Getting around White Flint by foot or bike today is difficult. Despite plans to create a new pedestrian and bicycle network in the area, how do you coax people onto the streets that were primarily built for driving? A new trail network in Indianapolis gives us a path to follow.
Last year, the city opened the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, an 8-mile network of foot and bike paths that loops around downtown with spurs to nearby destinations like universities, cultural venues and shopping streets. The trail “was about changing the way people thought about walking and running and jogging,” says Brian Payne of the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF), which spearheaded the project, in a video from Streetfilms. “We couldn’t just do a bike lane and change behavior. We had to do a new street.”
Small design choices make the trail easier and safer to use. Frequent, well-placed signage helps pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers understand how to interact with the trail and other users. At intersections with small streets, the crosswalk comes up to the trail, making it level. At big intersections, special pavers help trail users see where it goes while letting drivers know to expect lots of foot and bike traffic.
The idea to create a trail system first appeared in 2001, and CICF reached out to community leaders to build support for the $63 million project. However, the city didn’t have to pay for any of it.
$15 million came from a private donor, while the federal government provided a $20.5 million TIGER grant. The rest came from individual donations, ranging from thousands of dollars to much smaller gifts. It’s an illustration of just how much people in the community cared about this project.
Trail supporters emphasize its multiple benefits to the community. Not only does it encourages people to get more exercise, but it introduces them to new ways of getting around, and even supports the local economy. Local businesses say the trail has resulted in higher sales, while developers are building new residential and commercial buildings along the route.
“We didn’t talk about this as an infrastructure project,” says Payne. “We talked about it as a quality of life and economic development [project].”
The Indianapolis Cultural Trail sounds a lot like the White Flint Recreation Loop, a 1-mile trail network connecting several local destinations, including Wall Park, the Bethesda North Conference Center, the future Civic Green, and future housing and commercial developments. Like in Indianapolis, streets in the loop will have both sidewalks and curb-level bike lanes, though in White Flint they’ll actually be “shared use paths” for bicyclists and pedestrians.
But unlike Indianapolis, which has created a 75-mile bike network entirely from scratch in 7 years, it’s unclear how much additional bike infrastructure we’ll get in White Flint. County transportation officials have been reluctant to even provide sidewalks and bike paths on Old Georgetown Road, which is an important part of the Recreation Loop.
That said, it took 12 years for Indianapolis to build the Cultural Trail, and they couldn’t do it without extensive community support, pressure from local leaders, and creative funding sources. Hopefully, the White Flint Recreation Loop won’t take that long, but it suggests that we still have a lot of work to do.