When I first moved to Indy, the city had only two miles of bike lanes striped along 52nd Street. Two miles. And almost every time I was out riding, someone yelled at me to get on the sidewalks or…other more colorful phrases. Now, we have more than 100 miles of bike lanes, the Cultural Trail connects downtown with every major greenway in the city, and people of all types—from hardened bike commuters to families with children in tow—are riding in the city.
Today is the first day of National Bike Month, a month when cyclists of all types take to the streets and greenways to celebrate life on two-wheels. As one of the original founders of INDYCOG, I’ve been thinking about how much Indy has changed for cycling in just a few short years.
To get a better idea of what Indy has done to make that happen, I sat down with Jamison Hutchins, another early member of INDYCOG and the city’s Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator within Sustain Indy.
What all does your job entail as the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator?
The real essence of my job is to work with all of the DPW project managers who oversee the city’s improvements. Together we look for opportunities to incorporate cycling and pedestrian infrastructure into the city. And we are always looking for opportunities to receive state or federal support for projects, like the recent Green Lanes project to develop protected bike lanes around Indy.
I also coordinate the three big community bike rides—the Mayor’s Bike Ride, the Spring Fever Ride, and the Polar Bear Pedal—so there’s some event management involved.
How does the city balance the different aspects of cycling—transportation, sport, and recreation? Would you say you focus on one aspect more than another?
The goal of the city is to get more people on bikes, especially those who might not be so comfortable riding in traffic. Whether people ride for recreation, sport, or transportation, it doesn’t matter.
The city’s bicycling program has really evolved over the years. Five years ago, we were thrilled to stripe a bike lane, and now we’re getting to install fully protected lanes, and people are really starting to expect cycling facilities like that.
The Cultural Trail plays a huge part in that. It provides a really visible and tangible way for people to experience riding in the city. And because it’s such a low-stress riding experience connects so many districts, more and more people are using bikes to get around.
It seems in a lot of other cities, bikeshare programs have met with different levels of success, but the Pacers Bikeshare seems to be thriving. What’s different about Indy that’s allowed it to be such a successful program?
I think the most obvious thing is the Cultural Trail. The program is run by the Cultural Trail, and at least in the initial launch, all the bike stations are on or very near to the Trail. I actually can’t think of another city in the country that has launched a bikeshare program alongside a piece of infrastructure like that.
The cities that have launched successful bike share programs have really strong transit systems. Here in Indy, it’s a lot different because our transit isn’t as strong, but we at least have a very compact downtown.
So whether you already live downtown, or you drive or take a bus downtown, you can hop on a bikeshare bike on Mass Ave and be at the Zoo in just 20-30 minutes. The Cultural Trail has really helped to connect the different downtown destinations and made riding downtown a really convenient, low-stress option, and the Pacers Bikeshare helps to support that.
What is the city’s main goal for cycling? What are you trying to accomplish?
It’s options. Plain and simple. For a really long time, Indy has been a city that hasn’t had a lot of options to get from point A to point B, other than driving a car. It’s the way our city was planned. We’re trying to provide more options now, and that resonates with different people for different reasons. Some people see it as social justice—it shouldn’t be a privilege to conveniently get to work or to get to the grocery store.
And to piggyback on that—connectivity—connecting all of the city’s amenities in a fun, healthy way. It’s a much more personal way to experience the city, whether you’re a tourist downtown, you live here, or maybe you just work downtown. Mayor Ballard has said this hundreds of times—cycling connects you with your city in a really personal way that you can’t get when you’re driving through it.
Now that the city has invested in building bicycling infrastructure, how is the city encouraging people to get out on their bikes and use it?
The obvious way is our Mayor’s bike rides. They’re very accessible, protected community rides, and they’re very family friendly—tons of kids ride in them.
And then, we’re encouraging people to ride bikes by putting a lot of consideration into connecting neighborhoods with places, by having an understanding of where people want to go or might want to go on bikes. So when you hop on the Monon, you’re not just limited to that linear path. You can now easily get down to Mass Ave, and from there, you can easily get downtown, or to the Canal, or wherever.
In some ways, it’s actually easier to ride than to drive. The Mayor’s Ride to the Ballpark is a great example of that. It’s a community ride that meets at Sun King and rides to Victory Field for an Indians game. You don’t have to worry about parking. You just ride up, lock up your bike, and go enjoy the game.
What does the city have in store to celebrate National Bike Month?
We’re supporting all the organizations celebrating the month. Through our Kno-Zone program we’ll be releasing a series of videos that highlight cycling throughout the month. The Mayor’s Bike Ride on June 6th is something of an end cap for the month. The city itself doesn’t really have the resources to throw a party, but we’re in full support and help promote the organizations like INDYCOG who are putting on big events like Bike to Work Day at the City Market on May 15th.
Join 100s of others from around the city to celebrate Bike to Work Day on May 15th at the City Market—put on by INDYCOG, the city’s bicycle advocacy group. You can show up as early as 7am for free coffee and breakfast, and stick around to see Mayor Ballard declare a day of cycling in Indianapolis.