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Indianapolis Cultural Trail takes 'pause' for Conrad hotel

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The Indianapolis Cultural Trail and the downtown Conrad Indianapolis hotel were on a collision course as soon as trail planners announced three years ago that the route would travel along the north side of heavily traveled Washington Street.

Conrad officials didn't want the trail because it would interrupt the hotel's valet operation, and they argued the bike and pedestrian path should be moved to another street or the other side of Washington Street.

"We had to find something that would maintain the trail and still work for the Conrad," said Brian Payne, president of the Central Indiana Community Foundation and the trail's champion. "It was a very challenging set of negotiations that went on for more than a year."

The Conrad question, he said, has been the most challenging planning dilemma for the entire 8-mile trail.

The end result of the negotiations: A brick-paved "intersection plaza" in front of the high-end hotel, bookended by traffic bollards and signs warning pedestrians to use caution and bicyclists to walk. The plaza is finished but the rest of the trail along Washington Street remains under construction.

Cultural Trail in front of Conrad HotelA brick "intersection plaza" will warn pedestrians to use caution and bikers to walk their bikes in front of the Conrad. (Photo courtesy Curtis Ailes)

The pavers in front of the Conrad are distinct from the rest of the trail, essentially creating a pause in the path. Payne said he fought to use the same pavers as the rest of the trail, while allowing space for the Conrad to handle parking and check-in, but hotel officials disagreed.

The compromise is designed for the safety of both hotel guests and Cultural Trail users, said Greg Tinsley, Conrad's general manager.

The hotel's valet staff will keep fewer cars parked in front of the hotel and will no longer park cars at an angle, opting instead for parallel parking to keep an opening for trail users, Tinsley said.

"We certainly embrace the opportunity to have the trail come in front of the Conrad," Tinsley said. "We think it's great for the city and hope it gets a lot of use."

The hotel has even ordered six beach-cruiser bikes to loan out to hotel guests.

But the compromise doesn't sit well with urban planners and bicycling enthusiasts like Curt Ailes, who writes for the Urban Indy blog.

Ailes sees the stretch of the trail in front of the Conrad as a blemish on an otherwise world-class project, a short-sighted move to prioritize service for cars over pedestrians and bicyclists.

Where else in the city is a business allowed to park cars on a sidewalk? he asked.

"In terms of increasing alternative forms of mobility, I felt like we lost a battle," Ailes said. "I don't see the big need to keep a bunch of luxury cars parked out on the sidewalk. Ten years from now, they're going to think they should've gotten out of the way of progress. Maybe their guests will want to use the trail, and wonder why all the cars are there."

Ailes also is miffed at the rapid speed of construction for the portion of the trail in front of the Conrad, while work on the stretch in Fountain Square has dragged on for months, dealing a blow to smaller, less influential businesses.

Payne, who dreamed up the idea for the trail, admits the Conrad solution is not ideal. But he says the hotel is the most significant spot where the trail "affects a business in an ongoing nature."

He's seen much "more challenging" moments along trails he's biked all over the world.

"It compromises someone's experience for about 10 seconds, and it doesn't ruin the experience," Payne said of the Conrad portion of the Trail. "It's a minor inconvenience on the best urban trail in the world."

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  • Urban Indy article
    Here is a relevant article about parking on the sidewalks in Indy. Hopefully it will force some change: http://www.urbanindy.com/2013/04/10/sidewalks-as-parking-lots/ Also, I love this gem from the article: "The hotel's valet staff will keep fewer cars parked in front of the hotel." I just rode past there today and there were well over a dozen cars parked in this area. I use a little trailer to pull my daughters and if any pedestrians are walking on the sidewalk, we cannot get through. During construction, the valet service was moved to Illinois and seemed to run very smoothly. I'm not sure why it can't be permanently relocated there. Then there would be no interference with the trail.
  • Surprised
    I am really surprised at all these comments. From the hotel perspective, they have done what they can get this compromise. It wasn't in the plans when they planned their 5-star hotel, which has housed numerous celebrities. From the Cultural Trail perspective, if they weren't able to compromise the trail to the other side of the street, then this is a solid compromise. How is that all the bicycle enthusiasts are so infuriated? Clearly a one-sided point of view. For all of those who have to drive to get downtown for work, the Trail is not only dangerous at some times, but ties up traffic and reduces driving lanes. But I'm not saying I don't want it. Everything in life is a compromise. Get over it.
  • Also...
    I also want to add that, despite this one serious shortcoming, I am still VERY, VERY thankful for this wonderful trail. Like I said in my previous post, I use this trail pretty much daily, carting my son around in in his bike trailer, while feeling very safe everywhere we go. We get groceries, go to restaurants, get exercise, and go to parks to play as a family. It's a HUGE boon to the quality of life for people who are living and raising their families downtown. And I'm fairly sure that people who visit from the suburbs on their bikes are enjoying it as well. The Cultural Trail gets used a lot. Not sure where the "five cyclists" comment below came from, but if you mean that, at any given time, there might be five cyclists passing in ten seconds, you might be right. So, anyway, I didn't want to come off as overly negative. I am extremely thankful for the Cultural Trail. My waist line is too. I've lost about 70 pounds riding that thing all summer!
  • Disappointed
    I understand the sentiment that there were, indeed, many public meetings about the Cultural Trail. I do not by any means deny that, and will freely admit that I only attended a couple, and those were the ones that deal with its path through my neighborhood. So, fair enough on that point.

    However, I guess I just never once imagined that such a world-class trail would take a back seat to the marketing ploys of a hotel that abuses the public realm for their own benefit. Let's be honest here, I don't think anyone posting on here would have ever dreamed that this scenario would have been allowed to play out like this. It flies in the face of any bit of good design, so much so that it just seemed inconceivable that they'd just eliminate the curb completely in front of the hotel to allow this to happen, unabated, in perpetuity.

    The truth is that I understand the need for valet parking for hotels. We all probably do. However, good design would most likely dictate two curb cuts, allowing a valet area to exist in the best harmony possible with the Trail, rather than eliminating the entire curb in front of the hotel and doing absolutely nothing to discourage the sort of perpendicular parking and blocking the sidewalk in that location that has existed since this tax abated property came out of the ground.

    I'm all for businesses being successful. I'm all for trying to accommodate the needs of business by allowing things like sidewalk cafes, temporary lane closures for events, or any other idea a business might have that helps them survive. I just see this as a poor solution that subjugates such an amazing public cultural amenity for private interest. It's very disappointing for someone like me, who uses the Trail almost every single day.
  • Disappointing
    It's disappointing that representatives at the Conrad cannot see past their own interest to recognize the ultimate public good of the Cultural Trail. I guess it's reflective of the state of our country today, where the over-priveleged abuse their standing. In any case, thank you to all the people that worked to make the Cultural Trail a reality for nothing more than to improve the quality of living for the people of Indianapolis.
  • What Rock Have You Been Under?
    First, the Cultural trail has held numerous public meetings, more so than many similar organizations or governmental bodies. So, the notion that there has not been an opportunity for public input is quite simply a lie and utter nonsense.

    Second, what is the public art the CICF supposedly didn't listen to the public about? The art was subject to several public meetings, too, and was selected by a committee. Ultimately, the art was paid for entirely by private funds, but in any event, the community had plenty of input. In fact, because of a very small, but vocal minority who did not like the proposed Fred Wilson sculpture, it was decided not to place it in its original location and perhaps abandon it entirely. That is the only real controversey I know of with the art. I guess one could say they didn't listen to the community since they appeased a loud but vocal minority, but after holding several meetings to mediate the issue, I think Trail organizers simply decided they didn't want one sculpture to be a distraction from the whole Trail project.

    As for public input about the Trail path, there were years of open public meetings during the Trail planning. The Trail ultimately had to be approved by various government bodies, too, which also took public input. Additionally, the Trail pathway was modified various times to accomodate public input and interested parties.

    If you feel the "community" was missing from the Trail project, then perhaps you were missing from the community because your accuastions simply do not jive with reality.

  • Grrr...
    Interesting that Brian Payne and CICF quickly caved to the Conrad for Cultural Trail redesign but didn't want to listen to the public about public art or to neighborhood business districts when they had different ideas for the Trail going through their areas. The "community" has long been lost from our "community foundation"
    • They were today...
      just noticed it myself today and figured it must be related to the Cultural trail fight. I think it's a decent compromise. There's plenty of room for bikers and walkers to make their way through. You're downtown for crying out loud. If you want to walk around without obstacles go find a park somewhere or the Monon.
    • Do you mind the Conrad recieve your tax dollars?
      You do realize the Conrad benefited from millions of dollars of taxpayer funded susidies? Was that also "a waste of money?"

      Why should the taxpayer fund a private business that only serves its customers? Why is this a good use of public funds, but a public trail and rebuilt public infrastructure (such as new sewers, etc., which are all part of the Trail construction) is a bad use of money?

      Your logic is rather faulty.
    • The Property Is Owned by The City
      The trail only uses public right-of-way. However, I believe the issue is that the city made some agreements with the Conrad regarding accomodations for parking.

      While I realize agreements are agreements, they do point up to the crap arrangements the city makes with big developers. The Conrad received millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to build their stupid hotel, and then they get to use public streets and sidewalks for their valet parking arrangement.

      If the Conrad were not getting benefits from the taxpayers, it would not be quite as frustrating.
    • Why is it
      Why is it that "compromise" always means that the benefits to the rich and powerful win out over those to the ordinary person? This trail had such promise, but this compromise will only serve to underscore that here, as everywhere, if you're not the type of person that stays at the Conrad, your life doesn't matter a whit. Unless, of course, you are a voter, in which case you get attention for six months every two years.
    • Short-sighted
      Many of you seem somewhat short-sighted when talking about the Cultural Trail. Do you not see how cool it will be when its finished...a beautiful downtown park, really, that encourages people to walk around our city. Check out the Promenade in Santa Monica...and NYC Times Square, which is now pedestrian-friendly, etc. These areas bring an ambiance to the area that will blend well with our convention and tourism business. Outsiders LOVE that Indy is so compact and walkable (a major factor in winning the SB'12 business). You're sounding very resistant to change. Also, stand on Mass. Avenue early some morning and you may just be amazed at how many people really do bicycle-commute to work now (not "five"). And I doubt those commuters will get off their bikes and walk reverently past the Conrad, but I for one will be happy to slow down as I carefully pass :)
    • Unfortunate
      The Cultural Trail was a worl class ammenity. It focused great efforts to change the culture of this city and its residents, but this section simply lets everyone know that things really don't change. Those who oppose the trail simply oppose its urban setting. They are welcome to the suburbs, so stop coming to the city. Residents of the city prefer this type of progressive development and it offends those that can't live without the sedintary lifestyle of the car. The Conrad should not be allowed access to park cars on a sidewalk nor should anyone else. Use one of the 20 lanes of Washington for that or a garage! This is truly a disgrace Mr. Payne. I approved so much of your work until this point. Had I known this was the result I would have never congratulated you. This may only be a 10 second inconvenience, but it will be what users remember.
    • Parking lot
      What do they (CONRAD) have to complain about. The trail gave them an expanded valet parking area. No way can you say there is an eight mile trail...rather 2 four mile trails.
    • parking on sidewalk
      Mr. Ailes asks "where else in the city are you allowed to park cars on the sidewalk" To name at least two 1. The IAC condos on Vermont Street and 2. The Cantebury Hotel on Illinois.
    • Bums
      How about getting rid of all the bums and gutter punks that hang out on the corner?

      As for the pace of the construction, it has probably put more CO2 in the air from idling vehicles stuck in traffic the last 10 months than it will ever save when all 5 bicyclists in Indy start riding to work.
    • Who owns it?
      I guess my first question before assigning blame is who owns the property from the street to the Conrad building? The second question would be what agreements were made between the city and the Conrad before the Conrad agreed to plunk down the money to build there.
      • Valet
        I used to be a valet at the Conrad hotel. It was vary obvious to us when the trail was first mentioned that it was going to be a huge problem with the Conrad. All of the logistics of a project this massive should be worked out before construction starts. This isn't something that should be an after thought that has to be worked out after its too late to alter the plan.

        Not parking cars in front of the hotel is not an option. When Washington and the circle are busy, it can take up to 15 minutes to do the loop that is required to get cars in the "adjacent garage". When the guests come in and out rapidly, there is nothing else that can be done. If Mr. Tinsley is willing to keep the cars parked parallel for the cultural trail they are taking the only action that can be done.
      • Shouldn't be there to start with
        In my opinion, this is not the Conrad's fault. It was not planned when the Conrad was built. The Cultural Trail is an excellent feature of our city but should have been built on the south side of Washington Street and not in front of a busy hotel. On a normal day there are times it is difficult to walk through there let alone after putting a walking and biking trail through the middle of it. Also, it is my understanding that the Conrad paid to have the work done in a timely manner instead of the extremely slow pace the rest of the trail has taken.
      • Good for the Conrad
        I say good for the Conrad for sticking up for itself. It's a beautiful hotel, and I find the "parking lot" entertaining while grabbing lunch out somedays. The cultural trail is a waste of money and is mucking up traffic downtown and elsewhere. Frankly, the construction has gotten so annoying that even as a pedestrian, I don't want to be on that particular sidewalk. By the way, the Canterbury Hotel has cars on the sidewalk all the time for valet parking purposes. In fact, their "circular drive" is entirely on the sidewalk.
        • Friend of the Cultural Trail
          Maybe the Conrad coiuld become something like a"friend of the trail" and assist with funding, marketing and the Fountain Square fiasco.
        • Disgusting
          I can guarantee you that I will make sure anyone I know that is visiting Indy will not stay at the Conrad from now on. The stand that the Conrad has taken is digusting. Isn't the hotel subsidized by the city?!?!
          • Not Parallel Parking
            They are NOT parallel parking as the Conrad GM Greg Tinsley is quoted as saying they would do in the article. I've been past several times in the last week and they're parking perpendicular to Washington as they always have.
            • The Big Car Show
              The valet parking area in front of the Conrad is nothing more than ego driven car show. I have sat and eaten lunch across the street and noticed the same few expensive exotic cars parked for more than an hour in front of the building. We really need to take a long hard look at our priorities in this city.
            • Community P.R.
              The parking lot in front of the Conrad is disgusting. There is no reason they should be allowed to park 10 - 15 cars at a time in front of their hotel. What are the valet drivers for? They should have room for four for five spaces - while people are arriving or leaving in their cars - and then - the cars should be moved into the adjacent garage. When the people need to get their cars back - the cars should be retrieved. It is disgraceful that this beautiful multimodal, pedestrian-friendly corridor should be blocked by a dozen or so vehicles. The Conrad should be ashamed. I hope the bad publicity they get from this encourages them to change their opinion on how they handle their valet service. Once they put up signs that tell bikers to "walk their bike" past their hotel -- I can't wait to see the reaction from the bicycle community here in Indy. I think they will have many people telling them where they can shove their stupid signs. Bad community P.R. can definitely hurt a firm's business - and the Conrad may find this out soon.

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