Improving the PeNNsylvania st bike lane

Credt: Kevin Kastner
 
 

It all started when...

Biking has come a long way in Indy. Before Mayor Greg Ballard, Indy had exactly zero lane miles of on-street bike lanes. That's none, nada, zilch. Fast forward to today and Indy has 100+ miles of on-street bike lanes. But anyone who has taken their bike through many of these lanes know that they're not all equal.

The Pennsylvania St protected bike lane is certainly one of the better bike lanes in Indy currently. Arguably, the only lanes that are better are the Indianapolis Cultural Trail and the Shelby St protected lane. So if it's really up there as one of Indy's best bike lanes in the city, then you may ask, why does Strong Indy think it deserves some new attention?

 

Background

First, a little background on the bike lane. At time of writing (summer of 2017), this lane has only been around for about two years. It was a lane created with the help of a prestigious award from The Green Lane Project initiative from People for Bikes. The goal of this project back in 2014 was to help six cities greatly improve the quality and availability of their protected bike lanes through giving both a grant and technical assistance in designing the lane effectively for the local context. The lane was completed in the summer of 2015 and has definitely seen use by not only bicyclists, but also people on skateboards and even rollerblades. However, all is not well.

 

Current Issues

The lane has several issues that are now becoming quite apparent. Some of the most obvious ones are:

  1. The lane is often blocked by cars, delivery vehicles, dumpsters, etc making it quite difficult and dangerous to travel on. There's been no active enforcement by local authorities when these various things are blocking the lane's right-of-way.
  2. The lane doesn’t integrate well with a network of other bike lanes and bike provisions. It also begins in a random and largely useless location instead of beginning in a place such as a more dense place as 16th street and Penn.
  3. The lane's one-way nature (if you're following the rules) makes it practically worthless for most trips.
  4. The lane is “protected” for a small fraction of the year. Many people continue to want to or need to bike throughout the winter and having the protected features of it in place year-round is vital to it being safe and effective to use. The plastic bollards weren't replaced until June of 2017 meaning that the visual protection was not available for more than half the year.
  5. The lane's “protection” doesn’t provide real, hardscape protection. The current frequency of the plastic bollards are not enough to keep cars out of the lane, nor does it provide real protection since at present, most of the time, Penn St does not have many cars parked along it.
  6. The parking setup along the lane is confusing for drivers unfamiliar with how it’s supposed to work since the parking meters continue to be located on the sidewalk instead of next to the parking spots. This creates a conflict zone where people cross the lane to go to the meter to pay and risk getting into an crash with passing bikers using the lane.
  7. Drivers routinely use parts of the lane as a right hand turn lane where they really should not be crossing the lane. The lines and low frequency of bollards do not provide clear enough guides for drivers on what they should technically be doing to make a safe right hand turn.
Credit: Kevin Kastner

Proposal for Improvements

So what can be done to improve this lane so that it's safer, a more beautiful public asset and more effective for those who want to or need to use it? Strong Indy proposes an incremental improvement strategy that will look close to the following:

  1. Add or replace the existing plastic bollards with solid flower planters such as concrete or wood planters. We hope to partner with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful to accomplish this first significant step. If flower planters end up being too expensive, here's some other ideas that could be done to provide additional protection and visual guidance for different costs.
  2. Work with the Indianapolis Cultural Trail organization to get the lane cleared of snow and trash year round once the flower planters have been installed so that they may remain in place year round.
  3. Improve both the quantity and visibility of signage to drivers indicating the presence of the lane and that anything blocking it will be towed at the owner’s expense.
  4. Convert the cycletrack to 2-ways to make it more effective.
    Extend the cycletrack north to the north side of 16th street to protect cyclists in the most dangerous part of Penn St due to the highest vehicular speeds in this section of the street.
  5. Presently, a cyclist must cross four wide lanes of traffic to turn left. Work with DPW to think through and design a solution for making it easier and safer for cyclists to turn left at intersections.
     

Get involved

Strong Indy is presently forming a committee of support who will begin work on leading the improvement strategy laid out above. We'll also be working to put together a coalition of other groups, businesses and residents who believe in our improvement plan and will offer support either through donating money to purchase the needed materials, donating time to help with the logistics or simply offering their written support. There's a lot of work to be done, but we know that this lane can be incrementally improved. As long as this great asset exists, why not make it as good as it can possibly be? We intend to do exactly that. If you'd like to get involved, please see Strong Indy's contact page and fill out the contact form. We will gladly work with anyone else who has a similar vision for this bike lane as Strong Indy does.

For more info on our proposal, please see the current full version here.