The Case for Implementing the Indy Greenways Full Circle Plan

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Earlier this year, the city of Indianapolis adopted the Indy Greenways Full Circle Plan, the new master plan and vision for greenway development in the city of Indianapolis. Its recommendations are comprehensive and will have a significant impact on the City, providing access to underserved neighborhoods, providing connections to the city’s emerging neighborhood centers, providing new active transportation routes throughout the city, and providing regional transportation options through its connections to the planned mass transit lines, on-street bike facilities, and planned regional trail networks. The plan connects the city like no other plan has, and the list of recommendations, if implemented, would truly establish Indy Greenways as one of the nation’s premier systems.

The plan is bold. It calls for a system of over 250 total miles of greenway trails throughout the city. Its routes weave through natural corridors, utility easements, dense neighborhoods, developed and undeveloped land, and community commercial centers. The plan is comprehensive. Its adoption comes at a time of heightened priority and demand for pedestrian and bicycle facilities in Indianapolis. But it also comes at a time of limited city budgets, competing infrastructure needs, and numerous other community priorities. How then, does one make a case for the level of investment needed to fuel the implementation of such a wide-reaching plan?

Background

Renowned landscape architect George Kessler first understood the impact of these types of linear connections in his parkways and boulevards plan in the early 1900s. His plan laid out a series of linear parks, the predecessor to the greenway system, through the core of the city along its waterways, and created a series of boulevards to connect the linear parks resulting in an interconnected system of pedestrian ways and pleasure drives. After Kessler’s death, Lawrence Sheridan’s plan of 1938 further established those linkages beyond the Kessler system by extending those connections beyond the central city to the reaches of Marion County. Like the Kessler plan before it, Sheridan’s plan laid the blueprint for the development of Indy’s network of potential greenways.

It wasn’t until 1994 that Indianapolis created its first Greenways Master Plan. That plan expanded the system beyond Kessler’s parkways and into new corridors and portions of the city. For the next twenty years, the city worked to implement that plan, mostly on the north, more developed portions of the city where the existing streams and creeks provided the needed greenspace to create continuous stretches of pathways. From this plan emerged the now iconic Monon Rail-Trail which extended the concept of greenways beyond the water. The Monon, perhaps, is the torch bearer that truly earned priority status for further development of the greenway system. Today, as a result of the 1994 plan (and the 2002 update) there are over 60 miles of greenways in place in the city.

During this time, there were many other things changing in the city. There was a resurgence of neighborhood development with residents moving back into older neighborhoods at the same time as new housing was expanding into the suburbs. There was increased awareness of the need for better protection and use of our waterways as a resource. There was a growing bicycle culture that developed within the city emphasizing the desire for transportation routes and alternatives. New mass transit routes were studied to better connect the region, and more and more emphasis was placed on providing bike and pedestrian facilities throughout the county.

With this context in mind, this master plan required a fresh look at the city, how people used the greenways, how the system functioned, and how Indy Greenways could address these new emerging issues in Indianapolis. This plan outlines how the function of the greenways can be interwoven through all of the contextual issues.

Public Driven Planning Process

The planning process for this master plan was truly driven by public input and engagement. It engaged residents and invited them to lend direction to the plan, identify potential routes, and determine amenities that should be included in the design of new greenways. Since the first greenways plan was completed in 1994, local attitudes about trails and greenways have shifted, and that shift was notable during this planning process. The NIMBY attitudes of 1994 have largely been replaced with an awareness of the positive neighborhood impacts that come from having a greenway nearby. Throughout this current planning process, residents were encouraged to engage in discussions concerning the greenways and were made part of the process. The planning effort included:

  • 14 public meetings and over 30 different presentations to various neighborhood and stakeholder groups.
  • Special events including the Mayor’s Polar Pedal bike rides, National Bike to Work Day, and the Greenways Day at City Market.
  • Presentations to the Indy Parks Board and the Greenways Development Commission that were televised locally.
  • Distribution of project materials and FAQs to community centers, libraries, and other public facilities.
  • Use of social media platforms including project blog/website, project Facebook page, and Survey Monkey.
  • Use of a project office in the old Boulevard Station train depot along the Monon Trail with weekly office hours to meet with groups, stakeholders and the general public.

This planning process gave residents unprecedented access to the planning process and project team and resulted in a plan that was adopted with wide-spread community support and no opposition.

The Full Circle Plan

The Full Circle Plan is the resulting long-term vision identified for Indy Greenways through the process. It addresses the needs of recreation, access, connectivity, transportation, economic impact, and environmental stewardship while putting into place a level of inter-agency coordination to oversee the system. The plan outlines a system of 252 miles of greenways with over 139 miles (on top of the previous planned system) of new trail development for the city of Indianapolis, much of which reaches into areas of the county that have long been underserved by the greenway system. The plan is broken into four distinct parts:

  • Completing the Existing System- This portion of the plan examines the current trails and greenways and identifies needed improvements, upgrades, enhancements, or reconstruction. Its focus is completing the portions of the existing routes that aren’t already constructed.
  • Connections to the City Center- The plan also recognizes the significance of having direct routes from the perimeter of the county to downtown in terms of providing direct connections, commuter routes, neighborhood connections, and economic development potential. The plan recommends four new routes to the center of Indianapolis from the ring townships.
  • The Circle- Perhaps one of the more progressive recommendations, the plan outlines east-west and north-south connections in the ring townships using the four major destination parks (Eagle Creek Park, Southwestway Park, Southeastway Park, and Fort Harrison State Park) in each corner of the city as the organizational structure. The result is a continuous 64-mile shared-use greenway that circles the city.  While the circle concept provides an intriguing aspect to the plan, this portion of the plan is really about providing greenway options in each of the nine townships surrounding downtown. This concept goes beyond providing routes just to the downtown, and provides opportunities for greenway development within each township.
  • The Connectors- These corridors provide opportunities to link together key greenway segments and provide a “layered” effect to the greenway system, in many cases providing multiple opportunities for greenway development and use and providing key connections to regional trail systems.

Together, these four parts constitute a system that is truly embedded within the fabric of the city and connected in a way never before seen here. When the current bikeways, township connectivity plans, and the new mass transit initiatives are overlaid with the new Full Circle system, the resulting connectivity becomes quickly apparent (and impressive).

Other Plan Elements

In addition to the new trails and greenways, the plan also included several additional tools to assist the city in the implementation of the plan. These additional tools included:

  • A complete set of Design Standards that outline the standards for all new trail development and facilities in Indy Greenways. These standards included application standards, construction standards, regulatory standards, and enhancement standards for all new facilities.
  • An Economic Impact Review of each existing and proposed greenway segment to identify the potential economic impacts that should be expected as each of the new trail segments are constructed.
  • Detailed Implementation Strategies for both physical and policy recommendations of the plan.
  • Action Plan Matrices for all new physical planning, construction, programming and policy implementation.
  • Maintenance Guidelines for expected levels of care of the proposed system.
  • Zoning Classification Map for reference in the new Indy Re-zone code update which allows the city to designate new trail implementation in developing areas.

The Results of the Full Circle Plan

The new vision as laid out in the Full Circle Plan is impressive. The Full Circle Plan:

  • Establishes a vision of over 250 miles of greenways throughout the city of Indianapolis.
  • Outlines an expansion of the greenways system into the ring townships that have been underserved by greenway development.
  • Identifies improvements, access, and new connections along the existing greenways in the system.
  • Establishes nine new greenway corridors.
  • Provides four new greenway routes from the outer townships to the downtown area.
  • Provides east-west and north-south connectivity in the ring townships, creating more localized connections within each township.
  • Provides multi-modal connections between the four flagship parks in the corners of the city—Eagle Creek Park, Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park, Southeastway Park and Southwestway Park. These connections provide a 64 mile shared-use path that circles the city .
  • Provides greenway connections to over 80 Indy Parks facilities.
  • Provides regional connections to eleven trail systems beyond Marion County.
  • Provides administrative and policy recommendations for future operations of the greenways.
  • Establishes design standards for the overall system that address safety, accessibility, and funding eligibility.
  • Provides an overall network that is integrated into the other major transportation components of the city including the Indianapolis Bikeways Plan and the future Indy Connect bus rapid transit lines.

The results of implementing the Full Circle Plan would be quite significant.

The Case for Prioritizing Implementation

So back to our original question… the plan clearly outlines the tremendous impact this system would have on the city of Indianapolis, and there is a collective, growing demand for this system. But there are competing infrastructure needs and budget constraints that deserve equal consideration. How then, does one make a case for the level of investment needed to fuel the implementation of such a wide-reaching plan? What is the financial justification for implementation? What are the socioeconomic and environmental justice justifications? What are the connectivity and access justifications? And what are the resulting benefits that justify the expenditure needed to implement the system? The case can be made on several fronts. Over the next several weeks, we will explore this question by looking at the financial case, the justification based upon equitable connectivity and access, and the planned community impacts this system would have on the city and its neighborhoods.   The intent of this is to demonstrate the inherent value of the plan and to illustrate the justification for prioritizing implementation of the Indy Greenways system.

To learn more about the Indy Greenways Master Plan or to view the plan, visit www.indygreenwaysmasterplan.wordpress.com.

Ron L. Taylor, FASLA is a Principal at Taylor Siefker Williams Design Group and one of the authors of the Indy Greenways Full Circle Plan.

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