Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Michigan Road & Interstate 465

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Recently driving through this interchange a couple times during the morning and afternoon peak periods raised a few questions for me. In the afternoons, it appears commonplace for traffic exiting from Eastbound I-465 to Michigan Road to back up quite some distance onto the mainline of I-465. Traffic sailing by at the speed limit in the left and center lanes, with traffic at a standstill, or stop and go in the right lane doesn't seem very safe, considering there will always be those drivers that need to exit, but don't realize, or don't care that they need to get to the right lane sooner. There's also those drivers unwittingly in the stopped right lane that don't wish to exit. These drivers will often attempt to move to the center lane to bypass the stop and go traffic, which also presents safety concerns.

Considering that Michigan Road was widened and the exit ramps rebuilt in the past couple years, couldn't this problem have been avoided? One solution would be a wider (more lanes) and longer (more lanes sooner with a longer queue area) exit ramp.

But I wonder if this problem highlights a bigger problem with Central Indiana freeway/expressways, that being the relative sparsity of interchanges. Consider, for drivers traveling east on I-465, the next exit after Michigan Road is Meridian Street, which is identified as being five miles away. For traffic that has traveled east on I-865 from southbound I-65, Michigan Road is the first exit after Zionsville (SR 334?), a distance of what, eight miles? Is there just too much traffic being funneled through this interchange?

Does INDOT have plans to add an interchange between Michigan and Meridian, at say Township Line Road or Ditch Road?

How about an interchange somewhere on I-865 (the "dogleg")?

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I suspect that folks in that area (Traders Point vicinity) might wish to preserve the ultra low-density, rural character of the area, but if subdivisions continue to develop west of Michigan Road and north and south of I-865, I would think that another interchange would be inevitable. I'm all for channeling growth toward existing infrastructure and preserving the development pattern of truly unique and historic rural areas, but that infrastructure has to be able to safely accommodate it. With virtually zero public transportation in this area, I doubt that the existing automobile infrastructure will keep pace with demand, as the backups at the Michigan Road interchange demonstrate.

Since I mentioned public transportation, let's shift gears from the Interstate down to the surface street. What is one to infer from the fact that the complete rebuilding and widening of Michigan Road from 86th to 96th Street did not include sidewalks, but yet the portion of the project north of 96th Street (Hamilton County) included sidewalks on both sides of the street? Michigan Road south of I-465 is not a state road and is wholly under the control of the City of Indianapolis - Marion County. North of I-465, this is U.S. 421, which although named a U.S. Highway, is under the authority of INDOT.

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There is very limited bus service on IndyGo Route 34 on Michigan Road from 86th Street to 96th Street. There is no bus service north of 96th Street. Interestingly, or sadly, short "islands" of sidewalk were constructed at some of the intersection corners, but what's the point? They don't allow anyone to walk along Michigan Road and they don't connect to anything east or west of Michigan Road. Since there are pedestrian signals, if you're fleet of foot, I suppose you could exit the bus and cross the street and reboard going back the opposite direction if you were just sightseeing along "Ye Olde Michigan Road".

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But seriously, how does a project like this occur in the 21st century in an urbanized area, where millions of dollars are being spent annually creating "pedestrian plans", "multi-modal design guidelines" and "rapid transit studies"?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ducking along sidewalks

A certain blogger, let's call him me, took a walk this evening through a couple neighborhoods, let's call them the Old Northside and Cottage Home. Apparently being two of the city's most desirable neighborhoods, each located on the edge of downtown, one might expect to find the best pedestrian environment that the city has to offer. And that might actually be the case. But I have to say that I was surprised at the number of trees hanging over the sidewalk in desperate need of trimming. Sure, I'm over 6' tall, but I'm not like Greg Oden; I'd be a point guard at best in the NBA. So surely the experience of having to duck routinely to walk down the sidewalk without getting poked in the face is not unique to me. I'm accustomed to experiencing this in other neighborhoods of lesser prestige and cachet, if you will, but someone how I though these neighborhoods, where people presumably use the sidewalks and presumably are more civic-minded, engaged, and active in their communities than average, would be different.

I found this city ordinance that obligates property owners to trim trees, shrubs, and other vegetation from overhanging the sidewalk and other portions of the public right-of-way, but I would have to say that this is certainly not being enforced or communicated to the public with any regularity.

Sec. 701-6. Duties of property owner.
(a) The owner of any private property in Marion County which borders or lies adjacent to any public street, alley, right-of-way, place or park and upon which any trees or flora may be standing shall trim or cause such trees or flora to be trimmed, either at the property line, or to a clear height of at least eight (8) feet above the surface of any abutting right-of-way or place, and fourteen (14) feet above any public street or alley. All branches or parts thereof which overhang any portion of a public street, alley, right-of-way, or place, or which obstruct or interfere with the passage of light from any street lighting system, shall be trimmed or cut. No person shall plant or maintain any tree or flora so close to any property line as to obstruct the vision or free passage of pedestrians or motorists along the streets or public right-of-way. The consolidated city or its contractual agent or agents may enter upon private property to do such cutting or trimming as may be necessary to remove any offending and obstructing tree or flora that is prohibited by the provisions hereof.
(b) An owner shall, and the consolidated city may, remove from flora all dead, decayed, broken or dangerous limbs, branches or parts thereof or any that overhang or are close to any public street, alley, right-of-way, or place, and, when any such flora is dead, the owner shall completely remove the same, or after notice to and failure of the owner so to do, the department or its lawful agents may cause such removal and charge the cost thereof to the owner in accordance with the procedures hereinafter provided.

Friday, March 6, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

This is facing NE from the near the SW corner of the newly aligned Washington and Southeastern intersection, just east of downtown Indianpolis. So, what's wrong in this picture?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

New York & Michigan Street transformations

These plans were on display at the annual meeting of the Near East Side Community Organization. Thoughts?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dear Mayor Ballard

Dear Mayor Ballard,

Every mayor has a legacy. For Richard Lugar, it was Unigov; for William Hudnut, it was bringing the Colts to Indy. It might be too early to say how Bart Peterson will be remembered (keeping the Colts in Indy? leaving the City in a financial crisis for the maintenance on Lucas Oil Stadium?), but it's not too early for you to start thinking about what your legacy might be.

Gaining control of IMPD from the Sheriff? Significant, but probably not something to set you apart from others.

Township consolidation? This would be a significant accomplishment as well, but the initial groundwork was laid by the previous administration.

Here's an idea; you could be the mayor who, for the first time in the history of the City, made making Indy safe and convenient for pedestrians a real priority and followed through. Sure, we've heard lip service to concern for building and maintaining sidewalks in the past, and the Cultural Trail is an innovative development that has drawn attention from around the country.

But the sad truth is that for the 99+% of Indy residents who don't live or work on the Cultural Trail or need to travel outside a two-block radius of Monument Circle, the pedestrian infrastructure is in sad shape. The absent pedestrian signals and crosswalks, the missing sidewalk segments, and the poor location (directly adjacent to traffic) and maintenance (crumble, crumble) of existing sidewalks discourage most people from walking by choice.

But of even more critical importance is the state of our sidewalks right now as you read this letter. Please take a drive around Indy, and get out of the vehicle in random locations to experience what it is like to be one of our citizens who doesn't own a private automobile. You won't even have to leave the Mile Square to see myriad examples of residents and businesses who have forgone both the civic and legal obligation to ensure safe passage for our neighbors of greatest need. They might be children walking to school, the elderly going shopping for basic needs, parents riding the bus to work, or they might simply be young adults like myself who are fortunate enough to own a car, but who would like to have other transportation options. No matter, we are all rendered second class citizens who must remain home or be forced to walk in streets with traffic which is obviously not safe.

What will visitors think if there is a snowfall during the week of the Super Bowl? What do visitors think today? What do residents who have helped revitalize urban neighborhoods, in part because they want to live in vibrant communities where they can walk to destinations, think of the current state of our sidewalks? Surely they are not impressed.

You might ask what you can do. Certainly, the City can not be expected to clear everyone's sidewalk. It's up to each property owner or tenant to do their part. So how can you, Mayor Ballard, address this issue? I'm glad you asked.

First, use the bully pulpit of your office to make it clear to all Indy residents and property owners that this is a serious problem, but that there is a simple solution that can be achieved, only if we all do our part. By stressing the importance of maintaining a safe pedestrian network, you can begin to change the culture, which is key.

Next, make clear that this is not only a civic duty and moral obligation, but a legal requirement. Although it would be difficult to immediately enforce this ordinance throughout Indy, you must dedicate resources, reallocating them from other duties if necessary, to issue warnings and citations for failure to clear snow from sidewalks. There have to be repercussions for those who will not be swayed by polite request alone, and you must solicit the media to highly publicize the enforcement efforts.

Right now, many people see no reason to shovel their sidewalks, when many or most of their neighbors do not. Once the culture begins to change, and the unshoveled sidewalk becomes the exception to the norm, then each individual will realize the community benefit in doing their part. But that cultural shift can only be accomplished by a publicity campaign, led by you, followed up by enforcement of the ordinance.

Please Mr. Mayor, make the goal of creating a city that is safe for pedestrians all year long a priority. I guarantee you'll find it worth the effort. The alternative of watching pedestrians take to the streets and hoping they don't become fatal statistics is not acceptable for a world class city.