Ideas for 38th and Illinois

Yesterday, I attended the 2nd of 3 neighborhood meetings to discuss development plans for 38th and Illinois. I was able to share some ideas with the meeting organizers to make the project as successful as possible.

I firmly believe that 38th and Illinois will not be a truly successful neighborhood node without reigning in the 6 lanes of traffic that currently divides the neighborhood. Back in 2007, when the project was new, Aaron Renn knew that not altering the traffic configuration meant that the project would not be a game-changer. In a way, it’s unfortunate that a lot of money was already spent to make it attractive, as these streetscape projects don’t come around very often. And apparently there was no money left over for maintenance, as many curbs and planters are damaged from vehicle crashes. And really, do you want to cross this street on foot?


The street is certainly better than it was. It was measured progress to get rid of the utility poles, delineate crosswalks, plant trees, and incorporate the Maple Leaf insignia. No doubt that it was one of the least attractive streets in the city before. Today, it’s a pretty stroad, trying to be both an arterial commuter route and neighborhood street at the same time.

However, adding lanes of parallel parking and curb bumpouts at the intersections would serve at least 5 purposes here:

  • Calm traffic
  • Cut down the time for cross the street
  • Create a layer of pedestrian safety
  • Mitigate the need for businesses to maintain their own off-street parking.
  • Cut down on curb cuts which also hurt the street’s walkability

Parking has been mentioned as an issue for redevelopment in these meetings, and most urban planners I’m familiar with seem to believe that parallel street parking is the optimal place to have it. Also, the Purple Line bus will hopefully eventually run down the street, which will ideally replace some of the vehicles and help alleviate the congestion that may occur.

I realize that this will be a tough sell to many in the area, and that this is the only true east-west arterial for many blocks. But if Love at 38th does not somehow deal with this issue, then I fear the current form of 38th Street may still be a hindrance to the initiative.

Comments 31

  • Fun fact: there are zero No Parking signs on 38th between College and Michigan (check it out on Streetview). Technically anybody can curb park on 38th anytime they want.

    People consistently exercising that right would probably just lead to DPW putting No Parking signs up. An easy compromise might be to disallow curb parking during rush hours but allow it at all other times.

    • Back in the last century when I was part of the group advocating for the “Maple Road” reconstruction, I suggested losing a lane (or narrowing the lanes by a total of 5-6 feet) to create a 10-foot multi-use path on the north side of 38th. DPW wouldn’t consider it then.

  • The idea of traffic potentially backing up along 38th due to traffic calming and parking is making my blood pressure rise. There really is no other way to get across midtown other than 38th. What about pedestrian bridges? Would that defeat the point?

    If I’m going back to MK from the airport, my best options are 38th or College. College doesn’t have much traffic most of the time but requires me to get into the 65-70 split. 38th is the most efficient way to get home consistently, except when there is backed up traffic from fairgrounds events. What other options do midtown residents have to get into the heart of the loop or to cross from East side to West side of town?

    • Understood. It’s not an easy problem to solve. There are combinations of streets that can be used, but none that provide a straight shot. But the varying combination of streets is what is nice about a street grid.

      It may add a minute or two of commuting time. I fully admit that. But I don’t have a better idea for neighborhood redevelopment in this area.

    • How about the city actually solves the problem not by protecting a horrible stroad that 38th St is, but by actually upgrading something into a high speed route that is for connecting the productive place that is Midtown East to West? The real problem is there is are no actual roads (in the sense of being optimized for higher speed traffic flow) that go East to West in that Midtown area. This obviously is a very vague proposed solution.

      • That’s the expensive solution and I’m not even sure how it would work without further dividing the neighborhoods. There are houses and apartments all along the street. Are you thinking an elevated expressway? I’d be 100 against that idea.

        • No definitely not an elevated expressway. Just something less of a stroad. I’m not sure what the answer is here as your point is a valid one about dividing neighborhoods. It’s kind of funny about Indy because it was so overly planned when it was first laid out that now it’s really difficult to deviate from that original plan’s lock-in. This probably should have been solved decades ago.

          • Jim, Indianapolis was only planned with respect to the Mile Square, the city was never expected to grow much beyond it, even with that original core area many of the original diagonal streets have been cut off by subsequent decades of development.

            What is now 38th Street was so far out in the countryside that it was not even a glimmer in planners eyes when the city was first laid out. So, I am not sure where you are coming from with the city being “over-planned.’ If anything the city has been fairly poorly planned. Aside from Kessler’s parkway system (which was a very positive thing for the city), the interstate highway system, and some fairly ruinous urban redevelopment in the core of downtown, there has not been a whole lot of planning in Indianapolis development, or at least not much good planning

          • Chris, that’s not my understanding at all. From what I’ve learned from people on the history of Indianapolis, Indy was planned as a tight grid all the way up through the 200th street or there abouts. Obviously not part of the city, but the surrounding area. I’d love to see a more definitive history of Indy so we can all get our facts straighter.

    • You also have Kessler Blvd. to go east-west from/through Midtown and connect to 465 on both sides of town.

      As Kevin points out, there are other good east-west streets through Midtown, mostly eastward: 30th, 34th, 46th, 52nd, 54th all go east to Fall Creek/Keystone/Allisonville. (30th goes clear to Mt. Comfort and 46th goes to Franklin Rd.) Westward, the river is the issue, though from Meridian, you can take 64th west to Michigan, as well as Kessler or 38th or 30th.

      And as far as airport access, when I lived in MK, I either used Capitol/Illinois to I-65 at 30th (if off-peak) or Kessler and 56th out to 465.

    • I would ask if it is fair to the people who live and walk around there. The 38th street corridor sees a lot of foot traffic from folks who have little other means to get around. So why, as a resident of another area, should you be promoting an unsafe environment in this place for your own needs? Some neighborhoods in this city have turned into all out commuter zones while others have retained their charm. Maybe we should stop using and abusing neighborhoods with little political clout.

  • As someone who lives a block off of 38th Street and walks on it and across it several times a week, I’d agree that this neighborhood pays a heavy price so that some parts of Midtown can maintain their charm. I don’t think we need to abandon 38th Street as a thoroughfare all together, but why not slow it down a little. If traffic backs up too much, people will find alternate routes and even things out a bit. A cultural trail of sorts connecting the State Fair grounds (and the Monon) to Crown Hill and onto the Art Museum and the canal towpath (and maybe even south on Illinois to the Children’s Museum) would go along way to making Maple Road a more desirable street.

    And if we can’t get that, can we at least get crossing lights that turn on whenever cross streets get the green light and pedestrian buttons that work?

  • Couldn’t agree more with this article. Why can’t you safely ride your bike from the Art Museum to Tarkington Park to the State Fairgrounds? This road was totally engineering for moving traffic.

    • Except it doesn’t even move traffic very well if that was its true design. If it was going to do that effectively, it’d have the traffic signals timed so that traffic could move through without stopping except at maybe Meridian St (a checkpoint). This is the true definition of a stroad which is neither a street nor a road. It doesn’t serve people in cars well (a true road would) and it doesn’t serve people on foot well (a true street would).

      • Whenever I have driven across 38t Street, even at the height of rush hour, I have found the traffic to move pretty efficiently and quickly. Yes, the lights could be timed better, but that is a relatively easy and affordable fix.

        I am not quite sure what you would want to see? Is it an interstate highway? No, but it is not designed to be one, nor would most people in the area want it to be turned into one. Is it much faster and efficient than a typical residential street? Most definitely. People are typically able to zip along well above the actual speed limit (and many do) and get to where they are going in a reasonable period of time. I don’t find West 38th Street to really slow down much until you out by Lafayette Square (or East 38th Street until you get past the Fairgrounds) and even then it moves fairly well.

        Aside from improved timing of the lights, what I think the street could use within the Midtown stretch is better pedestrian crossings to tie the neighborhood together, and perhaps a bike lane. Aside from those changes, it seems like a good compromise for the area, and I don’t think it needs to be either expanded or significantly narrowed.

        • I wasn’t so much saying much of anything other than in my opinion, it doesn’t serve either people in cars nor people on bikes or walking well. The lanes are nearly interstate highway width but with a speed limit of 35 mph in a lot of places. It’d be an extremely intimidating road to cross on foot or ride a bike on. The only kind of bike lane I’d feel comfortable riding my bike in on 38th would be a fully protected bike lane and not a white line striped one. Would you ride your bike on such a street or walk on it as it is now?

      • Considering that the speed limit for the area is 35 mph and that drivers are routinely driving at 60+ mph, better synchronization of those stoplights would be terrifying.

        • Agreed, but that’s my point. People in cars feel like they can go that fast safely because the lanes are designed to be about the same as an interstate highway. If there were cars parked on either side of the road and narrower lanes, people in cars would have to pay more attention and be more defensive drivers on this street which means the average speed would almost certainly fall.

          • I’d like to street calming like this too with the additional width gained from lane reduction used to create a trail. However, I’m not sure what the impact of BRT will be to the area. I’ve seen pictures that show boarding stations in the center of 38th street. Any idea what lane size BRT vehicles need for movement and for boarding?

          • I’d like to street calming like this too with the additional width gained from lane reduction used to create a trail. However, I’m not sure what the impact of BRT will be to the area. I’ve seen pictures that show boarding stations in the center of 38th street. Any idea what lane size BRT vehicles need for movement and for boarding?

          • When I’ve heard folks from IndyGo talk about it, they prefer 11-foot lane widths because buses with mirrors are about 9.5 feet wide, and that leaves only 3 inches a side in a 10-foot lane.

  • Maybe make 38th street one way.

    Not sure what other street could be made one way in the other direction.

  • This is probably unrealistic due to cost, but what about an express tunnel from 65 to fall creek?

    • How fast do you need traffic to move? It wouldn’t be worth it to spend 10 million to get traffic to move faster much less 200 times that.

  • It’s interesting that all of the proposed solutions are much more expensive and destructive than the current configuration. Which basically makes my point for me.

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