EDITORIAL: A 7.5-mile bold stroke

May 4, 2013

Indianapolis is a master of not making waves. Chalk it up to being the capital of a notoriously risk-averse state.

We typically import what has worked elsewhere, and sometimes we wait too long to do it. Smoke-free workplaces, urban design guidelines and on-street bike lanes weren’t exactly cutting-edge when we finally got around to adopting them.

But when it comes to big-picture thinking, there are notable exceptions. Unigov, for example, the now 40-year-old merger of city and county governments, has been studied and emulated by other cities. It’s fraying a bit at the edges, but it was bold in its time. Perhaps nothing has been copied more than the city’s use of sports as an economic development tool.

Now we have something else unique to celebrate: The Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A Legacy of Gene & Marilyn Glick.

The 7.5-mile downtown pedestrian and bicycle trail, which has its grand opening celebration May 10 and 11, is still a mystery to many in the city, but as Lou Harry reports in this week’s front-page story, it grabbed the attention of city planners around the world not long after Central Indiana Community Foundation President Brian Payne came up with the idea more than a decade ago.

It’s not complicated. The trail is essentially a pedestrian/bike loop in the heart of the city. But eliminating car travel lanes in an auto-centric city to create recreational space isn’t common. And this is no utilitarian pedestrian path. The $63 million trail, with its brick pavers, lush landscaping and art installations, is designed to meld sport and art.

To this day, not everyone is sold on the idea, but we like to see Indianapolis take the lead, and make a splash. And we congratulate Payne, the Glick family, other large donors and all who helped make the trail possible.

Now that it’s complete, we look forward to seeing how the trail evolves.

It has already leveraged real estate development on adjacent land, so it seems well on its way as an economic development tool. But to what extent will locals, and tourists, use it?

Indianapolis Cultural Trail Inc., the not-for-profit charged with programming and maintaining the city’s new linear park, will have to feel its way when it comes to how and with what frequency the trail should be used for special events and how it should be marketed. That comes with the territory when you create something unique.

In the meantime, we have a few wishes for the trail. We hope locals will, as the grand opening theme says, “Get down on it.” And as more people use the trail, we hope bikers and pedestrians will learn how to share it. Even in stretches where the trail is clearly divided for cyclists and walkers, pedestrians tend to cross that line.

Finally, we hope a grass-roots renaming takes hold. “The Cultural Trail” is fine as an official name, but it’s a mouthful, and a bit presumptuous. Whatever name locals assign it, we have no doubt it will ultimately be labeled transformative, and a huge success.•

To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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