Activist for street safety takes issue to Indy mayoral, council candidates

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Cyclists and pedestrians at Fort Wayne Avenue and Alabama Street.

Eric Holt, the founder of a popular Twitter account and website that track pedestrian and cyclist deaths in Indianapolis, is creating a voter guide in hopes of spurring the election of mayoral and council candidates who want to address systemic street safety issues.

In preparation for the primary elections on May 2, Holt is sending a questionnaire to all candidates for Indianapolis mayor and the City-County Council. As Holt receives responses, he’ll be rating candidates as “friends” or “foes” to pedestrians and bicyclists.

The questionnaire asks candidates about their experiences walking or biking in the city and if they would consider measures like increasing enforcement of traffic laws, lowering speed limits, banning right turns at red lights, or infrastructure improvements. 

He hopes to have ratings for each candidate posted on his indypedcrisis.info website by April 2, a month before the primary election.

Holt’s Twitter account, @IndyPedCrisis, uses 911 reports, the mobile app Citizen, and user-submitted tips to track incidents, fatalities and bike lane obstructions. Fatalities are confirmed with local news sources, Holt told IBJ.

IMPD reported a record of 40 pedestrian fatalities in 2022, while Holt’s database has pedestrian deaths at 39 and four cyclist deaths.

Holt said people too frequently think of walking or biking as a leisure activity, rather than a way that people in Indianapolis commute.

“I think that gets lost a lot of times when talking about this,” Holt said.

As of Tuesday, 22 candidates had either completed the questionnaire or expressed intent to complete it. Sixteen respondents are candidates for City-County Council and six are mayoral candidates.

The topic of street safety for both drivers and non-drivers has increasingly been in the spotlight, especially since the Sept. 2021 crash that killed seven-year-old Hannah Crutchfield and badly injured her mother and a crossing guard. A playground in her honor opened at George W. Julian School 57 in Irvington at the end of February.

The tragedy partially caused the city to create a fatal crash review commission. So far, the commission has evaluated three pedestrian fatalities and one cyclist fatality from the beginning of June to the end of July. With each crash reviewed, there is room for a recommendation on how the city can improve infrastructure at the site.

Holt said the he believes Democratic Mayor Joe Hogestt, who is seeking a third term, isn’t doing enough about the issue, noting that Hogsett’s fellow Democrats also control the City-County Council.

“I have not to this day seen him making, you know, a direct statement on the number of pedestrians and bicyclists that have been either struck and or killed in the city over the last four years,” Holt said. “I don’t believe that this is something that he believes is a problem and we don’t consider him to be a friend of the cause.”

In response to IBJ’s request for comment on the criticism, a spokesperson for Hogsett’s campaign provided a statement.

“Mayor Joe takes pedestrian and bike safety seriously and is committed to addressing concerns that impact the wellbeing of cyclists and pedestrians. Those solutions will be costly, and that’s why Mayor Joe worked last year to fund a five-year, $1.1 billion infrastructure plan that will allow for critical investments to calm traffic, protect pedestrians and cyclists, and reduce the rise in deaths associated with antiquated street design.”

The five-year program includes $5.6 million for remedying areas with high numbers of pedestrian crashes. Just over $3 million will go towards rehabilitating or creating new sidewalks. 

Nearly $42 million will go towards trails over the next five years, including the Nickel Plate Trail at $12.8 million and the Cultural Trail expansion at $17.3 million.

Two measures considered by pedestrian safety advocates to be traffic-calming, traffic-lane “diets” and two-way conversions of one way roads, also are on DPW’s list of solutions. Sections of Michigan and New York streets and College Avenue will become two-way with a total cost of $14 million.

West Michigan Street will receive a $6 million, two-year “road diet” where the number of lanes will be reduced and bike lanes will be added. A Department of Transportation case study on the creation of the Cultural Trail says that road diets lead to economic development.

The 2023 budget for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works also added a safety engineer position.

Holt used the example of cars driving on the Monon Trail as an example of inaction. Recently, city officials told news organizations that metal barriers—called bollards—would be installed to prevent vehicles on the pedestrian and bike path.

Holt noted that current City-County Councilors have been lowering speed limits in neighborhoods a street at a time. But he said progress in that area needs to come at a faster clip.

From Hogsett’s challengers

Democratic candidate for mayor Clif Marsiglio is part of Bike Party Indianapolis and is running with bike and pedestrian safety as one of his priorities. He said a lack of sidewalks put children going to school and residents walking to IndyGo stops in danger.

Like Holt, he feels that bike paths are often viewed as being for recreation rather than as a legitimate way for people to travel to and from work. 

“We need to make the city a walkable city, we need to make it a bikeable city, we need to make it a place where even if all you want to do is get on the bus, you have safe access to the bus,” Marsiglio said.

Several other mayoral candidates provided written statements on street safety to IBJ.

Fellow Democratic candidate State Rep. Robin Shackleford said nearly 2,000 miles of roads in Indianapolis don’t have sidewalks, which causes children walking to the park and adults taking the bus to work to walk along or on the street.

“I will be unveiling a bold new plan in the coming weeks to install miles of badly needed public sidewalks across Indianapolis and adopting a citywide safe sidewalks plan—particularly in neighborhoods and along school bus routes. I will also have plans to better protect cyclists in Indianapolis.”

The Rev. James Jackson, a Republican candidate, is the pastor at Fervent Prayer Church. The church is off 38th Street, which the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Agency has designated a high-injury area with pedestrian and cyclist crashes overrepresented. Jackson said he’s seen this firsthand.

“A  few years ago one of our workers was hit and almost killed crossing 38th Street coming to work,” Jackson said in an email. “I am also a cyclist and I have heard horrifying stories of cyclists being hit and sometimes killed.

If he were elected, Jackson said he would implement “smart streets” which he described as having red light cameras, sensors and other technology. 

Republican candidate Abdul-Hakim Shabazz said the issue combines two priorities of his: public safety and public works.

“Part of my plan includes working with the legislature to dedicate a penny from either the sales tax on gasoline or gas tax to improve streets and sidewalks, so pedestrians and cyclists don’t have to worry while they are out and about,” Shabazz said in an email. “In addition, we should step up our efforts to apply for federal funding also to help alleviate the problem and make our streets, lanes and sidewalks safer.”

Shabazz said drivers with a history of driving under the influence and other traffic violations are frequently the cause of these accidents, so they should be held accountable.

“I will use the mayor’s office to build bridges between public safety and criminal justice stakeholders and advocate for meaningful accountability for those who have demonstrated a dangerous recklessness that jeopardizes our pedestrians and cyclists,” he said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Shreve said the candidate “would like to examine this issue more closely by reviewing the data and the questionnaire before providing a response.”

At the Statehouse

At the Statehouse, State Sen. Andrea Hunley, D-Indianapolis, has authored legislation that would study the cause of pedestrian and cyclist deaths. Senate Bill 233, which cleared the Senate 42-7, is awaiting action in the House Roads and Transportation Committee.

The bill would create a task force based on the Sweden-originated “vision zero” approach to traffic safety. The approach reframes traffic collisions from being inevitable to being preventable and searches for infrastructure fixes that can prevent serious fatalities and deaths.

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization established a vision zero framework in 2018 and amended the framework with specific goals in 2022. The agency aims to reduce serious and fatal crashes 35% by 2040.

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