Where the Ride Takes Us: Attracting the Creative Class
In honor of National Bike Month, we’re spotlighting how bicycles are tools for personal empowerment, social justice and community development with our “Where the Ride Takes Us” web series. Today’s post comes from Jamison Hutchins, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the City of Indianapolis, which is using bicycles to revive the urban core and attract new talent. Indianapolis used to be focused on one thing in the month of May: cars. The Indianapolis 500 is probably the highlight of the busy summer schedule in Indy, so race cars traditionally have been the focus of many Hoosiers when the month rolls around. However, since 2007, when Mayor Greg Ballard was elected, bicycles have taken their rightful place in the month’s activities.
The Mayor entered office, understanding the Circle City had a great deal of potential and that it just needed to be activated. He also understood that the people that were going to help the City live up to its potential were the young creative class. Whether these were artists, people working in the service industry and/or the young talent that was being attracted by Eli Lilly, Rolls Royce or any of the other large businesses that call Indy home. Mayor Ballard looked around to other cities and realized that today’s youth had choices and they were flocking to Minneapolis, Chicago and other cities that were winning the battle for talent. These cities are great for many reasons, but the Mayor also realized that people were looking at transportation differently. The infatuation with the automobile seemed to be dying for a variety of reasons and many were intentionally rejecting it. While many of these cities have extensive transit systems, he also realized they had invested in a less expensive mode of transportation-the bicycle. So, while mass transit is a major priority of the Mayor, he decided to expand on the already existing 40+miles of greenways and look to the bicycle as a way get people to/from all the great neighborhoods and destinations in the City. In 2007, the on-street bike network consisted of about 1 mile of random bike lanes. Five years, piggy-backing on routine resurfacing projects, federal transportation dollars and a growing demand for bicycle facilities, Indy now has 74 miles of on street bike lanes. It started out with two major one way, east/west roads that spanned a large swath of the City. There were the typical complaints and “concerns” from residents that had never ridden in, or driven next to bike lanes, but the outcome was overall support to incorporate another mode of transportation in the city. This also happened to start around the same time as construction of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail got underway. This nearly 8-mile protected bicycle and pedestrian facility in the heart of downtown that connects people to the various cultural districts around town really changes the landscape of the city and makes people rethink the way they move throughout Indy. Indianapolis, like many other cities over the past 30 years, has suffered heavily from suburban sprawl and urban flight. This has left an urban core that has some density issues, a transportation network focused on getting people in and out from the suburbs by car. Around the office we like to call it “potential.” There is no shortage of great housing-stock located in wonderful, urban neighborhoods, as well as wide streets that provide existing right-of-way to “play” with; oh and a lot of surface parking lots. As I type this, these neighborhoods are being reinvested in, the roads are being retrofitted to accommodate bicycles and the surface parking lots are being filled with mixed-use developments that are bringing grocery stores, restaurants and other retail, as well as providing living space above. These developments are trying to meet the demand of the kids and young adults of the parents that moved out of the cities and into the suburbs. This generation seems to be more interested in community, bikeable/livable neighborhoods and having entertainment options close by — in contrast to the parents who were lured out of the “dirty/dangerous” cities with the promise of bigger houses, more cars and ultimately a more secluded lifestyle. Mayor Ballard, just as the companies that he aims to attract to Indy, realize that the pendulum is swinging back to the urban cores for a number of these reasons.
So, with the leadership of the Mayor, Indianapolis was recognized as a Bicycle Friendly Community at the bronze level four years ago. Since then, we have striped another 30 miles of on-street bike lanes, retrofitted an old building into one of the most innovative bicycle commuter hubs in the country, finally finished the Indy Cultural Trail after six years, expanded our greenway system, broadened our education and outreach program and adopted one of the best Complete Streets policies in the country. We really have been a test-case in “if you build it, they will come.” Our ridership has sky-rocketed and now bicycles are a mainstay on the roadways. Our business districts have had new life pumped into them and people are experiencing this great city from a bike seat or from their feet…as it should be.