Indy’s Cultural Trail Turns Two Years Old

It has been lauded as one of the best examples of new bicycle infrastructure in the United States and since it’s right in my back yard, I thought I’d share some pictures as well as my thoughts on Indy’s Cultural Trail as it celebrates its second anniversary.

Cyclist heading east along St. Clair between the IUPUI campus and downtown Indianapolis.
Cyclist heading east along the Cultural Trail between the IUPUI campus and downtown Indianapolis.
Along Indiana Avenue northwest of downtown, the Cultural Trail looks and feels like a wide sidepath.
Along Indiana Avenue northwest of downtown, the Cultural Trail is a wide sidepath.

Officially known as the Indianapolis Cultural Trail:  A Legacy of Eugene and Marilyn Glick, the ICT is both a transportation resource and tourist attraction.  It officially opened in May, 2013 and since then I’ve covered every inch of its eight miles on more than one occasion.

It took a while for me to get really excited about the Cultural Trail. It’s not perfect, but I have come to appreciate it the more I use it.  Here are my takeaways as we hit the trail’s two year anniversary.

It Connects

The Cultural Trail is actually a hub with a series of spokes radiating from downtown.
The Cultural Trail is actually a hub with a series of spokes radiating from downtown.

Calling it the Cultural Trail is really a misnomer.  It’s much more than a single trail.  In fact, it’s a hub with a series of spokes radiating from the very core of the city….more like a Cultural Trail Network than a single trail.  This is an important distinction because trails are typically linear.  The Cultural Trail connects a lot of real estate because it goes just about everywhere in the central core.

Just as importantly, it serves as a jumping off point to travel to the rest of the city.  Take the southeast leg along Virginia Avenue, for example.  Even though the trail officially ends in the Fountain Square neighborhood, connectivity continues deep into the city’s south side via the Shelby Street cycletrack and the Pleasant Run Trail.

The same is true of the northeast leg along Mass Avenue which connects to the Monon Trail which extends all the way to the exurb of Westfield.  Both legs are vital transportation resources, and at some point the city will likely complete other trails eminating from the Cultural Trail’s spokes along Indiana Avenue to the northwest and southwest along the White River.  When they do, Indianapolis will have a world class urban trail network.

Attractions and offices like the Indiana State Museum and the NCAA headquarters building are easily accessible from the Cultural Trail.
Attractions and offices like the Indiana State Museum and the NCAA Hall of Champions and headquarters  building are easily accessible from the Cultural Trail in White River State Park.
As are the joint campuses of Indiana and Purdue Universities (IUPUI).
…as are the joint campuses of Indiana and Purdue Universities (IUPUI).


It Showcases

The Cultural Trail provides a glimpse of what a large swath of urban space here might look like in the future.  There are a number of thoughtful, cutting edge features integrated into its design including rain water swales that absorb runoff and help create lush green space.  This reduces impact on storm sewers, limits street flooding and creates low maintenance landscaping.

These swales channel rainwater off the street where it absorbs into the ground while providing low maintenance greenery.
These swales channel rainwater off the street where it absorbs into the ground while providing low maintenance greenery.

The Cultural Trail also integrates a variety of different approaches in terms of trail design.  These include dedicated paths, shared paths, even shared streets.  This is important because it gives the community a mechanism to observe these different methodologies first hand and see what works and what doesn’t work here.

It Invites

The Cultural Trail’s design is open and welcoming. It draws people in.  There are numerous bikeshare stations along the route, and so it’s easy to hop on a bike and cruise.  It integrates very well with streets, sidewalks, shops, offices, museums and other attractions along its route.

The Cultural Trail becomes a shared resource along Walnut Street to provide automobile access to houses and businesses.
The Cultural Trail becomes a shared resource along Walnut Street to provide automobile access to houses and businesses.
Indy's most vibrant residential development is occuring along the Cultural Trail.
Indy’s most vibrant residential development is occuring along the Cultural Trail.
Commercial development as well, both large scale and, more importantly, organic.
Commercial development is happening as well, both large scale and, more importantly, organic.

It’s also attracting development dollars thanks to demand from new businesses and residents.  People want to live and work along the trail.  Some of the city’s hottest neighborhoods are located here.  These places are vibrant and alive precisely because the trail encourages the type of street traffic that leads to human interaction in ways that cars never will. This is perhaps the trail’s greatest legacy.

But There’s Still Room for Improvement

The Cultural Trail is an overwhelming success but it can be even more so.  The dangerous decorative crosswalks that are all but invisible to drivers need to be replaced with something more visible so that there is no confusing where the non-motorized have priority. Standard zebra stripes get my vote.

In addition, the ridiculous valet parking operation in front of the Conrad Hotel needs to go, once and for all.  It is unfathomable that the city would let a private interest run roughshod over one of its crown jewels.  The symbolism that implies  cyclists and pedestrians should give way to parked cars is embarrassing, especially as Indy makes great strides toward being truly bicycle friendly.  It would be nice if the Conrad recognized the good publicity that would come from acting proactively but if they don’t, the city should compel them to act.

Zebra-striped crosswalks may be old school but they work.  This green one is all but invisible to passing cars, especially when wet.
Zebra-striped crosswalks may be old school but they work. This green one is all but invisible to passing cars, especially when wet.

These are easy fixes and they should be implemented as soon as possible.  If they are, Indy’s Cultural Trail, already as a fine piece of bicycle infrastructure as you’ll find anywhere in the United States, will be even better.


This post originally appeared at on May 6, 2015 and is reposted with the author’s permission.

Comments 37

  • Thanks for this post. I love the Cultural Trail so much. When people ask me about what has been the change in Indianapolis over the last decade, I can’t stress how important the Trail has been. It has changed the entire fabric of downtown.

    Also, here is my “complaint” post about the CT from two years ago.

  • I’m glad you liked the post, ahow628. I think your comment is spot on correct. Thanks for sharing the link as well.

  • so a multi million dollar, world class trail should have it’s crosswalks ripped up for standard, white block striping..hmmm? the decorative and detailed nature of those walks are what connect and blend the trail into one continuous line. i think there are other ways to address ignorant drivers from stopping into the crosswalk. and i couldn’t agree what the city allows the conrad to do begins to degrade from the hard work and millions of dollars making the trail connector what it is.

  • The Cultural Trail actually does connect indirect with a path to the northwest. From White River State Park, you can easily join the White River Greenway and travel along the river north-northwest.

  • The Conrad parking really makes my blood boil. The very clear symbolism of who is important is so glaringly apparent here. I would think the reason you have valets is so the can park the car somewhere more convenient. What’s the point of valet parking if they just leave the car out front. It’s time to go!

    • That is such a good point about the purpose of valet parking. I think we should start a campaign (online) to get the Conrad to get the cars off of this section of the trail. It’s regularly a huge pinch-point for bikes and people walking and I’ve seen some people almost fall off of their bikes trying to navigate this slowly without hitting a person walking. This should be a relatively easy thing to accomplish if we all work together to accomplish it. Who’s game?

      • I’m in. The Conrad could easily keep half of the parking for valet purposes and at least let the Cultural Trail have the other half. It would be good publicity for the Conrad, it would minimize bottlenecks and the chance of bike/pedestrian accidents (another benefit for the Conrad and its patrons), and it would would also cause fewer people to curse the Conrad whenever they pass it.

        • Exactly, so should we start with a social media page like a Facebook page and start spreading the word to get support for this. Got any better/additional ideas?

          • Not sure if it’s a good idea or not, but people could tag pictures of the overcrowded area with Conrad’s twitter @Conradindy to ensure they are aware people aren’t happy with the situation.

          • Eric, that’s a really good idea. I may be able to walk past their tonight to kick it off.

    • I would suggest that before you go public on social media, have the courtesy to write a letter to the general manager of the Conrad politely requesting a meeting of interested parties to discuss the valet parking issue. That puts the ball in their court, so that if you don’t get a response or don’t like the response you get, you actually have an action from which you can take the next step. Blind-siding the party you want to see change from is not a good place to start, IMO.

  • I agree that the Trail is wonderful for the city and it showcases and invites.

    Where it comes up short is connecting. The Trail only really connects if you’re taking a leisurely ride or walk. It is certainly not an A to B route like streets are for automobiles.

    We need to treat “trails” and bike lanes as transpiration – which means drawing from the same funding pool as we do for streets. This is the paradigm shift that needs to happen in Indy.

    • I’m glad you brought this up because I’ve been thinking about College Ave between Mass Ave and Virginia Ave quite a bit lately.

      First of all, with all the development along that stretch of College, there is no way it can stay one way for much longer, or should I say, it shouldn’t stay one way for any longer.

      Anyway, I would love to see one lane in each direction for vehicles and use the third lane as a fully protected, two way bike path. The trail is nice for leisurely meandering through downtown on your way from Fountain Square to Mass Ave, but it would really great to have a connectors directly for biking.

      Currently, it takes about 20-25 minutes to get from FS to MA on the Trail, but the same trip using College would take about 10-15 minutes, tops. Biking northbound on College, while harrowing, is still doable, but obviously, the one way kills the ability to go southbound.

      Side benefits would include more visibility for places like Milano Inn, Iaria’s, the Salon No 7 building (I forget the name), Sun King, St Joseph’s brewery, etc. Plus cars (GASP!) could also have a direct route between the two hot spots.

      • Couldn’t agree more with you about the stretch between Mass Ave. and Virginia Ave. I work off of S. College, commuting from just north of Mass Ave., and bike lanes going directly between the two areas in both directions would be a really helpful addition there. And an improved intersection for pedestrians at College/Washington intersection would be nice.

      • So my question now is, how do we make this happen? It makes too much sense (converting College back to two-way and your bike lane proposal) to not do it. We have passionate people on this site that would back this. Who do we talk to to get this in motion?

        • I know quite a few of the business owners (Iaria’s, the former bowling alley, St Joseph’s Brewing, Sun King) along there so I’ll try to start conversations. It would be nice if someone like Jeff Miller could push stuff forward with a number of businesses standing behind him.

  • Via the Monon, the Cultural Trail also connects to the Fall Creek Trail (near 34th and Fall Creek Parkway), which runs all the way to Fort Harrison State Park and to the trail system in Lawrence Village at the Fort (Ivy Tech; Triton Brewing; and soon, the third outpost of Jockamo’s Upper Crust Pizza).

    It really is the “hub” of the Marion County trail system.

  • IMO, the Cultural Trail should have had “table” crosswalks, in addition to the arty treatment. Best way to get drivers’ attention.

  • Regarding the Conrad, yes it’s a shame that the city allows them to park on it, but is’s also a shame that we as Indy cyclists don’t advocate more forcefully to change that. No way something like that is allowed to go down in a city like Portland with an active, vocal bike lobby. I really feel that Indy’s cycling community is extremely passive, perhaps because Ballard’s administration has been proactive in promoting cycling without any prompting from us. We may be in for a rude awakening soon.
    Write your councilman, the mayor, the city bike coordinator! Use a constructive tone and they’re surprisingly responsive.

    • I’m willing to do a sit in or protest. I wonder if there is any interest from Indy Cog for something like this.

      Also, does anyone know what the real deal is in terms of any agreements that were made between Kite and the City? I’ve always heard rumors that there was some sort of back room deal, but I don’t know if it is true.

  • Along with bike lanes on College, I also believe the Cultural Trail should be extended across the south side of downtown along the south side of South Street. It already goes along South Street from East Street to New Jersey Street, then turns north. It could continue all the way over to West Street and Lucas Oil Stadium. It seems with all of the major companies in that vicinity, they could each “adopt” a block or two and much of the route could be paid for. There’s Lilly, Wellpoint / Anthem, Rolls Royce, and then with Lucas Oil Stadium – maybe the Colts and / or Capitol Improvements Board could contribute some. Right now – it seems pretty much all of the needed right of way is still available. It needs to be done soon. If the private sector could come up with 50 – 60% of the funds – hopefully the remainder could be made available with some local and federal funds and maybe some philanthropic foundations as well ( Lilly Foundation? Indianapolis Foundation?). Hopefully some big plans will happen to replace the Arbys, Subway and White Castle with some appropriate, real development. We need to make sure that when that happens, the Cultural Trail is already set in place so the future developments can be designed to fit in well alongside the CT. Eventually the CT in this southwest part of downtown could connect to a new pedestrian / bike bridge across the White River to link to new developments on the GM Stamping Plant site.

  • I agree this would be a very nice expansion, and seems (compared to the rest of the Cultural Trail) easier and less expensive to implement. However, in all my readings about the CT and other planned biking/pedestrian infrastructure I have not heard any mention of expanding the CT beyond it’s current layout. Does anyone know if the Cultural Trail has expressed any interest in expanding the current trail system? In the initial planning was there ever consideration for continuing along South Street?

    • I have been told that there have been discussion to extend the cultural trail past the monon on 10th east.

      • Greg – Aee you thinking of the Pogues Run Greenway which would meet where the Monon and Cultural Trail currently connect (Mass Ave/10th St?. It is supposed to begin construction this month.

  • I enjoyed reading your article and the comments that followed. As a retired teacher/photographer who cycles the trail almost everyday, looking for that great shot, I also agree that the Conrad’s parking lot on the trail needs to go! I have seen lots of near misses involving pedestrians, cyclists and huge SUVs. Thank you for your post!

  • I think it’s really important to make sure our elected officials know how we feel about these things. So many of the comments under these articles should be directed to local and state officials, especially our desire for more bike lanes/trails. Unlike Washington, our local leaders are surprisingly responsive.

Leave a Reply to Chris Barnett Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *