Group eyes new vision for Circle

September 15, 2008
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Monument Circle IndianapolisA group of local business and civic leaders are hoping to transform Monument Circle into a grand public space in the European model, a pedestrian-friendly piazza that draws crowds year-round to mingle and dine and watch performances in the shadow of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. The group in July began a lively discussion of how to improve the Circle, including the possibility of closing it to car traffic. The Central Indiana Community Foundation commissioned a study of the Circle’s potential from Project for Public Spaces, a not-for-profit based in New York. The group suggested a framework for turning the Circle into the “center through which Indianapolis can create its future and showcase itself to the world.� “Monument Circle is the focal point of the city and downtown and in many ways the entire state,� the report said. “It is one of a kind and means many things to many people, but does not yet provide the regular reasons to come and participate in the space.� To read about the group's recommendations, check out the full story. What do you think? Would you like to see the Circle closed to cars?
  • The Circle should not be closed to cars.

    Instead of navel-gazing at the Circle, Indy should take note of what makes it such a great place and emulate those features throughout downtown. The Circle needs to cast a wider net, so to speak.

    Just blocks away the quality of city infrastructure, especially for the pedestrian, drops significantly. Sidewalks are too narrow and often have utility poles right in their middle. Several of the one-way mini-highways that dissect downtown with speeders (such as Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, Capitol, and Illinois) make certain areas of downtown extremely pedestrian-hostile environments.

    In the Circle, we've already got a great multi-use template from which to work. Let's use it to improve the whole regional center.
  • I agree with ablerock.

    Beyond that, I refer the right honourable gentleman to the answer I gave some time ago:
  • I love the idea of closing the Circle off to vehicles. I'm downtown every week and couldn't tell you the last time I drove around it. I'm curious what the businesses on the Cirlce (South Bend, Starbucks, Quiznos, etc.) think of it. I can't imagine that they get that much business from vehicles making their way around.
  • I agree with ablerock and urbanophile.

    In the IBJ article on the subject, the South Bend manager is quoted in opposition to the closing.

    The Circle is already the most pedestrian friendly space in Downtown, and follows the Hans Mondermann fact, it predates the current Mondermann craze. For those with short memories, the bricking of the Circle, Market and Meridian Streets was completed in the early 1980s.

    I do agree with the notion of actively managing the space. For starters, move the weekly Farmers Market there (from East Market between City Market and the City County Building) to center it on downtown daytime workers.
  • The Circle needs to remain open to vehicles. The trip up Meridian Street and around the Circle is the perfection introduction to Indy when friends and associates come to visit. I would hate to lose what has become the city's best gateway.
  • Neat idea! The circle isn't good for driving anyway. I think we would need more things at street level, the west half is populated with businesses. I also can't imagine that it would hurt businesses by not having the drive-by traffic.
  • I say close it off and make it a place to go and have dinner, wine and relax. Make it really beautiful. It's a pain to drive around anyway.
  • The Circle is the closest thing to civic perfection we have in the city... pedestrians and cars co-exist there better than anywhere, and, in that way, it should be a model for the rest of town. It's the absolute last thing we should try to change.
  • In total agreement with all-day breakfast. The existing Circle is near perfect, and a great example of the reality and success of traffic calming. Closing it to cars would ruin it in every aspect.

    I'm also with ablerock: let's focus on making other parts of the mile square more pedestrian-friendly, and leave the circle alone.
  • I'm mixed on this. I love the european concept and model - however, the reason those plazas work in Europe and Mexico is because of the density of people in the surrounding area, and they have an entirely different perspective of environement, family, socializing, and cars.

    Think of Spain, London, Mexico, most of those surrounding neighborhoods around the plazas are high density multi level housing with very limited parking and lots of people walking. Their business districts are the plazas. All the food, market, galleries are located in the Plazas.

    The other think I caution about ours, is people come to drive around it at night, during the day during holidays (the christmas tree) without having to get out, and it introduces people to a piece of history of Indianapolis, that many, if closed off to cars, would not be able to experience, because they will not pay to walk in the cold to see the circle then leave. It's great advertising for those who come to visit our city and something we talk-up alot.

    We must remember that the circle and its attractions or also for our tourists and visitors, many of which may simple by-pass or not even know it exists if cars are not allowed near it.
  • Amen to Donna, adb, Urbahophile and ablerock.
  • Removing parking will re-inforce the perception that Downtown is too much of a bother to go to. It's not just parking on the Circle (which I agree is limited). It's the ability to drop people off. If you want to zap the vitality of a place, remove the ability to get there. Perhaps it is not a big deal for those who work downtown and already are safely parked somewhere. But for those of us who don't live downtown but want to patronize it, it makes it terribly difficult. I can certainly say that the patronage of the Columbia Club and the Symphony will be curtailed by those, like my mother, who must be dropped off at the front door as they are older and cannot walk more than a block or two.

    Here's a Times article regarding State Street:
  • Didn't everyone already try this in the seventies? I grew up in Fort Wayne and they tried closing off one of the busiest retail streets to automobile traffic in favor of an urban outdoor mall. The concept failed horribly. The business languished and city later capitulated and reopened it to traffic. When I was in Europe I visited many city centers where cars and people coexisted harmoniously. I have to concur with the others if you take away auto traffic from the circle it will fail.

    Who thinks of these things in the first place?
  • What happened to all of those pedestrian malls that sprung up in the 1970's and early 1980's????????
  • Add my vote to those of Donna, Urbahophile, Ablerock, all-day breakfast, thundermutt, SE Guy and CoryW. So Cory Schouten, how do we (or you) get these comments back to the study group?
  • Just imagine the late night downtown shootouts the Pacers players could have without having all that pesky traffic around.
  • I don't imagine this actually's a horrible idea.....closing it for special occasions is one thing.........but all of the time? the place would die
  • I would say keep it open, but close it for special events as we already do.

    If they want to play with the idea, close it on weekends to vehicles and only allow bicycles and carriages. Then try out the concept of cafe's on the circle. In Prague their main square has areas that are open to both cars and people and they are well used. I think there is plenty of room for both cars and people to coexist.
  • great point, indyman. i am skeptical because monument circle echos the 'european model' in design but not function. i think there are just too many single-use office buildings on the circle for this to be successful. the reason these european 'grand public spaces' are so great is because they are chock full of dining and shopping entities. indyman, i also think that closing it to traffic on weekends (or maybe just weekend nights?) could be a good compromise.
  • Anywhere but the Circle. Seriously.

    Pedestrian malls are great in the right locations. I think a better site might be near some of the side streets east of College and Mass Ave (cough...IPS bus lot...cough). I can't tell you how many times I have drafted site plans for that area...
  • What about closing off Market Street, from City Market to the circle?
  • In Philly a road that runs alongside the river from dowtown is closed to cars on weekends from May to October. It is highly utilized and hugely successful - this is a road that sees commuter traffic during the week, but on the weekends the cars just find other ways to get downtown.

    So what about turning Meridian Street, from 86th to the Circle, into a bicycle and pedestrian-only zone on weekends?

    Yeah, that'll go over well...;-)
  • Well Phil that would pretty much kill the retail that is already there. Please show me one place that these ped malls have actually worked in a city like Indy.
  • I agree with the majority here that the Circle works well the way it is, and that the high-speed, multi-lane one-way streets would be better to address in the interest of maintaining/enhancing a vibrant downtown.
  • This is one of those instances where I think Indy lacks the density to pull something like this off. Further, without any viable mass transit that brings large numbers of people to the core, relying solely on foot traffic will be a death blow. Indy isn't Brussels where Grand Place can exist based on foot traffic alone. I do like the idea of maybe closing it on the weekends and going further to stage an even larger number of events there such as the Farmer's Market, but even in Europe a large number of urban spaces share the road.
  • Here is a little light reading. All I had to do was Google it.

    Cory, if that link does not work, can yo fix it?
  • Sorry, that link did not work, and I think it was the same story that Joe posted.
  • Horrible idea...leave the circle as it is.
  • SF, didn't I post that yesterday? (see post #12) :-) It is a great article, however -- thanks for reinforcing it!
  • we want lots of people hanging around the Circle after dark? Haven't we had a lot of trouble controlling them in the past? Leave it as it is.
  • I agree with others . . . the Circle should be kept open for vehicular traffic. What I don't agree with is the current state of the roadbed and pedestrian surfaces in and around the Circle. The group that's mulling changes to the Circle, should start first with raising funds for a foundation that can maintain what we already have!

    The same can be said for the deplorable conditions at the Ohio St. basin of the downtown canal. Where is the maintenance funding?
  • If the circle is going to be closed, there needs to be other modes of transportation present than just pedestrians. In Minneapolis and Portland, OR their pedestrian zones are anchored by bus lanes and rail lines. The reference to State Street in Chicago is correct. It is still trying to recover from the pedestrian only model. Like it or not, automobiles are a part of the transportation network of Indianapolis and they have to be accommodated. However, this does not mean that their space shouldn’t be limited, e.g., the Cultural Trail.
  • Some posters seem to be comparing apples with oranges.

    The Circle is NOT State Street, or similar to any other pedestrian mall (and there are examples of quite successful pedestrian malls--16th Street in Denver, for example).. The Circle is not a major thoroughfare or major commercial strip. In fact, for the most part, it doesn't have that much traffic--most people who drive on it are either dropping someone off or making a delivery.

    I suggest narrowing the Circle to ONE lane for cars to continue to allow for pedestrian drop-offs and deliveries and that it's it. This would be a great compromise--it would not be completely closed to traffic, but it would become much friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Share the road. That's an idea worth considering. If the circle was shut to traffic on only half of it, that would allow better usage for events without always shutting traffic down. That only causes congestion. Of course the best section to close would be the north half so we get the benefit of winter sun on the space. They'll probably get that one wrong. Think of this in reverse. There are plenty of european plazas never meant for cars, but a path has been acommodated to share the space. Very creatively I might add. Of course this city just doesn't get it. They tried an urban plaza at Faris, only to have phase 2 place a big corporate lawn out front. Even rerouted Meridian. Nice one Lilly.
  • Interesting idea Chris. Perhaps, some narrowing of the vehicular portion of the Circle itself would be helpful. It does occasionally seem treacherous to cross to the middle as a pedestrian.
  • Judging from the incomplete data on the MPO website, it would appear that 10-20,000 cars per day drive at least a portion of the circle. That would make it a major thoroughfare, on par with other major downtown streets. One lane wouldn't handle the load, considering that there is parallel parking, turning in and out, and horse-carriage traffic merging.

    It just SEEMS like less traffic than other downtown streets because it's slow-motion and calm.

    I'm all for actively managing the space, but that's the only major change needed.
  • Whatever is done, if you want to be able to utilize year round for activies try adding radiant heat under the pedestrian plaza areas. Many cold european cities do this and it does wonders for keeping the spaces active. In zero temps you can open your coat and enjoy the space. I would bet you could easily offset the cost by the increase in active months for the circle.
  • LOL! Hey Dave, all we would have to do is tap onto the steam pipes. That actually makes sense.
  • Can you say homeless magnet?
  • I think this is a great idea. I'm sure that most businesses on the circle get their income from walk-up traffic since there aren't that many paking spaces on the cirle. I also would like to see the city go further with the closing of streets to automobile traffic than just the circle. Closing Mass Ave. to auto traffic and turning it into a pedestrian mall a.k.a. Boulder Colorado, would make this city a destination place for millions of people every year.

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