It seems a distant memory when the City/IUPUI announced a partnership to reinvest in the Natatorium and to return West New York and West Michigan Streets back to two-way automobile traffic, with improved gateways, art, street furniture, lighting, medians and pedestrian crossings. Yes, this announcement gathered the usual concerns about what such a significant change would do to the mass of students and event participants that frequently, though for small fractions of each day, use these one-way arterials as mini expressways to the interstates. Regardless, these changes will create a more vibrant, safer and better connected western edge of downtown.
These changes, of course, can’t come in isolation. The City has spent decades developing a confusing and frustrating one-way web of high-speed streets through our urban core. To throw out two important legs of this system will certainly create ripples. The most noticeable of which will likely be West Street. Anyone who has spent anytime on the west edge of downtown through IUPUI knows that West Street serves as a suburban arterial mixed with interstate interchange. With the growing emphasis to turn IUPUI from a commuter campus and the growing popularity for students to live in swanky new apartments downtown along the canal and eastward, the connection, or lack thereof, across West Street becomes more obvious.
Those with any interest in downtown development have likely heard of, or even seen Downtown Indy’s “Vision Plan” Velocity. On Page 45 of this document, you can see a proposed pedestrian bridge over West Street. Previous pages and studies clearly indicate the danger and failure of pedestrian crossings along West Street. This image, taken from the Velocity Plan at www.indyvelocity.com is a rendering of the extreme ideas being considered to allow people to cross safely. This is at the intersection of West Street and Vermont Street.
So, if you’re wondering, after three paragraphs of blabber, what I am trying to talk about, here it is. We get to answer the unanswerable question. Which came first, the car or the human? Okay. That’s not exactly how it goes, but it leads in well to this discussion. As work is underway on the two-way conversion of West New York Street, the Department of Public Works (DPW) is presenting their “plans” for altering West Street. One would think that, with all of the energy devoted to pedestrian improvements, connectivity and safety, we would see the great way in which DPW is creating a more functional West Street to tie into the work on New York and Michigan. I know I was prepared to see significant pedestrian improvements, possibly related to the Velocity Plan. But, as is so often the case, we are presented these (click on image for larger version):
These plans were presented at an open house at IUPUI this week, attended by Urban Indy Writer Chris Corr. As usual, they get a bit hard to read, but once you adjust to a freeway being constructed through downtown, you begin to get the picture. These images move from south (NY and West) to north (Michigan and West). West Street remains 9-10 lanes wide, only the right of way area devoted to automobiles grows significantly, approximately 15-20%. This may not seem significant, but to a human being, it makes crossing a street nearly impossible. Admittedly, the intersection at West Street and New York doesn’t change much. There are now left turns permitted from West to New York and the crossing distance on New York Street, from north to south is increased by the addition of westbound lanes. I will note that there is improvement in the bike lane, which currently blends into a vehicle travel lane, will be fully independent through the intersection.
As we travel towards Vermont Street, things start to get very dicey, kind of like the rebuilt intersection/interchange of Allisonville Road and I-465. The left two lanes of North West Street break into two dedicated left turn lanes at Vermont Street, but not to turn on Vermont, which becomes a one-way east for some reason. In fact, these left turn lanes are meant for people turning from West Street onto West Michigan Street, a dedicated left turn lane stretching nearly two large city blocks! This intersection with Vermont also represents the 10-lane version of West Street. Looks like there is still no hope to get humans across the interst….I mean, the street. I guess the pedestrian bridge will have to be THAT much longer. Or, just force people to walk two extra city blocks to cross a single street. Heck, we do it other places.
Between Vermont and Michigan, things really get tricky. You thought round-a-bouts were rough. Check out this traffic pattern. The two dedicated left turn lanes on West, the ones that started at New York Street, cross over the south bound lanes of West Street creating a block long contraflow leading to an otherwise unrestricted inside turn, always works out great as a human or someone traveling by bike. The landscape medians, the small signs that life exists in this area, are otherwise obliterated and replaced with…umm…red area. Automobiles traveling southbound become the middle lanes of a traffic engineer’s boyhood dream. After getting through that mess, you will notice that we are introduced to a dedicated right turn lane from vehicles traveling east on New York Street to Southbound West Street. Don’t worry, DPW made sure it was a wide enough turn that cars need not hesitate as they motor through. Another item that always works out well for humans. Speaking of humans, check out those great pedestrian refuges. Hopefully they put some picnic furniture to enjoy these spaces next to the highway. Can anyone else picture a cheesy drawing from 1950 promoting one of these highway-side rest stops? On the north side of Michigan, you see the twin of the aforementioned right turn lane, for vehicles traveling south on West Street, turning onto West Michigan. The existing bike lane along Michigan becomes a separated bike lane/multi-use path (a great idea), but not before it is channeled into the pedestrian refuge and jogged across the dedicated turn lane where cars will very likely stop and yield for humans. Wait a second. How do humans cross Michigan on the west side of West Street? What’s that? Oh, they can’t? Okay. I thought I was reading the plans wrong. Did we at least retain all existing movements for vehicles? We did? What? Oh, we actually expanded those? Okay. Freedom of choice and stuff. While I have you, do you really expect cars will make the dedicated right turn lanes and not just turn from the straight only lanes once they realize they missed the off ramp? Will cars traveling east on Michigan turning left onto West make it into the northbound lanes, or will they likely go into the southbound lanes after already having crossed so many lanes of traffic?
…And then you carry on to the interstate, and that’s how you travel through a developing urban core, adjacent to a huge pedestrian center, without having to slow down, adjust your driving preference, or really think about anything at all. What was this lecture about? Oh yeah, in a long fought effort to improve New York and Michigan Streets, we are now provided an impossible barrier for humans to cross, paid for by many of those humans.