It’s a high profile highway project in a fast growing corner of metro Indianapolis, but it ignores the needs of cyclists and only makes minimal accommodation for pedestrians. I’m talking about the new Interstate 69 interchange at 106th Street in Fishers, Indiana. Growth in the area has caused the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) to reconfigure the interchange. In doing so, they’ve placed the needs of motorists front and center and excluded virtually everyone else.
This interchange will be an active transportation nightmare. There are no bike lanes. There’s no sidepath. Cyclists can certainly share the lane with motorists, but I can’t think of a worse configuration for those of us on two wheels than a high volume roundabout. It’s even worse for pedestrians. There’s a sidewalk planned for the north side of 106th Street and they’ve attempted to break it up, but because motorists are not required to stop when entering the roundabout this is just about as poorly conceived as one can imagine. If a pedestrian wants to cross from a destination on the SW corner of the intersection to the SE corner, it requires FIVE road crossings! That’s ridiculous.
In fact, the official INDOT website related to the project doesn’t even mention cyclists. This isn’t surprising. I recently engaged an INDOT engineer and he was downright hostile to the idea that road projects should include active transportation components, even though this is now standard operating practice in many states across the country. He blamed budgetary constraints, but those exist everywhere. What doesn’t exist everywhere is a stubborn insistence on doing things the way they’ve always been done, regardless of whether or not it still makes sense to do so.
Ironically, this sort of thing isn’t even cutting edge any longer. Minnesota integrated active transportation infrastructure into I-394 when it was built in the 1990s. Around the same time, Colorado added similar infrastructure along C470 through Highlands Ranch, an area not all that different from Fishers.
INDOTs insistence on marginalizing cyclists and pedestrians creates issues that go far beyond the safety and convenience of the most vulnerable road users. Fishers is trying to position itself as a tech hub but so are hundreds of other communities. There’s a constant cry in media in central Indiana that if only we had mountains or beaches that somehow it would all be different and tech workers would flock here.
That’s not it. As it turns out there’s a massive exodus of tech workers from Silicon Valley underway. These are the workers Fishers covets. Media sources in the Bay Area were curious…where are they going?
Hmmm. There aren’t many mountains or beaches on this list. What there is are cities that embrace bicycle and pedestrian friendliness. New York and Chicago were named the two best cities for cyclists in the United States. Austin was recently named a gold cycling city by the League of American Bicyclists and Portland, well, Portland is Portland. Even the other cities on the list, places like Atlanta, Dallas and Houston, are adapting to the new normal.
Is it just coincidence? Perhaps, but tech workers (and not just Millennials) have indicated a preference for such places time and time again. In fact, Google, one of the biggest names in technology, is an active participant in a plan to develop a bicycle network across Silicon Valley.
But Fishers is a long way from Cupertino and Indiana is not California, or even Texas. That’s a shame. This model worked fine for a long time but it doesn’t work any more. It’s real easy to fix, provided you want to fix it. The competition for talent between communities is intense. This is just one road project, but it says everything to newcomers about the prevailing mindset in central Indiana. It says leave your bikes where you’re coming from. Don’t even think about walking to the store or restaurant. We drive cars here. Everywhere. All the time.
This is a lost opportunity for central Indiana. We have to do better.