for improvement.

For one, Street says, "There's not a good way from the south side to downtown."

He and his colleagues say they hear it all the time: the south side lacks bikeways.

Rolling out the Indy Ride Guide, a map of the area's bikeways, Freddie Demott says, "If you look at the map, south of I-465, it's basically Madison Avenue (with bike lanes). It's nice to have this, but you have to get to (the Madison bike lanes) to go north."

Downtown's Cultural Trail links to the Monon Trail and a growing number of connecting bike lanes.

Jamison Hutchins, the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, agrees the south side is under-served as it "lacks the grid system other parts of the city have."

Hutchins said the goal of the new Bicycle Master Plan is to make the whole city more bike accessible, but he also says it's not just about adding bike lanes.

"I hear from businesses all the time. One of the biggest requests I get is, 'I have people riding to my business but there's no place to park their bikes. They're locking up on trees, fences anywhere they can so they can ride their bike to the area,'" said Hutchins.

He said the master plan calls for more bicycle parking spaces in the public right-of-way and including bicycle lanes/parking in new developments.

In the meantime, the city plans to add 100 more bike racks in places like Fountain Square and along Mass. Ave. over the next few weeks. Cyclists will also see several new bicycle repair stands along the Monon, like the one Bicycle Garage Indy installed outside the Bike Hub at City Market.

Pointing to it, he said, "You can throw your bike on it and work on it, change a tire," with the tools and a bike pump right there.

Other goals of the master plan include 24-hour access to greenways like the Monon to make it easier for commuters to ride home at night. (right now the Monon is open from 5 a.m. - 9 p.m.) The plan also calls for stricter enforcement of traffic laws for cyclists and motorists. That includes things like more bicycle patrols and "random enforcement days."

Street said despite the growing number of cyclists in Indianapolis, "I still get yelled at to get off the road. they say we shouldn't be on the road. We still get Cokes thrown at us."

Hutchins says cyclists also need to be educated too, noting they can't just fly through red lights.

He says the city adding 20 miles of "cycle tracks" is one way to provide a better separation between cyclists and motorists. Indianapolis has a stretch of the "protected" bike lanes in Fountain Square on Shelby Street.

The two-way lanes run side-by side with bollards providing a barrier between the cars.

Bill Wheeler lives in the area and rides his bike on weekends. He generally "feels safe riding in bike lanes," but he's still not sold on the cycle tracks.

He worries they haven't caught on among motorists.

Pointing to an intersection where the lanes cross, he said, "We had four accidents here. (Drivers) keep hitting the poles...I think it would be better if they make them more like on the Monon, where you're up off the street in the grass."

Another man who didn't want to be identified called the lanes "a total waste of taxpayer money."

Hutchins says the bike culture and infrastructure in Indianapolis won't happen overnight, but he's still hoping for big changes by 2020.

The City-County Council still needs to sign off on the plan, but even then, not everything will be implemented. Hutchins says the plan is meant to be a road map.