Virtual Voices

Bike-friendly Indy

Government

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is serious about making his city a bicycle-friendly place.

He has added miles of trails and lanes and helped create a bike hub in Downtown Indianapolis, not far from where the Super Bowl will be played Feb. 5 in Lucas Oil Stadium.

Yet the real proof of his bike zeal came last week as he led several hundred serious bikers on a 12.2-mile ride on the new lanes through town. Facing light snow, bitter winds, and 25-degree temperatures, the bikers celebrated the city's progress.

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Similar to some other cities, Mayor Ballard has caught on to a trend that promotes a subtle change in the city's transit culture. More than their parents' generation, 20- and 30-somethings like to bike to work or ride for fun. For some, it's about physical fitness or the environment. Others want an alternative to the high price of gasoline.

Ballard's administration has built 64 miles of lanes in the past couple of years and has plans for 200 miles by 2020. He's bumped up the mileage of the greenway bike trails to 61 and wants that number to reach almost 100 by 2015. The greenways are separate from auto travel, whereas the bike lanes are marked on the streets shared with cars.

Connecting trails and lanes can create a full-scale alternative for getting around town, and serious commuters can get a locker and shower at the Indy Bike Hub YMCA at the City Market.

"I think you're going to see an explosion in commuting in the spring," Ballard noted in an interview before his ride.

Working in downtown Indianapolis, Elizabeth Sparrow has taken her commute an extra step with a long-tail bike, which features extensions for her children. Living about three miles away from downtown, she delivers her children-ages 9, 6, and 4-to school and then uses the Monon and Cultural trails to ride to work at the YMCA Downtown.

She grew up in Quito, Ecuador, where her parents were missionaries. Biking was just a normal means of transportation when she was growing up there. She returned to her childhood ways once she had children in Indianapolis. "It gives me freedom to clear my head and for us to get out," she said. "It really started when I became a mother."

She and friends also have an informal club, Ladies Take the Lane, organized through Facebook.

A 30-year local biking advocate, Richard Vonnegut credits Mayor Ballard for pushing a bike-friendly culture. "Mayor Ballard has done more for bicycling and walking than all the three previous mayors," he said. "And they all did something-Bart Peterson, Steve Goldsmith, and Bill Hudnut. But Ballard has created a hub for bicycles. He's created bike lanes and sidewalks, such as the Michigan Road project. He has events like the mayor's bicycle rides."

Cities get rated for everything from the qualities of their nightlife to excitement generated by their sports teams. Ballard is making the intriguing assumption that some people also will check about the bike commuting friendliness as well in trying to determine where to live.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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