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Big City Problems: Sharing the Road

This article is part of Indianapolis Monthly’s The New Downtown package, which includes a guide to five hotspots, a few big city problems, and a look at what’s next for the city. For more content on navigating the new downtown, click here.

It’s the moment a cyclist fears: While riding my squeaky Cannondale through an intersection at the corner of Michigan Street and Senate Avenue, a half-ton Dodge Ram T-boned me. My path near IUPUI had come to the crosswalk then, but I had the right-of-way. The truck driver’s carelessness led to mangled steel, an ambulance, and a neck brace.

Yet I have become a strident bike-commuting advocate in the five years since—and the city is catching up. Former Mayor Greg Ballard ushered in the Cultural Trail, 200 miles of bike lanes and greenways, and a progressive Complete Streets law, which mandates that every new and remodeled road consider all forms of transit, including bikes. The most prominent result is the recent Pennsylvania Street redesign, which moved parking away from the curb to block off a protected inside bike lane. Drivers were slow to figure it out, though. Some continued to park against the curb, creating a dangerous barrier for cyclists.

These natural growing pains will likely continue as the Department of Public Works rolls out more Complete Streets, including a potential protected two-way bike lane along Illinois Street in conjunction with the Red Line development. Meanwhile, tensions between drivers and cyclists seem more heated than ever. From my viewpoint—while some rogue cyclists flout the road rules—a collision between a 15-pound bike and a half-ton car typically ends with only one loser. Fortunately for Indy, efforts are paying off. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 12 percent fewer cycling fatalities from 2010 to 2014 compared to the previous five years.

Why bother becoming more bike-friendly, then? With an influx of downtown residents, accommodating cyclists creates efficiencies for all forms of traffic. “We would not want these thousands of people moving to the Mile Square driving cars such short distances, taking up space and parking spots that people commuting into the city rely on,” says Jamison Hutchins, the DPW’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.

Would the recent new rules and lanes have saved me from my accident? Maybe not. But they are putting cyclists more on the minds of drivers. That extra awareness can’t hurt—at least any more than my 15 stitches did.

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