Monday, September 14, 2009

Indy and Louisville: interesting contrasts

I spent the weekend in downtown Indianapolis attending a conference. Indy seemed halfway between Louisville and Chicago in architecture, sports, and urban liveliness, but not in transportation. Here are some of the differences between Louisville and Indianapolis that made an impression on me and my wife. We didn't ride bicycles in Indianapolis, but walked quite a bit.
  • Urban bicyclists in Indy ride almost exclusively on the sidewalks, even in traffic and road conditions that would allow a reasonably skilled rider to ride easily on the streets. "Vehicular cycling" seemed a virtually unknown concept.
  • Only about 10% of the bicyclists that we saw wore helmets. We saw more helmet-wearing bicyclists within 5 minutes of returning to Louisville than we saw in 2 days in Indy.
  • What little bicycle parking that we saw was sub-standard, not capable of holding a bicycle upright while allowing a U-lock to secure both the frame and front wheel. Most blocks had no bicycle parking at all, though one commercial parking garage had signs noting the availability of bike parking inside.
  • Motorists actually obey crosswalks in Indianapolis. In three days, I don't remember one motor vehicle cutting off or threatening pedestrians or bicyclists in a crosswalk. This morning, on my bike ride to work in Louisville, I saw a construction truck with trailer roll through a red light rather than waiting for two pedestrians waiting to cross legally in a crosswalk. We never saw anything remotely like that in Indianapolis.
  • Pedestrians in Indy respect the crossing signals, for the most part. Even when crossing against a "don't walk" signal, they waited until no moving traffic was within a block.
  • Though we noticed some urban chic single-speed/fixed gear bikes, we saw no devil-may-care high-speed lawless bicyclists. Even the pair of young men riding single-speeds delivering sandwiches for a local shop rode in a pretty mellow way, slowing respectfully for pedestrians.
  • We saw zero bike lanes, bike route signs, or multi-use paths. The Monon Trail ends several blocks from downtown, and there was no visible indication that anyone was working to make bicycling safer or easier than ordinary downtown streets would allow.
I didn't go to Indianapolis expecting or looking for contrasts with Louisville in terms of bicycling and walking. All of this surprised me. To summarize, Louisville seems to have better bicycling infrastructure and Indianapolis seems to have better pedestrian and motorist behavior. A large fraction of bicyclists in both cities appears to feel safer riding on sidewalks than on streets, though the proportions of vehicular cyclists and avid-but-lawless bicyclists seem much higher in Louisville.


Christopher said...


glad to hear that you enjoyed indy for the most part, and great to read your post of contrasts and such. you are right on a lot of points, especially the sad lack of vehicular cycling, but the main thing i saw incorrect was this:

"We saw zero bike lanes, bike route signs, or multi-use paths. The Monon Trail ends several blocks from downtown, and there was no visible indication that anyone was working to make bicycling safer or easier than ordinary downtown streets would allow."

You are correct that the Monon ends short of downtown, but there are bike lanes that run east-west along New York and Michigan. Also, a good portion of the Indy Cultural Trail runs along Alabama and Washington Streets, and construction is almost complete on a larger portion of the Trail through downtown, connecting to the Monon, and over to Fountain Square.

In short, the city of Indy is taking some great strides in bolstering bike traffic with their Indy BikeWays plan that was announced and launched last fall.

But, this was a really interesting piece about the contrasts between Indy and Louisville. I hope you don't mind if I post it on our blog, indycog, sometime later today.

Amy said...

Agreed w/Christopher, we are getting an increase in bike lanes now in Indy, and the Michigan/New York street ones are primary for downtown travel. I see people riding in them a lot, though not always with helmets nor always in the right direction!

Funny you mention cars obeying crosswalks, as I was hit by a car in one recently while crossing the MUP on my bike. :)

CorrND said...

Riding on sidewalks -- yeah, lots of that in downtown Indy, though it's perhaps 50%, definitely not "almost exclusively."

Lack of helmets -- buncha idiots in this city.

Parking availability -- it sucks.

Crosswalks -- generally pretty good respect on all fronts.

Lawless bicyclists -- can't quite gauge your take...are we encouraging lawlessness on bikes or just noting that Indy cyclist follow the rules (even though I think a slight majority don't and it pisses me off when I see it)?

Bike lanes/routes/paths -- there are relatively few of each of these downtown. But I'm actually amazed that you didn't see any of the Cultural Tail construction, which seems to have torn up half the streets in the northern section of downtown. If you were on the Monon near the southern terminus (10th St.), you definitely should have seen a shitload of construction on the segment connecting the Monon to downtown. And obviously, others have mentioned the new bike lanes on Michigan St. and New York St. (and Illinois St. is being restriped as I type). All that said, there's definitely still a long way to go to improve things in downtown Indy.

AmericanDirt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AmericanDirt said...

I appreciate the comparative balance you've applied in these two cities. However, I'd be very surprised to hear that Louisville has more bike helmet wearing than Indy, unless you have an ordinance that enforces it. It seems in general that, without laws, only about 20% of people using bikes for utilitarian purposes (and not for sport, like the racing bicyclists do) end up wearing helmets. I see far more helmets in Indy than I did in New Orleans, where the only people who wore them were the Mormons and me. Does Louisville have a helmet ordinance? Maybe you just caught Indy on an off day.

Philadelphia remains the city I've lived and experienced that seems to have the strongest culture of safe bicycling. Of course, they have laws against both sidewalk-riding and lack of helmets.

harry2110 said...

Im from the louisville area too and now live in indy. There is alot of bike paths in construction. but there is still more than the ones in louisville if you dont count hte streets that are labeled for share the road. I also have noticed the lack of parking too. I also love that car respect you here and give you space. Generally in the next few year indy will become a city that is 5 times louisville is for cyclists. Now the comment about people on sidewalks is becuase I think its legal to ride on them here not like in louisville. I have also noticed the lack of helmets here I have only seen about 4 guys down town with them on. Now I think the lack of dare devils is that indy doesnt have as much of an alternate urban scene as lousiville which seem to generate the lawless cyclist.

Derrick Trucks said...

Indy and Louisville are having some new constructions. They are making it much comfortable with bikes to move there. digger derricks

Paul K. Ogden said...

I am from Indy and ride frequently. Those downtown bike lanes are dangerous. In many places they are between two lanes, they jump between lanes at other points, and they take you right next to parked cars. Indy downtown streets are extremely easy to ride on. The bike lanes make riding much more dangerous.

AmericanDirt said...

I'd be interested in knowing what writers like Paul Ogden suggest as an alternative to the striping seen in Indy's bike lanes. Isn't it standard procedure to feature a lane right next to parked cars? Don't they have to maneuver between lanes to account for cars making right turns? Making every lane grade separated like the Cultural Trail in Indy is far too expensive to be implemented widespread.

Sam said...

Pretty interesting. I've never been to Indy or Louisville. How much of the year can you feasibly commute by bicycle? I can't imagine being able to ride a bike for more than 6 months out of the year...

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