Better Streets: Indianapolis Cultural Trail

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I’m always amazed at the variety of projects that are in the works in cities across North America to improve the public realm and make cities more vibrant and walkable. For example, in May of this year, Indianapolis put the finishing touches on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail:  A Legacy of Gene & Marilyn Glick. The trail, pictured above, is a 13km greenway through the heart of downtown Indianapolis. Project for Public Spaces describes the project as “what may be the boldest step of any American city towards supporting bicyclists and pedestrians.”

Rundell Ernstberger Associates designed the trail to be a major pedestrian and cycling route as well as a significant piece of storm water infrastructure. The swales and trees planted along the trail’s route provide significant environmental benefits.

What is most incredible is the trail, which cost $63 million to build, was largely financed by private donations, including a $15 million donation from Indianapolis developer Gene Glick. Clearly, Mr. Glick, a housing developer, saw value in improving walkability and public space in downtown Indianapolis.

A study by university students from Butler University attempts to quantify some of the trail’s early environmental and economic impacts. The study found that planting a significant number of trees, over five hundred, provides energy conservation benefits, improves air quality, and raises property values along the trail. However, while most businesses interviewed along the trail did not see a significant increase in sales, they also did not see a decrease. In this case, there was no evidence that removing traffic lanes to widen the sidewalks and add bike lanes and swales negatively affected businesses.

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail is an excellent example of how private and public investments in streets can improve the qualify of life and the quality of public space in cities. For a better sense of some the trails features check out this video on The Magnificent Bioswales & Stromwater Treatment Along the Indy Cultural Trail.

The Magnificent Bioswales & Stormwater Treatment Along the Indy Cultural Trail from Streetfilms on Vimeo.