Greenwood’s Car-Centric Plans for Downtown

Indiana Landmarks has designated downtown Greenwood as one of its 10 most endangered historic places in the state.  Here’s a look at one of the buildings that are threatened, via Google Maps.

As any visitor to downtown Greenwood can attest, this corner is fronted by 3 buildings and their respective sidewalks. The southwest corner is a large parking lot for a bank, as seen here:

Notice the turning radius for the southwestern corner is quite large. Well, good news for fans of asphalt everywhere, the mayor wants the southeast corner to cater to moving vehicles just as easily. This plan (seen here) would also demolish 7 historic buildings and replace them with replicas that would be set back from the street. The proposal does not hide from its priorities. On page 2, they specify that Main Street needs to be more vehicular and pedestrian friendly, in that order. Not surprisingly, a proposal this sweeping has political implications. All 3 of Mayor Charles Henderson’s opponents in tomorrow’s primary are running against this plan.

Another portion of this development that should be criticized is the supposed town square just to the east, which looks to be nothing more than a place to park cars, with nowhere for the public to actually gather. The implied need for parking and moving cars is laced throughout the proposal. In other words, they want downtown Greenwood to look just like the rest of the area.

One more item to discuss is the potential for commuter rail to stop in downtown Greenwood.  The current railroad track runs just to the east of downtown.  The crossing can be seen here:

This plan only hurts Greenwood’s chances for attracting appropriate TOD at the station, which would be a wasted opportunity to provide a style of living that would be unique for the area.

Let me advocate a different route for Greenwood. Instead of tearing out the historic fabric of the town to be replaced with faux replicas, there is land perfectly suited for development at the same corner: that large parking lot.  Building at that corner could be just the catalyst that downtown Greenwood needs in order to reinvigorate the historic center.  After all, people don’t often visit historic areas due to their impressive turning radii and ample parking.

Comments 27

  • It blows me away that someone would advocate so hard for MORE PARKING in a suburban destination that already has *ding ding* ample parking. Why not create something of value as you mentioned Kevin like a TOD station with LESS parking along the rail line. Less parking means less overhead costs which translates to lower rent for potential retail and dwellings. Don’t flat out eliminate parking, but for the sake of efficient & equitable development, don’t create more of it.
    Fantastic points Kevin. Bravo

  • This proposal appears to have a hidden agenda of moving traffic faster in the East-West direction, which is uneeded give the Smith Valley Rd bypass to the south. Mayor Henderson should focus on calming traffic through this area. The main focus should be redeveloping some of the low-density commercial and residential property into apartment housing or townhomes.

  • Really disappointing. Especially after all the amazing bike and pedestrian trails Greenwood has been working on.

  • Rufus, That is completely incorrect and unfactual. It has been proven in studies that narrow streets and active street scapes calm traffic. The only reason a driver gets upset is when they feel they should be going 60 by poor road design, but are limited due to traffic or lights. If this truly offends people, they will chose a different route. Why is it that Monument Circle gets large crowds of vehicles, but people and cars alike return? It is designed for that very scenario. Your recent posts on your outlook towards urban affairs are quite concerning.

  • But Mayor Henderson wants to experience the most significant cultural elements while walking or riding his bike on these new trails of Greenwood: asphalt, wide streets, big box stores and parking lots. Sounds like a David Byrne album.

  • Rufus must also believe that 5 people shouting at each other is calmer than 2 people talking. Seriously, an embarrassing comment to post online.

    Smith Valley to the south is capable of handling a high volume of East-West traffic, eliminating the congestion along Main St — exactly what it was designed for. This fosters a corridor people want to live and work along, and generating economic and quality of life improvements to the historic section of Greenwood. The city currently has plenty of cooridors with multiple lanes, high speeds, etc and desperately needs an alternative.

  • Traffic only SEEMS calmer when it is flowing at a high rate of speed. Would you cross Keystone Ave on foot or walk along that road when cars are flying by at 50mph and the sidewalk is immediately next to the road? Our lives dont exist to make it easier for cars to move about freely. Due consideration must be given for pedestrians.

  • Thank you for the excellent analysis and equally great comments section (except for one). Greenwood’s Old Town has a lot of potential, but tearing down the buildings should not be an option. I would like to first draw everyone’s attention, if you have not seen it, to the Facebook group “Restore Old Town Greenwood (Don’t tear it down!”) which was started over a year ago by some very dedicated people wanting to preserve Greenwood’s historic downtown.

    Second, Mayor Henderson recently issued a sort of challenge that if anyone could think of any other idea to fix Old Town without tearing the buildings down, he would like to hear them. I have drawn a couple draft plans I will be mailing to the mayor soon that contain:

    1. A new route for Main Street (utilizing the alley space south of the buildings the mayor wants to tear-down) which has numerous brick pedestrian crossings;

    2. A new town square in the southwest corner (the parking lot) which used to be occupied by buildings before being razed in the 60s and 70s — a terrible waste of lost buildings and now a waste of space that is in the very heart of Old Town;

    3. Widened sidewalks, a possible pedestrian mall, more pedestrian crossings of streets (brick paver, possibly raised for further traffic calming) all possible because of the shifting of Main Street.

    These are just a few things included in the plans. Greenwood has already made the mistake of razing nice, (future) historic buildings to make a parking lot which has done absolutely nothing to revitalize Old Town in 40 years. Razing more buildings runs the chance of issuing the coup de grace against making Old Town a great place. Greenwood needs to be known as the place with the cool downtown that’s fun to shop, eat, drink and be with friends and family, and not only as the place outside Indy with that mall.

    And your statement about the possible commuter rail station also is close to my heart. My freshmen year at Ball State, we had to do a project on what our hometown would look like in 10, 25, and 50 years. I wanted a light or commuter rail (I called it “Interurban Rail” I think) station to be located at Main Street and the rail line there where you had said there should be.

    I also think JeffG’s comments are spot-on about Smith Valley Road — because Greenwood has so few east-west roads, the pressure is put on Main St. too much when Smith Valley should be improved (at least not be a country road any more) all the way across Greenwood. The mayor prefers Worthsville Rd, but I disagree when Smith Valley should be improved first. Improving Smith Valley would help take away enough traffic from Main to relieve it in Old Town while still allowing traffic to move through Old Town with its hopefully new-found popularity as the place to be in Greenwood.

  • If I remember correctly, a statement was made that the Downtown to Greenwood line would be one of the first developed since the old rail line already exists? I wish people could just admit that gas prices will continue to go up, people shouldn’t be forced to live in their cars, and preserving the very last of what remains in Old Town should be the top priority if a higher quality of life is in order for SPRAWLING GREENWOOD (one of Indiana’s top “IDENTITY CRISIS COMMUNITIES”)…especially for the future.

  • In addition, County Line Road lies to the north as a five-lane arterial from I-65 to SR 135. This along with Smith Valley Road to me means there is no reason for widening Main Street. The traffic along Main Street isn’t even that bad most of the time, the only time there is backups is during rush hour, and that is for no more than a hour or so. If we based on decisions to widening road based on the traffic count along it at 5PM then Thompson, Edgewood, Southport, Stop 11, Emerson, Arlington, Five Points, Franklin and Smith Valley Roads would have been widened to five lane roads with stop lights at each intersection, and little of this is actually needed. As for the commuter rail, I hope it goes thorugh, I feel that not only Greenwood, but Whiteland, Franklin, and Southport could all benefit from TOD development along the route, bringing a little density to the Southside for once.

  • I think it is interesting that so many commenters have pointed out that there are nearby roads wide enough to handle lots of traffic so there is no need to widen Main Street. I don’t think this is such an advantage, because in our silly system of infrastructure development the adjacent highway-style roads will actually encourage, not discourage widening of Main Street. Engineers base road width on traffic counts, and if we have lots of big roads surrounding a popular commercial district, we are guaranteed more traffic. I don’t have a solution, I’m just lamenting how we can’t seem to stop widening roads everywhere.

    The first step towards protecting this special place and its historic buildings is for the community to realize that congestion can be a good thing. Remove the narrow roads and historic buildings, and the character will also be removed.

  • Graeme is right. The more that these little towns encourage growth and redevelopment, the worse traffic gets too. Since the development is new, it is all spread out and therefore difficult to serve with adequate public transit. Mitigating the problems that occur by building wide roads and the spread out built environment is a tough problem for urban planners to do. It is inefficient and has the appearance of a failing plan.
    However, addressing the problems has to start somewhere. Why encourage more of this type of development? Why not plan for TOD at Main Street and the rail line? It will be a block away, and maybe that is too far for our drive through and get a cheeseburger culture. But it represents the path towards calming the issues we have today.

  • I am not one who believes any of these roads should be widened (especially not Main Street). But I do think they should be improved. Greenwood faces some issues with its east-west roads, though. Of the roads that cross the city from SR 135 to I-65, only County Line Road and Main Street actually go all the way across (with an interchange at 65). Only County Line goes from future I-69 to I-65. Main starts at 135 and goes into Shelby County. Fry Road goes from 135 to Madison Avenue only. Worthsville Road starts at a 90 degree angle country road to over 1-65 with no interchange (yet). Every single one of these roads (except County Line) in Greenwood have stretches that are essentially still country roads (narrow pavement, few right-hand or left-hand turns, no curbs, etc. Quite honestly, the roads are embarrassing for a city this size.

    As for Main in Old Town, Mayor Henderson keeps insisting that in order to widen the sidewalks (a necessity without a doubt), the buildings must be torn-down. He is right the sidewalks need to be widened (they are frighteningly narrow in places) to better accomodate pedestrians, especially if there is ever any hope of businesses doing well there and drawing people in. He is dead wrong that Main needs to be widened so much to raze the buildings. A little outside-of-the-box thinking is required and it is possible to widen the sidewalks and improve traffic flow in Old Town without harming the historic buildings.

    • Yes, I agree it should be possible to enlarge the sidewalks without razing the buildings. I would bet that the Mayor is trying to accomplish several things at once, without explicitly saying so. He probably is also trying to make the streets more “vehicular friendly” as the quoted plan says. He is just using the sidewalks as an excuse.
      It is usually a very difficult, uphill battle to get the right solution when the political leaders prefer something else. Which is a shame, because tearing down good buildings to widen the road is probably the worst thing that could be done here. Greenwood is going to have to decide which is their priority, getting better traffic flow or keeping an authentic downtown with pedestrian amenities. 30ft curb to curb doesn’t leave much room for narrowing lanes, and you can’t sacrifice the center turn lane without slowing traffic.
      My own priorities would suggest widening the sidewalks, and free-flowing traffic be damned! I would even consider a shared space similar to monument circle where pedestrians and cars intermingle closely and everyone understands that the space is special and must be treated as such. But that’s up to the residents of Greenwood to decide.

      • It’s funny you bring-up having a Monument Circle sort of space in Greenwood’s Old Town with a co-existence of pedestrians and vehicles, as I tried to design in one of my plans something similar (but of course a much smaller scale). I couldn’t get it to work to my satisfaction unfortunately and abandoned the design, but I don’t want to be like Henderson and say it couldn’t work!

    • Im going to take this moment to chime in and say that you are wrong. I have spent a lot of time on the south side in the past few years since my wife has a lot of family down there. I will agree that getting around on the south side sucks. There are so many damn cars it is frustrating. Do you know why? Because everything is already wide. 31. Madison. Southport. County Line. They are all defacto highways that funnel people in and out. it’s no wonder the other roads are so clogged up. Somewhere along the line, some civic leaders decided that it was time to widen the roads for more people and therein lies the rub. Widen the roads, and entice more people to move in.
      Frankly, if someone decides for many reasons that I cannot guess that the south side is the place for them, they know going in that there is going to be traffic headaches.
      If we can learn from prior mistakes, and stop widening more roads that will simply be another punchline on the next regional long range plan labeled WIDEN ROAD, we are doomed to continue with these arguments for decades to come.

      • You chimed-in to say I was wrong, but I am still confused as to why. I have not said the roads should be widened, but have said improved. “Improved” to me means these things: the lanes need to be widened (but not more lanes added) because right now in many places the lanes seem narrow (not sure if they are comparitively, but they feel like it when a semi, bus, fire truck, etc. passes you in the opposite direction on parts of Main, Smith Valley and Fry); there need to be less turn-ins along the roads where possible into businesses (135 and County Line are prime examples — every business seems to have 10 places to turn into apiece which is a very dangerous thing); there need to be less traffic signals (again 135); there needs to be more curbs and more center grass islands with trees (actually, Greenwood’s main roads do not have ANY with trees I know of and only a couple have grass medians); there need to be NO turn-ins into a business anywhere near an intersection (so no corner gas stations accessible from either street at an intersection). These are just a few improvements off the top of my head.

        Your theory on more lanes being the reason there is more traffic only makes partial sense to me. I would argue the main reason traffic is so bad is that the zoning and especially the planning in Greenwood is bad overall. I have lived in Greenwood my whole life from when the city was quite small comparitively and fairly condensed overall (population maybe about 20,000) to a now sprawling behemoth of 50,000 with another 30,000 unincorporated immediately to the west. The city has crammed as many houses, office parks and strip malls into every open plot of land that they can without appearing to give much thought to how this will affect traffic, increase the sprawl of the city, and decrease the chances of people being able to move around the city without their vehicles.

        We have a subdivision off Worthsville Rd. with “California-style” houses; they are four, two-storey Monopoly houses around one driveway apiece, and there about 80 of these 4-house-1-driveway set-ups in this neighborhood (so 320 houses or so) within a traditional 3-block area. That’s why there are so many cars in Greenwood and there is so much traffic.

        We have a strip mall located across from the Greenwood Park Mall that was able to cram-in something like 20 places and tons of parking into about a 5-acre plot of land (it’s small whatever the size). That’s why traffic in Greenwood is so bad.

        We give every big box Meijer, Menards, and Wal-Mart a stoplight even if there’s a light less than 500 feet away from a light that’s 500 feet away from another light that you ALWAYS have to stop at. That’s why traffic is so bad in Greenwood.

        I whole-heartedly agree that we as a society are often too quick to widen widen widen roads, but I don’t think widened roads were what led to a cluttered Greenwood — abysmally-poor zoning and planning did (which then reactionarily led to widened roads). A brief overview of the roads and their lanes:

        North-South multiple lanes: SR 135 4 lanes from County Line to Curry but about to be expanded by INDOT; US 31 6 lanes from County Line to Apryl and 4 lanes from there; Madison 4 lanes from County Line to south of Fry, 2 lanes through Old Town, 4 south of there to US 31; Emerson 4 lanes from County Line to Smith Valley turn south of Main; Graham (I think it was just widened to 4 but could be wrong)

        North-South 2 lane: Honey Creek, Howard/Averitt, Old Meridian; Sheek

        West-East multiple lanes: County Line 4 lanes from 135 to Graham; Fry 2 lanes from 135 to 31 and 4 lanes to Madison; Main 2 lanes from 135 to Emerson, 4 lanes to 65, 2 lane (through) under 65 and then 4 lanes to Graham; Smith Valley 2 lanes from 135 to Averitt, 3-4 to Old Meridian, 2 lanes to big turn

        West-East 2 lane roads: Fairview; Stop 18; Worthsville (has brief multi-lane @ 31 but barely); Stones Crossing

        A majority of Greenwood’s main roads are not more than two-lane roads — many of the “multi-lane” roads I list are two-lane in large chunks. Yet the traffic is terrible on the two-lane roads as much as the multi-lane roads. That’s why I believe the nasty traffic is caused by bad planning and sprawl and not caused by widening roads.

        • Interesting post, and thanks for taking the time on here. For this blog post’s purposes, I would like to focus on how we can improve Old Town Greenwood. I’ve only been through there myself a handful of times, but traffic does move slow. And that’s a good thing for a town. That is how one can attract people who wish to get around other than driving from place to place. Old Town Greenwood could be made more appealing by restoring and investing in what is there. I think we can all agree to this point.

        • Help me understand what you are saying. You make references to a “cluttered” Greenwood and “crammed” development. This makes me think you are blaming the density of development for traffic problems. Then at the end you blame “bad planning and sprawl” for the traffic problems. I am confused because less density is usually equivalent to sprawl. Are you suggesting that the only way to solve the traffic problems is discourage density, improve roads, and discourage future growth?

          • Yes, the dense condos are not the problem per se. The problem is the lack of places and shops for the people in the condos to walk to…they still have to get in their cars to do anything.

          • What Kevin said is key. Being able to walk to those places from where the people live. There is subdivision after subdivision and strip mall after strip mall. But they are all unlinked. The strip malls are inefficiently designed too. There seems to be a partitioned space for each store instead of shared space cutting down on the overall need. Some of those huge lots could be redeveloped with more space. Hell, what about an apartment development on some of those parking lots? Seems ridiculous, but would be nice to reduce the need for the car.

        • It sounds odd to say the city has sprawled (usually low density) and the traffic is congested (high) in Greenwood, but that’s exactly what has happened; I’d venture to guess Greenwood’s not alone in the Indy suburbs with this problem. Greenwood proper is about 5 miles by 5 miles and has 50,000; the city expanded (and is expanding still) by leapfrog development. Every time a farmer would sell land, the city developed it with what seemed to be little forethough. Instead of planning for when the other plots of land would open, the city allowed developers and corporations to do what they wanted with the land.

          This led to a lack of cohesion that sprawled the city while simultaneously crowding the roads because people have to drive miles from their home to get to the grocery store. Most of the retail in Greenwood (which mostly consists of, as Curt said, poorly-designed strip malls) are located along only a few major roads (135, 31, County Line and East Main). So, the retail lies mostly along the north, south, west and east of the city — leaving a long way for people to drive from their houses to get food, a haircut, etc. And forget about walking or biking there.

          The Center Grove area (25,000-30,000) of housing addition after edition has very little retail opportunities and has so far refused to incorporate on their own or with Greenwood or Bargersville (living off the county, essentially). So there’s another huge chunk of people who live nowhere near places to shop, and they come to Greenwood proper, by car, to do so. Also important to remember, the majority of Greenwood’s population does not work in Greenwood, which is another huge factor.

          As Curt and Kevin pointed-out, the best situation would be to shop near where you live; Greenwood doesn’t have that right now. The success of a re-vamped Old Town will depend on this theory. Greenwood will never be a major destination for people to work like Indianapolis, so we’ll have to focus on having a better relationship between where we live and where we shop and relax.

          Old Town Greenwood is the perfect place to start. Right now, the slow traffic going through Old Town is just through-traffic to get from Points A to B. Getting the drivers to actually stop, live, shop, and eat there will be huge. The historic buildings and Old Town’s history make it a perfect cornerstone to begin from what I can see. And then a few years from now, we can get the commuter rail station (I agree 100%, Kevin, that the location on the eastern side of Old Town is perfect for a station) where Greenwood citizens can get to work in Indy and others from around Indy can come to Greenwood to see a pretty cool success story. I hope.

          So I guess to answer the question: if it were up to me, I would discourage growth for now (Greenwood’s grown too quickly the last 10 years, with Mayor Henderson wanting to keep-up with Carmel and Fishers) to focus on improving what the city has. I would improve roads as I mentioned in a previous post. I would better connect Greenwood with improved trails. I would look into a small public transit system for Greenwood (hey Muncie has a decent bus system and they have as many people as the Greenwood/Center Grove area). And I would revamp Old Town to get it all started and radiate from there.

  • Greenwood’s mayor was tossed in yesterday’s primary.

  • I just have to laugh when thinking about that punchline of Wider Roads: =efficiency………….and OK, more people will be attracted to efficiency…………….OK…and your point? Let Engineers do their jobs but please don’t let an Engineer design your quality of life…for the most part. I know of a lot of engineers, many of them great and very decent people. But seriously, how long can people get sucked into Indiana’s CHEAP and CONVENIENT way of thinking. For what!?!? A number? Let’s just keep wasting money for bigger problems for bigger wastelands.

    Sorry for offending anybody…just had to say it.

  • Back to Kevin’s suggestion in his original post; The lot on the SW corner of Main and Madison is the BETTER location for redevelopment. (Excellent overlooked point.) Also if you visit the area or study a map, the area immediately to the south and slightly to the east of that corner currently contains very dated and poorly organized commercial buildings from the 1960s. It’s kind of a shit hole – I sometimes visit the Napa store. But there are parks on either side, a creek running through it, and it’s across the street from the library. Best use for the land is apartments and townhomes with some businesses facing Madison Ave. There are tons of other smaller (and some large) parcels near by for infill or redevelopment. So downtown Greenwood can redevelop and improve their economy and appeal, without taking a hatch to some of its best assests and funneling more east-west commuter traffic into the heart. City needs a better vision from the top.

    To the New Greenwood Mayor:
    1.) Double the amount of residents living within 1/2 mile radius of downtown Greenwood with apartment and townhomes designed for 30 – 80k per capita income households.
    2.) Connect everything within 1 1/2 miles by sidewalks and trails.
    3.) Run a bus route from the apartment complexes just west of Valley Vista, through downtown Greenwood, and up and around Greenwood Park Mall.

  • Suburban development creates congestion and sprawl simultaneously because the only street grid is typically the former mile-square grid of county roads which by default become the arterials of suburbia in Indiana.
    Imagine a typical suburban mile-square. It may be developed to a density of about two homes per acre, with strip malls at several of the corners. Future arterials meet at the four corners; residents must drive through one or two of these corners to get almost anywhere. Two homes per acre, with three drivers in each home (not atypical for Greenwood or Carmel) means almost two thousand drivers within each suburban square mile. If each one makes three driving trips per day, that’s six thousand car trips generated by that square mile. And remember: each trip must proceed through a minimum of one of those four corners. And then it must go through several more corners of previously-developed square miles on the way to school, work, shopping, sports practices, etc.
    This happens because the interior of each square mile is not gridded or connected to the adjacent square mile. Contrast this with streets in the “Old City”, where an infinite number of routes can be taken to run an errand that is (say) 2 miles east and one mile north.

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