Archive Page 2

Balconies: The Upside of Outside


Chicago (Wicker Park) – roof deck with view of skyline

The Balcony is one of my favorite architectural inventions.  They are important both in terms of aesthetic character and function, as they can give buildings a special look or a special purpose.  For example, the balconies on the Marina City or Aqua Tower in Chicago become their identity, either by being repetitive or being different, whereas the balconies of the French Quarter buildings in New Orleans become platforms for a street party almost independent of the buildings themselves.

New Orleans (French Quarter) – Balcony as front lawn

Manhattan (Wall St) – architectural setback as intermediate roof deck

Manhattan (Wall St) – the view from above

Milwaukee (Waterfront) – warehouse condos with retrofit balconies


Balconies are a blend of public and private space, giving people spatial separation but maintaining visibility in both directions. They are places where the synergy of shared public space begins to make sense, and a district with good balconies is usually a district worth celebrating. They are a great opportunity for architectural expression.  They can frame a special view of the city skyline.  They are flexible spaces that could be used for a political stage or for hanging laundry.


Brooklyn (Williamsburg) – balconies to maximize viewshed

Indy (Downtown) – flatiron style with balcony on the point

Indy (Dowtown) – A large enough window can be a substitute balcony

Indy (Chatham Arch) – the Riley Towers have prominent balconies on 4 corners (Image: Eric McAfee)


We know that balconies and similar architectural elements are very important in creating a feeling of community, but they began disappearing from American neighborhoods in the 1940s.  Not only were TV and Air Conditioning becoming widespread, but the suburbanization of our cities and streets had begun.  People were not prioritizing outdoor public space after the roads became highways and the sidewalks became barren.  Developers began including fake balconies as a nod to historic character and leaving out the real thing.


Indy (Chatham Arch) – Barton Towers are a stardard brutalist work without balconies (image: Eric McAfee)

Indy (Pyramids) – no balconies

Manhattan residential tower (Madison Square) – no balconies


The frequent omission of balconies from modern buildings means that I’m always excited to see them in new developments.  The demand for balcony space is clearly evident for anyone who pays attention.  I find it interesting when people use other parts of the building as makeshift balconies.   It’s amazing to see people responding naturally to large crowds in the streets (even though as an engineer who frequently designs guardrails, it frightens the hell out of me to see people exposed to risk like that).  It’s my hope that as the city begins to create its own special places we will find ways to restore old balconies and build new ones.  But most importantly, I hope that our city continues to give people a reason to use them.


Indy (Fountain Square) – roof as temporary balcony

Indy (Fountain Square) – roof as temporary balcony

Indy (Fountain Square) – roof as temporary balcony

Indy (Downtown) – parking garage as observation deck

Indy parking garage as temporary balcony


Pre-Columbian Urbanism


On October 12, 1492, the first modern Europeans set foot in the land now known as the Americas.  We tend to think of urbanism arriving with them.  But the truth is that cities rose well before “Columbus sailed the ocean blue”.  I wanted to share a few that exemplified the type of urban design happening in Pre-Columbian North America.

Map of several important Pre-Columbian cities of North America

We don’t always know very much about these places or the people who built them.  But we know enough to give us some important clues about how they lived and what they thought was important.  Many of these sites are now protected from threat and open to visitors.  These are a great opportunity to go study the evolution of urban form in the Americas.



Native American Indians were originally nomadic, but American agriculture began about 5,000 BCE.  Agriculture was a big deal, because it allowed dense human settlements.  These settlements used similar features because the different cultures shared the same set of technologies and concepts of urbanism.  The builders were familiar with other sites and would borrow ideas from the earlier proto-cities.

A typical Mississippian settlement with stockade, mounds, and houses (image: Herbert Roe)

The Puebloan people built their own style of towns in the arid Southwest (image:  National Archive)

The main architectural style used in these cities involves earthworks or mound-building.  You can see in the photos that the earliest mounds were quite small and limited in function.  But over time, the mounds became an opportunity for innovation.  And so the simple earthen mounds became stone platforms for important structures.  In later cities, they became pyramids with stone temples at their top.

Mayan architecture in Chiapas (image: Nicholas Sharpe)

The urban form of these cities also changed over time.  The earliest settlements used the mound or pyramid structures for sacred rites, but not necessarily as a place to live.  But as more energy was invested in the structures, they began to play a larger role in society. And as these sites gained more importance, the builders began formally planning their city centers.

The early Zapotec city (c. 100 BCE) of Monte Alban has a planned ceremonial center (image: Matt Saunders)



Close to the home of Urban Indy is Mounds State Park in Anderson, IN.  The Great Mound is a very well preserved ceremonial site built around 200 BCE by the Adena people living here. It is not a city, but I wanted to share it because it offers a glimpse into the cultural technologies that the people in this area would later use to build their cities and create special places within them.

Aerial view of the Great Mound and the nearby White River (image: Bing Maps)

A site this old (over 2000 years) keeps many of its secrets, but the consensus is that the people were farmers and fishermen and used canoes to travel on the river systems.  The Great Mound is the central place among a larger complex of mounds, one that forms a solar observatory with solar alignments used to track the course of the year. In effect this was their calendar, but maybe it would be more appropriate to think of it like a clock tower in terms of significance to the people.

Wall display at the educational center showing solar alignments (Image: Graeme Sharpe)

There are some key things to be learned from this site.  Even 2,000 years ago in the Midwest region, native American Indians are living in stable communities, they are cooperating and investing energy into their infrastructure, and they know how to plan a site so that it becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Panoramic view of the Great Mound (image: Graeme Sharpe)

Great mound (image: Graeme Sharpe)

The nearby White River as seen from the Summer mound (image: Graeme Sharpe)



Just a quick drive from St. Louis is Cahokia Mounds.  It is one of the most significant archaeological sites in the US, but it sometimes feels as though few people even know of its existence.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of only 8 cultural sites in our nation designated as being of supreme importance to the story of human civilization.  Estimates suggest that at its peak it was a city of 20,000 residents, and was occupied from the 10th century until the 14th.

Monks Mound in Cahokia (image:  Bing Maps)

Aerial View from the East of Monks Mound in Cahokia (image: Bing Maps)

What we know from excavations is that the residents built houses or ceremonial structures on top of each mound.  Thus the mounds reflected an elevated position in society.  But that wasn’t the only purpose, because the mounds and wooden buildings were also used to organize the city into streets, public places, and defensive structures.

Monks mound at Cahokia (image: Graeme Sharpe)

The scale of the main mound is massive.  It is large enough to pass for a geologic formation, and probably would have been except for its regular shaped sides.  But this mound was indeed built by people moving dirt by hand.  As such, it’s definitely notable as one of the earliest and largest single public works projects in American History.

Cahokia woodhenge site (image: Graeme Sharpe)

A recreated “woodhenge” lies just to the west of the main mound.  Not surprisingly, the Cahokia residents needed a solar observatory to track the passing of the seasons.  A prehistoric farmer would still need to know when to plant and harvest with certainty, as well as timing the important religious ceremonies held here.

St. Louis visible from the top of the mound (image: Graeme Sharpe)

Cahokia is across the river from St. Louis which makes it easily accessible for just about anyone to visit.  I recommend visiting often and treading lightly.

A look down to the main plaza, the center of Midwest urbanism 1000 years ago (image: Graeme Sharpe)

Artistic renderings (artwork: Michael Hampshire & William Iseminger)

There are many mounds in the area, up to 120 special places built for a specific reason that we may never know.  Undoubtedly, some have been lost forever to the plow and bulldozer. The parts that remain are an amazing testament to the dedication of these early American urbanists.



The Pueblo group of American Indians have a unique place in American History.  Living in cliff dwellings in the canyons or on top of Mesas in the American Southwest, they maintain the communities they founded over 1,000 years ago. No easy feat considering they live in a very dry ecosystem.  They responded to their environment in different ways than the farmers of the Mississippi River system, and so you don’t see mounds but structures built into the ground for thermal regulation.

At the height of their ancient civilization, they created a sacred urban center at Chaco Canyon (another UNESCO World Heritage Site) with roads radiating from this central place throughout their territory.  What makes their city planning interesting is the amount of thought they put into their buildings.  They could track solar movements as well as lunar movements with precision, a good example of their patience and skill.

The Great Kiva at Chaco Canyon (image: National Park Service)

They developed their own system of civil engineering technology to find ways to store and control the scarce water supplies.  Other Pueblo sites include the sky city of Acoma and the World Heritage Site of Taos Pueblo.  While some sites are open for visitation, a lot of them feature active communities living in the houses their ancestors built hundreds of years ago.  I would have to vote these places as the most sustainable of American communities, by far.

Access to water on top of a Mesa at Acoma (image: National Archives – Ansel Adams)

Taos Pueblo (image: National Archives – Ansel Adams)

The residents appreciate their privacy, so there are not many photos of modern life in a Pueblo.  But you can visit many sites that are no longer inhabited, even some that have been Americanized with the missing handrails and parking lots added.  You’re welcome, ancient Puebloans.

Pueblo site near Colorado Springs (image:



In the areas that are now Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala the people of the Mayan civilization produced many cities, including some that would rival the size of any in Europe at that time.  Mayans had a sophisticated society and their cities reflected it.  They also had some advanced technology not available “north of the border” including a written language, a numeral system, a corbel arch, and the famous long calendar that could track celestial events across thousands of years.

Tikal’s plaza is still hosting celebrations many years later (image: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen)

The El Castillo monument is a Mayan masterpiece and the focal point of the ancient city center of Chichen Itza (image: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen)

At places like El Castillo, the Maya built stone temples on top of pyramids.  This gave their sacred sites a greater sense of permanence.  The stone buildings also have a greater psychological impact, one which is easy to appreciate even a thousand years after original construction.

On the other hand, the Mayans were not as interested in establishing a city plan with grand gestures.  Their cities were never very dense, and they did not create strong axes, regular shaped public spaces, or strong streetwalls, at least based on the limited examples I have seen.  (and yes please correct me in the comments if I misstate anything)

The Tikal city plan (image: Simon Burchell)

Chichen Itza city plan (image: Holger Behr)



 Teotihuacan is one of the most important sites in central Mexico.  This city held over 100,000 residents at its peak circa 600 CE, which made it one of the top 10 population centers in the world at that time.  Teotihuacan is famous for the formal planning of its ceremonial center.  The buildings were laid out on a strict axis and were remarkable displays of engineering technology and political vision (it’s not easy or convenient to build with perfectly straight lines).

Temple of the Moon in Teotihuacan (image:

The main avenue was addressed by several temples, pyramids, and public spaces, which establish a street frontage and setback paradigm.  On a festival day, the wide paved street could hold many thousands of residents (similar to our urban malls) as well as the people visiting from the surrounding “suburban” villages.  The Pyramid of the Sun, halfway along the avenue, is the 3rd largest pyramid in the world.  Looking down the street sightline makes it obvious why they were building this way.  This place is just flat out amazing.

Sun Pyramid and main street in Teotihuacan from the Pyramid of the Moon

Plan of the Teotihuacan ceremonial center

But the real attraction to this city is the plaza and marketplace in front of the Temple of Quetzlcoatl.  It was this marketplace that solidified the city’s significance as the economic and political powerhouse of North America.  Like any good public space, people traveled from all over to trade rare goods and perhaps wonder what life was like in the palaces and mansions surrounding the plaza. Teotihuacan eventually was abandoned for unknown reasons, and like Cahokia we know little about the reasons why.



Tenochtitlan was the capital city of the Aztec empire, established on July 18th, 1325 CE.  We know a lot about this place because it was the leading power in Central America when the Spanish arrived, and had a population upwards of 200,000 residents.  The people of Tenochtitlan had developed a way of farming on a lake, or what we might call aquaponics.  This was a very efficient process for growing food, and the dense city became a strong military and economic center.  With aqueducts piping in fresh water, paved streets, and a thriving market economy, the city was a marvel to behold for the first historians who visited.

Tenochtitlan city plan (image: Hanns Prem)

The city is still there and now known as Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City). With a population of 21 million people, it still the largest city in the Americas.  Unfortunately, the war of conquest scraped this city to its foundations so what we see now is a Spanish Colonial layout. Later on the lake was drained to prevent flooding. These facts complicate the study of Tenochtitlan because the historic city center has been built over by modern society.

A model of the old temple and main plaza of the Aztec city Tenochtitlan (image: Wolfgang Sauber)


These examples only scratch the surface of what was going on in Pre-Columbian cities.  I think it’s a fascinating topic because there are so many sites in good condition that can be visited.  It’s a great way to study how people and crowds relate to public spaces and monumental architecture.  I also enjoy seeing how each society has their own style, because they are all revealing a small bit of truth about what we really want in a city.

We are fortunate in Indianapolis to have the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.  It houses a museum of local and regional history as well as contemporary art.  It is downtown next to the White River State Park, conveniently located 50 miles downstream of the Adena Great Mound in Anderson.

Fountain Square Grand Prix


The month of August has spoiled those of us who enjoy awesome things.  Case in point: The inaugural Fountain Square Grand Prix bicycle criterium race held on August 18th, 2012.

Fountain Square Grand Prix (image: Curt Ailes)

Fountain Square Grand Prix (image: Curt Ailes)

I loved the race being held on that day. There was a strong symbolism to the FSGP being held on the same weekend as the MotoGP at the Speedway. Indy is a town that loves to host a good competition.  But it also loves to host a good party, and that’s why the Cataracts 2012 music festival being held at the same time and only 1 block away from the bicycle race made this a perfect Indianapolis blending of Sports & Entertainment.

A competitive race at high speeds on city roads – these races do test people (image: Curt Ailes)

A criterium race is a timed race held on a closed city street.  You can imagine that the street patterns in Fountain Square can provide some interesting course geometries, and indeed the course was set up in an almost-figure eight configuration, which means that you see each rider at least twice on each lap at the main intersection.

Queuing up for the start of the race

The view from Red Lion, a local pub next to the finish line

It was also fun to see people being able to use the streets and sidewalks for a public celebration.  Currently, the square of Fountain Square is being rehabbed and integrated into the cultural trail and cycle-track, which makes for a bit of construction mess, but you can tell that it is shaping up really well.  This new public space is going to be a great rallying point for future events like FSGP.

Construction is progressing well in preparation of the newest fountain

Thanks to everyone who planned, raced, sponsored, or worked at the FSGP or Cataracts.  It was an enormous but greatly appreciated effort.

Well done and congratulations to all the winners of this year’s race

Cataracts 2012


The weekend of August 17-19 was a great one for this Capital City, as documented in the IndyStar.  There were a lot of options available and I hope everyone here took advantage of some.  The Cataracts 2012 music festival was my event of choice, and I’m quite happy I attended.  The music was great, the people were friendly, and the weather was unbelievable.  NUVO wrote an article on the event, or you can get a feel for the experience by watching this:

It was just a lot of fun, as you can see in that video.  I don’t have the equipment to capture such music, but hopefully you get a sense of the dynamic energy that these bands can bring.  Here are some more shots from the music fest Friday and Saturday.

The tent behind the Murphy building is set for the show on Friday There was music all day long in the tent KO on Friday afternoon Pravada took the tent stage on Friday evening Margot and the Nuclear SoSos headlined on Friday night A map of the bands and houses for Saturday 40 live acts but everything ran smoothly the marker for Debbies Palace of Noise and Laundromat A relaxed house-party vibe at times Skull Manor being assembled live on stage The Mutations in front of the Pyramid at Dave Cave rhythm everyone together in the yard beachwear over at Jasona Beach Music (and a bit of theater) all day long an apt understatement for the weekend

Mass Ave Crit and FtnSqr Grand Prix


It has been a great summer for cycling action here in Indianapolis.  We are seeing great returns on our infrastructure investments, and our citizens are starting to embrace bicycle culture more enthusiastically.  A good example of this was the Mass Ave Crit 2012 held last weekend.

Whipping around the Mass Ave triangle at full speed


The Mass Ave Crit is one of the most established races in the area, and it was a great turnout from spectators, fans, and cyclists.  The event was blessed with beautiful weather and a lot of support from the community.  I watched as many of the races as I could, and there was great action on every lap.

Mayor Ballard about to start another race


A pop-up biergarten from the generous sponsor


Celebrating the finish


So now that the MAC and IndyCrit are complete, we have one more event to look forward to.  It’s going to be a big weekend in Fountain Square, and the weather is looking good for the first Fountain Square Grand Prix!  And of course, this neighborhood is ready to usher in the bike race with a great lineup of music, food, and a big race.

FSGP is a great excuse to visit the neighborhood and the newly completed Cultural Trail (image credit: Curt Ailes)


Concert Schedule at the bottom of this Indy Star article “Psyched in Fountain Square“.  These are gonna be some great tunes.

Race map and race schedule on this flyer by Joe’s Cycles (and also an interview with Joe here).  If you had any doubts about whether Fountain Square has “made it” as a neighborhood yet, just look at the sponsors at the bottom of that flyer.  If you don’t recognize any of them, you need to be spending more time in this part of town because they all kick ass.  It’s a great opportunity to celebrate summer cyling and the urban vibes that drive this neighborhood.

(image credit: Curt Ailes)

A Bicycle Built for Transportation


US cities have a long history of bicycling, and Indianapolis is no exception.  However, much of the attention over the past few decades has focused on bicycles as recreation, instead of transportation.  But if we look at the example set by cities where bikes are truly integrated into the transportation scheme, we see they have evolved quite differently from our own rolling stock.  An in-depth look at Copenhagen Cycle Chic will bring you many examples of this bike from Denmark and around the world.

Recently, I had the opportunity to buy an old City Bike and learn more about it.  This bike came with a story: a Dutch man brought it over to the US many years ago and used it to explore American cities outside of a car.  This story was somewhat of a mystery to me when I first heard it.  After all, what would convince a person to ship a huge and heavy bike across the world when local bikes were readily available?

A vintage dutch Gazelle (image: Curt Ailes)

After several months of riding this bike, I can honestly see why someone would grow attached to it in this way.  It is unlike other bikes I have owned, even a recent comfort bike marketed for city cruising does not compare.  It all comes down to having the right design philosophy.  These European City Bikes have developed into their current form because of their adherence to 3 key principles:

  1. Reliability
  2. Convenience
  3. Affordability


This, along with 100 years of constant improvement, have created a form that is ubiquitous in cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam.  The features of any given bike depend on the particular climate and needs of the owner, but here is a summary of some common features:

A City Bike is a solid machine intended to get its rider to their destination no matter what the weather or street conditions.  This dependability and durability fosters a relationship between the rider and the bike.  Truth be told, I would gladly pay to ship this bike across the world if I thought that a similar one were not available at my destination.

The upright position and relaxed geometry make city travel comfortable (image: Curt Ailes)

The luggage racks are incredibly strong (image: Curt Ailes)

City bikes have modern technology powering their lights (image: Curt Ailes)

The dealer tag shows the bike’s origin (image: Curt Ailes)

These bikes are great for the demands of a city-dweller.  Any weather, any time of day, and any trip can be accommodated.  The steel frame provides a very comfortable ride compared to a carbon fiber or aluminum option.  The headlights really get attention.  The carrying capacity is only bested by long frame or cargo bikes, and a city bike is often used for 2-up riding. The shifting is smooth and solid. And you never have to worry about getting chain grease on your clothing.

After a relative scarcity of City Bikes in the US, new models are once more becoming available.  Look for Batavus or Gazelle for an authentic version, or check out some of the others on this list. If interested, I suggest talking to your local bike shops first.  Just remember, these bikes are made to last for generations and only rarely require maintenance.  But when it is time, you will want experienced hands working on these mechanisms.

The city bike excels at everything urban

And finally, a word about affordability.  The use of a steel frame and standardized components really brings the cost down, compared with space-age exotic materials and integrated shifters found on most American bikes.  Even with my purchase price, the new front hub and lighting system, and professional maintenance, I have less than $500 invested in my bike.  I know it’s not an insignificant amount, but a really good value when all is considered.  It is my hope that even if a city bike revolution is not just around the corner, that everyone understands a bit more about them.


(acknowledgments:  thanks to Curt Ailes for helping me photograph these.  Also, thanks to those at IndyCog and the Mayor’s office who have worked hard to improve bicycling infrastructure, you have made City Bikes useful in Indianapolis and I am very greatful.)

Indy’s Superbowl Village


Welcome to Indianapolis, NFL fans

If anyone in the area has not been to the Superbowl Village (i.e. Georgia Street) you are missing out on a truly unique experience.  This will be a watershed event, both for Indianapolis festival planning, as well as for the future of sporting events in the US.  We have set the bar pretty high on this one.

Indy Cars at a cross-promotion for the Superbowl

Here are some photos I wanted to share with everyone.  It’s only been up for a few days, so I can’t wait to see how it develops as we approach the weekend of the big game.  See you all downtown!

Superbowl Village is centered around the pedestrianized Georgia Street


JW Marriott has their spirit on


A favorite activity is ziplining above the crowds


Laces out!


Indy's finest are on foot this week (keep up the good work guys!)


At night the village comes to life with music


The main stage


Bret Michaels rocked it on opening night

Former Colts player Hunter Smith taking the Pepsi Stage


The Village People were a big draw


People are loving this place

Transit Accessible Nightlife in Indianapolis


In honor of IndyGo’s decision to offer FREE bus rides during the final superbowl weekend, Urban Indy decided to put on our drinking caps and start exploring what routes might be useful for a visitor.  The purpose was to provide a simple guide for anyone unfamiliar with the city and its bus system to explore some interesting neighborhoods while enjoying some good local beer and food.

We discussed potential routes and attractions, and debated what would be most worthwhile for someone making this trip.  We concluded that the best option was to focus on a single route that hit some of the best places for nightlife in the city.  We chose bus route #17, which can get passengers close to the Broad Ripple, College Ave, Mass Ave, and downtown nightlife districts in one single route.

We decided to test out this route last Saturday and it worked pretty well.  The buses were on-time, clean, and full of friendly people.  We added on a separate trip to Fountain Square at the end because of the new Fountain Square Brewery grand opening event, but in general the #17 line will offer more than enough choices for superfans.

But, please note there are some major caveats with this:

  1. Bus service in Indianapolis typically ends much earlier than you would expect.  Always check the bus schedule for the day and time you want just to make sure there will be one available.  I recommend starting farther away from downtown and working your way back, just so you have the option to stay a bit longer at the last stop and walk the rest.
  2. Indianapolis has a small number of buses and 30 minute headways on route #17, so plan ahead when ordering those beers and paying the tab.

If you decide not to do the bus #17 route, there will be some other options including a free shuttle service between the different areas with nightlife, walking/biking along the cultural trail, or taking a cab.  Whatever you choose, enjoy it and be safe!

In the end, I hope anyone visiting these places has as much fun as we did.  Here’s a sample of our night’s events:

Twenty Tap was our first stop of the night All Twenty Taps (now 31!) have great local beer Twenty Tap with Dave (UI reader), Graeme (UI writer), Kevin (UI writer), and Joe (UI writer) Seats from Bush Stadium now reused as a bus stop IndyGo buses accept bikes in case you are planning a bike/ride event MacNiven's on Mass Ave is a local favorite Good beers and friendly bartenders at MacNiven's New bus canopy along Cultural Trail in Fountain Square Fountain Square Brewery lives up to the hype The Grand Opening of Fountain Square Brewery was well attended


The Catacombs of Tomlinson Hall


One of my favorite parts of Indianapolis is Market Street.  The east side of Market Street once hosted two really awesome buildings, the City Market building which is still there and Tomlinson Hall which was lost to fire in 1958.

A view of Tomlinson and City Market from the old County Courthouse

My experience with Tomlinson Hall began when I worked as the engineer for the City Market renovations.  The market space was upgraded and people seem to love it.  What a shame that we lost its companion so many years ago.  There are still parts to admire including an old arch in the west wing plaza.  But if you think that is the only part left, you might be surprised.

This arch is the last bit of Tomlinson Hall above ground

Pieces of Tomlinson Hall sit just below the West Wing plaza.  And not just any random bits of structure, but one of the most impressive basements in Indiana.  This place is special, and people in the city refer to it as the “the catacombs.”

A forest of brick columns

The barrel vaults and brick columns

The foundations of Tomlinson Hall were built using some amazing materials and construction techniques, which you just don’t come across often.  The details of the masonry show an attention to detail and familiarity with brick and stone that is hard to replicate.

A lateral arch supports the barrel vault ceiling at a niche below the sidewalk

Some of Indy's best masonry work is hidden below ground

Although it was not in the scope for the latest renovations for City Market property, this is really cool asset that I hope the city finds a way to share with the public at some point.

A view of the massive cut-stone piers that once supported Tomlinson Hall

Recently, City Market opened a taproom on their mezzanine and named it in honor of Tomlinson Hall.  The catacombs aren’t accessible by the public yet, but anyone can stop in at Tomlinson Taproom and celebrate it with a fresh, local pint of beer.

Footnote:  You can watch a video tour of the catacombs on this Youtube video from 2009 (fast forward to 4:30).

Pedestrians at Risk in our Cities


It’s no secret that pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries have been rising in our cities.  As more people explore active transportation options they are coming into conflict with vehicular traffic.  A recent article on USA Today shows that this is a real problem and it is reaching a new level of visibility in the debate on transportation in the US.

Most people understand that the faster a vehicle is driving, the more dangerous it can be for pedestrians and people on bicycles.  Risk is a combination of probability and consequence, and the data in the chart shows a surprising increase in the risk as the vehicular speed increases above 20 mph, as shown in the figure.

This data is well known amongst traffic engineers, and it causes them to design streets in a way that I don’t approve of.  Instead of designing streets that encourage drivers to be more aware of pedestrians and to drive slower, they isolate cars into traffic sewers and funnel them through the city at high speeds.  The problem is that this cuts up the city, street by street.  Pedestrians have only the option of staying on their own block or sprinting madly across several lanes of traffic. We need a better system, one that recognizes that there are places for traffic segregation and there are places for traffic integration.

This isn’t as difficult as it sounds.  There are many successful models for building communities which are safe for pedestrians but preserve access for vehicles.  You can look to the dutch “Woonerf” or “Shared Space concept.”  The British have their own “Home Zone” initiative.  But you can also find great examples here in Indianapolis.  Our own Monument Circle is a fantastic place to see cars and vehicles negotiating space safely, and the finished Georgia Street is going to be a model for other cities for many years to come.

Georgia Street during construction (image credit: Curt Ailes)


The examples above are great for low speed interaction between cars and people, but we also have some great ideas when it comes to managing high-speed traffic issues.  The Cultural Trail is designed to move a large amount of people on foot or on bike through downtown, and it really elevates active transportation to the same quality and accessibility that vehicles have.

Indy's Cultural Trail (image credit: Curt Ailes)

These local examples show that there are two effective strategies for reducing pedestrian risks:

  1. establish pedestrian zones where cars and people interact at very slow speeds – do this for both commercial and residential areas with local traffic
  2. establish arterial zones where cars and people are segregated – give people and cars separate facilities where the speeds are too dangerous for mixing