Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Indianapolis' Dangerous Bike Lanes Earns City Award As Bicycle Friendly Community

Yesterday the Mayor announced that Indianapolis has been named a "Bicycle Friendly Community" by the League of American Bicyclists. The release says in part:
The BFC award recognizes Indianapolis's commitment to improving conditions for bicycling and its practice of making a focused investment in bicycling programs and facilities. The BFC judges were particularly impressed with the city's quick turnaround time in adding its first on-street bike lanes and with its comprehensive plan to construct at least 200 miles of on-street bike lanes throughout the city.
I am a bicyclist. From April through October, I ride my bike 2-3 days a week into the law office downtown. I ride on those "on-streek bike lanes" (on Michigan and New York streets) referenced in the press release.

I really think the Mayor was trying with the creation of those bike lanes, but the fact is they are extremely dangerous. They run between traffic at points, cross lanes at other points, and run right next to parked cars, a situation any experienced biker will tell you is extremely hazardous because of car doors being opened by people who may well not see a biker over their shoulder or in the rear view mirror. I have also seen countless people driving with wheels in the bike lanes.

In addition, much of the pavement in the bike lanes is broken and you have to dodge the occasional pot hole. Being confined to the narrow lane with traffic all around makes it difficult to manuever out of the way of those hazards.

Indianapolis downtown streets have always been extremely easy and safe to ride on. The lanes in most places are extremely wide and a halfway decent bicyclist can pretty much keep up with traffic. Adding the bike lanes narrow the car lanes (and indeed takes lanes away at some points) confining traffic into a smaller area. It is actually a less safe situation for the drivers of the cars and the bikers in the bike lane.

The Mayor deserves an "A" for effort on the bike lanes. But an award for being a Bicycle Friendly Community because of those unsafe bike lanes? No.


Citizen Kane said...

There are several bad areas, but the New York lane west of West Street is the worst that I've seen.

Them getting this award is akin to the disability award they received a few months ago, while continuing to build new and reconstruct sidewalks, contrary to any minimum ADA standard or city standard for that matter.

Downtown Indy said...

I guess it has to start somewhere, and this is a start.

I wholeheartedly agree, having taken New York East once this summer. It's an 8 mile trip for me to get TO it, so it's not one I will frequent.

It was quite unnerving approaching that 'chicane' at each cross street where cars on my left would cross to my right to turn right.

As I said, it's a start. A better one than the insipid 'bike route' signs that went up 3-4 years ago. I still don't understand that project. A total waste of money if you ask me.

I dare anyone to follow one route for any distance without losing sight of the markers. I swear they are installed completely at random.

Paul K. Ogden said...

DI, I totally agree on the "Bike Route" comment. I never understood what that meant or why particular roads were designated and others weren't.

Like I said, I don't doubt the sincerity of Ballard's support for bike lanes, they're just unsafe in practice.

Had Enough Indy? said...

The bike route sign at the end of my block actually sends the cyclists the wrong way. I've reported it to each new Mayor's Neighborhood Liaison (aka Township Administrator) we've had since the sign went up. But....

Having gone to college at UC Davis, the self-proclaimed 'Town of 10,000 bicycles', I know what an excellent bike lane and bike education (for car drivers) system looks like. I even rode most days across Cambridge and through downtown Boston for years. When we moved here, there was no way I was going to ride these streets.

I have to applaud the effort. More to be done, but it has to get started. As for awards, since they got an award for parks a month or so ago, I decided something squirrely must be going on with awards to governmental units.

Downtown Indy said...

Another folly from the previous administration was to put little aqua-green plastic stick-ons on all the city sewer openings (or at least a good portion of them.
They have some sort of message about 'don't dump stuff into the sewer.' They are now peeling/popping off and probably falling into the sewer themselves, although I saw one that somebody had picked up and stuck to the side of a utility pole.

I mean, really! What a waste of money. I wonder where the funding came from?

bhorg said...

I use the bike lanes every day and find them to be quite valuable.

I used Michigan & New York prior to bike lanes and the bike lanes are a large improvement to the awareness to cyclists on city streets.

The best part about the bike lanes is that you don't have to use them! It's not the law that cyclist have to stay in the bike lane while traveling.

If you feel uncomfortable with a certain part of a bike lane, feel free to take the full lane next to you.

The biggest issue I'm finding with the bike lanes are that most drivers in Indianapolis have never seen or know how to react to a bike lane. Also, most cyclist treat bike lanes as a "safety zone" which is completely false.

Paul K. Ogden said...


Don't you think using those bike lanes actually are more dangerous than riding in the the wider car lanes that preceeded them?

I don't see how riding between two lanes of cars, cars which are switching back and forth, is a safe way to bike. Then you have the lanes that take you right next to parked cars. That's a huge "no no" in bicycling. You don't ever ride next to parked cars unless you have no other option.

I understand in Fort Wayne they had bike lanes and ended up getting rid of them. They would always fill up with glass other debris and the pavement would end up broken. People avoided the bike lanes lest they get a flat tire.

NMKjeldsen said...

What a disheartening take on the promotion of Indianapolis as a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community. Were you at the summit by chance? I only ask because if you were then you would have known that so much more goes into becoming a bike friendly community than simply having bike lanes. That is not the lone reason for this recognition. It is assets like the Monon, the cultural trail, the miles upon miles of greenways, the bicycle friendly bike shops, the events like the ride with the mayor, participation in ride your bike to work day, bike ports downtown, facilities like NIFS, the Major Taylor velodrome, the NAHBS, programs like Freewheelin', and the fact that we even had a summit. I'm sure there are things that are missing on that list too. Do cities like Boulder not deserve to be platinum or Madison, gold? They are partially based on their bike lanes as well. Regardless of whether or not you love the bike lanes or not (and I don't either) they stand as more of a mile marker for the progress of bike advocacy in Indianapolis as a whole. Nobody is trying to argue that Indianapolis is on par with places like Boulder, Portland, Seattle, and so on - this is why we have been awarded a bronze level award. There is obviously a lot of room for improvement. I understand the gripes about the bike lanes, I just really don't think that an award to the city based on so much more than those lanes alone is a valid forum or opportunity for said griping.

Downtown Indy said...

All I can say is one 'friendliness' yardstick I use is the number of motorists who curse, tell me to get on the sidewalk, gesture, pass within inches or swerve across my path when I'm in their proximity. Indy is not really that friendly, using that measurement.

A three feet ordinance would be friendly.

NMKjeldsen said...

A 3 foot ordinance (along with a multitude of other bike friendly and bike forward initiatives) is actually a piece of a 2010 bicycle safety bill for the upcoming legislative session. Does this mean it will pass? Not for sure - though I remain hopeful. Yet again, however, it is another step among many in the right direction for the city of Indianapolis. Drivers to some capacity will always remain unkind to cyclists - that is simply the nature of the close-minded (I am not calling all drivers close-minded, but rather noting that proportionally there must be some). Maybe, just maybe we can start getting the letter of the law to start helping us out though. We're headed that way, I do believe.

Paul K. Ogden said...


The bike lanes were featured very prominently in the Mayor's press release. The other things you talk about were things we have had for years. It's not a stretch to conclude that the bike lanes (and the plans for other bike lanes) were what put us over the top for the designation.

I'm sorry...I still don't agree that creating bike lanes that create a much more dangerous riding environment for bikers, is something we should applaud. I think they were good motives behind what they did with bike lanes, but the outcome was not something that improved the biking situation in Indy.

NMKjeldsen said...


You are certainly entitled to your opinion. I would only add that the bikes lanes are a project of the Mayor, and so of course his personal statement would reflect the idea that those are why the city received the award. However, having gone to the summit and getting to listen to the actual spokesperson for the League of American Bicyclists, I can say that as a matter of fact, the bike lanes were hardly mentioned as a reason for the award. Also, becoming a BCF requires that someone filled out a lengthy and comprehensive application. The award didn't seek us out, we applied for it, and were found deserving (many cities are not). And finally, I use those lanes often and I do not feel any more unsafe than with the lanes. Is there any sort of information to prove that these lanes are more dangerous than the previous layout other than your personal discomfort? Again, I know you're completely entitled to your own opinion, and I respect that. I must also respectfully 100% disagree with you. You may not agree that the bike lanes are worth applauding, but I'm shocked that you would actually think that the overall cycling atmosphere in Indianapolis has been deteriorated due to their creation.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I don't know if I would say that the biking situation has "deteriorted" because of the lanes. But bike lanes that run between lines of traffic, that cross over lnes at point, that take riders right next to parked cars - I'm not sure how anyone could conclude they are safe. As far as stats go, we'll have to wait until a few people get hit and then compare their rate of getting hit in the bike lanes versus before the bike lanes. Unfortunately that's about the only way to do it.

NMKjeldsen said...

Lanes have to cross each other at some point. These are one lane roads crossing other one lane roads. No matter where you place the bike lanes, the turn lanes of the road will inevitably cross paths with the bike lanes at some point. It seems irrelevant at what point that crossover occurs. I conclude they are safer because they at least demand some sort of driver attention. I conclude they are safer because a cyclist now has a dedicated lane for themselves which can help get the law in our corner in cases of car/bike collisions. I conclude they are safer because I have used them consistently without incidence. Without the bike lanes, cars would still merge across lanes blindly, which is essentially the main problem. Driver inattention will be solved by no traffic control device or lane. I have fear that those rates of crashes would be skewed as well as not only are the number of bikers on the rise, but these lanes act as magnets for many commuting cyclists.