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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


The Hazards of Crossing the Street


Earlier this year I witnessed a terrifying event while out in my neighborhood.  Textbooks would refer to it as a “pedestrian-vehicle conflict”, something that can be observed at any number of intersections several times a day.  Seeing it play out in reality, I began to realize that our built environment has done a very poor job of training drivers to watch out for pedestrians.  One glance at the number of pedestrian fatalities statistics shows the devastating consequences on our society.

A Dramatic Encounter at the Intersection of Ritter and Washington

The situation happened along East Washington Street in a pedestrian friendly commercial district.  A car stopped at a red light and wanted to turn right.  At the same time a young family with a baby in a stroller arrived at the corner and wanted to cross the side street.  The family saw the “Walk” signal lit for them and proceeded across the street.  The driver, having earlier noticed the family, failed to anticipate that they were going to cross the street and shifted attention to traffic from the left in the main street.

What happened next is the stuff nightmares are made of.  When the family was halfway through the lane, the driver saw a break in traffic and began accelerating.  There was a loud noise and a scream, but thankfully it wasn’t what I feared.  The husband had slammed his fist down on the car hood and yelled “STOP!”, and luckily the driver found the brake quickly enough to prevent disaster.  It happened so fast that I could barely process that an entire family had almost been killed or seriously injured, just because they wanted to cross the street during a nice summertime day.

This incident reveals a larger problem with our transportation system.  Humans are great at identifying threats to them, but not so good at identifying the threat that they pose to others.  In addition to this, drivers often have a hard time recognizing pedestrians and cyclists as rightful users of the street.  They don’t realize that pedestrians don’t always stay on the sidewalk or that cyclists don’t behave like cars, especially if the drivers never spend time as pedestrians or cyclists themselves.

While this conflict had a fortunate resolution, many other conflicts don’t turn out so well.  Are there steps that Indianapolis and other cities can take to make street crossings more safe for pedestrians?  The answer is a positive YES, and that is one of the goals behind the movement referred to as Complete Streets.  It is surprising that more citizens haven’t actively supported complete streets here in Indiana (see Indiana Complete Streets Campaign), because it gives us something that has a huge amount of political support – better streets and more opportunity to walk and bike places.

The Worst Parking Lot in Indy


Hey Indianapolis!  I’ve been away from the keyboard for a while, but I’ve been busy studying cities at Ball State’s Indianapolis Center.  The one thing I noticed in my studies was how much parking lots we have in our cities, so I’m going to bring you a few posts that focus on them and what we can do to minimize their impact.  Let’s start off with a competition of sorts – What is Indianapolis’ worst parking lot? 

Recently, Indianapolis finally gave up big plans to redevelop the old Market Square Arena site.  This was my hands down favorite for worst parking lot (WPL).  For a decade, citizens endured an enormous gravel parking lot adjacent to the densest urban neighborhood in the state.  In its place, we now have a paved lot (hooray?).

The previous title holder for "WORST PARKING LOT IN THE CITY"


So, we bid farewell to our old gravel lot, which clearly held the top spot as worst parking lot in the city.  Not only for being gravel, but for occupying a valuable space in the city and destroying the connection of downtown to the near eastside.

We have a few contenders that I want to nominate for consideration (and please feel free to add your own in the comments).

WPL Candidate #1:  Under the freeway
If you have ever driven under I-65 along the north side of downtown, you have probably noticed that this space is used as a parking lot.  It’s a subtle reminder that freeways kill urban land use.  It’s dark, depressing, and without value.

If you like raised freeways, you'll like this parking lot too


WPL Candidate #2:  The Zoo Lot
The environmental costs of building a society dependent on automobiles are often hidden, but the Indy Zoo shows how our priorities affect the world around us.  We have marginalized nature, even in the places where we seek to celebrate it.  The Zoo fights hard to create special places for the animals, but its difficult when they need so much space for visitors to park.

A great view, but a bad parking lot


WPL Candidate #3:  The Market Square Arena
The previous title holder isn’t giving up that easy.  It wants you to know it is still here, and still taking up valuable space in downtown Indy. Is this really what we want fronting our Cultural Trail?

The new paved and landscaped parking lot


WPL Candidate #4:  The Northwest Side (aggregate lot)
Sometimes it seems like this part of the city is nothing but parking lots.  We’ll just lump them all together, because the effect of that much paved surface is 1 big dead spot.  The sad part is that this is adjacent to the only rail transit we have in the city (people mover), and also within walking distance of the canal, the central mall, downtown, and the cultural trail.

Is it parking lots like these that are truly responsible for urban design crimes like DeRimini?

Lots of Parking on Indy's NW side (image credit Curtis Ailes)


WPL Candidate #5:  IUPUI Campus (aggregate lot)
IUPUI has a land use other than parking lots somewhere (because the parking lots are always full), but I think the proportion of parking lot to academic space makes for a very non-urban place.  It is also lacking that “integrated campus” feel, because the only thing continuous throughout is the paving.  This place has a history of being a commuter campus, but what’s so wrong with buses, bikes, and walking as a school transportation policy?

Surface and garage lots leave less room for campus