by Thomas P. Healy
Because public works construction is considered an essential activity, work continues on the Arsenal Park splash pad upgrade that was approved by the Metropolitan Development Commission (MDC) in January.
Missing from the construction project is a proposed element that would have added 10 paved head-in parking spaces within the public right-of-way along Indianola Avenue and legally established similar parking already located on Haverford Avenue. The MDC denied that request for a variance of development standards when a remonstrator who lives near the park, Keystone-Monon neighborhood resident Paul Lambie, raised objections.
Citing potential hazards for pedestrians who would be forced to walk in the street behind parked cars, Lambie added that sufficient parallel parking surrounds the park. Additionally, Lambie maintained that if the variance were approved it would make the installation of sidewalks less likely in the future.
In a phone interview after the hearing, Lambie explained his reasoning: “I think it’s unfortunate we have neighborhood parks in Indy that don’t have sidewalks around the perimeter of the park to provide safe pedestrian access and as an amenity to walk around the park and get exercise.”
He added that placing automobile parking spaces where sidewalks would normally go would preclude adding sidewalks at a later date. “I felt that was something that needed to be pointed out in the public hearing process.”
Ronnetta Spalding, chief communications officer for Indy Parks, confirmed that the Arsenal Park project will move forward without the proposed additional parking. While funds had been budgeted for parking construction, those funds will be applied to any cost overruns associated with the project. But don’t expect to see those funds repurposed for sidewalks. “Any additional work not identified and approved in the park’s current plans would require a new allocation of engineer and construction costs, and those new costs would most likely negate any remaining dollars,” she said.
The 2017 Indy Parks Master Plan for the entire parks system lists Arsenal Park as a “Neighborhood Park” and as such, “is designed to provide the types of recreation one would expect to be able to walk to rather than be required to drive to gain access.” Further, under “location criteria for Neighborhood Parks,” the plan states: “The site should be accessible from throughout its service area by way of interconnecting trails, sidewalks, or low-volume residential streets. Ease of access and walking distances are critical factors in locating a neighborhood park.”
Arsenal Park is accessible to bike riders from the Monon Trail along the 52nd Street bike lanes. Sidewalk access from all directions is intermittent. While Spaulding insists Indy Parks is committed to providing safe spaces for its customers and visitors, she adds, “Our team remains committed to implementing amenities and park enhancements for residents and their families. Unfortunately, master plans do not guarantee funding and do not come with resources to make sidewalks throughout our system possible.”
She notes that the Department of Public Works, the agency responsible for sidewalk construction, estimates it would cost $300 million to bring the city’s current network of existing sidewalks up to fair condition, and $1.5 billion to add new sidewalks in all of the places identified as needing them.
“DPW’s prioritization of sidewalk projects certainly takes into consideration the proximity to Indy Parks service areas as well as other factors such as proximity to schools and transit lines,” she said. “Our internal process includes regular meetings with our partners at DPW, daily interaction with DPW’s parks maintenance team that primarily handles park-related items, and ongoing discussions with the DPW and Indy Parks teams to evaluate park needs.”
Arsenal Park is scheduled to benefit from a redevelopment and enhancement project in 2021 that includes a concrete walking path to the playground but no other sidewalks.
For Lambie, a former DMD planner who is now a real estate agent, the situation is disappointing. “I’m not an expert on funding mechanisms, but I know that where there’s a will, there’s a way. If the City and Indy Parks chose to make it priority to get perimeter sidewalks around all parks, I’m sure there’s funding that could be allocated,” he said. “When you live in a place where there are constant budget issues, it becomes a culture of acceptance of low expectations.”
Lambie admitted he was surprised by the outcome of the MDC hearing. “For one city agency to go the MDC with a plan to do something and have the planning agency recommend approval, and to have one individual citizen object to it and win by a slim majority—that’s not very common.”