WALKWAYS: Walking the Talk

by Thomas P. Healy

Foot-travelers got a running start this year with the adoption of Indianapolis’ first pedestrian plan [PDF], part of the county’s comprehensive plan. The plan is designed to provide a long-term vision for creating a more walkable community.

The pedestrian advocacy group WalkWays is the moving force behind the plan. A partnership between Health by Design, the City of Indianapolis, the Marion County Public Health Department, the American Planning Association Indiana Chapter, and the Indiana Public Health Association, it helped with public outreach to gather data used to craft the plan.

“Completing the city’s first pedestrian plan and having it adopted into the comprehensive plan is a huge accomplishment for the long-term health, sustainability, and vibrancy of Marion County,” said Kim Irwin, director of Health by Design. “The plan includes recommendations for policies, programs, and procedures that will ensure safety and access for everyone who lives in and visits Indianapolis.”

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While the plan identifies high pedestrian counts along Meridian Street, 38th Street, Illinois Street, College Avenue, and parts of Broad Ripple Village, all Midtown residents know that the district needs a lot more sidewalks. An estimated $750 million would be required to fully fund construction of a comprehensive pedestrian network and repair existing sidewalks. The new plan establishes equitable priorities for future investments while recognizing that funds are limited and need to be invested strategically.

“Walking is the easiest and most convenient form of physical activity,” said Irwin. “We’d love for people to walk more often on their own.” The problem is, it’s not always safe to walk. WalkWays has been monitoring pedestrian crashes using Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services (IEMS) records and police reports to compile data. According to the results, 30 pedestrians were killed in 2015, a number that accounted for 35 percent of all traffic fatalities in Marion County. Nearly 20 percent were hit-and-runs, and nearly 20 percent occurred downtown. In the past two years most crashes occurred during daylight hours, in dry and clear conditions. November saw the highest number of crashes in 2015.

“Pedestrian safety is critically important as we encourage more walking as a way to be active and healthy,” Irwin said. For the past two years, Irwin and her WalkWays partners have undertaken walkability audits throughout the city and identified 12 high-crash zones. Those areas were prioritized for improvements based on the number of walkers hit by motor vehicles, the severity of those crashes, and other factors influencing walkability.

Several Midtown areas are on WalkWays’ list of high-crash zones:

  • Meridian and Illinois streets from 14th to 34th streets, including extended portions of 16th, 28th, 29th, 30th, and 32nd streets
  • East 38th Street from the State Fairgrounds to Sherman Avenue
  • West 38th Street between Boulevard Place and Meridian Street

It may be surprising that Broad Ripple didn’t make the list. According to Irwin, “It’s not that there aren’t crashes in Broad Ripple. It’s that they’re not clustered in a way that makes it what we would call a pedestrian safety zone,” she said, adding, “There are fewer crashes than you’d expect given the number of people in Broad Ripple, which is positive, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do things to improve safety there.”

Another Midtown corridor that didn’t make the list but is of concern: Keystone Avenue. “While it’s not identified as a crash zone, the area from Fall Creek north to 62nd Street has a number of crashes as well,” Irwin said. She attributes this to high automobile speed in the corridor.

For 2017, Irwin and her allies will collaborate to strengthen their partnership with the City by working on low-cost improvements. “We’ll continue to take care of easier things that can be done by neighborhood groups like repainting crosswalks and making sure pedestrian signals work and are timed correctly.” She’s aware such “low-hanging fruit” projects are about all that the allies can undertake, given the enormity of the long-term improvements needed. “We’ve been focusing on policy work and how to set ourselves up for success in the long-term. But now that we have examples of pedestrian projects that work as proof-of-concept, it’s time for the community to put our money where our mouth is.” indywalkways.org

A version of this article appeared in the December ’16/January ’17 issue of the magazine.