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City is far short of $750M necessary for all sidewalk needs

April 30, 2016
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City officials say Keystone Avenue north of East 38th Street is a high priority for sidewalk installation, although it’s not on a list of the top 100 projects. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Repairing the city’s aging sidewalks and installing new ones where none exist would run even more than the $720 million it cost to build Lucas Oil Stadium.

That’s the eye-popping consensus of city officials, who estimate it would take $750 million to truly transform Indianapolis into a pedestrian-friendly destination.

It’s hardly possible for the city to cough up that kind of cash, given its total annual transportation budget of $50 million contains just $3 million earmarked for sidewalks.

So city officials called in a consultant to help formulate a pedestrian plan to prioritize those areas where sidewalks are most needed. The Metropolitan Development Commission is poised to adopt the plan May 4.

beaubien-brad-mug.jpg Beaubien

“We’ll accomplish it $3 million at a time,” said Brad Beaubien, the Department of Metropolitan Development’s administrator for long-range planning.

“Will every single street in Marion County have a sidewalk in our lifetime? Under current funding scenarios, it’s not possible. That’s why we need to have this process.”

The need

The city first identified 3,000 projects, ranging from sidewalk repair to the installation of crosswalks and pedestrian signals. It followed up late last summer by hiring Jennifer Wieland of the Nelson Nygaard consultancy in Seattle to craft the plan.

beaubien-brad-mug.jpg Wieland

She whittled down the huge number of projects to a more manageable 100, to provide a starting point, and recommended formation of a public safety not-for-profit to help pay for the projects. The public-private partnership that built the Cultural Trail could serve as a model, Wieland said.

“With that funding gap, and the need being so great, is the reason for this plan,” she said. “We wanted to identify the highest priorities first.”

The Central Indiana Community Foundation, which led the Cultural Trail efforts, views the pedestrian plan as an important part of a larger effort that would include bike lanes and greenway trails.

Brian Payne, CICF president and CEO, said turning those ideas into reality will likely take the establishment of a public-private partnership—perhaps something similar to Reconnecting To Our Waterways. CICF co-founded the grass-roots effort to reclaim the city’s waterways; it now has 20 partners.

“This work is going to have a meaningful impact on the quality of life in Indianapolis,” Payne said of the pedestrian plan. “I’m absolutely sure of that.”

The city received a federal grant for $130,000 to fund the study, most of which went to pay the consulting fee, Beaubien said.

How we got here

sidewalk-bars.gifA large chunk of Indianapolis’ 402 square miles was built out at a time when walking and bicycling had given way to the automobile as the preferred method of transportation. Wide roadways and the prevalence of one-way streets reflect the city’s car-centric mind-set.

Some of Indianapolis’ best connect-ivity is downtown, where a boom in apartment construction is drawing more residents, many of whom take advantage of the Cultural Trail. The trail, which links the Fletcher Place and Fountain Square neighborhoods to the heart of downtown, has helped spur the opening of an array of restaurants, as well as apartment development.

On the IUPUI campus, New York Street switched from one-way to two-way traffic in December, and Michigan Street will follow suit by the end of the year. Areas outside downtown have seen few efforts to encourage more pedestrian traffic, except in new subdivisions, where sidewalks now are included in development requirements.

“A lot of the challenge is at the arterial streets, for safety reasons,” Beaubien said. “That’s been our main focus—how do we get our arterial networks connected?”

One of the main thoroughfares targeted for improvement is 38th Street, which is slated to get new sidewalks from Fall Creek Parkway to Sherman Drive, from Fall Creek to Sutherland Avenue, and from Sherman Drive to Emerson Avenue.

Fall Creek Parkway also is a priority. It’s slated to get sidewalks from 34th to 38th streets and from 38th Street to Keystone Avenue, near the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

The addition of pedestrian paths would be welcome, fair spokeswoman Lesley Gordon said.

“We see a lot of walk-up traffic and we see people parking from all over,” she said. “That connectivity would be a huge piece in making this area a little safer.”

East and West Washington streets also are high priorities, along with Keystone Avenue, from 38th Street north to the White River.

More than sidewalks

The push for pedestrian improvements extends beyond sidewalks, however.

The list includes extending the Pennsy Trail on the east side from the Hancock County line to Ritter Avenue and from Pleasant Run Parkway to Arlington Avenue.

Private efforts that are not part of the city’s plan are under way as well.

At Keystone and East 86th Street, developer Hendricks Commercial Properties plans to build a sidewalk linking a hotel and its Ironworks apartment project to The Fashion Mall.

Hendricks this summer should start construction on the 1,100-foot sidewalk and the five-story, 120-room hotel where the former La-Z-Boy building sat. Hendricks received a tax abatement from the city to offset the costs.

“We feel it will be huge as one of those missing links on the [East 86th Street] corridor,” said Isaac Bamgbose, Hendricks’ asset manager.•

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