Greenwood rejects cross-country bicycle route

A proposed cross-country bicycle route won't cut through downtown Greenwood and could be rerouted out of Johnson County altogether.

The Greenwood Board of Public Works and Safety unanimously rejected a request to designate Madison Avenue as part of a planned interstate bicycle route.

Bicyclists someday could take the proposed Route 35 from the Canada-Michigan border to the Gulf Coast.

But they won't ride through Old Town Greenwood because the city has concerns about safety and potentially getting sued if someone gets injured, Greenwood Community Development Services Director Mark Richards said.

The proposed route is part of a network that would allow long-distance cyclists to pedal from state to state or on shorter in-state trips, such as to Noblesville or Columbus. The idea of cross-country bike routes has been around since the late 1960s but only recently started to take off with routes in Alaska, Virginia and New England.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation and cycling advocacy groups have been charting a network of long-distance bicycle routes from coast to coast.

Indianapolis-based advocacy group Hoosier Rails to Trails Council has been planning the route through Indiana since last fall and going from community to community to get approval for it pass through.

About two dozen communities have agreed to recognize the route, but the project still is far from completion, council member Richard Vonnegut said.

Route 35 from LaPorte to Jeffersonville will have to be rerouted because of Greenwood's decision, Vonnegut said. The path might be rerouted along U.S. 31 instead of Madison Avenue but might be moved out of Johnson County altogether, he said.

"U.S. 31 would be a strong option, but we'll have to look and see where we go from here," he said. "One reason we went with that route is that every other route has potential problems with it one way or another."

Greenwood is recommending that the route be rerouted from Madison Avenue in Indianapolis along County Line Road and down U.S. 31 through Greenwood.

Richards said he had no comment on whether those roads are safer but said Greenwood recommended the alternative streets because the city is not responsible for them.

People already can legally bike down Madison Avenue if they want to, and the city has long-term plans to extend bicycle paths along Madison Avenue, Richards said. But those paths don't exist yet.

Greenwood has concerns about the legal liability that would come with recognizing the route and cyclists' safety where Madison Avenue shrinks from five lanes to three lanes, Richards said.

The city is concerned about accidents but not that bicyclists could hold up traffic on Madison Avenue, he said.

"The type of cyclists we're talking about could easily reach 30 miles per hour," he said. "Acceleration takes longer, but they could go as fast as the speed limits that are already posted in that area."

The original plan was for the route to follow Madison Avenue through Greenwood to U.S. 31, continue south along the highway and then veer off on Main Street in Franklin for a scenic detour through the downtown. The route would swing by Franklin College before merging back onto U.S. 31 near Amity and follow the highway all the way to Columbus.

Franklin has not yet received a request to allow the bike route, board of public works and safety member Steve Barnett said.

He said that the city should review whether it would be safe but that he's supportive of proposals that might bring more people to Franklin's downtown.

"We want more people to come downtown," he said. "We'd want to carefully look at it, but it could create more traffic to stop by shops and businesses. We're trying to encourage people to go to our downtown area."

The proposed bike route follows highways for long stretches because they tend to be the most direct routes, but it also takes scenic detours through communities.

The route would cater mostly to committed long-distance cyclists capable of biking more than 100 miles a day.

Cyclists taking the route would ride on the road's shoulder or along bike lanes if available, Vonnegut said. Donated money could be used to install road signs that would let cyclists know they're on the route, but most riders would bring maps or smartphones.

Local communities would not have to spend any money if the routes passed through them, Vonnegut said. But they do have to officially recognize the route because the goal is to make it as official as possible.

Hoosier Rails to Trails originally charted a route down Madison Avenue in Greenwood because Madison Avenue in Indianapolis has bike lanes that can take cyclists all the way downtown, Vonnegut said.

Continuing along Madison Avenue in Greenwood is the most direct route, Vonnegut said. Cyclists wouldn't have to make potentially dangerous left-hand turns the way they would if going south from County Line Road to U.S. 31.

The more turns, the greater the chance of accidents or getting lost, Vonnegut said.

"A nice straight line offers a degree of safety," he said. The less turns, the better when you're pedaling long distances. The cyclists might have paper or electronic maps, but it's problematic if they can't go 15 to 20 miles at a time without making a turn. It's harder to stay on the route."

Hoosier Rails to Trails will reroute the path and continue to ask communities for approval, Vonnegut said. The group hopes to get federal approval by as early as this summer.

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