Improving Indy’s Cultural Trail

Indy’s Cultural Trail is now two years old and is a huge success in so many significant ways. It continues to receive wide acclaim throughout the country as being a model of success for what proper biking and pedestrian infrastructure can do when done in a smart way instead of only going by the engineer’s guide book without thinking. So why then does the Cultural Trail need some improvement? Most areas are already functioning well and are fairly well optimized, but there is at least one area that needs some rethinking. Here’s where I’m referring to, do you recognize it?


What’s wrong with this portion of the trail? I’m willing to bet that almost anyone who has ever biked or walked through this section immediately knows what is wrong. The trail just simply stops out in front of the Conrad hotel and frequently is blocked by cars loading or unloading by the hotel valets. Then there’s the three bollards on either side of this zone that make it extremely confusing. As a person on a bike, are these saying I should go around the zone, use caution and risk going through the zone, or what? It’s just not very clear and this is one of the most crowded portions of the entire trail.

I’ve been attempting to work with some of the local leadership to make sure that this is known about this small but significant area of the Cultural Trail. I’ve met with the director of the Conrad hotel to learn what I can about the trail in front of the hotel that he manages. I also met with the director of operations for the Indy Cultural Trail non-profit that is in charge of maintaining the trail. However, I seem to have hit a brick wall in making any more progress with the leadership. The Conrad director is still willing to dialog about the portion of the trail in front of the Conrad, but he does not have the authority to make any changes to this without Indy’s DPW or the trail non-profit. I can no longer seem to get in contact with the Indy Cultural Trail non-profit leadership about the next steps on this portion of the trail. This has left me highly frustrated.

I’m left not entirely sure what to do next. My current idea is to start with this post to raise some more awareness and then to start a social media campaign where people can post pictures of the dangers of this part of the trail to all people who need to use it. So here’s a callout to all of you who read this. Post in the comments what you think could be done and why you think it’d be effective. How do we get this portion of the trail improved so that it’s safer for all types of people who use it?


This post has been re-posted by the original author from this original location.

Comments 27

  • There are two parts of the trail that drive me nuts. People who constantly ignore the trail markings and block the crosswalk path at Maryland and Delaware, and this.

    Maryland and Delaware needs a “Cars stop here” mark like New York does just before Alabama.

    In front of the Conrad they have tiny little signs placed way up high that say, “Begin walk bike”. Which is about like saying “Begin push car” if a driver came up to a railroad crossing.

    This strikes me as a simple problem with a simple solution: remove the bollards and park cars in the right turn lane, turning it into a loading zone. That was originally only 1 right turn lane pre-Super Bowl, so it wouldn’t be hard to go back to that.

    Or, park cars on the west side of the Conrad along Illinois Street.

    • These are all suggestions that I gave to the director of the Conrad. He wasn’t willing to make that large of a change nor do I think the will exists from the leadership of the Cultural Trail to move the valet unloading zone to Illinois. Illinois would make a lot of sense to me as well and be a lot safer even for the guests staying at the Conrad itself. The director has ensured me that the valet zone is not a parking area and these cars should not be there most of the time. The reality is to the average trail user, there are almost always cars “parked” there blocking easy and safe access through.

  • A couple of things:
    1) I sent a link for this post to someone at the CT, so hopefully they will start hearing about it from multiple people.

    2) When I used to ride between the valet cars parked on the Trail, I used to get yelled at or scolded. I’ve caught no flack in the last 6 months of doing so, so at the very least someone at the Conrad has decided not to pick a fight that is not theirs to fight and they can’t possibly win.

    3) I’m concerned with what is happening in other parts of the trail too because recently South of Chicago (which is NOT a good neighbor, by the way) put up a fence the mostly impedes the pedestrian portion of the Trail in front of their shop. Apparently they have a permit from code enforcement, but I’m completely shocked that the CT has allow such an encroachment. Especially given the pushback from the CT concerning our neighborhood’s plan to decorate traffic signal boxes along the Trail (which ended up getting nixed completely by the CT).

    • Thanks for doing #1.

      As for #2, yes, the director at the Conrad said that’s perfectly fine and they purposefully stage the cars parallel to the curb so that’s possible. Although it is possible and permitted, obviously it’s still far from a good enough solution.

      And #3, that’s really unfortunate. I didn’t realize that had occurred and it does set a bad precedent.

      • Well, the parallel parking is a start. It seems as if the Conrad folks are starting to get it.

        Technically the pedestrian-only parts of the trail (where separated) are sidewalks, and Indianapolis allows sidewalk dining with a permit. There may have been pre-existing permits that had to be dealt with.

        Google Streetview (from 2014) shows two other sidewalk dining spots within a block from South of Chicago; one is at the pub next door and the other is three or four doors southeast, across Stevens St. at the Tortas place. They appear to be in paved space between the main sidewalk and the bike path. Pre-Cultural Trail Streetviews in 2009 and 2011 show sidewalk dining at the pub; 2011 shows the South of Chicago site with outdoor tables also.

    • The railing at SOC was taken down as of Monday when I noticed. Outdoor dining on the trail is needed to provide another dynamic and opportunity for chance interaction between trail users and retail patrons.

      It’s important to encourage local government to enact what I think should be a variance or probably an overlay district along the trail route to prevent businesses from being able to acquire a permit to put railings up in the future, assuming they serve alcohol outdoors. The trail is unique and needs special attention to preserve it’s original intent and be friendly to adjacent development.

      • I’ll address Chris Barnett’s comments and this comment together.

        Yeah Pat, I noticed the railing was gone yesterday on my ride home. Hopefully they got enough blowback to change their minds. Chris, I have no problem at all with dining on the Trail, as Dugout, Cafe Nonna, and Tortas do, but I am 100% against using a fence to cordon off an area to do so. The mixture of various activities is what provides so much charm, especially the Fletcher Place leg of the Trail.

        But I know why they put up the fence. A patron could go in, order a beer, walk out to a table with said beer, and that is totally legal. However, if the person orders a beer from the waitstaff and they bring it out, the area has to be fenced off. Totally stupid, totally pointless, much like no kids at the bar, no Sunday sales, and every single other silly Indiana alcohol law.

        That being said, I don’t think the overlay could even address that problem, so that is something that much come from the state. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    • Also, I received an email back from Dan at the Cultural Trail and he said thanks for the heads up and they are looking into it and want to do something about it.

  • The Conrad is what Hogsett(sp) calls downtown developers scamming the system. They should never have been given the pathway parking.

  • Fortunately we have a Mayoral Election coming up.
    Want to really get change going? Make it known during a Mayoral Debate and have either Hogsett or Brewer support fixing this broken piece. It will draw enough attention from the media that something should be done soon 🙂

  • I often avoid riding through downtown on the cultural trail, even when it would be the shortest past, because there are too many pedestrians to make decent time. The Conrad is particularly annoying and if love to see it changed, but I’m not sure that would affect my decisions much.

    • Right, the best thing about the trail is that it created walking/biking tours into surrounding neighborhoods. They could’ve left the downtown portion out for all i care or just did bike lanes.

  • Here in Cincy, the popular 21C Hotel was only allowed to do onstreet valet parking and put up a few plastic bollards. The integrity of the sidewalk was required to remain and their valet seems to work just fine. The problem with the Conrad is this showy mentality that they need to park 5 sports cars/SUVs out front to show eveyone how rich their clientele are. Shame on City Engineering for allowing this bastardization of the right-of-way

    • The Conrad was in place for years before The Cultural Trail was built.

      I realize that’s more of an excuse than a good reason, but The Conrad was built with some significant City incentives and so its site is governed by a development agreement that is binding on the City.

      If the right to use valet parking spots is guaranteed by that agreement, then there isn’t much the City can do to force the issue.

      Personally, I do not confuse what is legally allowed with what is the right thing to do: I think The Conrad should work with the City to make the Trail continuous. But I understand there is probably not a good way to force the issue, either.

      • I know and the 21C building was existing. This is simply about appropriate use of right-of-way and in no instance should valet parking be allowed to encroach into the sidewalk or Cultural Trail for that matter. Pedestrians have it tough enough as it is and you simply don’t need to do 90-degree parking to have valet, pull up to the curb, drop off, pull away. Simple.

        • Last time we were complaining about Conrad valet parking on Urban Indy, I think one of the comments was that they leave the cars there because going from their valet garage (just north of the Illinois St Conrad entrance) during rush hour can take 15-20 minutes due to traffic on the Circle.

          Quick fix: How about one-way to two-way conversions for Illinois and Washington? HAHAHAHAHA! Good one!

          • Let’s be honest, this isn’t valet space. It’s a short term parking lot. Cars are left there much longer than true valet service. Sounds like the city screwed this up years ago and only now do they realize it’s a major urban design flaw. Excuses

          • Eric: you’re right, it’s supposed to only be a valet zone but it gets heavily abused as basically a compact parking lot. I think technically any abuses of this could be reported to the city.

      • Exactly the taxpayers gave them millions, let the taxpayers get their trail back.

      • I have never liked the break in the Cultural Trail in front of the Conrad. It was a mistake to allow it to happen, and they definitely abuse this as “privileged” parking.” I also think it is distasteful on the Conrad’s part to promote in ads on WFYI their location “on the Cultural Trail” and their free bikes the hotel guests can use. Your hotel blocks the trail!!! It would be better PR on the part of the Conrad if they would help bring about a resolution to the missing piece of the trail at their front door!

  • Not to say this is not a battle worth fighting, but I feel like there was significant uproar over the Conrad exception when the Trail was being built, but it went nowhere. Anything to be learned from arguments attempted in the past that might produce a different result this time?

    • I think fighting against something hypothetical is much different than changing something exists in your everyday life. Especially since the Conrad sees the activity of the Trail and the fact that their guests use their bikes to cruise it. I think that they see the benefit with their changing stance of parking and allowing riders through the valet area.

      I would also argue that a battle was won when the Trail was going in since the Conrad was pushing to have it relocated to the other side of the block for that one block stretch. Thank god that didn’t happen.

  • Another issue with the CT is the lack of regular cleanup of the stretch under the Virginia Ave parking garage/railroad bridge. Dead pigeons will remain for weeks before finally disintegrating into a black puddle of goo. Also, they alow the pigeon droppings to pile up in disgusting heaps under their perches. There doesn’t appear to be any prevention measures to prevent bird nesting under the structures either, such as spikes, netting, or fishing line. Seems like an investment in that sort of measure could make up for their inability to keep the CT from being a serious biohazard on that stretch.

    • On the topic of the Virginia Ave parking garage, I love the thought and ability to play with interactive lights while vehicles drive by. What I am not a fan of is the ground plane lighting embedded into the pavers that hasn’t functioned in I don’t even know how long. If these are not going to be replaced or made useable, it would be very beneficial to bikers/ roller bladers to pull them up and replace these for a smoother, more enjoyable ride.

  • Glad to see this portion of the trail highlighted. I never know what to do when I come to it – I usually ride through the middle assuming the cars aren’t parked too closely together. As others have mentioned, it does seem more like it is being used as a parking lot than just valet. Cars seem to sit there for hours. I think if they would limit it a single line of cars parked and only use it for valet rather than a parking lot, it wouldn’t be much of an issue. Still not ideal, but a lot better. Also, somewhat off topic, but it would be great to have some water fountains for people and dogs along the trail. No place I’m aware of to get a drink when biking/running along the trail.

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